NASP Communiqué, Vol. 36, #8
Communicating With Asian Parents and Families
By Brian Leung, Tony Wu, NCSP, Majorie Questin, NCSP, Julie Staresnick, NCSP,
& Phuong Le
Members of the NASP Asian Workgroup
When interacting with any parent, school psychologists must never assume “one
size fits all.” Particularly in the broad group considered as “Asians,”
there are many within-group differences to consider, and further difference
even within the same national group of Asians (e.g., Chinese). Familial characteristics,
such as SES, acculturation level, educational background, and previous contact
with professionals all play a part in how a particular set of Asian parents
will participate in interactions such as IEP meetings. It is prudent to do one’s
homework before such a meeting in order to be best prepared to collaborate with
and advocate for Asian parents. Once you have established yourself as a trusted
“outsider,” you may discover that other Asian parents will seek
you out for support!
Asian Families (General Background)
- Asian immigrants come from many parts of Asia, and countries in Asia have
very distinctive traditions, habits, and preferences. It is important to ascertain
the countries the Asian parents from your district come from. Countries commonly
represented in the U.S. include China (Hong Kong), Korea, Vietnam, Singapore,
Taiwan, and the Philippines.
- Asian families frequently emphasize academic achievement more than anything
else, because historically, educational attainment was the way to success
in life in the old country and also according to the American dream. This
can include not entertaining careers that are not deemed as prestigious and
- Asian families intentionally and many times inadvertently discourage individuation
of children and stress conformity. Obedience and following the wishes of elders
are considered signs of respect.
- Asian immigrant adults struggle with Asian-American youths in cross-cultural/generational
conflicts in the above areas as well as in other life choices regarding daily
- Face saving gestures (bowing, smiling, or silence—even if they disagree)
- Nonconfrontative (will not overtly challenge or disagree with authority
- Cognizance of hierarchy and titles (paying attention to titles and degrees)
- Children usually are not allowed to express opinions openly (decisions are
made by adults)
- Authoritative parenting style (children, even adolescents, are expected
to follow parent wishes)
- Not trusting outsiders; usually prefering professionals of the same ethnicity
- Family or friends are sought first for consultation
- Elders are respected or at least consulted
- Traditional healers within the community are held in high esteem and sought
- Mostly mothers are involved in educational situations (distinct gender role),
though fathers will likely have decision-making influence; mothers are then
held accountable for results
Attribution of Handicapping Conditions
- Traditional causes for disabilities include punishment for past sins, fate,
or simple laziness that student can overcome with more effort and hard work
- Shame/guilt is associated with having a child with disability, especially
for the mother
- Less stigma is attached to physical disability than mental or academic disabilities;
therefore, you can discuss physical symptoms more openly
Suggestions for Effective Cross-Cultural Collaboration & Advocacy
- Consider the background of the family before planning strategies; it is
possible that you are dealing with a middle-class, American-born, Asian-American
parent requiring few (if any) adjustments.
- When in doubt, mirror the greeting and interpersonal behaviors of families
until you learn more (e.g., more formal at first).
- Allow time for pleasantries before doing “business.” Accepting small gifts
once is a sign of acceptance.
- Select interpreters who will be honest and forward with you, so you’re kept
informed of any cultural issues that impact decision making for the student.
- Respect is everything. Some prefer that we hand things (files, reports,
business cards, etc.) to parents with both hands but at a minimum, do not
“throw” or “drop” them in front of parents. Place them gently on table in
front of parents or give to them directly.
- Comparing a child’s low academic performance or intellectual ability with
another student (or students) in the class may bring shame to the parents,
which consequently will bring frustration or anger toward the child. Best
to make the comparison general and not specific.
- Parents from low SES need continual assurance and encouragement to inquire
about the presented information or participate in the discussion. Assurance
and encouragement can be nonverbal such as a smile and a nod.
- Allow time for parents to share but manage the time. Most of them are not
familiar with the structured nature of IEP meetings and often use a lot of
time to share their thoughts and feelings or give excuses for what they perceive
as the student’s fault. If necessary, promise that we would listen to them
after the meeting to learn more about the situation but now we need to focus
on the business of the meeting. Vietnamese parents often continue their conversation
after the meeting as a way to find closure.
- Guide parents to learn the “system” so they can begin to advocate for themselves
and their children (e.g., in-language written/web material, linkage with other
parents, organizing short meetings to review information, home visits).
National Technical Assistance Center (NTAC-AAPI) http://www.ntac.hawaii.edu/downloads/products/briefs/culture/pdf/
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