The Tiger Mother craze is sweeping America. Most people have heard about Amy Chua, who authored a controversial book entitled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” The book has become controversial because Ms. Chua revealed things in the book such as rejecting a birthday card one of her daughters made for her, saying it was not the best she could do.
When I first read some of the things Ms. Chua revealed in her book, I was outraged. But I’ve been listening to Ms. Chua explain her beliefs about parenting and I’ve begun to understand that some things she says make sense, and I’m going to weigh in with some positive comments about the “Asian” parenting style. I don’t agree with everything Ms. Chua has to say, but she has latched on to some important points that really resonate with me because they work. Some of the parenting strategies she emphasizes do improve academic skills, and do not erode self concept.
To oversimplify, the “Asian” parenting style is anchored in several important beliefs. Parents believe they have their children’s futures in their hands and it is their duty to teach their children how to survive and support themselves in a tough world. Parents work and sacrifice to give their children the strong start in life they believe is essential to their survival.
Asian parents also rely on their belief that children are strong and not only can withstand high discipline and structure, but also greatly profit from being given the tools to compete and survive in a tough world. They believe that it is the parents’ duty to teach children what they’re capable of, and equip them with the skills, work habits and inner confidence that will form the foundation of their success. Since Asian parents assume their children are strong and capable of learning and mastering academic tasks, they demand perfect grades, certain that their child can get them.
Again, to oversimplify, many American parents are concerned that if their child fails at something it will damage his or her self-concept. They often assume that children’s self-esteem is delicate and kids need to be bolstered up with praise, even when their performance is lacking.
Asian parents also realize that when kids are young they don’t have the ability to make decisions that are in their best interest. They expect to teach their children the skills necessary to make strong choices by directing their lives themselves until their children learn how to guide their own lives in productive and successful ways.
American parents work to respect their children’s individuality, encourage them to make their own choices, and pursue their true passions. This great belief is one of the hallmarks of our country and should never fade from our belief system. We must be aware, however, that we sometimes err on the side of giving our children too much autonomy at too early an age. This includes allowing our children to decide not to continue with drill and practice when the going gets tough. We need to have rules and structure so kids are able to develop a platform for persistence in life, particularly in the face of obstacles.
Asian parents also hold to the belief that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. They believe excellent performance fuels high self-esteem. They realize that to become skillful at anything requires considerable practice and dedication. Asian parents assume the rigors of practicing to mastery are distasteful to kids, causing them to give up before they become skillful. Asian parents step in to require practice so children become adept. When children become skillful they not only receive praise for their skill, they also feel the self-confidence and pride that comes from being good. These rewards for their efforts encourage children to continue practicing and getting better. Therefore, Asian parents feel that one of the worst things a parent can do for their child’s self-esteem is to let them give up before they master a skill.
Many Americans feel learning should be fun (I’m certainly one of them), and this enjoyment internally motivates children to practice and become skillful. However, not all learning will be fun, and kids must push past initial disappointments and failures to acquire some of the skills they need to succeed in life.
Even though not all learning will be fun, it can, and should, produce a sense of accomplishment and pride. This essential quality of pride in one’s efforts and accomplishments encourages kids to persist when the going is tough, so it is worth devoting considerable attention to developing in your child a sense of personal pride in their own learning.
Our role as parents in regard to academics is to ignite our children’s passion for learning. Sharing our own interests is a good starting point. Every parent had one or more strong subjects in school. Share your interests with your child. If you were interested in science, go to science museums and fairs, read science books together, study animals, go to observatories. Your passion for the subject will encourage your child to see the value and beauty as well.
Parents need to determine how to support their child’s success. Know your child well enough to be clear about what your child needs in order to be successful in school, and use every method available to you to provide it.
Follow the Asian example of being in the trenches with your child, working on spelling words, reading every night, explaining homework, and above all, embodying the belief in your child’s ability to learn and succeed no matter how significant his or her learning problem. Drill and practice help a child develop persistence and the skills to be successful and must be part of any program of academic success.
Impress on your child that good grades are important for long-term happiness and fulfillment and you expect your child to do his or her very best work at all times, even when the going is rough. Explain that the difficulty of a task is no excuse for your child to stop performing at her personal best, or to give up her belief that she can learn anything.
It may be difficult, but I encourage you to spend an hour in your child’s classroom every week. This demonstrates to your child that you value education and will support them to learn. You’ll also discover a great deal about your child’s academic talents and challenges which will give you a chance to direct your child toward areas of strength and passion. You’ll get the opportunity to observe how teachers work with students and this will give you lots of great ideas about ways to work with your child at home so that she will learn faster.
Help your child improve in the areas he finds challenging. Hire a tutor if you need to. Tell your child that it is ok if he has difficulty in a particular area, but that you know he can be successful as long as he works hard. One of your jobs as a parent is to believe in your child, even more than he believes in himself. Combine high expectations with total support.
The best of “Asian” and “American” parenting styles infuses unwavering insistence on excellence with encouragement to your child to explore his areas of strength and interest in order to pursue his self-chosen areas of passion. Your love, acceptance and support will take your special needs child to plateaus of success. Teach your child how to choose excellence rather than mediocrity. Show your child what fabulous opportunities await the person who doesn’t give up, who doesn’t make excuses and who refuses to take the easy road through life.