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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
 
J Cult Divers. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2016 June 26.
Published in final edited form as:
J Cult Divers. 2016 Spring; 23(1): 12–20.
PMCID: PMC4921126
NIHMSID: NIHMS795214

Korean American Parents’ Perceptions of Effective Parenting Strategies in the United States

Eunjung Kim, PhD, ARNP, Seunghye Hong, PhD, and Camille Mariko Rockett, MSW, LSW

Abstract

This study aimed to explore the perceptions of Korean American parents on effective parenting strategies taught in a standardized U.S. parenting program. Participants in the study were interviewed using semi-structured open-ended questions, and audio taped interview data were transcribed and analyzed using content analysis. Themes that emerged were: effective parenting strategies, impact of learning effective parenting strategies on parents, and learning effective parenting strategies: impact on children. Findings indicated that Korean American parents felt the program was based on Western parenting strategies but they were effective. They also believed the program strategies would be useful in regulating their emotions, increasing their abilities to be patient and consistent with their children, and helping them explore issues from their child’s perspective, all of which they believed improved their parenting self-efficacy and intimacy with their children. Additionally, parents reported that their children acquired more self-confidence, better self-expression, increased obedience and decreased misbehaviors, and increased emotion regulation and problem solving as a result of their participation in the program. These findings could contribute to develop an effective, culturally and linguistically relevant parenting program for Korean American parents.

Keywords: Korean American, Effective Parenting Strategies, Parenting Program

Parenting programs are important health promotion interventions that can help parents develop and use effective parenting strategies that are related to positive outcomes in children (Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001). Most the parenting programs in the United States (U.S.) provide curriculums tailored to U.S. values and parenting norms. The Incredible Years Parenting Program, for example, teaches parenting strategies that are aligned with U.S. culture and values (Webster-Stratton, 2001), but this program and others like it rarely reflect the culture and parenting style of ethnic minority parents and those who do not identify with typical U.S. culture and values. Therefore, when pilot-testing standardized programs with minority populations, it has become important to examine parents’ perceptions of the program’s parenting strategies taught in the program to assess its effectiveness, cultural and linguistic appropriateness, and delivery.

The Incredible Years Parenting Program was pilot-tested with Korean American parents (Kim, Cain, & Webster-Stratton, 2008) to address their desire to fit into the social context of the U.S. while balancing both Korean and U.S. parenting values (Kim & Hong, 2007). The mismatch in parenting values and social contexts has increased conflicts between Korean American parents and children, which have been found to be related to depressive symptoms among Korean American adolescents (Kim & Cain, 2008) as well as their parents (Kim, 2011). After completing the program, intervention group mothers reported a significant increase in the use of positive discipline compared to control group mothers (Kim et al., 2008). In a focus group evaluation, intervention group parents thought that program recruitment and retention strategies were effective (Kim, Choe, & Webster-Stratton, 2010). They however also noticed cultural differences in the parenting skills taught. They reported negative feelings about watching the videotapes, specifically because the tapes presented mostly European American families speaking in English. Parents did state that despite these negative feelings, they felt that program content was useful (Kim, Choe, et al., 2010). However, it is not known how parents perceived each parenting strategy taught in the program, and it would be helpful to understand which strategies were perceived as effective. Thus, the purpose of this study was to explore Korean American parents’ perceptions of the effective parenting strategies taught in a standardized U.S. parenting program.

Guideline for Effective Parenting Strategies in the United States

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 1998), effective parenting strategies include practices used to (1) promote parent and child intimacy, (2) encourage a child’s appropriate behavior, and (3) reduce a child’s misbehavior. In the U.S., strategies for promoting parent and child intimacy and promoting appropriate behaviors include positive discipline such as (1) playing with children and (2) using a reward system with social rewards (e.g., praising and hugging/kissing) and tangible rewards (e.g., special treats, money, additional privileges, and stickers for a sticker chart) (AAP, 1998; Carolyn Webster-Stratton, 2004). One common parenting strategy in the U.S. for decreasing misbehavior is the use of appropriate discipline methods such as ignoring, timeouts, reasoning, correction, and removing privileges (Ateah, Secco, & Woodgate, 2003; Gross & Garvey, 1997; Webster-Stratton, 2002). AAP does not promote the use of harsh discipline which is defined as the application of negative stimuli (e.g., verbal reprimands and corporal punishment) to reduce or eliminate misbehavior.

