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What American Parents Do Right

Amy Chua put Chinese parenting on a pedestal last year with her “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. Now an American journalist has published an adoring epistle lauding French parenting as the very pinnacle of child-rearing, in “Bringing Up Bebe”.

Are American parents just doing it wrong?

No, says an interesting article in the New York Times. The magic of parenting in any culture is teaching self-control, and Americans have some unique tricks up our sleeves when it comes to that. We may not have the rigor of a Tiger Mother or the cool discipline of the French, but we’re still raising kids with strong self-esteem, resiliance and self-control.

Here’s what American parents are doing right.

We let our kids play, for one thing. Kids may look like they’re just goofing off, but play is the work of childhood. It helps children build the self-control and discipline that’s at the basis of academic achievement, good social relationships, and healthy habits as adults. Why does play work such magic?

According to the New York Times, what counts is that we harness our kids’ natural energy and interests, letting them build these skills in ways that feel good to them:

Effective approaches for building self-control combine fun with progressively increasing challenges. Rather than force activities onto an unwilling child, take advantage of his or her individual tendencies. When children develop self-control through their own pursuit of happiness, no parental hovering is required. Find something that the child is crazy about but that requires active effort. Whether it’s compiling baseball statistics or making (but not passively watching) YouTube videos, passionate hobbies build mental staying power that can also be used for math homework.

So play can be its own reward.

Want to bolster your kids’ self control even further? The NYT has some tips for taking these skills to the next level. They don’t involve 14 hours a day of tutoring, but they do require some work from you, the parents.

  • Teach your child a second language – Studies show that learning a second language helps strengthen mental flexibility. Bilingual people are better at sorting out conflicting cues and learning abstract rules. This is true for babies as well as adults: speaking a second language makes your mind more nimble.
  • Exercise – In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, there are some substantial mental health advantages. Exercise gives you better ability to focus, and improves your mental flexibility. Martial arts, yoga and meditation might be especially helpful.
  • Socialize – hanging out with their friends might seem, like play, to be taking time and energy away from learning. But in fact it’s a part of learning, as important as memorizing multiplication tables (or whatever the kids do these days).

Teaching self-regulation is one of the most important gifts a parent can give a child. We don’t have to emulate another culture to do it though. The tools to help kids succeed are right there in the sandbox, no matter what your cultural background might be.

Photo: Andrew Malone

 

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