Kiasu dad, tiger mum or helicopter parent? What works best for Singapore parents

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When it comes to parenting, which is better, strict or permissive? Must one be bothered about labels at all?

What is the difference between an Asian upbringing and a Western one? Why do some Asian mothers see themselves as "tiger mums" while others shun the label?

Why do Asian kids do so well in math and science? And why are Singaporeans so kiasu when it comes to their children? Is it sometimes good for children to fail? How do Asian parents prime their children for success from a young age?

When it comes to parenting, the questions are endless.

Author answers some questions

Maya Thiagarajan, author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age, shares some valuable insights based on research and her own vast experience, in an exclusive guest post for theAsianparent.

A global citizen, Maya, who holds a Masters in Education Policy from Harvard University, began her teaching career with Teach For America, where she taught at a public school in Baltimore City for two years.

kiasu parents in Singapore

She went on to teach high school English at some of America's most prestigious independent schools. After a decade of teaching in the US, Maya moved to Singapore and began teaching at The United World College of South East Asia (UWC).

Struck by the different approaches to education and parenting that she encountered in Singapore, Maya began to interview Chinese and Indian parents living in Singapore. Let's check out what Maya has to say about striking a balance when it comes to parenting in Singapore.

Strict or permissive? 3 ways to get the balance right

The Parenting See Saw

"It’s interesting that all children – whether they are toddlers or teens – tend to simultaneously need opposing forms of support.

For example, they need structure and predictability, yet they also need a considerable amount of freedom. Without any structure, there’s chaos, but without freedom, there’s a stifling of creativity and imagination.

kiasu parents in Singapore

Similarly, they need high expectations and some pressure/stress so that they really push themselves, but they also need a safe and nurturing environment where they feel comfortable taking risks and failing.

They need guidance because when left completely to their own devices they may flail and flounder, but at the same time, they also need to be given choices and left to themselves so that they think creatively and learn to make their own decisions. They need parents who are simultaneously firm and nurturing, who are at once both “hands-on” and “hands-off.”

The more I think about it, the more I realise that achieving this balance is an important part of being a successful parent.

And it is not always easy.

So how does one do it? Here are a few suggestions.

Recognise and appreciate the tensions:

Perhaps the first step in achieving that ever-elusive perfect balance is to recognise the tension between opposing forces. If you feel a little confused as a parent and you wonder, “What’s the right thing to do in this situation,” you need to first sort out the opposing forces that you’re dealing with.

For example, maybe junior wants to play freely on his own with his legos and cars. But you’re getting anxious that he needs to practice his math. The first step is to recognise that both options have value. Free play is crucial for kids as it helps them develop their imagination and creativity. And it is also a way for children to release stress and enjoy their childhood.

kiasu parents in Singapore

Junior is learning a lot from building his lego model and racing toy cars around the room. However, math practice and structured learning is also important. It will help Junior develop not only his math skills but also his concentration and discipline.

So the first step is to recognise that the tension created in this situation is between two positive forces. Appreciate that! Then you can figure out the right balance by coming to a compromise. For example, you might tell Junior that he can play for another half an hour and then you will begin working with him on Math.

Understand yourself, and recognise your own biases

A large part of successful parenting involves self-knowledge. If you know, for example, that you lean towards intense structure and that you tend to be a little authoritarian or dictatorial as a parent, then you need to remind yourself to relax and appreciate the benefits of creative freedom for children.

Without some freedom to experiment, play, and day-dream, kids may grow up to lack initiative, creativity, imagination, and confidence.

Also READ: How can kiasu parents in Singapore raise super kids

On the other hand, if you know that you’re a very laissez-faire parent who doesn’t really like structure and discipline, then you need to remind yourself that sometimes kids need structure. Without any structure or discipline, there’s a high chance that you might end up raising a spoilt, badly-behaved, and difficult child.

So knowing oneself is important.

kiasu parents in Singapore

Given that I’m a teacher and I have a real bias towards academic learning, I often have to remind myself of the tremendous benefits of time outdoors as well as relaxed free time at home.

Having the space and time to climb a tree, experiment with paints, or play imaginary games with dolls and toys is absolutely crucial for a child’s cognitive and emotional development. And I often remind myself of this. Just being aware of this makes me more able to achieve the balance that I’m looking for.

Similarly, I sometimes feel as though I’m over-protective and anxious. Recognising this aspect of myself allows me to counter it when I parent. Our kids need our protection and guidance, but they also need experiences where they can take healthy risks, try things out for themselves, and navigate the world more independently. I often consciously remind myself to let go a bit and give my kids more room to experiment and take healthy risks.

Ignore the labels, and focus on your child

Helicopter Parent. Tiger Mum. Kiasu Dad. Free-Range Parent. Permissive Parent.

We live in a world where parents are constantly stereotyped and labelled by each other and by society. But I think that ultimately, we need to ignore these labels and realise that the goal is to understand our kids and provide them with the best support we can.

Sometimes, that might mean being a little more kiasu or tiger-like, but at other times, it might mean backing off and being more permissive and relaxed.

kiasu parents in Singapore

If your daughter is a high-strung perfectionist, then help her relax and remind her to take breaks and have fun. If your daughter is a carefree kid who has a very hard time focusing and working, then provide the added structure that she needs to do her best. You can require her to sit down at her desk and take the time to supervise her homework.

Each kid needs something different. Our job is to know our kids, and then provide the best support – in all its varied and contradictory forms – that we can. Ultimately, we all want the same thing: to raise happy, healthy, and successful kids."

About Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age

In Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age, Maya examines the stereotypes and goes beneath the surface to explore what really happens in Asian households.

Through interviews with hundreds of Asian parents and children, Maya offers a detailed look at their values, hopes, fears and parenting styles. Woven into this narrative are her own reflections on teaching and parenting in Asia and the West.

Each chapter ends with a "How To" section of specific tips for Asian and Western parents to aid their child's educational development both inside and outside the classroom.

kiasu parents in Singapore

The focus is on how to:

  • Help your child achieve maximum academic potential
  • Train your child to expand his or her attention span
  • Find the right balance between work and play
  • Help your child see failure as a learning experience
  • Raise tech-healthy kids

The book has received widespread praise. Even Amy Chua, author of the famous and much discussed Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, says“Beyond the Tiger Mom is a brilliant book. Hard-hitting and brutally honest but also balanced, insightful, and funny. It avoids clichés and draws on years of research and personal multicultural teaching experience.”

To learn more about Maya Thiagarajan, go to http://www.mayathiagarajan.info/. Readers can also connect with Maya on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Also READ: Guide to breeding super kids for kiasu parents in Singapore