Parenting Strategies among American Parents

Evidence reveals that 90% of American parents hug or cuddle their children and 84% play with their children (Wissow, 2002). American parents of young children sometimes or often use timeouts (69%), explanations (66%), and the taking away of privileges (53%) as discipline strategies (Wissow, 2002). Scolding/yelling is used by nearly 85% of American parents; however, two-thirds of parents who use scolding/yelling believe that it is not effective (Gallup, Moore, & Schussel, 1995). Approximately 94% use corporal punishment, of which the most common method is spanking by hand (72%), followed by slapping of the extremities by hand (63%), and spanking with an object (29%) (Straus & Stewart, 1999). Research indicates that spanking is often related to parental frustration in response to their child’s disobedience (Andero & Stewart, 2002; Wissow, 2002) and that 50% of parents think that spanking is not effective (Gallup et al., 1995). The public’s attitude toward spanking as an acceptable form of regular discipline has decreased from 94% in the 1960s to 61% in the year 2000 (Benjet & Kazdin, 2003). Spanking children has a strong positive correlation with parental hitting, yelling, use of timeouts, removal of privileges, and explaining, whereas spanking was significantly negatively linked to reading to, listening to music with, playing with, and hugging children (Wissow, 2002).

When their parents are responsive, warm, and emotionally available, children tend to be socially competent, well adjusted, and well accepted by their friends (Cummings, Cummings, & Burgess, 2002). In contrast, children tend to be aggressive, have conduct or behavioral problems, and break rules when their parents are harsh, critical, inconsistent, and permissive and when they supervise poorly (Chamberlain, Reid, Ray, & Fisher, 1997; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Reid & Eddy, 1997; Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001). Spanking has mixed relationships with child outcomes; it correlates negatively with African American girls’ later aggressive behavior while positively corresponding with European American boys’ future aggressive conduct (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997).

Parenting Strategies among Korean American Parents

An earlier qualitative study found that the Korean American parents perceived that Korean style of parenting primarily involved low expression of affection while the American style of parenting consisted of praising and showing physical affection (E. Kim & Hong, 2007). For misbehaviors, Korean parents identified spanking as a Korean style of parenting and identified timeouts, sticker charts, adding/removing privileges, giving extra work or chores, and reasoning as American styles of parenting. However, in a follow-up survey, Korean American mothers and fathers reported using more positive and appropriate discipline than harsh discipline (Kim, Guo, Koh, & Cain, 2010). Another follow-up qualitative study, which looked at the idea that Korean American parents may be adopting an American parenting style, indicated that Korean American parents evaluated the pros and cons of both Korean and American styles of parenting and then constructed their own parenting style (Kim, Im, Nahm, & Hong, 2012). They expressed more affection and described more attempts to be patient, listen, and reflect on their child’s opinion. They also tried using timeouts, removing privileges, explaining, and reasoning as alternatives to spanking (Kim et al., 2012).

Data also show that Korean American mothers’ expressions of physical affection, correction of misbehavior, and reasoning with their children to stop misbehavior were positively correlated with their child’s social competence (Kim, Guo, et al., 2010). Korean American fathers’ harsh discipline (spanking, hitting, asking children to sit with raised arms) was positively correlated with children’s behavior problems (Kim, Guo, et al., 2010). When Korean American parents were warm, their children tended to have better social competence (Kim, Han, & McCubbin, 2007), better psychological functioning (Kim, 2008), and fewer depressive symptoms (Kim & Cain, 2008).

Parenting Program to Promote Effective Parenting Strategies

Standardized parenting programs are some of the most cost-effective and widely studied interventions for teaching effective parenting strategies (Brestan & Eyberg, 1998; Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001). The Incredible Years Parenting Program was chosen to be the standardized parenting program for this study. It met rigorous criteria for well-established interventions as indicated in a published review of 82 intervention studies (Brestan & Eyberg, 1998). The Incredible Years Parenting Program teaches parenting strategies consistent with AAP recommendations: playing with the child, praising, giving rewards (i.e., sticker charts, extra privileges), setting limits, and constructively managing misbehaviors (i.e., ignoring, timeouts) (C. Webster-Stratton, 2001).

