Factors influencing Thai parent–child interaction in a rapidly changing industrial environment


Natchanan Chivanon, Faculty of Nursing, Burapha University, Chon Buri 20131, Thailand. Email: natchananc@gmail.com


This paper explores factors influencing parent–child interaction of parents with children age 13–36 months old and working in the industrial setting in the eastern region of Thailand. An ethnographic study was conducted with 22 families. Data were collected through in-depth interviews, participant observation, audiotape/videotape recording and field notes from October 2008 to September 2009. The data were analyzed by means of (i) quantitative data using frequency and percentage and (ii) qualitative data using Roper and Shapira's strategies of content analysis. The factors influencing parent–child interaction include the parental knowledge about child development, their intention and time availability. Other influences noted were economic burdens and support from parents, the factory and the community. These findings provide a greater understanding of the factors influencing parent–child interaction among Thai families with young children. Also, the findings may be useful in the development of effective interventions and/or guidelines that improve the quality of parent–child interaction.


The interaction between parent and child is the first and the most important arena from which children learn and develop positive behaviours. The parent–child interactions serve as the foundation of children's development in various ways: cognitive skills, linguistic competency and motivation to explore and learn about the world, understand selves and others, and develop positive social relationships.1–3 Supportive and sensitive mother–infant interactions also pave the way to develop a healthy relationship and attachment between them.3,4

Culture plays a critical role in socialization of the individuals beginning in their childhood.5,6 Cultural and values system influence the rearing and upbringing of children. Importantly, cultural factors also serve as powerful and influencing forces in shaping and transforming the way parents think of their children.6

There is limited information about parent–child interaction in Thai families. The national survey on the development of Thai children < 5 years of age found that 72% of Thai children demonstrated normal development in 2004, yet by 2007 the percentage had decreased to 67.5,6 Further studies7,8,9 also found risk factors for lower child development among children aged 1–3 years, who were either having inappropriate household environment, such as suitable books or toys that stimulate child development, or receiving inappropriate child rearing practices. Thai children were less likely to develop optimal cognitive skill and to have delays in overall development skills. The delayed development and growth of the children is the result of many factors. One of the leading factors reported was having less appropriate parent–child interactions.3,4

Thailand is experiencing rapid economic growth. It is gradually transforming from a predominantly agrarian economy to a more complex economic system with an expansion of industrial sector of the country. Since 1960, Thailand has developed an industrial sector, which developed rapidly after 1985.10 As a result of economic development, industrial development has changed the Thai social structures impacting the way of life of people in many aspects, including living conditions, beliefs and values system, lifestyles and child rearing practices. Parents do not provide full time care of their children. Notably, more women have to work outside their home to financially support their families, resulting in family members having limited time for each other due to shift work. Another change in the family is that it becomes essential for mothers to leave their children at a child-care centre or nursery in their communities.10,11

Despite the fact that there are many studies about parent–child interaction, the majority are based on western cultures and little is known about parent–child interaction in Thai society, particularly in industrial settings. Therefore, it is important to explore the factors influencing parent–child interaction in Thailand particularly in an era of industrial expansion.


We conducted a qualitative study using the ethnographic approach to explore parent–child interaction of families working in the industrial areas of eastern Thailand. The ethnographic approach was chosen because it is appropriate to obtain information about parent–child interactions in relation to culture, the traditional lifestyle activities, the health-related beliefs and the behaviours of the participants.12,13

The data collection procedure was initiated following approval from the ethical research committee, Graduate School, Burapha University. All potential participants were informed about the following: the nature of the study; anonymity and confidentiality issues; what study involvement entailed (i.e. interviews, observations, audio/video recordings and note taking by the researcher); voluntary involvement; and the right to withdraw from the study at any time. Written consent forms were obtained when parents agreed to participate in this study.

