Monday, February 7, 2011

I think by now everyone heard about Amy Chua – an author of a new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. What brought her all the notoriety is the article in Wall Street Journal titled Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. My interest in the topic, however, was piqued by a big spread in Time magazine on the topic of “tough parenting”. I subscribe to Time, but you can read it online. I struggle sometimes with how much my bright but very “laissez-faire” daughter should be “pushed” to master things she finds difficult. To be honest, coming from a different country myself, I find a lot of truth in what Amy has to say about “permissive American parenting” – allowing hours of TV watching, computer and video games, “hanging out” and preoccupation with the lives of celebrities. And I also find issues with the “self-esteem movement” when American children rate the first in the world in self-esteem while failing quite far behind in math, science and reading scores. I don’t like the idea of never-ending praise, giving awards and prizes to everyone and even obligatory birthday party favors. I cringe to see my daughter lapping it all up with glee, and I am guilty as charged since I use prizes sometimes to get her to do something more difficult (like actually putting her head underwater for 10 seconds in the swimming lesson). I see it backfiring in a big way lately when we play a game and she asks for a prize in the end or she is pouting because I brought flowers to my parents for their wedding anniversary, and she wants a present too. I am starting to think that sometimes tough love is necessary. Don’t we try to keep our growing children to stay babies for way longer than we should? Here is an interesting point from one of the contributors to Time article, Research demonstrates that children who are protected from grappling with difficult tasks don't develop what psychologists call 'mastery experiences. Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they've learned that they're capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.
What do you think about pushing your children to master the tasks they balk at? What are your strategies? What do you think about “waiting while they are ready?” I am curious to hear your thoughts.


Joyful Learner said...

I come from an Asian family that NEVER pushed. My parents focused on being good people first and foremost. There were times when my father had to tell me to relax because I tend to push myself too hard. My sister and I have done well in school despite no pressure from parents. We knew to work hard because our parents worked hard. We believed our "job" was to be a good student. Why else would you spend 8 hours a day, every day at school?

There were some benefits to a hands off policy. We learned to think independently early on. We learn to do things ourselves and not depend on someone else to do it for us. Our successes and failures were our own.

I believe in intrinsic motivation. Many times, external rewards took away from my pleasure in learning or doing a good deed. I believe children will learn new skills when they are ready.

My husband recently bribed K to put her head under water too! It backfired big time as she kept on begging and begging for rewards. When my husband asked why she put her head under water, her answer was to receive the reward. I think he was hoping for a different answer.

I learned to swim, ride a bike, etc. on my own. I learned because I saw others doing it. If K balks at something, I would probably offer assistance and find better ways to learn the new skill. Other times, I would just wait to see if her interest changes.

I do wish I had more discipline at times to learn things to mastery. But I'm a dabbler and I dabble at things. I hope K will find one or two things that she feels passionate about and will go more deeply when she grows older. If she turns out to be a dabbler like me, that's fine too.

Mom and Kiddo said...

Know what I hate? The CONSTANT BIRTHDAY PARTIES AT SCHOOL!!!!! I know it makes me seems like an ogre but I don't remember having cupcakes every other week at school when I was a kid and wearing a birthday crown all week (although I'm sure they will get over the crown pretty quickly when they get older, lol).

But..... to answer your question. I guess I encourage mastery in a gentle way and I try not to let him give up. Even though he has a low frustration level, Kiddo is not very stubborn (yet!) so he doesn't fight with me about finishing tasks. If I say we don't do X until we do Y, he will always finish X. But I suppose that might also be a form of rewards. You just can't win!

I do hate prizes, though. And sticker charts, ugh.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a delicate balance. Life and some of the things we have to do are hard sometimes. I think it's important to teach our children that work is required to master a skill. You've heard me talk about Little J's fine motor delay before. He was extremely resistant to writing. I think what has helped the most was encouragement and support from us, getting him professional help, and then just plain making him practice like it or not. To this day he doesn't enjoy the actual pen to paper, but guess what, mom makes him do it everyday even on the weekends. I'm such a meany.