Caucasian, African, and Hispanic mothers who completed the Incredible Years Parenting Program had higher frequencies of positivity, consistency, and competence, and lower levels of criticism in their parenting than control group mothers (Reid, Webster-Stratton, & Beauchaine, 2001). Although Asian American mothers who completed the program did not increase in positive discipline, they decreased their use of critical and harsh discipline. Asian mothers stated that the positive discipline technique was less useful than reported by other groups of parents (Reid et al., 2001). Contrastingly, Kim, Cain, and Webster-Stratton (2008) found that after completing the same program, Korean American mothers significantly increased the use of positive discipline as compared to control group mothers. The reason for this difference in impact between Asian American mothers and Korean American mothers is not clear.

Research Questions

This study specifically explored the following research questions: (1) what are Korean American parents’ perceptions of effective parenting strategies taught in a U.S. standardized parenting program?; (2) what kinds of changes have they incorporated into their parenting strategies?; and (3) what do Korean American parents’ perceive to be the impacts on their children resulting from their completion of a standardized parenting program?

METHODS

Study Design

Using content analysis, this study examined how Korean American parents perceived the various strategies taught in the Incredible Years Parenting program. The data presented in this paper were part of a randomized controlled experimental study that pilot-tested the program with Korean American parents in the Pacific Northwest.

Procedure

The study was approved by a University Institutional Review Board and informed consent was obtained from all study participants. Participants were recruited from a Korean language school and its surrounding community in the Pacific Northwest. Once all families (N = 33) completed the pre-intervention assessments, they were randomly assigned to the intervention group (n = 21) or the control group (n = 12). Intervention group parents attended the weekly two-hour small group sessions for twelve weeks and were taught by two bilingual, bicultural Korean American group leaders. Activities dining sessions included checking homework, learning new content, practicing new skills, and receiving homework, according to the leaders’ protocols (Webster-Stratton, 2001). After the intervention was completed, parents completed the post-intervention assessments which included an individual interview. One family dropped out of the intervention group due to health reasons, and 20 families (20 mothers, 2 fathers) finished the intervention, but 1 mother missed the individual interview due to travel. Parents were interviewed in Korean language by the first two bicultural, bilingual researchers using the following questions: (1) what do you think about the parenting strategies learned in the parenting program? (2) what changes did you make in your own parenting strategies after completing the program? and (3) what do you perceive to be the effect on your child? The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed in Korean for analysis by a transcriber who was bicultural and bilingual.

Data Analysis

The interview transcripts were analyzed using inductive content analysis (Morgan, 1993; Weber, 1990) by two bilingual and bicultural Korean researchers. One researcher began by independently listening to the recordings and reading the transcripts several times to gain a broad understanding of the content. Next, while reading the transcripts, the researcher highlighted key quotations and assigned key codes to each research question. Once key codes were assigned, all coded quotations were combined and placed in one file. In this process, a grid was developed that tabulated the key codes on one axis and quotations from the transcripts on the other. The grid was revised several times to develop an accurate list of key codes derived from the data. Based on the grid, explicit coding and scoring instructions were developed. A second researcher then coded the entire transcription using the coding grid. Interrator reliability was acceptable at 75% (Krippendroff, 1989).

In the next stage, each researcher independently identified major themes by carefully reading the coded quotation grid and grouping key coded quotations together according to the content areas that emerged from the data. After both researchers felt that they had identified major content-related themes, both reviewed the themes together and engaged in active dialogue to resolve any discrepancies. The researchers reached an agreement after an extensive discussion of the content-related themes. Finally, the researchers validated the structure of the content areas against the interview data by reading the interview transcripts once more. Translation of quotes required both staying true to the Korean meaning of the words as well as adapting the quotes to English.

FINDINGS

Findings were organized based on the study sample and then by themes resulting from each research question (See Table 1). Quotes were translated into English with the priority on maintaining of meaning of interviewee responses.

Table 1
Korean American parents’ perceptions of effective parenting strategies in the U.S.

