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Parenting: Does One Size Fit All?

December 2019

In Dr John Elliott’s final lecture for the Society, he looked at whether approaches to parenting in the East and West differed that much, and whether, in a melting pot of cultures like Singapore, either approach worked better.

Speaking to a crowd of close to 200 at the Mochtar Riady Auditorium at the Singapore Management University, Dr Elliott’s hour-long lecture, ‘Parenting: Does one size fit all?’, explored the key differences between Western and Asian parenting styles, and if the standard view of best parenting practices should be regarded as universally desirable.

His position was that, despite commonly held beliefs, parenting styles around the world were not that distinct, even if approaches to things like discipline may vary. And while there might be more literature on approaches from the West, there is no one right way.
“Children have definite needs. What their needs are should inform parenting. But that doesn’t imply that there’s a single best way to rear children. Therefore, Singapore parents should have more confidence that they are the best judges for what’s best for their own families,” he said.

Parenting, ultimately, is “something you learn on the job” and not learnt from books or anywhere else, and parents should not get too obsessed with religiously following any school of thought, he explained.

Dr Elliott also spent time exploring the impact of the various caretaking arrangements adopted in Singapore, and their relative benefits.

The Society looked at outcomes for 439 firstborn children raised from infancy to age five under various caretaking arrangements. Findings showed that there is no one “best” caregiving type, he said, whether delivered by a parent, grandparent, nanny, domestic helper, childcare, other relatives, or shared care. Depending on available resources and family circumstances, various caregiving arrangements have their upsides.

What does make a difference is the effort a mother puts into fostering a bond with her child.

“Mothers who are happy because they are pursuing their careers are better mothers than unhappy mothers who have given up their careers to spend all their time with their children,” he said.

The Question and Answer session, moderated by Prof Ho Lai Yun, Vice Chairperson of Singapore Children’s Society, drew a wide range of questions, including on children’s use of digital devices. Dr Elliott’s suggestion was to limit screen time, and perhaps use it as a reward for good behaviour. He also suggested that parents set an example through their own device use. 

We are grateful to Dr Elliott for his contributions to the Society over the years. He will be missed.

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Click here to read the story in Chinese.
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