Traditional Indian parenting practices

Family Matters

By Thomas Kulanjiyil
What are some of the salient features of traditional Indian parenting? What does traditional Indian parenting have to offer to the Indian American immigrant parent?
The traditional Indian parenting is shaped by the cultural and religious values of the land, generational wisdom, and life experiences. The goal of parenting is comprehensive development of children and it integrates the cognitive, emotional, and spiritual components of an individual’s growth. It includes both the personal and social dimensions of human growth and development.

Another characteristic of Indian parenting is that children are brought up in an atmosphere of emphatic richness. The supportive environment of the extended family system provides support and encouragement to parents. The parent-child bond is established by such child rearing practices as breast-feeding that provides not only nourishment to the baby, but also allows increasing physical contact between the mother and the child. Cuddling adds physical contact between the mother and the child and also provides a sense of security for the child. The strong emotional bond established between Indian parent and child during early childhood is said to be lifelong.

The traditional Indian parenting is value-based parenting.  Deference for authority in social relationships is an expected behavioral norm. The family extends horizontally and laterally.   People are bound up by their duty to family, to parents, to children, and to society. Parents are to be honored and cared for. The community is seen as the extended family.  Values of interdependence and community are promoted. It is expected that one will live up to one’s family name, and also fulfill one’s dharma (duties) to the family and to the community. Norms of personal chastity and modesty in private and social behavior is reinforced. The practice of self-control is central to character formation.

The traditional Indian parenting is not without its share of disparagement.  It is pointed out that the authoritarian type of Indian parenting limits individual autonomy.  The stress on community and interdependence is detrimental to developing individual self-identity. Overprotective Indian parenting inhibits personal agency and assertiveness. Corporeal punishment, tolerated in traditional Indian parenting, is said to have long lasting emotional scars on children.

In spite of these criticisms, traditional Indian parenting has a great deal to offer to the Indian immigrant parent. Such features as the focus on comprehensive development of the child, the significance of character formation, the impact of empathic richness in Indian parenting, the thrust on personal chastity and modesty in private and social behavior, and the importance of community and interdependence, are all culturally appropriate parenting practices for the Indian immigrant parent to adopt.

Thomas Kulanjiyil, PsyD, PhD, is a founding member of PARIVAR International. He currently serves on the faculty of College of DuPage. He is co-editor of the book, “Caring for the South Asians-Counseling South Asians in the West.” Dr. Kulanjiyil can be reached at For any personal or family issues contact Parivar Family Helpline:(877)-743-5711.

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