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 Orchard Hill School.