Participants were parents of children aged 13 and 36 months old and who worked in the industrial areas in a province in eastern Thailand. This age group is more likely to have frequent interactions with parents due to care needs, which make observations of parent–child interaction behaviours more possible than with older children. Additionally, this group of children is energetic and has more curiosity about how things work and how to control others. It is extremely an important period for development achievement and intellectual growth.3,14 Moreover, children this age become more independent and capable of doing many things for themselves.15

Potential participants were recruited from eight factories and three health-care centres. The setting was selected because it was on the eastern seaboard of Thailand and reported a high migration of people for the purpose of employment in industry. Inclusion criteria included the following: at least 20 years of age; had a 13–36 month old child; worked in the industrial area of eastern Thailand; and willing and available to participate in the study. Families who had a history of mental health illness, chronic illness or severe health issues were excluded. All the participants spoke Thai only. Surveys were written in Thai and audiotapes translated in Thai then translated back to English.

We used purposive sampling to recruit 25 families. In two families, the parents decided to separate, resulting in 20 fathers taking part in this study. Three families withdrew during the data gathering process because of moving outside the area or having insufficient time to take part in the interview. The remaining 22 families proved sufficient for data saturation and included 70 family members (22 children, 22 mother, 20 father and 6 grandparents).

The data collection measures included the following: (i) a demographic survey; (ii) an in-depth interview guide using audiotape and video recording; and (iii) an observation guideline. The demographic survey included such items as aged child, gender of child, educational level of parents and family monthly income. The in-depth interview guide focused on parent–child interaction, particularly in different family contexts. The interviews were recorded using audiotape and videotape recording of the activities, related to parent–child interaction. Examples of the questions were ‘What do you do with your child in a typical day? Could you describe the activities you do with your child in daily life? How do you respond to your child's behaviour? How does your child respond to your action? Could you tell me the factors that facilitate your action? Lastly, could you tell me the factors inhibiting your action?’

The observation guideline included housing conditions, family relations, setting and parent–child interaction activities. For example, the researcher observed ‘what was going on between parents and their children in a typical day?’, ‘how does the parent respond to the child?’ and ‘how does the child respond to the parent?’ Furthermore, in order to understand the behaviours of parent–child interaction, the researcher video recorded the interaction of parents and children during their feeding, playing, teaching, disciplining and routine caring in their daily life.


Once a potential participant was identified and approached (either in the waiting room of one of the health clinics or in the lunch room of one of the factories), determined to meet the study's inclusion criteria, assured of his/her ethical rights and consented to take part in the study by signing a consent form, information regarding his/her home address and telephone number was obtained. Subjects were telephoned 2–3 days after initial contact in order to set up an appointment in their home.

To build trust and allow participants to become familiar with the researcher, the researcher made one to two visits, to each home, prior to collecting data. In addition, so as to better understand the everyday lives of the participants, the researcher moved to an apartment near the industrial park and became involved in activities with the parents and/or their children (i.e. singing, playing with toys and going to the playground, health-care centre, day-care centre or factory).

After the pre-data gathering, home visits were completed, and the primary investigator and each participating family agreed upon an appointment time to conduct a 1.5 to 2 h observation and in-depth interview of the parents in their respective home. Interviews generally were scheduled on a weekend or when the parental participants had a day off from work. The entire data gathering process took 2–3 months per family unit.

The setting

This study was carried out in an industrial setting located in eastern region of Thailand. Since 1977, the industrial setting has been owned and operated by private developers. The target area was situated on a massive parcel of land covering 640 acres. The areas around the industrial setting to the boundary were mostly residential—comprises houses, row houses, apartments and townhouse complexes for either rental or sale. Adjacent to the residential dwellings were agricultural farms that grew such crops as rice, tapioca, sugar cane, pineapple and fruits. The west boundary was predominantly a mixture of commercial and residential areas that included banks, business shops, commercial buildings, apartments and complexes of row houses, government offices, townhouses, restaurants, four fresh markets and four Buddhist temples. Other social institutions in the setting were a primary school, police station, community hospital, three health-care centres and five private day-care centres.

There were 81 companies operating in the target setting. The major types of manufacturing industries included the following: cosmetics, electronic appliances, food and beverages, footwear, garments and textiles, home care products, household appliances and others.

Data analysis

Each interview was transcribed verbatim from the tape recordings. The researcher reviewed each of transcripts to correct any typing errors, then reread several reading in order to look for coding themes. A separate file labelled for each access was created for each family. The data include observation scripts, interview scripts and field notes.

Demographic data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, while observational and interview data were examined using Roper and Shapira's13 strategies for ethnographic content analysis. Roper and Shapira's ethnographic content analysis is a process of discovering patterns and themes, searching for relationships among categories, developing explanations through use of coding (using descriptive labels), sorting data for patterns and determining outliers.