Study Sample

The mean age of participants (19 mothers, 2 fathers) was 37.19 (SD = 2.82) years. They received an average 14.86 (SD = 3.04) years of education. All participants were born in Korea and had lived in the U.S. for an average of 10.10 (SD = 5.39) years. Nine (43%) parents were American citizens, eight (38%) were permanent residents, and four (19%) were temporary residents. Even though permanent residents and sojourners are not technically Korean Americans, in general, psychologists include them under the term “Korean American” in their research because of the limited number of accessible participants (Uba, 1994). Nineteen parents (90%) self-identified as Christian while two parents (10%) did not report their religious preference. In terms of annual family income, 16% of participants earned less than $40,000,63% earned between $40,001 and $80,000, and 21% earned over $80,001. The average number of children in a family was 1.71 (SD = .85). The mean age of participants’ children (9 girls, 10 boys) was 5.81, (SD = .85) and the children had lived in the U.S. an average of 5.10 (SD = 1.94) years.

Effective Parenting Strategies

Overall, parents believed that the specific techniques taught in the Incredible Years Program such as playing, praising, encouragement, using sticker charts, ignoring, and using timeouts were American parenting styles because they were foreign to them. Parents also reported the belief that these effective techniques were American style because the techniques included controlling ones’ emotions, communicating with children, asking children’s opinions, and refraining from yelling and spanking. Two parents explained that they wanted to learn effective parenting strategies instead of judging whether the strategies were Korean or American in style. Some parents who had heard of a few of these strategies stated they did not know how to practice them with their children before they were taught in the program. In the following section, parents’ perceptions of these strategies are discussed.

New specific playing techniques

The concept of playing with children was not new to Korean American parent participants because many parents played with their children before attending the program. However, during the program, parents were taught specific techniques to use in playing with their children that were new to them. They learned to think from their child’s perspective, to initiate play rather than only responding to their children’s request, to follow their children’s lead, and to let children enjoy play itself rather than pushing them to achieve goals set by parents. Factors related to difficulty with playing included: (1) children’s preference for playing with siblings over mothers, (2) not knowing how to set limits when children requested to play more, (3) being busy because they had three children who needed rides to activities, (4) being tired after work, and (5) wanting to release their own stress rather than playing with children. One mother said:

I did not increase the number of times I played with my child. What had changed was how to play with her. I started thinking from my child’s perspective. I did fewer things my own way and centered play around my child’s interests.

Importance of praising out loud

Parents reported that they praised their children before beginning the program. In the sessions, however, they learned the importance of praising out loud rather than just thinking their praises. They also felt that they learned how to praise by specifically including the use of positive expressions and by praising their child’s motivation and not just outcomes. A mother said:

I praised my child before. But, I only said, “yes, good job.” In the program, I learned how to praise specifically. When trying this strategy, I said, “you colored here yellow; it matches well overall. Your drawing is so pretty,” it really worked. My child’s facial response was very different from when I just said, “It is pretty.” He also made more efforts.

A few parents reported they felt uncomfortable in praising more than usually or unconditionally. This was especially true for parents who previously did not praise their children. Learning that they ought to praise children became a stressor to some parents. One mother said, “The fact that I had to praise gave me stress. I had to praise small things to encourage my child and that was stressful.”

Sticker charts as a parenting strategy

Most parents heard about sticker charts from children whose teachers used them in school, but they did not know how sticker charts worked as a parenting strategy. Some parents had tried using sticker charts prior to the program, but they did not know how to implement them strategically. In the program, parents learned to use sticker charts to consistently recognize behavior rather than simply giving a sticker when a parent feels good about a child’s behavior. Parents thought that sticker charts were effective in decreasing struggles with children to get ready for school in the morning and in motivating children to do their work (e.g., brushing teeth, homework, reading books, or doing piano practice). Some parents did not favor using sticker charts because they thought that giving rewards for the work that children are “supposed to do” would result in children working only to receive a reward rather than doing work autonomously. Other parents thought that both parents and children needed perseverance when using sticker charts because it could take 1–2 months for the behavior to become a habit for the child. Children who liked sticker charts requested that mothers use them when mothers forgot. A mother said, “Before the program, I rewarded my child when I was in good mood or had time. Now, I use sticker charts when my child follows a rule. That is what is different.”

