Parenting Styles Across the Globe

We’ve seen it blasted all over the news lately: Tiger MomBringing Up BebeItalian mothers do it best and more! It seems every culture does it better and American parents have it all wrong. or do they?

We talked to two American moms raising their children abroad as well as childhood anthropologist to discuss what we can learn about other country’s parenting methods and how our children can benefit from the parenting methods around the world.

Joining Laura & Heather for our show were

  • Charity Matthews of Foodlets & Huffington Post Parents, an American mom currently living in Italy
  • David F. Lancy, professor of anthropology, Utah State University, and author of The Anthropology of Childhood
  • Laura Bandak, American mom of twins living in Bahrain

To hear the show in full, you can listen to it in the player below or download it here for later listening.

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Here are our questions and answers from the show:

What were some of the major differences you saw in maternal care in foreign countries?

David: The big difference is that in our culture, infants are treated as ‘people’ from birth and we are very concerned about their preferences and opinions whereas in the rest of the world, they don’t treat babies like people. They have 2 main concerns: 1) to keep their baby alive and 2) they don’t want the burden of caring for that infant to interfere with their other work. We (in America) quickly try to integrate the baby into the community whereas in other societies they allow this to be a much more gradual process.

Another major difference is that elsewhere care of children is spread around among many people including siblings, other family members, etc.

Do you think we lost some of that in America?

David: Absolutely – to the detriment of both mothers and children. Studies have shown a dramatic decline of grandparents living with children. It puts an extra burden on the mother that in earlier times she was able to share.

Laura: People here (in Bahrain) love and treasure babies. In terms of childcare, there is definitely a lot more multi-generational caretaking.

What have been the main differences between child rearing practices in foreign countries and the U.S.?

David: In foreign countries, benign neglect is one of the fundamental differences. Children have a lot more autonomy from parental management and interference. Kids are allowed to roam around their village. Fathers play almost no role. Here is a lot less playing with their children. Other children are considered their playmates, not the parents.

Laura: My kids go to a school program (British). In NY they went to Montessori – it’s very liberal, open play, call teachers by first names. Here it is much more strict.

Charity: One of the main things I noticed is that in Italy, you never tell them ‘no’ until they turn 5! Whether it be running wild or anything else.

Laura: Same here. There are really no rules here. Kids are allowed to eat and do whatever they want! (not in their British school, though)

How are the overarching behaviors of children when they get older (6,7,8)?

Charity: To be fair, most of my social group is Americans. But I can say the most of the kids end up calming down. I think they do start to listen. Most of the time in my interactions with Italian kids, I really notice a sense of family.

Have you noticed a better way to discipline?

David: No. The most common form of discipline that one observes is corporal punishment. I do not recommend this, but unfortunately in many societies this is accepted. Other societies don’t have as many discipline issues because they are not being confined to cars, supermarkets, churches, etc. They are allowed to roam free. One of our problems is that we place immature human beings in places where they are expected to act like adults. Children want to fit in. They want to be included. So one of the most effective strategies is to deny children social privileges. What we see consistently is far less parenting, and more well adjusted kids. Kids figure things out on their own and they adjust their behavior as they mature.

What are feeding habits like abroad?

Charity: In Italy, food is a major part of the culture. Lots of cooking here and everyone eats together. Schools and businesses close for lunchtime so that people can go home and eat with their family. Priority is to go home and have a nice meal with their family and then go back to work. It’s more of a focus on real, delicious foods as opposed to eating on the run.

Laura: I don’t have that much experience, but food is a huge part of the culture. But I can certainly tell you that a lot of people are not serving their kids organic food! There are fast food joints that are popular but people also have home cooked meals as well. My standards have had to drop a little bit since I’ve been here.

Can you talk about if there is a difference in sleep training in babies?

Laura: The mothers I’ve met here are in the same boat as we are in terms of not getting much sleep in the beginning.

Charity: Yes, same here! We are pretty lucky because my two kids are great sleepers!

David: Sleeping- to the mother- isn’t a problem. Mostly they sleep with their babies and feed on demand. Most mothers will tell you that they aren’t even aware of how many times they feed during the night!

How can people get in touch with you?


David: Good old Google! Just google David Lancy and you will find me! And on Amazon do the same thing and my books will come up.

One last thought…

Charity: I wanted to add an interesting fact about Italy. Italian moms are dressed to the nines every day, full make-up, no matter what! I am definitely the most casual mom in my child’s school.