Friday 9 December 2016

Achievers aren't afraid to lose

John Hearne

Published 23/03/2011 | 09:32

Tiger parenting. It's all about turning your children into high achievers by threatening dire consequences if they slip up.

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In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chinese-American mother Amy Chua tells how she intimated her two daughters into becoming the young women they are today. There are some hair-raising incidents in the book.

When her four-year-old hands her a handmade birthday card, Chua takes one look, scrawls an unhappy face on it and hands it back. Mother tells daughter that she has a box where she keeps her children's cards, but this card isn't going in because it isn't good enough.

When the same kid puts in a poor practice session on the violin, her mother hauls her dolls' house out to the car and threatens to donate it piece by piece to a charity shop.

The book has provoked a storm of controversy, with pretty much everyone accusing the mother of child abuse. But if she was looking for smart kids, that's what she got. Both daughters are straight-A students. One of them has already preformed in Carnegie Hall and the other, by all accounts, is no slouch on the violin.

So I ran all this by my eldest children, Annie (seven) and Mike (five) to see if they'd be on for a radical change in my parenting style. They didn't believe any of it. First of all, they thought I was telling them some kind of fairy story. "What happened in the end?" Annie asked.

"Well both of them turned out to be brilliant at school and brilliant at playing their instruments," I said.

"But what happened to the stepmother?"

"She wasn't their stepmother, she was their mother, their mammy."

Annie looked incredulous. "And how did she die? Did a big rock fall on her?"

"She didn't die. She's fine. They all live together."

She made her 'Daddy's-such-a-gobshite' face. "No she didn't."

In justifying her approach, Chua says that achievement is the path to happiness. "What Chinese parents understand,'' she writes, "is that nothing is fun until you're good at it."

I have to go along with this. Among the many lies we tell children, one of the silliest is that the winning isn't important, it's the taking part that counts. This is just rubbish. Imagine any manager in the dressing room at half time with the team three-nil down. "Well lads, the main thing is that youse are enjoying yourselves." Yes, that's exactly what Alex Ferguson would say.

The truth is that nobody likes doing stuff that they're no damn good it. In order to protect our children from the truth that they won't win every time we lie, telling them it's neither important nor something they should want.

Sure take part and have fun. You might lose. That sucks. But keep at it, and you might just win. And that's brilliant.

Herald

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