What we can learn from Chinese mothers

Have you heard about the new book out that purports that Chinese mothers are better than western mothers?  I haven’t read the book, but I did read an article about it and I was horrified to say the least.  In the article I read there was a story of the author berating, cajoling, threatening, and punishing her child in order to get her to learn a piano piece.  The child did in fact master the piece, so the author says that her parenting was effective.  I disagree.  I think it’s wonderful that her child overcame a challenge and learned a difficult piano piece, but I disagree with HOW the mother went about the lesson.  I don’t think it’s ever OK to mock your child or call him names, even if your intent is to motivate.

But there was something in the article that I did agree with. The author said that overcoming a challenge provides a boost in confidence for young people.  I agree entirely.  She also wrote about the fact that Chinese mothers are willing to spend hours and hours tutoring, drilling, and helping their children with challenging lessons.  And I began to wonder, are we western mothers willing to do the same?  Would I sit down with my daughter for as long as it took her to learn her multiplication tables?  To be perfectly honest, I had to answer “maybe.”

As I considered the subject further I realized that I do know lots of parents who I think rely too heavily on computers and television to teach their children.   What if we were to take our American ingenuity and work ethic and apply it to the job of teaching our kids?

Your challenge this week is to get down in the trenches with your child and really support him in the skill or ability he’s most struggling with.  By being physically present as he struggles, you’ll let him know that you’re there to support him.  You can encourage, help, and model for him, and then sit back and watch him work.  Try not to be too chatty as your child tries to concentrate, just be present and available to help if he asks.

If you’re not sure what skill your child is struggling with, then start by asking other people who know your child.  Often teachers or childcare providers can give you fascinating new insights into your child.  Next, observe your child for a day or so and finally, come up with a few activities you think your child can do, but that will be somewhat challenging.

Now the real fun begins.  Pay attention to the ways you encourage your child.  Notice the urge to do it for her as soon as she gets frustrated.  And make a commitment to help and support your child in learning to do it herself.  Remember that learning is a process that can take time, so don’t expect your child to master tying his shoes the first day.  Instead, expect the new skill to develop over a period of days and even weeks.

Also, be aware that many young people will revert after learning a new skill, especially if they are extra tired or upset about something.  Practicing patience and being a yes to whatever is happening will help you weather the storm together.  “Wow, you were able to do that yesterday, but today it seems even harder!  I believe in you.  I know you can do it.  And I’m here to help if you need me.”

I can’t wait to hear how it goes!  Please share your experiences with us by leaving a comment.

Have a wonderful week!  Warmly, Shelly

5 comments
Shelly
Shelly

Thanks for your thoughtful comments everybody! Elise, I loved what you said about physical presence. I agree, sometimes that is all that's needed for our kids to feel supported.

And Lisa Kathleen, yes, kids are hard wired to learn, there's almost never a need for us to push them. I love discovering what a child's interests are.

Christee, funny, I don't remember you sitting down at the piano with me, but I do know that I've always felt very supported by you. Thanks Mom!

Sarah, I'm so glad we're on the same page!

Have a great day everybody!

Lisa Kathleen
Lisa Kathleen

This book (I think it's "Tiger Mom") is pretty worrisome. I also think your example of not being sure you'd be willing to be there while learning the multiplication tables may just be an indication that hanging out while she learns to climb a tree, dig a snow fort, or simply make a friend laugh might actually be more important. I think, in general, we spend way too much time bugging our kids to learn stuff they aren't really interested in, and not nearly enough time hanging out supporting them to learn the things that seem less important to adult eyes. I know you have the Montessori perspective, as well, so you probably recognize this, too:)

Hope you're well:) It's been fun hearing your reflections on motherhood!

Sarah
Sarah

Shelly, I had the same take-away from that article. Shocked by the author's methods, but wondering what (if anything) I do to help my children succeed at things that are challenging and/or frustrating, rather than allowing them to quit or give up. Thanks for your article!

Elise Brewin
Elise Brewin

Check out Jon Carroll in the Chronicle Thurs Jan 20 - it would seem that the book was more nuanced, and the article chose things out of it to make it more sensational. I do feel that most American parents get a strong message to get to work earning money and/or "take time for yourself" and pass their kids off to someone else (or something else). It takes a lot of skill and self discipline just to insist that you spending time with your own kid is worthwhile. Often it is just what you describe that is necessary - physical presence - vs any kind of entertainment or fancy activities. thanks for a thoughtful take on a controversy seeking article!

Christee
Christee

I couldn't agree with you more on the need to "support" our children as they struggle to learn new skills. I spent many evenings sitting by my son who hated to print his handwriting assignments. I would do his assignment alongside him, but I would do it wrong-handed to show him it could even be difficult for adults. (He liked that his results were often so much better than mine.)
I also sat on the piano bench during instrument practice to encourage a sense of camaraderie and communicate that it takes time to learn new things...time I was also willing to spend right alongside him. Sometimes our children just need to know someone is there to understand how frustrating it can be and sometimes they just want some company.