Ignoring small misbehaviors strategically

Before the program, parents did not know that ignoring behavior could be used as a discipline strategy. Once they learned that they could ignore small misbehaviors strategically, parents realized that this method could give them time to calm down. One mother said, “I used to waste time to quarrel over trifles with my son. Now, I ignore and gain times to control my mind.” However in contrast, parents felt that ignoring could be difficult to use unless the parent had a clear belief that it is an effective tool. Two parents reported that ignoring was difficult to implement because as parents they were not able to control their own reactions to their child’s misbehavior, and one parent thought that ignoring was not an age appropriate discipline for her 8 year old.

Specific parameters for timeouts

Previous to the program, many parents were unfamiliar with using timeout tactics or had implemented them somewhat differently than what was taught in the program. For example, parents sent siblings to the same room for timeouts, gave long timeouts (e.g., 30 minutes to 1 hour) or mixed timeouts with the traditional Korean discipline strategy of having children raise both of their arms in the air to induce physical pain. These parents learned specific parameters for timeouts such as sending children to separate places or rooms and setting age-appropriate time alone to no more than 5 minutes, as well as praising children after using timeouts. Parents realized that they needed to set rules for a timeout before implementing it, and that they needed to have a “calm mind” before directing a child to take a timeout. Timeout methods thus became another tool parents felt they could use to deal more effectively with situations requiring discipline. Two parents reported that they used fewer timeouts because they considered timeouts a last resort and did not want to use them too frequently. Another parent reported that once she learned how to control herself, she had fewer conflicts with her child. A mother said:

I used to yell a lot. Before I learned timeouts, I first yelled at my children and used not to let my children do things. Now I explained to my child that, “if you do this, you will go timeout.” Once I explained it to children, they accepted it easily.

Impact of Learning Effective Parenting Strategies on Parents

Better emotion regulation

Parents reported that by learning effective parenting strategies, they learned how to better control their emotions. This allowed parents to be less hot-tempered and angry. One mother said, “When I got into the situation that I want to spank my child, I take deep breath and tells myself, ‘ah, I cannot do this because I am angry, this is not what I learned.’ That helped me a lot.” A father said:

If I say what we used to do as eastern style and what we learned from the program as western style, the biggest difference is that we approached emotionally in the eastern style. We treated our children differently depending on our emotions: when we are feeling good, we treat our children well, when we do not feel good, we [don’t]… What we learned in the program is regulating our emotions and rationally using ignoring or timeouts based on systematic method.

More patience and generosity

Parents reported that after engaging in the program, they became more generous, more tolerant, and nicer to their children, clinging less to trivialities. Parents perceived that they were using ignoring or timeouts rather than yelling and spanking as they became more patient with their children. A mother said, “Now, when I discipline my child, I explain using words or use ignoring or timeouts. Compared to what I used to do to my child before, I became nicer, didn’t it?” Another mother said:

There was a Carnival at my child’s school. I was bored and wanted to come home quickly. But, I bought him tickets as he wanted and let him take it easy. Because he did independently, he felt worthwhile. After experiencing directly and when things were over, he said three times that he was very thankful.

Increased empathy for their children

Parents reported that they were able to think from their child’s viewpoint and started to respect their children as a result of the program. In communicating with their children, they learned to first hear their child’s viewpoint before the punishment method was decided. They also experienced that ignoring was effective with their children: parents stated that this technique caused them to think before they “nagged” their child, to consider their child’s viewpoint, and to better understand their child’s mind. A mother said:

When I got angry, I used to yell, “What are you doing?” and then 1 nag, “Stop it.” But, when I ignore, I allow my child do things that I do not like. “I will ignore… Ahhh… He will behave soon…” I tell myself to wait and calm down, and then, I realize that what he wants is different from what I want.

Less harsh and more appropriate discipline

Parents said that they sometimes yelled and spanked their children because they were angry and because they did not know how to control their emotions. Yelling helped them release their anger. When parents learned the ignoring and timeouts strategies, they recognized that these approaches also helped them calm down and become less angry. As parents controlled their feelings and attempted to be more peaceful internally, they were able to adjust their discipline strategies and become more consistent. They nagged and yelled less, spanked less or stopped spanking altogether, and used more explaining, reasoning, ignoring and timeouts. A mother explained:

I was used to punishing my children when they fought each other, usually saying “You both go and hold your arms up on the air.” Now, I say, “You need to go timeout.” Then, I separate them: one on this corner and the other on that corner. It is very good that I don’t need to nag. I get less upset and hurt my children’s feeling less.

