Tiger Mom's tips to encourage creativity in children

PHOTO: Keys Academy

It's been four years since Amy Chua released her controversial memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, but the draw of the Tiger Mom is clearly going strong.

Here in Singapore last week to launch The Keys Academy, an enrichment hub that provides tuition and enrichment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, she drew a full attendance at her keynote speech. She does not have a hand in developing the centre's education curriculum, but she is one of four members of the centre's advisory board.

The crowd of more than 200 guests that evening were keen to hear what the Tiger Mom herself had to say about child-rearing and educating children. The gist of the message from her book has not changed much, but Amy has made some editions to her views on raising happy, successful children.

When asked what she thought about parents who are disappointed if their children do not fit the typical Asian model of a success story, she said parents should not neglect the basics by spurring their children to do their best, but she does qualify that parents should also provide unconditional love to their children.

Her views on the Asian parenting model - parents who are tough on their offspring get the best results in child-rearing - also seems to have softened somewhat. She shares that Asian parenting can be too harsh and too stifling for creativity, citing as reasons why start-ups such as Facebook and Nobel prize winners come from the West, and not the East.

In the years since, both her daughters have grown into successful young adults, and according to her, are happy and well-adjusted. For the record, older daughter Sophia recently graduated from Harvard earlier this year and is interested in becoming a military prosecutor with a focus on sexual assault. Younger daughter Lulu, or Louisa, is enrolled at the same university as her older sister.

On her own experience growing up with strict immigrant Chinese parents, she shared her own story of rebellion - she forged her father's signature to apply to Harvard Law School and caused her mother to cry for three days because she did not want to become a medical doctor, to navigating through her career as a corporate lawyer and finding her own professional passion as a law professor.

At the end of the day, Amy does not profess to be an expert on child-rearing, but she does share some gems that will resonate with younger parents of today on how to equip children with basic values of discipline and resilience, while fostering creativity and imagination.


 Gems by Amy Chua

How to bring up well-behaved children:

When Amy was asked by family friend, Wendy Murdoch, for one piece of advice on how to bring up her two young daughters, she said: "Make your daughters take out the garbage."

On how to be revolutionary: Experiment and try to find your own comparative advantage. It's much easier to be paradigm-shifting and revolutionary when you have insight. It's hard to be creative when doing something you don't care about.

On how her parents were the original Tiger parents and taught her tough love: My parents had high expectations of me, coupled with unconditional love. They taught me resilience and not to give up.

Click on the gallery below for Amy's 8 tips to stimulate creativity, innovation and initiative skills in the younger generation.

8 tips from a Tiger mum on bringing up your child

Here are Amy's 8 tips to stimulate creativity, innovation and initiative skills in the younger generation:

1) Help children develop their own opinions and views

Even at a young age, treat your children as individuals with brains and views and discuss grown-up topics, as this helps to make them more interesting. It's much harder to do this with them at 17 years old.

2) Pay attention to your child's personality

Parents need to accept that there is only so much they can do. At 19 and 22, Lulu and Sophia were the same personality as they were when they were born. It is hard to get a child who is shy to engage in public-speaking

3) Asian societies need to broaden their definition of success

Start to broaden the different things that count as successful. Diversify so that it's not just the best violinist that is successful, but the top clarinettist too.

There is a certain pride and joy and doing something extremely well, but in Asian societies, parents define success too narrowly. In the West, excellence has a much broader definition and top universities in the US no longer just look for perfect grades and test scores.

4) Expose your children to art

Exposure to literature, art and theatre help children to develop soft skills and encourages an open and more associative way of thinking.

5) Do not romanticise creativity

In the West, there is a tendency to underestimate the amount of hard work, discipline and painful persistence required before creativity and imagination can be generated. Before you can invent String Theory, you need to be able to multiply and do calculus really well.

6) Don't raise a spoiled, entitled child

Emphasise to children that family, generosity, serving your community and morality is more important than getting good grades. Children who are taught the values of humility, responsibility and gratitude are more likely to grow up to form good relationships, friendships, and become good citizens and leaders.

7) Give your child more space to encourage more initiative and risk-taking

Failure is a necessary ingredient of success. Children can be taught to focus and be instilled with discipline, but they should be allowed more space, time to experiment, be spontaneous and make their own mistakes. It's impossible to innovate if your entire day has been scripted for you.

8) Encourage humour and laughter

There is a close link between humour and creativity. Humour requires critical thinking. To be funny, witty or sardonic, you often make fun of something. To do that, you need to be perceptive, self-aware, questioning and challenging.

Furthermore, laughter is psychologically healthy and is a way of keeping things in perspective.

cynloh@sph.com.sg