Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Asian Parenting

Physical provisions with emotional deprivation.

Asian cultures are notorious for being providers. When I say that, I'm referring to the parental mentality of "providing" for their children's physical needs (i.e. food, clothing, schooling, etc.). However, many Asian parents pay scant attention to the personal state or feelings of their children. Instead, children are taught to "listen and obey" since the family system revolves around a patriarchal and hierarchical structure where the authority goes to the elders (i.e. grandparents, parents, aunts/uncles).

It's slowly changing as the therapeutic community is doing more education on healthy parenting but based on my clinical experience there is still much more work that needs to be done.

If parents want their children to have healthy emotional worlds, they must tend to them. Time and time again, I see Asian clients who grew up in an emotional wasteland where their thoughts and feelings were never acknowledged or mirrored.

I should say this isn't about agreement as it is more about attunement and validation of their feelings. Without this crucial relational dynamic, many Asian children (now adults in my practice) report thinking their parents loved them (cognitive understanding) yet in their hearts can not "feel" the love and hence an emotional disconnect resounds in their souls.

In order to feel loved and have healthy attachments with their parents or caregivers, children need four things which I'll outline as being: seen, soothed, safe, and secure.

Seen: Kids need to know their parents can "see" how their inner world is (i.e. can recognize a child's disappointment, sadness, anger, etc.).

Soothed: Kids need to know they can go to their parents and be soothed in times of emotional or physical distress. This means a combination of verbal reassurances and physical touch (e.g., a kid hurts himself badly while falling off a skateboard and knows he can go to his parents to hold him during this time of duress).

In some Asian households, kids get yelled and shamed at for hurting themselves with comments like, "Why didn't you be more careful!" or "What's wrong with you?!" These shaming messages communicate to the child one of humiliation where he/she may no longer see the parent as a safe harbor in future incidents.

Safe: This term may be a bit abstract but I view safety in terms of how a child's vulnerable emotions can be shared with the parent figure. If the child cannot share his feelings for fear of being ridiculed, blamed, or denigrated, the child will see the attachment as one that lacks emotional safety.

Secure: Secure in this sense refers to an attachment with a parent where the child has consistent loving interactions with the parent. The child forms what's known as an "internal working model" or in other words a "mental representation" of the parent figure as one of consistently being able to meet their emotional needs.

I must emphasize meeting the emotional needs of the child is not to be confused or misinterpreted as meeting the child's needs. Children will be disappointed, sad, angry, and frustrated with their parents as that is part of life. But to ensure a secure relationship between the child and the caregiver, those emotions are not only recognized by the parent but the parent gives the child space to process those emotions and validate the feelings as well, even while disagreeing with them (i.e. talking to the child vs. talking at the child or letting the child handle these emotions alone).

More from Sam Louie MA, LMHC, CSAT
More from Psychology Today