Several days ago I came across the now controversial article of Amy Chua in WSJ on why chinese mothers are superior. I was troubled after reading it and thought of posting a link on Facebook but eventually decided against doing so. I was familiar with how the chinese take being number one in academics seriously because back in grade school the two classmates who were intensely competing for the top spot in our class were of pure chinese origins (Chua’s parents interestingly comes from the Philippines). While I was pretty sure it was something I didn’t want for Evan however like Chua I could see why she sees western parents are too soft on their children. While I strongly disagree with her on not doing playdates, think she puts too much emphasis on school grades and the I-am-the-parent-you-listen-to-me behavior for me is limiting children their thoughts, opinions and training them to become good, docile yet outstanding employees instead of encouraging individuality, creativity and their potential of becoming trailblazers however I do feel that Chua does make a point on a few things: how the chinese makes a premise that children are strong not fragile (western), how perfection can be enjoyed as a reward for unrelenting practice (playing that difficult piano piece), how watching tv or computer games should be banned, or how your child getting an “extra” role in a school play which would require after school hours and being driven around on the weekends isn’t really practical for both the child and the parents.
There may be a lot of western influence in my parenting (using the naughty corner, a lot of praising, getting down on his eye level to talk to him when he misbehaves, emphasis on play during school etc.) I was also a disciplinarian in the filipino way – although not as close as Chua. So did that mean I needed to be even stricter than I was already? Evan is pretty much a laidback kid (taking his medicine, eating his vegetables, playing by himself, getting a shot from the nurse – no problem) but there were a few times in a day when he can really be trying therefore leaving us all, including him, stressed out. These were oftentimes when he is told to stop playing and do something like eating, or getting ready for bedtime, putting his coat and shoes on, or going home from school.
Then the following day I found the book “Positive Parenting for PreSchoolers” by Nelsen and I immediately tried some of the techniques on Evan that night and it worked like a charm even if my version was far from perfect. I was now able to get my 4 year old to do something without the crankiness, defiance/making faces and shouting from his part by taking out scolding, adding more patience and creativity on my part. None of the strict parenting that I thought was needed for a small child to obey me, just a lot of kindness, firmness and respect. So I knew Chua’s way wasn’t for me.
Then the other day I came across another book “Nurture Shock” and I have never been so excited about a book in a long time (finished reading this in 2 days). It has many of the techniques of “Positive Discipline” but it mostly talks about how classic western parenting strategies could also be backfiring. On the chapter of over-praising the child here is an excerpt that compares the chinese mom to western in the positive way. In a University of Illinois test among a group of 5th graders, mothers interacting with their children/students for 5 minutes was recorded by a hidden camera. The mothers were told that their children were failing the test and during the break the parents were allowed to talk to them:
“The american mothers avoided making negative comments and remained fairly upbeat and positive with their child. The majority of the time were spent talking about something else rather than the test at hand…But the chinese children were likely to hear, “You didn’t concentrate when doing it,” and “Let’s look over your test”. The majority of the time was spent discussing the test and its importance.
After the break, the Chinese kids scores on the second test jumped by 33%, more than twice the gain of the americans…while their words were firm, the chinese mothers actually smiled and hugged their children every bit as the american mothers…”
The book discusses also on importance of sleep (6th grader will perform like 4th grader if the child lacks sleep), how lack of sleep is the really the culprit in childhood obesity than watching tv, why race should be discussed as early as preschool age, how we currently deal with lying would just make our children better liars, why 99% of the kindergarten children passing gifted program tests may not really be gifted as they grow older, why educational tv programs could lead to more aggressive behavior compared to movies like Star Wars, how teens would lie less with a strict parent compared to lenient parents. All these are based on studies.
It’s really a page-turner and an eyeopener of a book. I have given up reading parenting magazines and books a long time ago thinking I would raise Evan according to my experience and instincts but I am really glad that I followed my instincts by getting these two books =)
As for Amy Chua apparently for people who has read the entire book say that it really is a “coming-of-age” memoir and the author does say she wished she had done some things differently and that the publishing company chose to lift the more controversial parts of the book to create publicity – successfully I might say. But in a way she is responsible for convincing me that punitive discipline common in filipino parenting is not the way to go and neither is treating them with kid glove, no pun intended.