To ensure trustworthiness of the study, we used triangulation techniques, prolonged engagement, persistent observations and member checking.16,17 Triangulation was addressed by the use of multiple data sources (parents, grandparents and child health records), data collection methods (interviews, observations and field note review) and data analysis (by all members of the research team). Prolonged engagement was addressed by the researcher's long-term observations and emersion into the participants' lives until specific situations were understood. Persistent observation involved the researcher spending sufficient time observing participants so that thick descriptions could be written in the field notes and data, obtained from the secondary source and interpreted in a systematic manner. Finally, member checking occurred as a result of six families being asked to review the accuracy of the data transcribed and the interpretations.


Fifty-nine percent (n = 13) of the children were boys and 41% (n = 9) were girls. The majority of children were 13–24 months of age (n = 13; 59%). The demographic characteristics of the children and parents are shown in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1.  Demographic characteristics of the children
Demographic characteristics of childrenFrequency (n = 22)Percentage (%)
 13–24 months1359.00
 25–36 months941.00
Table 2.  Demographic characteristics of the parents
Demographic characteristics of parentsFather (n = 20)Mother (n = 22)
Age (years)  
 20–295 (25%)15 (68%)
 30–3913 (65%)5 (23%)
 40–492 (10%)2 (9%)
Geographical region of origin
 Northeastern6 (30%)10 (45%)
 Eastern5 (25%)5 (23%)
 Central3 (15%)4 (18%)
 Northern6 (30%)3 (14%)
Type of industrial employer
 Electronic parts3 (15%)7 (32%)
 Household appliances4 (20%)4 (18%)
 Food products3 (15%)3 (14%)
 Footwear2 (10%)2 (9%)
 Home care products2 (10%)2 (9%)
 Others (garments, cosmetics and textile)6 (30%)4 (18%)
Work duration  
 < 5 years9 (45%)8 (36%)
 5–10 years7 (35%)7 (32%)
 > 10 years4 (20%)7 (32%)

Factors influencing Thai parent–child interaction

The data revealed that participants interacted with children in their normal daily life in five major activities including the following: feeding, playing, teaching, disciplining and daily-routine caring activities. These interactions were both positive and negative characteristics. Positive interaction characteristics consisted of parents encouraging and supporting their children, while negative interaction characteristics consist of parents ignoring and threatening their children.18

Based on these characteristics, the interactions between parents and their children in industrial families intertwined with broader factors in their society. This study found that three groups of factors influenced parent–child interaction: parental, socioeconomic and environmental factors. The parental factors consisted of parental knowledge about child development, parental intention and paternal support (see Fig. 1). The socioeconomic factors consisted of economic burdens and time availability, while environmental factors included factory and community support.

Figure 1.

Factors influencing parent–child interaction among Thai families in a rapidly changing industrial environment. (PCI, parent–child interaction.)

Parental knowledge about child development

Knowledge about child development helps parents develop the skills to provide care for their children and to provide a positive environment. It enhances the quality of interaction between parents and their children because parents have knowledge to encourage a child to play, discipline the child and teach them how to behave appropriately. Moreover, parents who have knowledge about child development may be sensitive to cues and respond appropriately to the child in their daily life.

The majority of parents had a high school diploma or less. Some parents raised their own children in the same way as they were raised by their parents and reported that they wanted to know more about child rearing and development.

A 27 year old mother of a 13 month old boy stated:

I didn't prepare myself when I was pregnant. . . . I don't know much about his growth or development. I am looking for information about child rearing or child development.

In one family, both parents are employed: the father is a 26 year electronics factory worker and the 25 year old mother working in another electronics factory. The family moved from northern part of Thailand and reported that they do not know much about child growth and child rearing. The mother also indicated:

I would like to gain more knowledge about child rearing and child development. I want to learn from anyone that has this knowledge. . . . Here, there are many workers and they have many kids. We normally don't know much about child rearing. Everyday we only go to work and come back home when it is already dark.

