Some Aspects of Vietnamese Culture in Child Rearing Practices

I decided to focus my last cross-cultural research project on child rearing practices of the Vietnamese people and how they differ from that of my own.  Included in my work are noteable differences I have found through my reading, research, discussions, interviews, & surveys.  I have conducted my interviews not only through live person-to-person speech, but I have also utilized the internet and entered chatrooms to speak to Vietnamese people as well.  I hope that my research is of interest, and can be informative and educational as it surely has been for me.

During my interview with a co-worker I was told about a proverb and that most Vietnamese parents are aware of: “ng con hn nhiu ca” (it is far better to have more children than goods). The number of children in a family is unlimited. The child rearing practices of the Vietnamese people differ from area to area (ie. North, Middle and South Vietnam), and amongst people with different educational levels and generation. Therefore, the following information I have presented should be used as a guide and based on the kind of behavior specified.

Like most Americans, most of Vietnamese women living in the city have their child born in hospital, but in the villages or country towns however, an untrained midwife “M Vn”- rural midwife, or even the mother or mother-in-law or female relatives can assist the women during their labor (Hassan et al., 1985). There were no routine check ups during women’s pregnancy in rural areas. Check ups started in the late 1960’s in the large cities or country towns since the establishment of hospitals and medical clinics. In cities women would see a doctor particularly when they have problems; women in rural areas rarely visit a doctor.

Unlike America with its pregnancy how-to classes, exercise classes are unknown in Vietnam. Pregnant women in the countryside are even expected to carry out all normal duties of housework or to help their husband in the rice-field until childbirth, whereas in America we follow our expecting mothers with a quick pillow. Shockingly I also found out that even In the delivery room the attendance of a husband is unusual.

Chinese medicine sold legally in Chinese medicine shops are often used by Vietnamese women. Particular herbs are common as treatment for certain illness to help relieve pain and to speed up the labor process and to have a quick healthy birth.

Strict rules to obey during the ante and post-natal

The mother or mother-in-law is the principal person playing a significant role in assisting, observing and applying some very strict rules to the pregnant woman:
She has to walk slowly so she cannot fall over as this can create a premature labor.
She cannot sleep too much because it is believed that it may prolong the labor, instead she needs to be actively involved in housework.

She is supposed to avoid any horror stories, films, or pictures as they could badly affect the embryo’s mind. During this time anger, anxiety, frustration etc. are considered as bad attitudes, and good manners are stressed for the mother so that the child can learn and behave accordingly. Listening to sweet and soft music would amuse the mother and help the unborn child to developing ‘artistic’ skills in the future (Mitchell, 1980).

During the pregnancy, dietary taboos are invoked to protect the fetus and the woman. An additional and important aspect of prenatal care is food restrictions, which have been determined by the application of traditional medical theory. In the first trimester, “the expectant mother is considered to be weak, cold and non-tonic. She is prescribed hot foods including ginger, black pepper, and alcohol to correct the excess of cold, while cold foods such as spinach, melon, and green papaya, and anti-tonic foods such as vinegar, pineapple, and lemon, are avoided assiduously” (Mathews & Manderson, 1981:70).

In the second trimester, she moves to a neutral state in which cold foods may be introduced in moderation. To provide the energy for the mother and the healthy development for the fetus, during the first six months, tonic foods are regularly introduced. In contrast, the last trimester the woman is considered to be in a hot and tonic situation, she has to avoid the tonic foods such as vitamin supplement and limit her daily diet which could cause a large baby thus leading to a difficult delivery.

The mother, immediately after the childbirth has to be kept warm for at least three months. That is the influence of the East Asia traditional medicine. It is a combination of naturalistic observations and philosophical considerations. To be a healthy state, the human body depends on the equilibrium of two basic opposite elements: “Dng” (Yang) or positive represented by light, heat, and dryness; “m” (Yin) or negative represented by dark, cold and wetness (Tran, 1980; Mathews & Manderson, 1980). Any imbalance in content or flow of the forces may cause diseases. Women are therefore expected to obey these rules to avoid illness.

