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Taming the Tiger Mom

I keep making the same parenting mistake over and over I need desperately need to learn to stop.

I need to teach myself to quit being such a “tiger mom” before I end up seriously harming my kids.

Taming the Tiger Mom

Already I can see that pushing my three year old son to write his name ended up backfiring. “No!” I would catch myself saying, “Just do straight lines. You’re drawing, not writing!” I’m embarrassed to admit it but today, I even offered to give my little boy chocolate chips if he would try it again and “this time do his very best“. Ugh. I need some sort of intervention.

I know can do better. I am better. I’m a certified elementary school teacher.

I’ve read the studies that show pushing kids (especially boys) to read and write at an early age has no positive effect on their skills and that no matter when you start to teach them to read, it all evens out once they reach third grade. In fact, the only thing pushing a kid to read and write early does is effect how they feel about those skills. It makes them hate it. I know this. So how come I keep falling into this trap?

The problem is that I get so caught up in my own timeline or my own agenda that I am guilty of pushing my eldest child incredibly hard. And the only thing that happens is that he and I end up arguing and no one learns anything. Last summer, I remember literally crying because I thought my little boy, who was at that point about two years old, didn’t know how to sing the alphabet. The next week, he sang the entire thing. He’d known it all along.

It wasn’t the alphabet he was resisting: it was me, his tiger mother.

In my overzealous attempt to get my son to learn, what I had done was actually squash his desire to show me that he was learning anything. I realized that I was putting entirely too much pressure on him. But did I learn my lesson? No. I will confess that the same thing actually happened the other day with counting. I thought he couldn’t count beyond 11 and then he randomly counted all the way up to 30 with no help. He had known how to do it all along. He just didn’t want to do it for me.

As you read this, you are probably either thinking that I am a terrible mother (which is justified) or you might be wondering, what’s the harm in a little outside motivation? Isn’t it important to learn to do things even if they aren’t fun? And yes, I do agree that is important to learn the skill of sticking through something that is difficult or not fun. And I believe that children need to learn that hard work is necessary in order to achieve excellence. But I also know that when you are pushed to do something, it changes your relationship with that thing.

The tiger mother inside of me is the result of being raised by my own mama cat.

When I was a child, my mother pushed me so hard to play the piano. Music is very important in my family. On my seventh birthday, I was allowed to choose what instrument I wanted to play. This was a big choice since I wasn’t allowed to change instruments or quit. Ever. (I understand this in some ways because, wow, pianos are an expensive investment!) After that one decision to play piano, all my autonomy went out the window. And I fought hard to get control back. I hated my lessons so much I would hide from my mother moments before it was time to head out the door. And at the lesson, I would waste as much time as possible by refusing to pick out new pieces to play. Sometimes I would force my teacher to spend more than half the lesson playing piece after piece of music for me and then after each song I would say, “Hmmmm, I don’t think that I like one.” As a grown up, I feel stabs of guilt at all that wasted money, but as a child, it was how I regained a small amount of control over something I hated. It was a tiny, successful rebellion. And if you can believe it, I hated practicing even more than I hate my piano lessons. When I picture my younger self arguing with my mother, I am always sitting on the piano bench because that’s where we had our absolute worst fights. So when I was fourteen years old and finally allowed to quit piano lessons, I never looked back. Even now, we have a piano in my house and I never, ever play it.

I don’t want that to be my son’s relationship with reading and writing or counting. I know from my years of teaching that children learn best when given the opportunity to make their own connections and create their own meaning.

I would never, ever offer a student in my class chocolate for learning to write their name, so why do I do it to my son?

I am guilty as charged. I have an incredibly strong desire for my children to be the very best in everything. No exceptions. I’m a tiger mom. But I don’t want to be anymore.

I’m taking an oath: From this day forward, I will just let my son learn at his own pace, I will teach him things when he shows an interest, I will take a supportive role rather than being pushy.

Okay. Okay. Even I know that changing ingrained behavior takes a long time and a lot of work, but at least I know I can keep this promise: I will never offer my son chocolate in exchange for writing his name again.

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