Tiger Mom and ADHD?

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

How do a Tiger Mom and ADHD go together, or do they?  There’s been a lot of interest in the strict Chinese Tiger Mom approach since Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was released earlier this year.   I am wondering how parents of intense children are interpreting the messages of Ms. Chua, and what questions might need answering. One of the basic tenets of Chua’s book is that Americans are too soft on their children, and that in order to “compete in the global market” we need to make our children follow our orders, or else we’ll fall behind China.

Should parents of children with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, autism, attachment issues, giftedness, or any other condition, respond to this perceived threat by being harder on their kids to make them behave? If you are the parent of an intense child, you know that being harder on him just makes the situation worse.  You don’t get the compliance Amy Chua got from her older daughter Sophia when she demanded high math performance, but you do get increased resistance.  So where’s the happy medium here?  What should we take away from Tiger Mom Chua’s assertion that Americans are parenting wimps?

First realize that in her book, Chua admitted that her Tiger Mom techniques worked with Sophia, but not with her younger daughter Lulu.  Here’s a quote from Time magazine’s well-thought-out piece on the subject by Annie Murphy Paul:

“From the beginning, Chua’s second daughter was nothing like her obedient sister. As a fetus, she kicked — hard. As an infant, she screamed for hours every night. And as a budding teenager she refused to get with her mother’s academic and extracurricular program. In particular, the two fought epic battles over violin practice: ” ‘all-out nuclear warfare’ doesn’t quite capture it,” Chua writes. Finally, after a screaming, glass-smashing, very public showdown, the tiger mother admitted defeat: “Lulu,” she said, “you win. It’s over. We’re giving up the violin.” Not long after, Chua typed the first words of her memoir — not as an exercise in maternal bravado but as an earnest attempt to understand her daughters, her parents and herself.”

So where does this Tiger Mom debate leave parents with intense children?  Does the hope of ever having a successful child hang on high academic achievement and test scores, or are there other factors at play here?  Should we be praising children for their every accomplishment, or should we only demand “more!” in the face of their successes?  It’s a confusing world in which to parent an average child, let alone one with behavior problems.

Here are a few helpful ideas, based on what I see happening when parents find the happy medium between the “strict” Tiger Mom approach and “supportive” Present Moment Parenting.

1. Praise comes from the outside of the child, where its effect is minimal, and can even be damaging.  When we say, “When you … I feel … because …” we are not offering empty praise that only takes away a child’s desire to accomplish more.  We are actually building a relational bridge to the child whose sense of self has taken a hit from too much negative input.  After we get some traction by using our relationships to get better behavior, we plant the feelings of accomplishment inside the child with, “You must be feeling great about getting that work done on time!”  This is quite  different from Tiger Mom, who passes out all the affirmation.
2. Self-esteem doesn’t come from praising every little accomplishment.  It comes from feeling empowered by doing well.  When we encourage our children with heartfelt appreciation, we open the door to more “self-efficacy” which results in more positive behavior and higher self-esteem.
3. Grown-up tasks provide opportunities for self-efficacy.  Need your child more than you have needed her in the past, and watch how she builds on her own successes with more willingness to help with meals, take care of pets, encourage siblings, offer advice, and finish homework.
4. Playing video games does nothing to increase authentic self-esteem.  Only making a difference to oneself or others will do that.  Reduce screen time and increase family interaction time for a surefire way to build up a child.
5. Be fully present with your sometimes distraught child.  Acknowledge her here-and-now upset state before you offer to help improve it.  Pause.  Discomfort is a normal state for children and should not be avoided.  It teaches children resilience, which they need to learn for their adult lives.  Use your child as a resource by asking her what needs to happen to restore her equilibrium.  Stop fixing it for her so she can learn to fix it for herself.
6. Enjoy your child’s company.  Something magic happens when parents slow down long enough to notice the creative, interesting, curious being before them.  An authentic parent-child relationship cannot be overrated for predicting future success.  Ask three friends, “How did you become a success?” and they will likely say something about a strong sense of connectedness to a parent or other adult.  Some of them might have had a Tiger Mom and some not.

No American or Chinese or Italian or Mexican method of parenting is better than another, in and of itself.  Knowing your own child and how he best responds to your communication is simply going to work better than your trying to fit into a parenting mold.   Do American parents have something to learn from other countries’ approaches?  Certainly.  Take what works for you, and relax, knowing you are doing the best you can.  There’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to raising kids.  We all do our best, learning what works in our families.  From there we rely on children’s resilience to fill in the gaps, and a measure of faith to guide them safely to adulthood, where they will likely learn more than we know today about parenting well.

For information on Tiger Mom vs. Present Moment Parenting Coaching for handling ADHD and other behavior issues, visit http://parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching.

One Response to “Tiger Mom and ADHD?”

  • Terry Gips says:

    Thanks so much Tina!
    Again this is such a helpful article and your wisdom and compassion shine through. It’s really helpful, especially your noting that while Tiger Mom “worked” with one daughter, it absolutely failed with another.

    I really like your 6 points and even though I’ve heard much of it before, I was particularly struck that I still have some work to do with #1 and #2.

    I’ll be sharing this with others. Please keep up the great work.

    With Appreciation and Sustainability,

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