Why I love my strict Chinese mom

29 01 2011

By SOPHIA CHUA-RUBENFELD
Last Updated: 11:36 AM, January 18, 2011
Posted: 11:29 PM, January 17, 2011

Writer Amy Chua shocked the world with her provocative essay, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” when it appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

The article, excerpted from her new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” described “how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.” It led with a manifesto: “Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: 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 an 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.”

While Chua says she has received death threats for her comments (one critic called her the “worst mother ever”), the question remains: What do her own children think? Now Chua’s eldest daughter, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, 18, tells her side of the story exclusively to The Post . . .

Dear Tiger Mom,

You’ve been criticized a lot since you published your memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” One problem is that some people don’t get your humor. They think you’re serious about all this, and they assume Lulu and I are oppressed by our evil mother. That is so not true. Every other Thursday, you take off our chains and let us play math games in the basement.

But for real, it’s not their fault. No outsider can know what our family is really like. They don’t hear us cracking up over each other’s jokes. They don’t see us eating our hamburgers with fried rice. They don’t know how much fun we have when the six of us — dogs included — squeeze into one bed and argue about what movies to download from Netflix.

I admit it: Having you as a mother was no tea party. There were some play dates I wish I’d gone to and some piano camps I wish I’d skipped. But now that I’m 18 and about to leave the tiger den, I’m glad you and Daddy raised me the way you did. Here’s why.

(continue reading here)

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Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

13 01 2011

The Wall Street Journal
The Saturday Essay
JANUARY 8, 2011

Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?

By AMY CHUA

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• 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 an 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.

I’m using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I’m also using the term “Western parents” loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western parents think they’re being strict, they usually don’t come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.” Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

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. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can’t. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me “garbage” in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn’t damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn’t actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her “beautiful and incredibly competent.” She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I’ve thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it’s probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it’s true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don’t think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. “Children don’t choose their parents,” he once said to me. “They don’t even choose to be born. It’s parents who foist life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids.” This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can’t go to sleepaway camp. It’s also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, “I got a part in the school play! I’m Villager Number Six. I’ll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I’ll also need a ride on weekends.” God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that Chinese parents don’t care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It’s just an entirely different parenting model.

Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey” by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it’s also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.

“You can’t make me.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn’t think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn’t do the technique—perhaps she didn’t have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

“You just don’t believe in her,” I accused.

“That’s ridiculous,” Jed said scornfully. “Of course I do.”

“Sophia could play the piece when she was this age.”

“But Lulu and Sophia are different people,” Jed pointed out.

“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

“Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed “The Little White Donkey” at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, “What a perfect piece for Lulu—it’s so spunky and so her.”

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

—Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of “Day of Empire” and “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.”





Free Trial Campaign Is Back!

2 11 2010

Good news for everyone who’s wondering what Kumon is all about. This is your chance to experience Kumon up close for free! Please call for an appointment.

But hurry! Closing date for registration is 15 November 2010!





Kumon Bandar Sunway’s First Completer!

14 10 2010

Here’s our tribute to Kumon Bandar Sunway’s FIRST Completer – Doogie Yong!

He had been studying with us for 7 years and performed consistently all during that time. He was always very quiet. But still waters run deep! Beneath his quiet exterior is a very talented young man, whose heart is as big as his dreams!

We wish Doogie all the best for as he takes the next step in his journey of life!





Kumon ASHR Ceremony 2010 – Celebrating Global Achievers

11 10 2010

Kumon’s event of the year finally commenced yesterday. The ASHR Ceremony is a yearly event that celebrates the best of Kumon Achievers. Held at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre, it was indeed a grand affair. This year’s events are record-breaking – with the highest number of Kumon Completers honoured, the most number of ceremonies held nationwide as well as a trend of young children achieving far above their school levels.

It is significant to note that Kumon worksheets are uniformly used throughout the world. Meaning a Kumon Student in Malaysia will be studying the same worksheets as those in Japan, Singapore, US or any of the other 40+ countries around the world. So when a child is a Kumon achiever, he/she stands among the best in the world!

12 students from Kumon Bandar Sunway were qualified to attend the Ceremony but only 9 were able to attend. 7 were Gold Medallists (studying at least 3 years ahead of school grade level), with ages ranging from 5 years old (studying Primary 2 math) to Primary 5 (studying Sec 5 math). Another 2 were Completers – Doogie Yong (Maths), who missed the chance for recognition when last year’s event was cancelled due to the H1N1 scare; and Ashley Lim (English), Malaysia’s youngest completer.

We were extremely proud when Ashley walked on stage to receive her Completer’s Plaque. She had been a Kumon Student for only 5 years and had completed college level English literature studies. no one pressured her to do this. She was driven by her own determination to smash the Kumon record and become the youngest Kumon Completer, even when I myself doubted she could do it!

The Kumon English Programme’s highest levels require students to critique classics from a wide range of genre such as tragedy (e.g.Hamlet), irony (e.g.King Oedipus), SciFi (e.g.Brave New World), Comedy (e.g.A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Espionage (e.g.Dr N…o), Fantasy (e.g.The Hobbit), Drama (e.g.To Kill A Mockingbird), Poetry (e.g.TS Eliot), Satire (e.g.The Loved one) and many more.

The fact that Ashley was able to analyse complex literary forms such as Symbolism and Poetry, as well as
understand novels with difficult themes such as adultery, revenge, racism, midlife crisis, etc makes her achievement so amazing! All of us at Kumon Bandar Sunway are so inspired by her example and are determined to support parents in nurturing more of such high achieving students!

We hope that all our students will also be inspired by this young lady’s never-say-quit spirit and go-get-it attitude to grasp their dreams as well.

Below is my video tribute to Ashley. More photos of the ASHR ceremony will be uploaded soon!

