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Are Chinese Mothers Really Superior?

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Parenting presents different challenges when the brain is not organized as intended.

Amy Chua is a professor of law at Yale. Yet, her case that Chinese mothers are superior to Western parents is weak.

In her article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, she claims that 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.”

Well, lucky for Ms. Chua that her kids must have developed their lower centers of the brain and inhibited their primitive reflexes.  Otherwise, I think she’d have a very different take on parenting.

That’s because it doesn’t matter how much a parent screams or threatens or takes away belongings (she gives several examples where she is proud to have done this) when such development is incomplete. The truth is, no parent—Chinese or Western— can “will” a brain to do something if it’s not wired to do so.

So I’d like to suggest different criteria for identifying superior parents. I think that title should go to moms and dads who know whether their child has completed their lower brain development—and who then learn how to help their child build those highways, if warranted.

That, Amy Chua, is the best way to guarantee our children become who they are supposed to be.

Is There a Double Standard in Our Home?

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Do kids lose some respect for their parents if they say one thing . . .but model another?

Kids have a great radar for fairness, so here are some questions to consider:

  • Do we like to unwind when we come home from work, but require our kids to go straight to homework after attending school all day?
  • Do we eat unhealthy food, but serve our kids something else?
  • Do we react and yell when we’re upset, but expect our kids to approach problems calmly and logically?
  • Do we have different levels of tolerance and another set of rules for our sons than our daughters?
  • Do we tell our kids about the dangers of alcohol, but allow them to see us as tipsy (or more) at social or family gatherings?
  • Do we require our kids to clean their rooms, but our own personal space is often messy?

But most importantly . . .  if we have double standards in our home, how do our kids view those mixed messages? How about initiating a family discussion to find out?

How to Respond if Your Child Messes Up

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How we react to mistakes may dictate whether our kids come to us with a problem.

Suppose you discover your child deliberately kept you in the dark about a bad test grade or a concerning note from the teacher.  Before concluding that your child is untrustworthy, here’s an important question to consider:  How are mistakes handled in your home? In other words, what reaction has your child come to expect if he had shared that grade or note?

For example, did your child anticipate (correctly) that he’d get a speech laced with disappointment, exasperation, and irritation, followed by some kind of punishment? If so, maybe your child’ reaction was more about self-preservation that dishonesty.

Ironically, we may be concerned about our child’s trustworthiness because he no longer trusts us to respond in a way that’s helpful when he’s messed up.  So here’s how we may avoid that from happening.

1. Reassure your child that everyone makes mistakes.

Tell your child that you’re glad he makes mistakes—otherwise, that would mean he’s not human . . . and then that would mean he’s an alien from another planet!

2. Tell your child that you’ll stay calm whenever he approaches you with a problem.

Since that may not have always been the case, establish that if you do not stay composed, your child gets something that he likes.  That helps ensure you don’t revert to old reactions. And if you do, then your child figures at least he’s still going to get something good by coming to you.

3. Ask questions that prompt reflection and positive action for the future.

In lieu of giving a speech, ask questions such as: Why do you think you reacted that way? What other options could you have explored? What will you do differently to avoid this from happening again?

If there was another person involved, you might ask: How would (name of that person) describe what happened? That open-ended question then becomes a non-threatening way to hear a different perspective of what happened without anyone confirming that the other person’s account is correct.

4. Avoid “prosecutor-type” questions.

You’ll get immediate feedback if you start doing this because your child will become defensive, rather than reflective. Note that our tone often dictates whether we’re coming across as a prosecutor drilling a witness or a concerned parent who wants to prompt some insightful thinking.

5. Ask your child how he’ll accept responsibility for whatever happened.

With a generic knee-jerk reaction (“You’re grounded for a week!), there’s little chance that our child reflects and learns from any particular mistake. So it’s important that we also ask our kids what they think might be a good “natural cause and effect” for whatever transpired.  For example, a child may conclude, all on his own, that he’s spending too much time playing video games instead of studying. If so, it’s going to carry a lot more weight if he decides to limit video games to the weekends until his grades improve.

So yes, we all mess up.  That in itself is not newsworthy.  But how we deal with our mistakes may actually define us.

What Parents Need to Know About Grades

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When students receive a failing grade, does it motivate them to do better--or do they just shut down?

When parents become upset over their kids’ grades, there’s one rarely mentioned fact they need to recall: The only grades included in college applications are those from 10th and 11th grade.

That’s right. Those two high school years are the only ones that count when it comes to college admissions.

That sobering fact should help put things in perspective when 7-year-old Joey bombs his spelling tests or 10-year-old Kate fails her math test.  Knowing this, we may also consider the long-term effects of making too much out of a bad grade.

For example, if we focus too much on grades when kids are young, will they burn out by the time they actually count?  Instead of becoming motivated to work harder, will they decide (early on) that they’re just not smart—and “check out” when it comes to school?

There are other considerations when looking at grades.  Teachers get to choose how they present their lessons. So a child who is a kinesthetic learner may have difficulty learning new information from a teacher who relies on a lecture format and worksheets. But that doesn’t mean the child isn’t smart or motivated to learn.

It’s also possible that the child learned the information but wasn’t able to demonstrate that on the test. That scenario is more likely when kids feel test “pressure”—since such angst often causes them to temporarily forget what they know.

So, I have an idea on how to improve grades for all kids, but I don’t think it would go over well in schools.

What if teachers and kids “shared” the grade?  In other words, if a teacher puts an “F” on a child’s paper, she, too, gets that “F.”  After all, isn’t the grade equally reflective of how she presented the information and whether the content and format of the test actually evaluated what was learned?

And it that ever became the norm, do you think we’d see kids getting much better grades?

Free Life-Changing Experiences for Kids

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Some life experiences are priceless.

As parents, we spend a lot of money hoping that what we do now will pay off when our kids are adults. We invest in competitive sports. We hire tutors. We give them music lessons. Yet we can actually give our kids something that can be life-changing—and it costs nothing.

We can create opportunities for our kids to befriend a child with a disability. No, I’m not talking about having our son or daughter occasionally show up to become that child’s “helper.” I’m talking about becoming their friend, their buddy.

As a young girl, that chance absolutely changed my life.

When I was ten, Billy Mulligan moved onto our street. He was also ten, but he was different from the rest of the neighborhood kids. Billy had a pretty severe case of cerebral palsy. He could not walk or talk. In fact, he drooled quite a bit and also had minimal control of his arms and hands.

Yet, his parents never saw his limitations—and this was when people still referred to those with disabilities as “crippled.” But that’s not how Billy’s parents saw him. Nope, they just nonchalantly showed us how we could include Billy in whatever the neighborhood kids were playing.

It’s odd because decades later I know that I never had an actual conversation with Billy, but I still remember that his favorite television show was Divorce Court (he used to think it was so funny). I know that he knew the name of every model car and thought it was amusing when I couldn’t name the one he was pointing to.

I can also picture our neighborhood baseball games, where Billy sat strapped in his huge specially-made tricycle, taking his time to finally maneuver his hands around the plastic bat. And I remember his huge smile whenever he’d make contact with the large plastic ball and his brother ran to first base for him.

He was only on our block for a year, but I know that being Billy’s friend has stayed with me forever.

That’s because for my entire adult life, I have worked with all kinds of kids—including those with brain injuries, autism, and yes, cerebral palsy. But I can’t ever remember viewing any of those youngsters as anything but another great kid I was going to get the privilege to know. That kind of certainty had to have started with Billy Mulligan.

So, yes, we can provide life-changing experiences for our kids . . . and we can do so without ever spending a dime.

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