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7 Chinese Parenting Tips to Help Your Child Excel

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Updated on Nov 20, 2012

It's called Tiger Mother Parenting, a term coined by Yale Law professor Amy Chua in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother; and many parents are looking to the Chinese parenting traditions of high standards and emphasis on academic excellence to help their children achieve.

After all, Tiger Moms are doing something right. According to the most recent US Census Bureau report, Chinese Americans are only 5 percent of the US population but account for 20 percent of the Ivy League population. If you want similar stats for your kids, try adopting some of these distinctive parenting traits from the East.

  • Encourage self-perfection. Chinese parents don't think "perfect" is a dirty word. According to Brown University Psychologist Jin Li, Chinese parenting techniques are rooted in the Confucian belief in self-perfection. How do you reach self-perfection? With practice. Add an hour to most weekday afternoons. Whether your kid's tackling practice math problems or lines for a school play, extra time will help her reach her full potential.
  • Be stingy with praise. According to Tiger Mom philosophy, praising everything your child does just teaches her that you have low standards. Dr. Desiree Qin, Michigan University professor and Chinese parenting researcher says parents in China save praise for something truly deserving—such as an A+—and lay it on thick. Deal with B's by encouraging her to do better next time; that way, your little learner will work harder for your praise if it's harder to come by. Also, focus on earned accomplishments, rather than using overarching compliments. "You're the smartest girl ever," can set your kid up to fail by trying to always be "the smartest" or meet any other unrealistic goal. Instead, be specific and zero in on why she reached her goal: "You did a great job on that test! It looks like your extra study time really paid off."
  • Hold the shame. Some Tiger Moms, like Chua, use the shame technique to discourage failure, according to former Tiger Cub and author Tess Gerritsen. But she advises against it. Gerritsen says that her parents' shaming made her stronger but at the expense of a persistent feeling that she can "never be good enough, or talented enough, or work hard enough." Instead of shaming failures, emphasize successes and encourage your child to continue working hard when she fails to meet expectations.
  • Show her that hard work is fun. The whole point of working hard is the reward—and that's what parents in China emphasize. In her book, Chua points out that, "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." Pick an instrument together and schedule daily practice. Stick to it and she'll be rewarded with a great gig in a band or orchestra and learn that persistence pays off.
  • Organize study time. More studying equals better grades. That's not exactly a secret, but Tiger Moms understand it better than most. A 2011 University of California study reported that the average Asian student studies 5 more hours per week than the average student of any ethnicity. Each evening, create Study Hour(s). Encourage everyone (you too) to buckle down and take care of business for an hour or more. If your kid's finished her homework, encourage her to review or tackle long-term projects.
  • Don't let them give up. Sometimes the lesson is persistence. For typical Tiger Moms, failure is not an option. According to Chua, "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." Once your child sets a goal, make them see it through despite any bellyaching. She'll apply that persistence to relationships, sports, and even a career later on in life.
  • Encourage competition. For Tiger Moms, the classroom is like the Thunder Dome: many children enter, but only one child leaves the champion. Don't be afraid to compare your child to other children and push them to excel above them. Gerritsen says that she loved it that her dad "got a particular thrill when I—a girl—surpassed the boys in my science and math classes." Friendly competition is healthy, but be sure that your child knows how to be a graceful loser as well. The sportsmanlike approach may drive her to excel.

Pushing for excellence in a healthy way is a great way to embody Chinese parenting techniques. With you as a loving, driving force, your child will focus on hitting the books and bring home the grades that may help her reach the Ivy League—and her dreams—in the future.

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