*(I try to make a tribute video for all my Kumon Completers. Something from my heart…instead of just buying a gift.)





2 Simple Ways To Guide Kids Through Learning Frustrations

27 04 2010

Imagine your boss one day telling you that you have to write out all your documents – using only your LEFT hand (or your RIGHT hand if you’re left-handed).Imagine your boss constantly looking over your shoulder and criticising you for your shaky writing. Not allowing you to explain why it’s difficult for you.

Most of us would probably feel very frustrated. Some of us would probably want to smack our boss. Maybe a few of us would really do it!

Sometimes during seminars, Kumon Instructors are asked to write a sentence with our other hand. This is just to give us an experience of how frustrating it feels to be doing something unfamiliar. It helps us gain some perspective on how children feel when they are trying to do/learn something new.

Just as we feel frustrated attempting unfamiliar tasks, children feel the same way too. And some of them probably want to smack us for making them do it. And perhaps, a few will really hit out! I’m sure if you have children or deal with kids regularly, you would have experienced these reactions sometimes.

As adults, it is our responsibility to guide them in a way that encourages them to keep trying until they succeed.

Here are 2 very simple ways to keep kids motivated. And they don’t cost a thing!

1.   PRAISE

The most effective (but perhaps most under-used) method. But children will recognise empty praise and lose their trust in your words! So look for specific things you can honestly praise them for, no matter how small.

For example, you could praise them for drawing slightly straighter lines today than yesterday. Or for talking less when doing their work. Or being able to concentrate on their work for 1 minute longer than the day before.

By praising kids, even for the smallest improvements, they will understand that you appreciate them so much that you notice even for the smallest things. This does wonders for their self-esteem and that in turn does wonders for their performance!

2.   REWARD

Many parents are concerned that if they give their children a reward for doing something, it is equivalent to offering a bribe. There is a difference.

A bribe is when nothing gets done until a something is given. A reward is something given to recognise for good performance.

Think about it…would anyone want to participate in sports competitions if there were no medals? Would anyone want to work harder if there was no bonus at the end of the year? Children love to be rewarded for their hard work as much as we adults do!

Rewards don’t have to be extravagant. It could be taking your kids swimming or on a picnic, or buying them a favourite ice cream. At Kumon, we give stickers to students who get all correct in their classwork. The stickers cost next to nothing a piece but the shine in kids eyes when they receive it is priceless!





Our Student Makes History!

21 04 2010

Ashley receiving her Kumon Bandar Sunway Completer Tribute Video*

Ashley Lim Xian En, nine years old, is Malaysia’s youngest English completer to date. She passed the English Completer’s test in October 2009, while she was only 8years and 10 months old.

Kumon HQ staff recently interviewed her and mummy, and here are their thoughts.

————————-

What kind of stories do you usually read?

I like to read fairy tales, mysteries and adventures like Harry Potter.

In your journey to completion, which section of the English worksheets seemed to be the most challenging?

I think it is the sections with critical writing and the Shakespeare plays.

What happened if you didn’t understand them?

Mommy will patiently explain the passages to me and sometimes my instructor will give me a very big book to check words I don’t understand. It’s the dictionary.

You set your own study plan at the higher levels and you did not plan any repetitions. Why did you feel there was no need for repetitions?

Because I read the passages again and again, like 100 times, and when I don’t understand it, my Instructor or mommy will explain it to me. So if I already know the answers, why should I repeat?

Why did you want so much to complete the programme?

I wanted to complete it since the first time my instructor told me about the completion test. I want to complete it even more after joining the High Achievers Camp (HAC) in 2008. I have seen a lot of completers at the event and I wanted to be like them.

After completing the programme, what do you think is the major change in you or what have you learned throughout the journey?

I think I have learned a lot of Old English and I can now understand it better. Completing the programme has also exposed me to more books for reading. I think the major change in me is relishing poetry; previously I would fall asleep upon seeing poems. I begin to like it now.

———————

Kumon HQ staff also spent some time to interview Ashely’s mum, Florence. Below is an extract of the interview. She shares how we can play a more meaningful role in supporting our children’s journeys in Kumon.

.

Would you like to share how you guided Ashley through the difficult higher levels of Kumon worksheets?

I actually studied the contents before she did the work so that when she has problems attempting it, I could explain it to her. For example, when there are literature pieces which I was unfamiliar with, I would look into it and learn it myself. Sometimes, I would also ask the instructor for tips on how to guide Ashley.

Young children usually encounter challenges in deciphering the meaning of words used in literature especially in poems or plays. How did you explain ‘challenging’ terms to her?

Erm, I would actually link it to the facts of life or link it to our daily life. Like for the term ‘adultery’, I used mommy and daddy as an example, and then explained it to her. I mean the scenes in literature are the real life situations that she may encounter in future so why not prepare her and let her understand it now?

Five years have passed since she first enrolled in Kumon and Ashley has successfully become Malaysia’s youngest English completer. How do you feel about this?

Phew. At last. (smiles happily). It is a good headstart and this will let her have the chance to experience the feeling of being able to achieve and complete something she has started.

There were also times when Ashley felt like quitting. What do you think kept her going and how did you help her stay motivated?

Well, first of all, I think it is Ashley’s own desire and determination to achieve something that she wanted. As for me playing the parent’s role, I would have a good talk with her and allow her to let out all her difficulties, get the anger out and start again. Basically it is a norm in life where we would fall and as a parent, I have to help her get up again. So it’s a process of falling and picking up again.

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Instructor’s note: I will be publishing the interview that Kumon HQ staff conducted with me in a later post.

* Every Kumon Bandar Sunway Completer gets a personalised tribute video made by me. We’ve had 2 Kumon Completers so far, and we are looking forward to see another 2 students becoming Completers in 2010!








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