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Chinese Mother vs. American Mother: Parenting Styles & My Advice/Tips
I've always been aware that there are some big differences between a Chinese mother and an American mother, but never thought much about it till I read an article written by a Chinese mother, Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School. The title is "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". The name was interesting enough for me to read on since I am a Chinese mom myself, especially it talks about if a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice can create happy kids, and what happens when they fight back, so I thought I would benefit from some of her experiences, advice, and tips. Of course, the term "Chinese mother" here is referred loosely by her, since nothing is absolute one way or the other; not all Chinese mothers act like a typical Chinese mom, and not just Chinese mothers set strict rules for their kids.
Ms. Chua Is Way Too Unnecessarily Strict
To my surprise, Ms. Chua has demonstrated 110% Chinese ways in raising her children, ways that I can only imagine to be used by Some Chinese in China (In China, Not All Practice Tough Love). The list of her "never allowed" basically put me in shock. Her daughters were never allowed to: attend a sleepover; have a playdate; be in a school play; complain about not being in a school play; watch TV or play computer games; choose their own extracurricular activities; get any grade less than A; not be the no.1 student in every subject except gym and drama; play any instrument other than the piano or violin; not play the piano or violin
My first reaction was: Is she really proud of implementing these rules on her children? Is it for real? Is she just kidding?
It is all true. This mom really did what she claimed in the rules. She may have raised couple of wonderful daughters who are good at either piano or violin, who may have gotten perfect A's throughout school years, but did they miss any other important things in life? I have to question it myself.
Parenting Style Fits One Family May Not Fit Another
I am a Chinese mom who came to the US back to 1991, raised a 12-year-old daughter Xuan and 10-year-old son Meng. Needless to say I do want them to get perfect grade if possible - without sacrificing other important aspects of life and without becoming a robot that does not have any creativity.The rules Ms. Chua created for her children are simply too extreme than necessary, at least speaking for my own family. I'd expect I would at least have followed couple of her parenting tips, but I actually agreed on none of them (update as of June of 2011, I have reconsidered sleepover, I think it can only be occasional). The only advice I would put on my list would be "no boyfriend or girlfriend before college", but it's not on hers (not sure what she thinks of this part).
Since Ms. Chua raised two very successful daughters, so no doubt her parenting style has worked for them, either because she is lucky enough to have two daughters who are naturally obedient and/or talented, or she's executed her parenting plan consistently over the years and she started early, or her daughters love piano and violin anyway, only need the parents to push and guide them through the tough time...it's very likely it is the combination of all factors. It's great things have worked out for her family, but I can't imagine she would succeed using the same discipline if she were to raise a son like mine; also she wouldn't have to go any of the extremes if she had a daughter like mine.
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My Daughter: Dragon Games Inspired Some of Her Imaginations & Creativity
My daughter Xuan is 12, she started learning piano since age 6. I was very serious about her piano play, considering how much time, effort both of us had to put in, and the money involved. So I was strict and yelled at her a lot. She didn't quit and never wanted to, not because of my strictness, but because she somehow knew all along that she should be good at something, she wanted to show off. I later realized and deeply regretted about my strictness and "meanness" in the early stage that often made her in tears, I learned I needed to be gentle, soft, show her more of love, hug her, kiss her, praise her a lot more, and that turned out to have worked quite well, not only in academic work, but in piano play as well. I call this "positive parenting". My daughter has been playing games and watching TV a lot, only has to be limited due to much more schoolwork these days. She is allowed to hang out with her best friends sometimes. Some of the school plays are simply wonderful. With her piano skills, she has had the opportunities to be in talent shows in elementary school, play piano in front of the whole school, be in the orchestra as the sole pianist in 6th grade, etc. (not in 7th due to the large size of the orchestra and no space for the piano). These kind of school participation can have quite some positive impact on a child. My daughter naturally wants to get A's, but she had hard time adapting to the first year of middle school. I didn't like to see low grades (remember I'm a Chinese), but I also knew yelling at her would only make things worse. So I had my gentle ways to slowly change her without damaging her self esteem or getting her scared of academic work. When I sometimes hugged and praised her even she got a B after I believed she had done her best, she felt great and very happy; but since she knew A's would make me really happy (and she would be happy too), she continued to make effort to get better grade. Now she's in 7th grade, still plays games whenever she can, she's had mostly A's and absolutely no C's. She also goes to a drawing class every other week, and in a music theory class on Saturday mornings. She actually wanted to also learn violin, I kind of feel guilty she didn't get to due to our financial situation.
My daughter loves reading, especially those fantasy books written by Erin Hunter. For an English assignment a little while ago, she wrote a short amazing animal story and got an A+, probably the only A+ in her class. Her teacher said she was a very good writer. She did it all by herself without us pushing her any ways (I'm thinking about having this story published if possible, though it is hard). She even steals a little time to read while at the piano, and she continues to play games. Those dragon games have proven beneficial to her. Just check out her imaginary dragon drawing below. My point here: One doesn't have to follow any of her suggestions to raise an equally successful and capable child!
