Monday, March 28, 2011

Must I be a tiger mom?

I doubt I'm the only one who has been thinking about the parenting advice by Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. (Actually, I haven't read the book, only her much shorter article in the Wall Street Journal.) The lines that I keep reflecting on are these:

"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it...To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences."

I think it is true that it is fun when you are good at things. And, certainly, you must practice, practice, practice to become truly great at anything. But, otherwise, I respectfully disagree:

1. Preschoolers love to work, love to focus - especially when they see it as play, especially when they work alongside loved ones.

2. Excellence, ideally, involves both practice and passion - keeping at something that you have a proclivity towards.

3. The journey to becoming great at something can most certainly involve lots of fun.

One of the most important things that a young child’s mind needs in order to learn is relationship. There needs to be a bond with the adult. If you want a preschooler to be interested in something, to be good at something, do it with them!!! You, alongside, will move mountains. Preschoolers provide uninhibited insight into what their passions are. These are great years to present them with all sorts of opportunities and exposure, to books, music, art, sports, nature, plus museums, concerts, and other field trips - to share with them your interests and passions and to dare to explore theirs.

Another important aspect of a child becoming accomplished at something is devoting time to it. I think there is a lot to be said for throwing away the clock and letting a child get absorbed in their work. This is the tension of a school day – with its interrupting specials, assigned playground and lunch periods – schedules that are needed for a school to run smoothly but, unfortunately, "throw a wrench" in lengthy, focused work by students.

Thus, as parents and teachers, we should work to find a way to allow for children's projects – to leave work out, to allow things to be left "mid-process," perhaps to put it up on display as it is being worked on; to allow and encourage children to revisit projects, to revise and continue. These are great years to work on perseverance, to show the value of how things develop. When possible, get your video camera out at the beginning of a new endeavor and photograph the child's efforts over time – let a child see how his/her work has evolved.

"To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while."
- Josh Billings

(The photograph I've included here is an extraordinary mural that I walk by regularly - "From Edgewood to the Edge of the World", located near the Rhode Island Metro in Washington, D.C. and created by several youth artists in 2009. I have no doubt it was created with a lot of hard work, talent, and enjoyment!)


  1. I'm commenting on my own blog! Marguerite Kelly's "Family Almanac" column in the Washington Post today (March 31, 2011) noted another possible factor in creative genius - daily unscheduled time: "If your daughter's imagination is stretched when she's young, and if she is given a little empty time every day so she can use it, she might invent a new way to travel when she grows up or find a better way to program a computer or a cheaper way to take the salt out of salt water. It will be quite enough, however, if she simply becomes someone who looks for unusual answers in unusual places." Here’s the link:

  2. Great post. You nail it when you talk about relationship, having extended periods to work, saving unfinished work to revisit as strategies that promote motivation and the habit of mind to engage and persist. The idea that work ( is finished in 20 or 30 minute increments is detrimental to building the capacity to return to and continue challenging work/play/ideas. While hard work is hard, it should also be motivated by the learner, not the parent/teacher.