Similarly, the mother of another 20 month old girl explained:

She is my first child; we don't know much about child development. My child is being reared by my mother because both of us are working. I do not know whether my child can do certain activities or not, or whether she acts normally or not. . . . Presently, I am worried because she likes to watch television too much. . . . I don't know ‘the right way’ to rear my child. I am only a beginner. I don't know whether what I do is wrong or right.

From observation, the child is reared by her grandmother who allows her to watch television from the time she awakens up until she falls asleep at bedtime in front of the television. This parent said that they want to know the basic knowledge about child rearing and child development because she is their first child.

Parental intention

Parental intention also impacts parent–child interaction because parents plan to care for their children. For example, if a child has problematic behaviour, some parents soothe, encourage to play or approach the child. Some families share the responsibility of childrearing.

In one family, the mother was 29 years old and worked in the same footwear factory as her husband. As her child was 8 months old, almost every morning, the mother took him to the nursery and picked him up in the evening. She stated:

When I had a baby, I intended to take good care of him. Both of us are working, so we share the responsibility. Everyday, his father cleans the dishes the feeding bottle, while I take a bath with my son. I play with him, sing songs, and teach him about the Thai and English alphabet. I want him to speak good English. . . . I bought an English-picture book for him and we practice reading together.

In another family, the mother moved from her place of origin in the northern part of Thailand. She was employed in a cosmetics factory for 20 years. She divorced her husband after she got pregnant. She takes her daughter to the nursery, which is close to her house, and picks her child up in the evening. She pays quite a lot of attention to her daughter. For example, everyday she teaches her daughter to greet people and asks her daughter about what she learned at the nursery; then she practices the alphabet. These are her comments:

I have been divorced from her father ever since she was born. I intend to give her the best care. I try to be as close to her as I can. In the morning, I take her to the nursery, in the evening I take her back home. In the morning I hug her first and she has to say ‘Sawasdee’ (hello) and hug me, when she comes back from school she also have to say ‘Sawasdee’. I want her to trust and obey me.

Additionally, the mother of a 2 year girl working in a household appliance factory said about her daughter:

When we decided to have a child, I talked with my husband. We agreed that if we have a child, we will have to share the responsibility . . . bring up our child by ourselves. I don't want to depend on others. We have to understand that we will do this together. My husband helps a lot. He teaches our child the Thai alphabet. Even if he is busy he spends time with her and does not complain. He takes care of our child and does everything for her, gives her a bath, feeds her, changes her clothes, plays with her and puts her to the bed.

From my observation, during my first visit, the father fed her a bottle of milk, played peek-a-boo with the child and also changed her diaper.

Paternal support

When fathers spend time with their children, they may create high-quality relationships. When a father and child interact, the father holds, touches, kisses, smiles or rocks the child; this can increase the child's excitement level. These actions indicate that the father is participating in the interaction between parent and child, which creates a positive result. Six mothers expressed a desire for the fathers to interact more with their children. A mother of a 2.2 year old girl, an employee in a household appliance factory, mentioned:

Her father helps me too little. I want him to do more than this. I have a lot of work and I am so tired. I want him to take care of our child. I feel her father is not interested in helping taking care of our child. . . . Sometime we quarrel about this.

Consequently, in another family, the mother works in a household appliance factory, while the grandmother takes care of her grandchild during the day. The grandmother (aged 63 years) reported that she would like the father of the child to interact and take care of his child. She said:

He is really not interested in him and takes no responsibility for his son. I had to ask him why he does not take care of him. . . . He told me that he works a lot so he does not want to participate in raising his son.

While the mother of this child added:

He has no interest in our son and does not take care of him. He does not hug or play with him. He said that it is because he is working; he goes out in the early morning and comes back at night. Only my mother and I look after the child.

Socioeconomic factors

Economic burdens

The majority of families mentioned the existence of financial problems. Financial problems impact the interaction between parents and their children as well as their daily lifestyle. Some parents could not support or spend time with their children because they had to work overtime to earn more money. Furthermore, quarrelling between fathers and mothers damages their relationships and negatively impacts the child.

A mother of a 13 month old boy working as an employee in a household appliance factory stated:

There are a lot of expenditures that I have to pay such as the room rental, 2870 baht, our vehicle, 4900 baht, milk and diapers for my child, 1800 baht, and water and electric utilities, 500 baht. I would like to care for my child, to play with him, feed him, especially, in the evening to go for a walk with him. But I cannot do this.