Increased parenting self-efficacy

Parents reported that once they implemented effective parenting strategies, they increased their feelings of self-efficacy in parenting. They believed they were able to deal with situations successfully, and they also received assurance that their new approaches were effective and valuable. A mother said:

When I did not know how to deal with the child, I used to feel burden. “What should I do in this case, what should I do in that case?” After learning effective parenting strategies, I became confident, resulting in lightening the burden.

Increased intimacy with their children

Parents perceived that after they finished the parenting program, their intimacy with their children increased. Participants identified several behaviors that indicated an increase in intimacy: spending more time with children, playing with children, using more explanation and reasoning, and communicating more. Indicators also included less yelling, one’s child crying less, fewer punishments, and less forcing of children to do things. One mother stated:

I played with my children, making crafts, reading books, and hearing their stories. They liked it very much. Because of that, I feel that our relationships are getting much better. They listened to me more easily. That is, because I let them do what they want, they feel that they also need to listen to me. Although they don’t say it, I think that is what is happening.

Parents believed that the following issues remained even after completing the parenting program: (1) parental anger and (2) difficulty internalizing the strategies learned.

Parental anger

Ten parents commented that although they had fewer outbursts of anger, they still got angry at times. Generally, parents tended to get angry when they were physically and mentally tired and irritable, when they placed too high an expectation on their child, and when they lacked time. A mother said:

Many times, I cannot control my anger, especially when I am tired. If I used to get angry 10 times and exploded my anger 10 times, now I try not to explode my anger about 60–70% of time, if not half. I try not to explode and think one more time. I think about praising that I learned and praise my child.

Parents felt that timeouts required patience and time, while yelling had an instant effect, especially when there was no time. Parents also reported that continuing to get angry was a problem. One father stated that in part, getting angry and yelling were part of his personality of being an extrovert.

Difficulty internalizing the strategies learned

Eight parents reported that they were not able to internalize the effective parenting strategies learned in the program. Because the skills were new to parents who grew up in Korea, these parents felt they lacked a base upon which they could build the new strategies, comparing themselves to parents who grew up in the U.S. In addition, it was challenging for parents to change the parenting strategies they already used. Several perceived that they felt they needed go through the curriculum a few more times to truly internalize the methods. A father said:

1 understand the new skill itself in my mind, but I cannot feel it in my heart. Because I am not familiar with it; my old method, which became my habit, comes out, resulting in less application of new skill. But, I really tried hard to apply new skill.

However, some also shared ideas about how the program might be more impactful to the Korean American community. One parent thought that it would be important to start this kind of program when mothers are pregnant so that they can be prepared for their parenting. They also thought that the program could be offered at Korean churches so that more parents could attend the program and because in an ethnically homogenous environment, participants could more easily share their feelings about new strategies.

Learning Effective Parenting Strategies: Impact on Children

Acknowledged changes in their parents

Parents reported children showed interest in the parenting program by asking parents what they learned that week. They also acknowledged noticeable changes in their parents. One mother stated that her child said, “Mommy became very calmed down; you are always nice but you became softer.”

Increased self-expression

As children recognized a difference in their parents and felt more closeness, they themselves experienced increased self-expression and more communication with their parents. Children expressed their inner desires, talked about their emotions, and showed more affection to their parents by kissing, hugging, and saying “I love you” or “thank you.” A mother said, “My daughter used to not talk much. But now, she hugs me and says, “I love you so much,” a lot.”

Increased self-confidence

Parents perceived that self-confidence grew in their children. Praising was the main factor identified by parents that helped to increase confidence. Participants reported that children became less “clingy” with their parents, and also began to proactively voice to their mothers what they did well and prompted their mothers to praise them. A mother said:

When I first applied what I learned, I felt strange. Now I am very used to praising. It becomes natural. Children also accept it naturally. If I miss praising, my child says, “Mom, you need to say, ‘Good job to me.’

