“Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” Part 2

Last week, I wrote about what I liked in Amy Chua’s parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  This week, let’s look at the parenting techniques that, as a brain trainer, I recommend you avoid.

It was difficult to feel empathy for this mother as she didn’t have much softness.  She did not mince words stating her opinions regarding her daughters to them or about them in front of others.  Sometimes she described their weaknesses in blunt and insulting ways that made me cringe.  With such high-achieving children, I believe more reasoning and buy-in with them – not to mention respect towards them – would lead to more spectacular results.

I felt a great deal of sadness that Chua did not care about her two daughters’ social connections and growth.  She wouldn’t let her children go on play dates. I believe parents ought to make sure their children have opportunities to play with others, whether it’s structured play dates or hanging out with kids down the street.

Social development is essential for children to learn empathy and adaptation.  It allows them to discover other perspectives and cultures.  Through play they develop negotiation skills and have balance and fun.  Sometimes play dates go awry and can be hurtful yet they are memorable learning experiences.

Over the years I have been a speech and language pathologist I have become more and more concerned about the limited amount of true play children are involved in.  Play between children has become more parallel (side by side play where they are playing computer games) yet there is less and less interaction. Children are also spending more time with adults.  But child-to-adult interaction is different than peer-to-peer.  Even one-on-one, a child playing with an adult will use different vocabulary, sentence structure, gestures, length of turns and nuances than two children playing together.  Missing this later activity is isolating and not positive in a child’s overall development.

Developing social nuances, communication skills, and the ability to be part of a team with one's peers are all vital lessons.  Having a good social network and support system are known contributors to a long and healthy life.  Further, children and adults who communicate well typically have better overall achievement.  Communication is what makes us human and is an important skill in community and international relations.  We often develop these life-long patterns during childhood and adolescence.

As a final note... you might wonder what all this has to do with brain training.  Brain training is intense.  That intensity is what drives the brain to stretch and change.  However, the length of time one does brain training is typically not years and years like the routine Chua developed.  And the process, at The Brain Trainer at least, is not dreary as in Chua’s world, but a confidence builder.

"The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" Brilliant or Terrible Guide to Parenting?

So many parents have asked me about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that I felt compelled to read it.  In case you haven’t heard, Battle is an autobiographical story about an Asian mother, Amy Chua, who takes charge of directing her two daughters’ lives.  She insists that her daughters, Sophie and Lulu, pursue activities she thinks are valuable, and pursue them at a very intense level. The story focuses on Chua’s expectations for her daughters, their accomplishments, and a peek into their family dynamics.

People have asked about my reaction to the book because I work with children who are struggling and need strong planners as parents.  I also see children who are high achievers and able to work together with their parents to follow their personal interests.

Chua doesn’t believe in following children’s personal interests.  She believes in academics.  Music should be either piano or violin.  Her daughters have demanding practice schedules, sometimes as great as six hours a day.   Sports should focus only on individual competition, such as tennis or golf, rather than team sports.  Chua does not believe in play dates or slumber parties.

Parenting doesn’t influence the skills and abilities our children are born with, of course.  But it does shape the direction those skills and abilities will take. That's why as a brain trainer the book was interesting to me and many parents I work with.  We want to know that how the activities we plan affect our children, positively and negatively.

So what did I find to like about Chua’s approach?

I liked that the parents were in charge of this family and not the children.  I’ve observed that children seem more settled and goal-directed if parents have leadership skills.  When parents have a long-term and planning perspective, their children seem to grow and change. Chua did have long-term goals for her daughters.

When children are struggling the parents must act to reverse this course and work to guide them forward.  Parents who can articulate the vision in broad terms of where they want their child to be, and work backwards setting goals in this way, will find that method to be very powerful.  The nuances are a little different for children who are accelerated.  For them, it’s best to have buy-in about which extracurricular activities they’ll pursue, especially during their teen years.  Chua is honest and reveals that while she had buy-in from Sophie she did not from Lulu and the high-level music goals became a battleground.

It did appear to be a smart move on Chua’s part to hire a person to execute and coach the day-to-day sessions with her daughters, although she made the big calls.  When you are emotionally connected to the person you are coaching it changes your relationship.  Working with my own daughter intensely on cognitive areas was exhausting, while I can do it all day with other children and adults.  I realized being my daughter’s coach and trainer was a disruption to a more natural mother-daughter relationship.

Next week, I’ll talk about what I didn’t like about Chua’s approach and what practices to avoid at all costs.