Annette W. said...

Still thinking on this one.

Many, many valid points. I also dislike birthday favors...

Discovering Montessori said...

I learned through my own children and the children I worked with pre montessori that intrinsic rewards in the end just do not work out. We decide when we will offer them a reward and they decide if they really want the reward. So it only works when both sides really have a contract. Yeah it is sad to put it that way but it is a contract and when one side dosen't live up to their end we end up at court battling I said so and your a stubborn child that evil power struggle game. I haven't found one method of discipline that works for all three of my children so I imagine there isn't one out there that fits every child. If the enviroment is filled with video games, t.v playing all day well your not going to get the child to want to master much but how to become the best video game player. That is what one has given them as their outlet. When I was trying to get DJ to understand some grammar skills he was struggling with out came the best materials I could find(not buy)where he would be attracted to and want to use the materials to become a self driven learner without me telling him you need to work harder on your grammar. I did not mention to him he was struggling. After he worked with them he said to me " See I can write complete sentences now". Yes I am completely convinced it all about our enviroment and taking our jobs seriously as role models. Sometimes silence is worth a 1000 words. Thank you for another interesting topic for me to ponder on.

Sippy Cup Central Mom said...

I appreciate your post. I am by nature an aggressive person, but finding the right time to push and knowing when to stop is a delicate line when homeschooling my daughters.
I have to ask myself if it's laziness or are we done. I try to keep in mind that we must stop while we are still smiling.
Sippy Cup Central

Debbie said...

For us, allowing Selena to discover her abilities in her own time seems to really paid off. She tackles chores that many children her age won't even lift a finger to try, yet she gets no allowance or award for doing so, only a verbal thank you and great job. I do feel strongly in not pushing certain tasks until she shows she is ready, that is not to say that we don't introduce her to them, but I keep in mind the developmental phase at this age. That is not to say it won't change as she gets older, and she will be expected to try things she doesn't want to do. I have never been a fan of the reward system, I agree many times it just back fires and the child ends up expecting the reward rather they have accomplished anything or not. I am not a huge fan of big elaborate birthdays, family and maybe one friend is all they truly need. I do think every child is different in their development, so to push a child to master a task they balk at, truly should take into consideration the child's development. Sometimes pushed too hard can lead to a lot of resentment later on.

Ticia said...

It's a mixed bag to my mind. On the one hand they do need to be and can be pushed more. But, there is some value in the rewards.

Not the all the time rewards that are being done, but an occasional thing.

As a random note. In general I'm not a fan of party favors, but my boys love to give presents to their friends, so we work to find something that they'll actually use for awhile. But, all those little plastic toys, not such a fan of.

Kim said...

Hmm. This is something we are really struggling with right now. I was always a perfectionist and a pleaser, so my parents never had to push me much. Crumpet is absolutely not that child. He doesn't care if we are disappointed in him, or over the moon proud. He does not care to master things - if something is hard, he just won't do it. We've found that prizes work briefly, but then it's no longer worth it to him, so he stops trying again. So, we've had to start getting a lot tougher with him. I have begun to insist on completion of tasks, and refuse to hear the word no. I just keep telling him over and over to do it, I help when it's necessary, and then there is a big hug when it's done. There are certainly things that we don't push yet - things like handwriting that he clearly isn't ready for - but if I think he can do something, he now has to do it. Life is not a lot of fun right now - constant battles of will, but I want him to grow up strong and willing to work hard for something. I'm seeing a lot of my cousins and other people in their mid-20's and early 30's who don't understand that life is not easy and that things don't always fall into your lap. They flit from job to job, and half of them still live at home because they know they will be coddled there. I sound like such a witch... but this is the phase we are in right now...

Christy said...

Oh how I have missed your hot topics posts!!!

I agree with you about the self esteem. I hate that every child gets a trophy and our soccer league doesn't keep score - even with the 13 year old kids!!!!!!! Heaven forbid anyone should feel bad. Well, what I have seen is that if no one feels bad about losing, no one will feel good about winning and if you have no drive to win, why bother?

