Why we must tame the tiger within

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Family -

Tanith Carey can spot a tiger mother a mile off. The parenting au­thor was one her­self, set­tling her new­born baby in front of Baby Ein­stein DVDs to stim­u­late her tiny brain and in­vest­ing in ex­pen­sive ed­u­ca­tional toys. From the age of six her old­est daugh­ter Lily, now 12, was be­ing tu­tored once a week and learn­ing Man­darin Chi­nese and bal­let. “I firmly be­lieved that I could turn my child into a ge­nius if I put enough work into it,” Carey ex­plains.

But Lily didn’t play ball. De­spite Carey’s best ef­forts, she be­came in­creas­ingly with­drawn, com­plain­ing that she was “rub­bish” at her school­work. Frus­trated that her once bub­bly daugh­ter was push­ing her away, Carey, who is mar­ried to jour­nal­ist An­thony Har­wood and has another daugh­ter, Clio, nine, con­sulted an ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist who told her that she was the prob­lem, not Lily.

“She warned me that Lily was in­ter­nal­is­ing ev­ery­thing I said and felt very crit­i­cised by me,” she says. “She’s a sen­si­tive child and im­pos­ing my own mo­ti­va­tions on her wasn’t help­ing.”

In her new book, Tam­ing the Tiger Par­ent, Carey de­scribes how dam­ag­ing com­pet­i­tive parenting can be, and shows tiger moth­ers and fa­thers how to shed their stripes and re­build re­la­tion­ships with their chil­dren. Her ad­vice pro­vides an an­ti­dote to the heavy-handed tech­niques of the orig­i­nal tiger mother, Amy Chua, de­scribed in her book Bat­tle Hymn of a Tiger Mother.

Chua would hover next to her daugh­ter, Louisa, as she prac­tised the vi­o­lin for two hours ev­ery evening, threat­en­ing to burn her soft toys if she played a wrong note. Carey, mean­while, whose daugh­ters also play the vi­o­lin – I ar­rive at their house in north London to the sound of Lily’s scales waft­ing from up­stairs – now trusts them to prac­tise on their own. “Lily doesn’t need me to be there watch­ing over her all the time. I let her de­velop her own mo­ti­va­tion rather than im­pos­ing mine,” she says.

Her book en­cour­ages par­ents to pri­ori­tise their child’s emo­tional well­be­ing over aca­demic achieve­ment. Un­like Chua, who con­sid­ers chil­dren to be tough enough to cope with harsh crit­i­cism, Carey stresses the im­por­tance of build­ing a child’s re­silience to cope with the pres­sures of school and exams. “You don’t want them be­liev­ing that their par­ents love them more when they do well and less when they don’t,” she says.

Com­pet­i­tive parenting is in­fec­tious; Carey first re­alised this when Lily was two and she was push­ing her on a swing in a play­ground. “I was recit­ing a let­ter of the al­pha­bet for her to re­peat each time I pushed and a few min­utes later I no­ticed a fa­ther had started do­ing ex­actly the same thing

When you see another young­ster do well, is your first ques­tion to your­self: “Why can’t my son/daugh­ter do that?”

Are you very ner­vous be­fore a child’s exam, match or par­ents’ evening?

Have you ever in­flated your child’s achieve­ments to other par­ents?

Do you lack mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships with other par­ents?

Do you turn things into a com­pe­ti­tion for your chil­dren when they don’t need to be, like “Who’s cleaned their plate first?” with his tod­dler,” she says.

Most tiger par­ents are slicker than this and will go to great lengths to con­ceal the fact that their beloved is re­ceiv­ing ex­tra coach­ing, giv­ing the im­pres­sion that their child is just nat­u­rally bril­liant. “We all saw how Amy Chua was vil­i­fied – it’s un­cool to be a tiger mother,” she says.