His grandmother (55 years old) also stated:

Money is very important, if we don't have enough money we cannot eat. Sometime, we have no money and we do not have anything to eat. Nothing!! It's only 10 baht for a bottle of water, but we cannot drink because of lack of money.

Due to their financial problems, they sometimes quarrel. The mother of an 18 month old boy indicated: ‘When we start a quarrel, my husband will speak very loudly. I don't want my son to hear us arguing. We quarrel because of money problem.’ The father added: Sometime, I cannot manage my money. My income is constant, but the expenses are greater.

Financial problems not only impact the expenditures of the parents but they also impact interactions with their children. Some children would like to play with commercial toys and their parents would like to give these to them, but they simply cannot afford to do so because the mothers wanted to keep the money for other required expenditures.

After finishing the fieldwork, the researcher visited the families again and found that some parents had sent children to live in their place of origin. One child was moved to the mother's birth place in the northeastern region of Thailand in order to stay with their relatives. The mother said, it was necessary to return to work and she did not have enough money to pay for the nursery.

Time availability

All of the participants worked full time in a factory, some worked both day and night shift and most of them work overtime. Working long hours and shift work impacts the interaction between the parents and their children as well as their daily life. Parents reported working overtime and come home late was a major reason they do not teach their children. A mother of a 2.6 year old child working in an electronics factory mentioned:

Time is very important; if I had time I could play with my child, talk to my child and rear my child. I would do better than I am doing now if I had more time.

In another family, the mother worked in an electronics factory with only Sunday as a day off. The father worked in a tourist industry company in another area. Therefore, every morning the mother had to take their child to a nursery and pick him up in the evening. She expressed her feelings as follows:

My son loves to play with me a lot, especially after dinner or before bed. Sometime I am too tried to play with him. In my work, you know, I do everything and I am very busy. I do ‘Mai-jim- fan- yan- ruen- rob’ (very busy). When I come home, I know he really wants to play with me . . . I play Jag-ka- jee (tickle) on his wrist and he laughs and laughs . . . I am so tired that I just let him sleep.

Time availability is a very crucial factor that impacts the quality of interaction between parents and their children in their daily lives, especially if parents work night shift and overtime. Interviews and observations revealed that 12 parents in this study were extremely busy with their household chores and factory work, leaving little time for their children.

Environmental factors

Factory support

Most of the participants expressed a desire for employers to provide support that promotes family life and quality contact between parents and their children. They especially wanted the factories to provide day care because the cost of a nursery or a private child day care was an economic burden. If affordable child care is available, families would not have to leave children with relatives in distant home towns. The majority of the families proposed that employers provide child day care near the workplace with lower prices than private day care. The mother of a 2.6 year old boy working in a textile factory mentioned that:

I would like the factory to have an area for taking care of children or a child day care room. This way we could keep our children close by us, while I work in the factory. We would not worry about our children when we are working.

Additionally, the mother of a 2 year old boy working in a foot wear factory also mentioned that:

I am working and my husband also works in this factory. If the factory provided child day care, I would take my child there. We would not worry and could work to the fullest.

There were 81 companies operating in the setting and recent data reported that there were ∼ 20 000 workers.19 However, there were no child day-care centres provided for working families by manufacturers, local government or the municipality. The void was filled by five private nurseries whose fees were too costly.

Community support

Community support is a very important factor because most of the participants stayed at home in their free time. Parents stayed in their communities so that they could become both a focal point for resource for learning, child handling practices and child rearing. Most of the parents believed that having adequate support from the community will enhance the quality of parent–child interactions. Many parents felt that the neighbourhood did not have enough play area for children, thus, they would like the community to construct a child play area. A mother of a 2.6 year old girl working in an electronics factory said:

There are many children in our community. You know, almost every families have children. The children do not have a public playground. I think that if the community or the municipality would provide a playground for the children, it would help us a lot. . . . There would be no need to play in the street which it is very dangerous for the children because there are a lot of cars and motorcycles there.

In one family, the mother, who works in a household appliance factory, normally took her child to the playground area in this industrial setting in order to play and relax on Sunday. She mentioned:

You can see my house is so small that we do not have much area for my child to play in. I think if our community had a football field or playground, we would go there to play and exercise together.