Our elementary school doesn't have grades. They have a 1-4 rubric style grading system, but no one ever gets a 1 and a 4 is almost impossible to achieve. C gets 100% correct and is only given a 3 because everyone should be nice and average. UGH! Disgusting. It's the thing I hate most about our school.

I expect my children to do their best at EVERYTHING they do. I am not happy with a B if my child is capable of an A. My problem with Amy Chua is that she thinks it is okay to call your child fat or stupid. Name calling solves nothing. I also think there is a balance of work and play. She mentioned no play dates and not allowing certain activities like theater. I disagree with all of that.

I hate party favors too. JUNK! Our school has one day a month when they celebrate all of the class birthdays for that month. At the end of the school year, they have a day to celebrate all of the summer birthdays. It is much better than celebrating each and every birthday. They don't have cupcakes or anything like that, just the crowns and singing Happy Birthday. Cupcakes aren't allowed in our school - part of the "healthy school initiative". Too bad they serve unhealthy lunches! We pack a lunch.. Okay, I'm rambling now. Great post. I hope you do a follow up post on this!!! I would love to know more about your daily routine and expectations of Anna.

Joyful Learner said...

Christy - I remember when they changed the grading policy so that mastery of work would be reflected over a year's time. Therefore, no 4's were given because how can a child achieve mastery over a topic that's not covered in school? Parents were upset because they did not understand this new grading policy. But even as I explain it here, I realize how idiotic it is! They need to give diagnostic assessment tests early on and see if a child has mastered the curriculum in the first place!

I hated all the birthday parties too. Endless amount of sugar that came through.

Anne@LittleSproutBooks said...

It's hard to strike a balance between encouraging and pushing, between protecting and sheltering, between teaching responsibility and enjoying the innocence of childhood. Parenting (and growing up) is always a work in progress. I think as long as we keep asking ourselves the hard questions, we're doing the best job we can.

MaryAnne said...

I'm somewhere in the middle on this. One thing I don't like about Chua's approach is her deciding what areas her daughters should focus on - no school plays, for example, and no instruments besides the violin and piano (which, I believe, she chose for them?) I do think it is good for children to learn to do hard things, because life will get tough at some point, and why not learn to deal with it while still beneath the protective roof of your parents?

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

I've found for us, moderation almost always ends up being the key. There have been times I've pushed - T, read very early, and I pushed him to write, before he was ready (about age 3)...D, didn't read until later, and he's still mastering his writing, but when they're both 16, it probably won't make much of a difference, except T had a lot of stress, and D had some embarressment at Sunday school, when other kids could read better than him in the first grade class. I do bribe my kids occasionally, I don't call it a reward - because really it's a bribe - "Do this, and I'll give you a candy, or a dollar, or an extra turn on the computer." Sometimes, "a spoon full of sugar" really does help the medicine go down easier - and I'm a big fan of whatever works. Challenge is good, competion is good, we promote both (and like for our kids to learn how to lose, as well as win), but it's even better when it's self-driven. On the other side, there are a lot of things that can be difficult for a child, that if left for a while, and then returned to at an older age, are sooooo much easier - like writing, or bike riding, or whatever. You can knock your head against a wall, trying to help them overcome the challenge, but until they are ready, they're just not going to do it, or do it well - so why not spend the energy on more enjoyable persuits, or challenging them with things they are closer to being ready for?

Debbie said...

Leah, I really like the way you stated it. I agree with what you had to say. I've been thinking on this today, Natalie, I love your hot topics it always makes me think. You asked about pushing Anna to put her head under water, my concern with pushing her to do this at her age is it go one of two ways. You could scare her and she would never want to swim, or she would discover she doesn't mind it at all. I know for Selena putting her face under water at this age would probably not be a good experience, so I wouldn't push it. I know I respect my mom so much for not making me actually learn to swim when she first enrolled me in swim lessons, as I truly was not ready. A few years later I took what I did remember and taught myself how to swim and became a very good strong swimmer, had my mom pushed me, I probably would have never taken up swimming, as I really was scared of the water. Are we pushing our kids just to make them like the rest of the kids, or better then the other kids, or are we truly thinking about their inner strengths and weaknesses?