My Daughter's Imaginary Dragons, All Came From Her Head. No Guidance of Any Kind or Instructed By Anyone. Have Some to do with Dragon Games She Loves
Good Postive Parenting: Better and Effective Parenting Strategies
I consider myself with the parenting skills somewhere around the middle of Chinese and Western styles when it comes to my daughter. Games and TV have always been part of her daily life, but I've been strict to a degree in terms of her academic work, piano, and drawing; I pay much attention to what I say to her, how much I should praise her and in what form. Like almost all western parents, no way I would ever embarrass her in front of public. I think I'm very successful raising my daughter, especially giving the fact that she's been in piano competitions since age 6, and has won prizes in MA and NH, including two honorable mentions, one 3rd, two 2nd in MA, a 2nd place in last year's first piano competition held by Darrell's Music Hall in NH. One time she worked too hard on a piece and she had a memory slip during the competition, still she got 4th place among 13 kids (btw., I definitely believe that was her only competition that she could have gotten first place), but at the same time I realized working too hard on a piano piece must have contributed to the memory slip. Since then, I no longer push her that much to prepare for competitions, since some kids can endure the boring and tiring process and achieve expected results, others just can't, so it has to be kids specific. She hasn't had 1st place (update: Xuan won 1st place in 2011 Bay State Contest, Honorable Mention in Steinway Piano competition 2011 out of 26 kids), not because she's incompetent, it is because her piano teacher Marianna Rashkovetsky is not a teacher who teaches children just for competitions, she never makes her work on only competition pieces, she always gives her new music to work on when it is necessary, the fine tuning part only begins when there are about couple of months left before the competition. Should I have sent her to a competition oriented teacher, she would've definitely won 1st place over the years. But then, would she have quit by now? I know some kids quit too soon, leaving them with maybe just one 1st place trophy. Will the trophy get them to good schools? Will the trophy feed them when they grow up? I guess not!
Ms. Chua said she had called her daughter "garbage" in front of the public, and even claimed that Chinese mothers would do similar. She gotta be kidding! None of my Chinese friends around would ever do so! They all leaned more towards western parenting styles, they believe western styles are quite beneficial to them on top of their inevitable Chinese way of parenting. I can never imagine calling my daughter names in front of other people. That would simply crush her. She expressed clearly that she wanted me to praise her more, a lot more! My praises always act like a magic pill in tough times. Ms. Chua seems to have a good portion of negative parenting skills, that, just won't work in general, period!
If it takes all for Ms. Chua's daughter Sophia to play in Carnegie Hall, then my daughter is getting ready to apply for it next time. The teacher just mentioned that my daughter was at the age to be eligible to play in Carnegie Hall, and she was so good. Though there is no guarantee she will be in, I do know she is capable.
My Son: Gained Reasoning Strategies via Playing Games
About my son, who just turned 10 last month, is not a sports guy, except for biking and badminton, plus kicking balls with his parents, he refuses to participate in anything. I could have forced him to get in something, but I didn't, which may not be very smart to date, but what happened already happened, you can't turn back the clock. So he is what he is today, a very happy boy, and smart, most importantly, never gets himself in trouble and considered every teacher's dream boy (I am really lucky). He has his own ways of learning things, not through 1+1=2 that kind, but via all kinds of exploring. He's addicted to books like encyclopedia, Questions and Answers, Intelligence Games, and any other kind of books that can give him knowledge; he enjoys meal time by giving us quizzes, or having his sister give him some questions to answer, or ask all of us to participate and get scores, that is one of his happiest times.
Meng has gained quite some reasoning strategies from certain computer games: He plays games a lot and plays like a master in all kinds, and is especially fond of finding games involving solving puzzles and mysteries, and instead of thinking him being totally wasting his time playing those games, I am positive that he actually has learned a lot of reasoning strategies from them. Mahjong games did the same. His smartness seems shine in those games. Of course, I'm not saying he should play games all the time. I set limit, partially due to his vision problem and computer radiation, also I understand he does need to read and do a bit more extra math, plus he is in the string orchestra (just for school participation) and needs little time to practice. He's now taking skating class with his sister, just one more thing to be good at and also a nice exercise. He is a natural story teller, so good at repeating and expanding stories he just read along with interesting tones and fun performance. I forced him to be taught piano by myself so he could build up some sense in music and reading scores, he never liked piano, that is so obvious considering he has a brilliant sister at home. He also pointed out that he played violin in school because I made him to.
So basically, my son has not taken any private lessons for anything, partially due to our financial situation. By playing games every single day and often refusing to do anything extra, he's still been put in the advanced math class without us doing anything more, the teacher said he was pretty good at math. I won't push him much at all since he is still young, and I'm positive when he is older he will know enough he needs to work hard. If I push him now, the results can be the opposite eventually. He has had so much absorbed in his head and proudly shows them off whenever he can. For my son, Ms. Chua's disciplines would just kill him for sure. He is a boy, and a very funny boy, just wants to play. No matter what I say to him, he wants to play. Then why not implementing one parenting tip: play and learn?
