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Another Matter of Discipline

Somewhere in between China and Italy, you’ll find an all-American parent

“The Growth Chart” recently focused on matters of discipline, as related to behavior. “Discipline” also means: devotion to a task, self-control or learning a skill. Being “disciplined” at something requires … well, I once heard it called “stick-to-it-ive-ness.” 

Most parents want to raise their children to be disciplined, but at what cost?    

When Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother hit bookstores in January of this year, parents were abuzz at its politically incorrect content. (Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is available from Penguin Press.)

Though Chua grew up in America, her authoritarian approach to mothering touts traditional “Chinese Parenting” as superior to the “Western” style, which Chua believes allows children to waste time and fails to prepare them for the future. 

Chua unapologetically required her children to practice their musical instrument for as long as six hours a day. She once rejected a card her daughter made for her, telling her that she deserved better, that her daughter should give her something into which she had put thought and effort, not just scribbled. Chua refuses to practice “slathering praise” on children for the “lowest of tasks." (According to The Tiger Mom Manifesto by Annie Murphy Paul in Time, from Jan. 31.)

Is the hair on the back of your neck standing up? 

Mine is even as I write. As one who embraces the Italian, “Reggio Emilia” philosophy of “Nothing without joy,” (especially in early childhood) my heart hurts for children exposed to the type of parenting Chua embraces. 

And yet, I secretly wonder if those kids will edge mine out of a job someday. Have I been too easy on them, allowing them to give up simply because they weren’t finding “joy?" 

I regret not making my daughter stick to piano lessons when she showed potential for learning. I let her quit because I couldn’t figure out how to make it “joyful” for her. Or maybe because I was the wimp who couldn’t handle the battle of practice time.   

Maybe the joy would have come after the fact, as a result of devotion to a task, of being good at something.     

I could use a little more “Tiger” in my mothering.      

A famous proverb asserts: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” While most take this as an admonition about moral training, some say it is about a child’s personality or “bent.” If we help children discover what they are good at and provide excellent training, when they are older they will have full opportunity to pursue the vocation that best suits their gifting. 

Brain research supports this age-old wisdom. Our musical aptitude, or potential, for example, is basically determined by age 5, because parts of our brain have either been developed through exposure and exercise, or atrophied due to the lack thereof. The same is true with certain aspects of language development.      

There must be a balance between the “Chinese” and “Italian” approaches to rearing children. (“The American way?") 

In coming weeks, “The Growth Chart” will feature children whose “all-American parents” have not only helped them to identify their “gifting” but have also helped them to develop a sense of self-motivation for their training.    

We’ll kick off the “Children of Discipline” series next week by meeting Zachary Owens, a fifth-grade athlete and violinist who attends . 

joanne April 25, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Interesting article and food for thought! Thanks for this! I, too, shudder at the Chinese method you mentioned. Criticizing a card given to you by your child?! You're kidding me!! Talk about rejection. As a homeschooling parent/author who focuses on self-teaching and mastery learning, I find that my parenting style is more along the lines of equipping children to be self-motivated by exposing them to an array of educational and extracurricular activities. They choose the extras, but I give them as much choice as possible in the educational realm which = motivation. Mastery = excellence. Our results have been outstanding thus far, and we've graduated 3 out of 8 to this point. All three are attending the colleges of their choice on full scholarships! Check out my blog at homeschoolcoach.wordpress.com and/or my site at www.urthemom.com. I love reading about parenting! Warmly, joanne
Cynthia Lim April 27, 2011 at 01:32 AM
Amy Chua and I both have Chinese parents from the Philippines, and it seems like we were both raised with the Chinese tiger method. Unlike Chua, however, I chose to be an "American" parent because I wished a better childhood for my own daughter. If the success of my parenting were to be judged by my daughter's college admission offers, there is no doubt I am successful as proven by her offers from Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Furthermore, in a few more weeks, she is scheduled to graduate from one of them with highest honours, and she is on her way to work for a world-class firm. And yet, my instincts tell me that success is more than an Ivy League degree. I look forward to what my daughter will do with that degree, and hopefully, it will be something that will make a small corner of the society she lives in, a little bit better. Only then dare I call myself a successful parent. www.thegoodchinesemother.wordpress.com
Donna J. Noble May 06, 2011 at 05:26 PM
joanne-- Great points! This Sunday, I'll be featuring Robert Tolson in the "Children of Discipline" series. His father, Todd, makes an excellent point about parental encouragement that I'm sure you'll agree with! Thank you for your input!
Donna J. Noble May 06, 2011 at 05:29 PM
Cynthia- I am absolutely thrilled to read your comments! Thank you so much for the testimony you've given here. I'd love to talk to you further. I'm going to try to contact you through your blog. I think our "Growth Chart" parents might like to know more about your story. :-) -Donna
Donna J. Noble May 06, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Cynthia-- I didn't see a contact feature on your blog, so if you'd like to talk further, please email me through Patch (at the top of the article, where it says, "email the author.") Thank you!

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