Additionally, the majority of the parents indicated that nurseries or child day-care centres have an important impact on their daily life. Participants believed that if the cost for child day care or a nursery was less, families would be in a better financial situation. The father of a 1.6 year old girl working as an employee in a home care product factory said:

I have two girls: 3 years and 2.6 years old. If our community had a child day care center managed by the municipal government it would be best. This area only has a private day care center currently. It is too expensive for us. The estimated cost is 2500–3000 baths per month per person. I know this municipality has a lot of revenue from the industrial area. I think they should provide child day care for the children in our community.

Additionally, the findings from interviews and observations revealed that there are many parents who would like to leave their children in a child day care but they cannot do it because the cost of private nurseries is very expensive. Therefore, while working they want to use a nearby child day care for an affordable price

In summary, the results of this study indicating factors influencing parent–child interaction of families working in the industrial setting are shown in Figure 1.


In this study, the major factors influencing parent–child interaction in families working in an industrial setting include the following: parental knowledge about child development, parental intention, paternal support, time availability, economic burdens and support from employers and community.

The majority of parents were predominantly migrants from the northeastern, the central and the northern regions. They graduated from high school (36%) and primary school (32%). Many had inadequate knowledge of child development. Parental lack of knowledge leads to being less responsive to their children. This study is congruent with previous studies1 that found that parents who have greater child development knowledge and more realistic expectations of child behaviour are better able to interact with their children and can promote healthy child outcomes. Therefore, nurses or health profession should provide health education program about parent–child interaction not only with parent having children from birth to 3 years old but also to prepare parents both in antenatal period and postpartum period in order to gain their knowledge of parent–child interaction.

In the realm of parental intention, several mothers reported intention to raise their children in a supportive and appropriate way. Parents who intend to raise their children appropriately have financial plans and manage to make time for their children. Moreover, these parents also provide both the Thai and English alphabet books to their children and teach their children the language. Parental intention was a definitive factor observed in participants and influenced the interaction between parents and their child in their daily life.

Regarding paternal support, the findings of this study correspond to previous studies20,21 that reveal that most Thai young children were cared for by their mothers. The majority of Thai male factory workers did not share child-care responsibilities. Findings elaborated on the role of Thai fathers in parenting and childrearing. Concerning economic burden, this problem impacts the interaction between the parents and their children as well as their daily life. Due to working overtime and low wages, many parents could not purchase toys or spend adequate quality time with their children, Furthermore, quarrels between fathers and mothers created marital discord and may result in negative parental emotions when dealing with the child. Consistent with previous studies,22,23 we found that total family income was related to maternal responsiveness. Mothers from higher-income families were more responsive than mothers from lower-income families.

Employer and community support childrearing families by providing day-care centres or playgrounds for children would be very useful for working parents. Parents working in the industrial area were very favourable to the idea of having day-care nurseries located near area work sites or neighbourhoods, as it would be more economical, convenient and of psychological benefit to the parents and their children. Although day care is perceived as too expensive, parents of young children prefer not to be separated from their children by leaving them with relatives in a distant home town.

All of these factors affect the interaction between working parents and the children of Thai families in everyday life. Therefore, parent–child interaction is an urgent issue for health-care professionals to be aware of in order to promote quality parent–child interaction.


Health-care professionals should pay more attention to parents working in an industrial setting, especially to families in which the parents lack knowledge about child development. In low-income families, parents often lack social support and adequate time with their children. Health-care professionals can enhance parental competence related to interaction with their children and provide knowledge about child rearing behaviour, child development and family support. Additionally, health-care professionals should explore strategies to reduce barriers to functional parent–child interaction. Also, researchers should disseminate research findings about parent–child interaction to local governments and the work place. Data may encourage employers and communities to create a child day care. Importantly, playgrounds for children should be provided in every community in order to promote child play and healthy family relationships. As participant families reported financial problems and limited time to provide quality care for their children, these facilities might contribute to family well-being.


The author wishes to thank to the Thai Commission on Higher Education, Thai Ministry of Education and the Faculty of Nursing, Burapha University, for providing scholarship funds for the research study. The author also would like to give special thanks to the participants and their families for their kindness and cooperation in this study.


The authors declared no conflict of interest.