Increased obedience and decreased misbehaviors

Parents felt that after they finished the program, children became more obedient and less argumentative. Children also readily used good manners and began to wait rather than asking for immediate gratification. Factors identified that increased obedience were praising children and using sticker charts. Parents observed that praising motivated their children to repeat the behaviors that received praise. Parents also observed that after they implemented effective parenting strategies, their children reduced their misbehavior. Children argued less with their parents, rebelled fewer times and fought less with their siblings. One strategy that resulted in decreased fighting among siblings was sending all children to timeout when they fought. A mother said:

Sometimes I thought, “Gosh, how long I should praise” because it is not easy. However, when I praised my child, the light in her eyes changed and she was really happy. The light in her eyes changed! When I praised her generously, she also listened well. It became easy to raise her.

Increased emotion regulation and problem solving

Ignoring and timeouts reportedly helped parents and children regulate their emotions and solve problems by using appropriate techniques. Parents also thought that children would be less confused with the new techniques because teachers use similar discipline strategies in school. One Mother shared:

My child screams when he spills something by mistake. When I ignored his screaming and crying, he came to me when he stopped crying. So, I asked “What do you need to do?” Because I taught him how to say it in words before, he said what got wrong. I heard his explanation and cleaned the spill. I still use this strategy. I think he is getting better.

DISCUSSION

Evaluating the usefulness of a standardized parenting program with minority parents requires not only the examination of effectiveness using a self-report survey but also the exploration of parents’ perceptions of the strategies taught. This study found that Korean American parents who attended the Incredible Years Parenting Program perceived that parenting strategies taught in the program were based on western culture. This finding is consistent with the earlier finding that Korean American parents feel that praising, hugging/kissing, timeouts, using sticker charts, removing/adding privileges, and giving chores are American parenting strategies (Kim & Hong, 2007; Kim et al., 2012).

Previous studies also found that as Korean American parents adopted the U.S. values, they were more likely to use these strategies (Kim & Hong, 2007; Kim et al., 2012). However, Korean American parents’ use of praise, sticker charts, rewards, ignoring, and timeouts were not related to their child’s social competence or problematic behavior (Kim, Guo, et al., 2010). This lack of relationship between American standardized parenting strategies and child outcomes is not congruent with AAP’s (1997) statement that these are efficacious parenting strategies. And yet several previous studies found that tangible rewards were effective in decreasing behavior problems when they were given to children when they behaved properly (Raymond, Brett, & Jane, 2004; Robert & Garry, 1996).

The findings of this study may address the ambiguity of the relationship between effective parenting strategies and child outcomes. This study found that although some of the parents had heard about the program’s “effective strategies” (e.g., how to play with children, use sticker chart, use ignoring, and timeouts) prior to participation in the program, most did not have specific information about how to apply them with their children. This study also found that when parents were able to implement the detailed strategies from the program, they perceived positive changes in both themselves and their children. To be effective, these strategies should be used according to program specifications. Simply observing how their children’s teachers use sticker chart or timeouts may not be sufficient training for Korean American parents. Therefore, use of the “effective strategies” might not have been impactful until parents learned and grasped the specific methods taught through the standardized program.

By learning strategies through the Incredible Years Parenting Program, Korean American parents were able to positively adjust their parenting practices. It is fascinating that many parents stated they learned emotion regulation through the program. No studies that look at how Korean American parents regulate their emotions in parenting behaviors are currently available. However, the DSM-5 includes hwa-byung (i.e., anger illness), a Korean folk mental illness, which is similar to major depressive disorder (DSM-5, 2013). When Koreans suppress their anger rather than expressing it, it becomes hwa-byung. A previous study found that approximately 39% of Korean American women reported experiencing hwa-byung (Kim & Rew, 1994). Considering the large percentage of women who do experience hwa-byung, it is reasonable to believe that many Korean American women experience anger. It is possible that when these women become angry about a child’s misbehavior, they may be more likely to yell at or spank their children. This idea may be validated by a previous study which found that Korean American women spanked their children with their hand as a last resort (Kim & Hong, 2007).

