What’s Missing from “Tiger Mother” Parenting

There is no escaping the attention author Amy Chua has received about her book “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother”. I’ve been captivated by the discussion, both as a Chinese American woman and a psychologist who works with families and children. The intrigue is partly because of my clinical passions (parenting, culture and parent-child relationships) but mostly because her words struck a personal chord. I wasn’t brought up by a “tiger mother” but education was definitely a priority in my family. In fact, it wasn’t until I had my son that I realized just how much my culture and upbringing influenced me as a parent. I admit, I have been known to buy a set of flashcards or two for my own 23 month old. Despite this, while reading Chua’s book I was convinced something was missing. The missing piece is attention to children’s social and emotional growth.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is defined by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning – a nonprofit organization that works to advance the science and evidence-based practice of social and emotional learning) as “…a process for helping children and even adults develop the fundamental skills for life effectiveness. SEL teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically.” This includes identifying emotions, establishing positive relationships, coping with difficult situations and making responsible decisions. As a psychologist and parent, I am a big advocate of SEL. Our emotions and our relationships affect how we learn. That is why when you do not provide children with the opportunity to learn these skills you really hinder their growth, especially in academics.

So how can we help our children increase their social and emotional growth?

• Communicate – Sit down and have a conversation with your child and just ask questions. Listen to what they are saying without jumping in with your own two cents. Be genuinely curious. This will help your child begin the process of learning to communicate their thoughts and feelings. In conversations ask them about how they “felt” about a situation. With young children you can even put up a “feelings word chart” and have them point to feelings they have been experiencing. Effective communication is one of the skills that I believe to be crucial to success as an adult.

  • Encourage social interactions – Provide your child with multiple opportunities to engage socially with peers and adults. This can help them become skilled in practicing their different social roles. It can also help children see other people’s perspectives in our diverse community.


  • Let conflict lead to growth – When conflicts arise do not rush in and “fix” the problem. Help your child problem solve. Encourage your child to be curious about how others in the situation might feel. Consider role-playing solutions – with puppets or each other. Give your child a chance to try out different words to solve the problem. This can help build communication, empathy and respect.


  • Be a model – What we know from child development is that children look to us as the example. If we want our children to be well rounded, confident and successful people then we have to model that. Help your child see how you solve problems, show compassion, communicate and assert your needs.

We live in a society where rote memorization, straight A’s, and playing an instrument are simply not enough. Today young adults with great university degrees often flounder at their jobs because they are not able to manage the subtle dynamics between supervisor and employee, don’t know how to appropriately ask for help, or aren’t sure how to take the lead on projects with effective people skills. To help your child build confidence and succeed is to pay attention to their whole self–mind, body and spirit.


*Originally published in the Pasadena Macaroni Kid Newsletter

Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.

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