The Kids Are Free to Keep All Kinds of Animals
My kids love animals, and are often fascinated by those small creatures. They keep anything they can find and I allow them to do so. So far we have had caterpillars (had the chance to see two became moths and they were so cute), praying mantis, spiders, daddy long-leg, frogs (including bull frogs), toads, ring-neck snake, baby sea crab, chipmunk, fish, and they even kept dead bumble bee as their pet! I was gradually became fascinated by those small creatures myself, and enjoyed feeding them with the kids. Doing so I believe benefit them a lot in the long run, and most of all, they are happy for the time being. If they get distracted too much by the animals, then I'd become a Chinese mom.
I've Never Sent the Kids to Weekend Chinese School for Math
Most, if not all, Chinese parents send their kids to Chinese school's math class on weekends, not me. I've actually sent them both to the class to get the feel. The teacher was a teenager (maybe in college or was about to graduate from high school). The kids didn't enjoy the class, of course, since the content was too advanced for them. When I asked the teacher if they would teach the logic thinking, the answer was "no". So I learned the weekend math class merely teaches how to solve those stiff equations, no creative thinking of any kinds. So I decided to keep them at home so I could teach those stiff things (of course, I didn't really execute my good plan). That is one reason why many Chinese kids are so good at math competitions. When I mentioned this to my daughter's teacher, wondered it didn't seem to be fair, the teacher said really no need to take the extra math classes, she said those classes wouldn't teach what was taught in schools, and could potentially interfere the good thinking skills kids learn at school. This is exactly what I believed, and quite happy to get support from a school teacher. Of course, since the kids always learn one year ahead of time in the Chinese schools (i.e. they learn 4th grade math when they are in 3rd grade), being able to get better grade and always appear to know more than other kids who don't go to weekend math classes will mostly give these kids more confidence, I suppose. One of my daughter's friends is taking extra math at the cost of $50 per session, and she was holding a SAT book last time when I saw her. Honestly, I really don't know why her parents made her to do so in 7th grade.
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America Was Doing Quite Well Without Trying to Raise "Perfect" Kids
I am a Chinese, but I truly appreciate America's education systems. I know things were not like what it is today back to some years ago - kids didn't have this much homework, there were less competitions, no weekend math, there was more fun and free time...But America was doing quite well without all the stress we see today in schools; there were still successful children who were good enough to move America forward and to be the best. That is enough of evidence to prove that learning instruments and doing extra math that sort of things really aren't the fundamentals for success, there is just no need to make them as your ultimate goal, especially make them like "if no piano or violin, if there is one B, then it is the end of the world". Actually, I personally think a main reason parents like Ms. Chua did what they had to do is more for their personal satisfaction just to see their kids bring home prizes and A's, then they can show it off to friends. These things alone won't feed the kids in real life when they grow up, that is some other things matter a lot more!
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The Conclusion: Natural, Positive Parenting Strategies Are Better and Practical
I've been randomly throwing out my thoughts so far. All in all, there would never be one parenting style fits all. Every kid is different, the environments are different, kids all have various talents, their own personalities and characteristics, certain things that kids were born with may never change no matter what you do. So Ms. Chua was successful in raising her daughters, but her methods are no way to be quoted as any standards, those are just things that happen to work for her situation, to meet her own satisfaction and pride. In fact, her special disciplines would suit only small percentage of kids, her way is above and beyond real Chinese disciplines, something was mostly happening back to the ancient time. The real Chinese in China today actually are all envious of American's education systems, they have been trying to implement the American's parenting styles in raising their kids, they want China to change its educational systems, but they can never completely get out of the traditional shell, so some of them naturally adopted certain good parenting strategies and coincidentally stands in between, and that is simply fantastic!
So this is what I think
- sleepover: can make a child more independent
- playdate: kids learn from each other
- school plays: wonderful
- complain about not being in a school play: of course, why not? They are supposed to participate, at least sometimes
- watch TV or play computer games: certain computer games can create smarter kids; watching some positive TV will open their eyes to the world, and a different way of absorbing knowledge and remembering them better. But I never let the kids carry it away.
- choose their own extracurricular activities: if a child is really into something of his/her own choice and has no interest in anything the parents put on their list, why kill him?
- get any grade less than A: what does "A" mean in real life?
- not be the no.1 student in every subject except gym and drama: if this is the goal for every single Chinese family, and there is only one no. 1 spot, I can hear calling names and slapping already
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin: if every family did the same, the whole world would be so dead boring
- not play the piano or violin: is she going to kill them?
A sudden feeling: Ms. Chua is a smart and talented individual for sure, but somehow writing an article like this to tell the world her ways of raising children were superior, and especially claim almost all Chinese parents actually do the same is simply nonsense!
Children Do Need Some Push, But Not Unnecessary Sacrifice
Children in general don't want to work hard on many things, that is natural, so they do need their parents to push them somewhat, especially give them certain guidance, but never do they need or should they sacrifice their own life to get there. After reading enough of what she said, now look at the picture with her and the daughters, isn't she like what she is perfectly described here: Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy? I'd agree with Betty completely, I'd also advise everyone NOT to bother Chua's book. Why feeding her with your hard earned money? That's all she's about stirring up all the buzz just to promote her book! At least that is how this whole thing makes people feel.
The above photo of her and two daughters is merely a show. I've learned that her daughter who plays violin has quit!