By regulating their anger, Korean American parents who participated in this study became more patient and gracious. The process of emotion regulation made these parents feel more competent in dealing with a child’s misbehavior and also helped them gain intimacy with their children. This finding is consistent with previous studies conducted in the Chicago area where mothers in an Incredible Years Parenting Program intervention group significantly increased self-efficacy, decreased stress, and improved the quality of mother-child interactions as compared to the control group of mothers who did not experience the program (Gross, Fogg, & Tucker, 1995; Tucker, Gross, Fogg, Delaney, & Lapporte, 1998). Caucasian, African, and Hispanic mothers in the Pacific Northwest who finished the same program also became more positive, more consistent, more competent, and less critical in their parenting style (Reid et al., 2001). After finishing another standardized parenting program, intervention group mothers decreased corporal punishment and increased ignoring and timeouts compared to control group mothers (Peterson, Trembley, Ewigman, & Popkey, 2001).

When parents change their behaviors, they changes they make bring transformation in their child’s behavior. In this study, parents perceived that their children recognized that parents were becoming less angry and more generous as they practiced skills learned in the parenting program. This allowed the children to develop more intimacy with their parents, enabled them to become more self-expressive, and also resulted in increased confidence, increased obedience, decreased misbehavior, better emotion regulation, and problem-solving. Children’s’ behaviors are maintained by the attention they receive (Webster-Stratton, 2000). Therefore, by giving praise, parents were able to effectively increase obedience by ignoring undesired behavior (e.g., screaming) and were able to successfully decrease incidences of misbehavior. When children engaged in fights, parents used timeouts as a way to briefly remove parental attention, which effectively reduced the incidences of fights. These findings are consistent with the recommendations from AAP guidelines and lessons from other standardized parenting programs including those from Incredible Years (Gross & Garvey, 1997; Webster-Stratton, 2002).

Two areas of parental behavior did not change after the program. Parents still occasionally got angry and some were not able to internalize any effective parenting strategies. Incorporating anger management training into the parenting program may be a way to address this finding. Some parents who participated stated they wanted to experience the curriculum of parenting strategies a few more times so that they could internalize them. This may indicate that the teaching method could be adjusted to accommodate the learning styles of participants from non-American cultural backgrounds. The focus group evaluation of the same program found that delivering the program in Korean was one of the strongest advantages for the participants (Kim, Choe, et al., 2010). This may also indicate the Korean American cultural belief in life-long learning.

CONCLUSION

Providing a standardized parenting program is a valuable way to teach minority parents in the U.S. how to use effective parenting strategies endorsed by the AAP. Although previous studies found that Korean American parents naturally adopted some positive and appropriate discipline techniques as they assimilated into American culture (Kim & Hong, 2007; E. Kim et al., 2012), the current study found that the parents who participated in a standardized parenting program did not know how to use the strategies in an effective manner until they learned specific ways to use them in the program. A study limitation was the lack of conformability of the results because they were from a small unrepresentative sample and were not validated with study participants.

Healthcare providers and school teachers could use these study findings to better educate Korean American parents about effective discipline. Learning specific methods to use each strategy in successful ways made this program more useful for participants. For example, if healthcare providers taught the timeout method to immigrant parents, they would need to describe not only when to use it but also a step-by-step explanation of how to implement a timeout with several clear examples. It would be beneficial for healthcare providers to provide parents with written language-appropriate instructions similar to the Bright Futures handout that describes playing, sticker charts, and timeouts (Jellinek, Patel, & Froehle, 2002).

Future studies are needed to further elucidate the findings from this study. For example, parents continued to act out their anger when they were tired, had high expectations of children, and lacked time. Identifying methods to support parents in these situations would facilitate positive parenting skills. Parents also wanted to better internalize the program’s teachings. Finding ways to help parents to internalize the new strategies would increase the effectiveness of the program for Korean American population.

Acknowledgments

This study was supported by a grant awarded to Eunjung Kim “Korean American Parent Training” K01 NR08333.

Contributor Information

Eunjung Kim, Associate Professor at the University of Washington, Family and Child Nursing.

Seunghye Hong, Associate Professor at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work.

Camille Mariko Rockett, Research and Evaluation Manager at the Keiki O Ka’ Āina Family Learning Centers.

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