This doesn’t stop us, though. Aware that chil­dren need A*s to get into the best schools, univer­si­ties and ca­reers, some re­gard parenting as a race and their off­spring’s grades as their re­spon­si­bil­ity. “I was hor­ri­fied to dis­cover my chil­dren’s nurs­ery class­mates had been play­ing with the same ed­u­ca­tional toys and watch­ing the same Baby Ein­stein DVDs,” Carey ad­mits.

The most ded­i­cated tiger par­ents mon­i­tor “ri­val” chil­dren on the sly, ri­fling through book bags while shar­ing the school run to gauge which Biff and Chip book they’re on. “One mother gave Lily a spell­ing test on a play­date,” Carey re­calls.

By train­ing chil­dren to com­pete, par­ents dam­age their re­la­tion­ships with other par­ents and com­pro­mise their home life as they scurry to take their off­spring to var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, rarely spend­ing time to­gether as a fam­ily. “How fondly are our chil­dren go­ing to re­mem­ber their child­hoods if they’re go­ing from one ac­tiv­ity and tu­tor ses­sion to the next?” Carey says. “With com­pet­i­tive power By rais­ing a bal­anced, self-ac­cept­ing child, not one that is su­per­fi­cially suc­cess­ful.

Re­alise we are in this to­gether Your child will never be happy or se­cure if you raise them with the idea that it’s them against the world.

Get a pet Pets can teach chil­dren about re­spon­si­bil­ity and un­con­di­tional love. They get chil­dren and par­ents out of the house, re­duce cor­ti­sol lev­els and re­lease feel­good en­dor­phins. plays you ruin the ex­pe­ri­ence of parenting for your­self and force your child to work harder and harder.”

With a more pas­toral ap­proach, Carey now en­joys a happy and healthy re­la­tion­ship with both daugh­ters. In her book she sug­gests par­ents spend time alone with their chil­dren away from the pres­sures of school – a tech­nique called “love­bomb­ing” – and un­der­lines the im­por­tance of good time-man­ag­ing skills to al­low for fun and re­lax­ation as well as home­work.

“Chil­dren shouldn’t be work­ing un­til 10pm and get­ting up at 6am; if they can’t com­plete their home­work in the des­ig­nated time then there’s a prob­lem that needs to be ad­dressed,” she says, urg­ing par­ents to think twice be­fore draft­ing in tu­tors – who can ac­tu­ally harm a child’s con­fi­dence.

As she sought to re­pair her re­la­tion­ship with Lily, she cut down on her ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and worked at find­ing her “spark”, a sub­ject, sport or ac­tiv­ity that came nat­u­rally to her. “It could have been any­thing; it just hap­pened to be the vi­o­lin,” she ex­plains. “She’s made friends through play­ing, and went on a cham­ber mu­sic camp this sum­mer which she said was the best week of her life.”

She also fo­cused on main­tain­ing a com­fort­able and calm en­vi­ron­ment for her chil­dren out of school. “The home can be­come very tense with par­ents work­ing around the clock as well as wor­ry­ing about chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion,” she says. “When I de­stressed and did less work, I be­came less pan­icky and re­ac­tive to Lily’s per­for­mance. The at­mos­phere in our home calmed down.”

By widen­ing their def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess, par­ents are more likely to help their chil­dren be­come happy, thriv­ing adults, ac­cord­ing to Carey. “We all value the same jobs and univer­si­ties, which is putting too much pres­sure on the sys­tem,” she says. “What about cre­ativ­ity and in­di­vid­u­al­ism? The last thing we need is a gen­er­a­tion of cook­iecut­ter peo­ple who all do the same thing.”

Tam­ing the Tiger Par­ent by Tanith Carey (Robin­son, RRP £8.99, pub Septem­ber 18) is avail­able to or­der from Tele­graph Books; call 0844 871 1515 or visit books. tele­graph.co.uk

Fam­ily har­mony: Tanith Carey and daugh­ters Clio, 9 and Lily, 12, are so much hap­pier to­gether now the com­pet­i­tive tiger has been driven out of their lives

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