In the belief that the mother lost heat during birth, she has to eat highly seasoned foods to restore health. Foods provided for women after birth should be very spicy, hot and dry whilst sour fruits like oranges and lemons are forbidden. Having a bath is also not allowed, the women need to sponge themselves with warm water (there were no running water or showers in rural areas, these facilities being available only in the large cities). During the first three months after the birth, the woman and her husband should not have sex because of the state of her health, particularly when having the first child.

I also found an interesting and great difference between Americans and the Vietnamese regarding a baby’s age, it is assumed that a child turns “one year old” at birth because the nine months’ pregnancy is also counted as the child age. Their ages are calculated by the “birth sign” that is repeated every 12th year.

All Vietnamese families celebrate “y Thng” that means one full month after the child’s date of birth. This is a big ceremony especially for the first male child in the family. In the old days due to the lack of medical facilities in Vietnam children’s fatality rate was very high, about fifty or sixty percent. The ceremony is organized to celebrate the child who has overcome a dangerous period of life. For a Christian child, the concerned family celebrates the full month “y Thng” religious ceremony at the church. Family members and friends are invited to attend the baptism.

“Thi Ni” ceremony is held after 12 Lunar months, marking again that the child has survived and gone through the first crucial year. In the celebration day, the baby selects toys strewn around which is supposed to indicate his or her future career (Crawford, 1966).

Except for these occasions during childhood, Vietnamese people have a traditional custom to honor “m Gi” (Death anniversary) rather than birthday. Birthday celebration is conducted in wealthy and westernized families in the large cities with the fashion of giving gifts to the concerned persons.
In the Vietnamese society intelligence, scholarship, and wisdom are highly valued, education plays a vitally important part in the social life. Teachers become a second range of social hierarchy just after the king in Confucianism (King, Teacher, Father) (Nguyen, 1988). Children are taught to respect the values and beliefs that have been transmitted from their ancestors.

In Vietnam the family is the most fundamental and important unit of the society and it is extended in nature and considered as a backbone for each individual family member, especially for the children: “In Vietnam the child is secure in the family circle… the extended family is responsible for all the children in it, and the children get support from the extended family” (Hassan, 1985: 279). In other words, the family is expected to be responsible for the welfare of its members (Brick & Louie, 1984).

In the traditional Vietnamese society, the child is at the mother’s side until the age of three. He/she starts a fragment of conversation and step-by-step the child discovers a whole new world when he/she goes to explore the surroundings: the bamboos, fruits, the large banana leaves, birds etc. He/she thus learns language and ideals from his mother’s experience. The child grows up within the environment where the mother is always available for her/his request, demand or question. He/she also develops knowledge through the activity with other neighbor children, cousins, brothers and sisters. Gradually the child learns to socialize with others and obeys the rules of the life of society. The child then is personalized to the cultural values and beliefs of Vietnamese society and its peoples.

Language and Culture: Vietnam, A.M.E.S., Sydney, 1984.
Custom and Culture of Vietnam, Charles E. Turttle, Ruthland, Vermond, 1966.
Vietnamese Families, in Ethnic Family Values in Australia, D. Storer (ed.), Prentice-Hall, Melbourne, 1985.
Some Aspects of Vietnamese Culture, Centre for Vietnamese Culture Studies, Illinois University, 1976.
Vietnamese Realities, Republic of Vietnam Department of Foreign Affairs, Saigon, 1967
Infant feeding practices and lactation diets amongst Vietnamese immigrants, Australian Paediatric Journal, 16, 1980:263-266.
Vietnamese attitudes towards maternal and infant health, The Medical Journal of Australia, January 24, 1981:69-72.
Vietnamese Child -rearing Practices, Department of Further Education Language and Migrant Education Centre, 1980.