Anonymous said...

I struggle with this one. I was pushed, and very much sheltered by my parents. The end result was that I was "never good enough" despite being a top 10 student and a pretty darn good kid (no drugs, drinking or running around). Never thin enough, grades never high enough, often grounded for stupid things like being 10 minutes late. I was pretty miserable by the end of high school and I wanted to get as far away from home as I could.

I can now see why my parents expected so much of me. I can already tell that in a lot of situations, children will rise to what you expect of them. Despite his hyperactive nature, TB is more responsible in a lot of ways than his friends are. He picks up his own toys, gets himself dressed, brushes his own teeth and in general does well around the house because we've expected him to. We're just starting to use the "Accountable Kids" program to expand his responsibilities around the house and he's excited about it. I want him to be able to try and do more things and participate in the family.

As far as the whole Tiger Mom thing when it comes to academics and extra-curriculars, I'm torn. I do think that children should go to the park, parties, play and be allowed to be children. I also think that they should be given some latitude to chose the activities that interest them. Clearly, some activities might be more difficult than others for a family to support - expensive sports, things relate to climate, etc. Within reason, though - I'd love to see TB be able to try and choose his own interests.

From an academic standpoint, I can certainly see wanting your child to excel. Homeschooling allows a certain freedom because typically things aren't graded and kids can tackle subjects as they're ready for them, no matter what their age. I hope that in the future TB will continue to display a love of learning. I've definitely had to back off on some things when he clearly wasn't ready. Things like his fine motor skills forced us to try again later in some cases. I'm hoping that I can put in enough love and thought to see when he just isn't ready vs. he just doesn't care to do something.

This is definitely a tough topic and I think it will vary so much depending on the personality of the child, life stage, etc. Great post Natalie, and one that I will continue to think about.

MommyWise said...

I'm definitely a pusher but I don't think an overbearing one.

When it comes to behavior, I have high standards. Other parents have thought me "mean" because I will not tolerate bad manners or bad behavior. I may give a warning but sometimes I have a zero-tolerance policy. I also personally believe in children doing chores...beyond just picking up toys.

When it comes to school... I push sometimes. If Aidan gets frustrated I'll let her take a break and then make her try again. I want her to learn that you cannot always get everything right but you still need to try and not give up.

When it comes to "new" things or activities... I push according to the child and situation. Aidan is hesitant to try anything new and so I will force her to try something at least once, maybe twice so that she's done it.. and then I back off and let her decide if she'll do it again. (ex. going down a water slide or putting head under water) If Ainsley, who tries to be a picky eater, doesn't want to try a new food... I force her to take at least two good bites.

As for waiting until they're ready.. that depends. It depends on the definition of ready. If you try to potty train a kid at 1 year when he has no sense of it at all.. you're pushing too much. But, if you see that your child is aware and has control and so you push him to get him to go in the potty.... I don't think that's too wrong. If the definition of being "ready" is when he actually does it all on his own initiative... he might not potty train until 6!

Anyway, I'm rambling.

I push. I think some pushing is healthy as long as you "read" the kid and know when you need to back off. Sometimes I have pushed too hard and expected too much but generally, I've found that when you set the bar high, the kids stretch to reach it.

Our Homeschool Fun said...

Hmm, this is a really tough one. I think some things are worth pushing/struggling through to make your kids do, but others are better left alone or up to the child.

I feel that any task that promotes self discipline, good character and so forth should be forced because my goal is to raise responsible adults, not "tall children" as I've heard it referred to before.

But, some areas I do feel need to be waited on if they are those in the areas of emotional/spiritual maturity.

I think there should be a healthy balance as in all things.

Just my two cents worth:-).