Almost all of my students’ parents made some reference to Amy Chua in the week following the provocative excerpt of her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in the Wall Street Journal. Some parents felt inspired, some appalled, but all were intrigued. As the opinions darted around cyber space and my lessons, I found myself comparing and contrasting Tiger parents and Suzuki parents.
• Both assume strength in their children.
In speaking of “Chinese” parents’ expectations of their children, Amy Chau says that “they assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently [than Western parents]”. I agree that this belief in a child’s ability and resilience is a crucial part of successful parenting. In Suzuki terminology it is expressed in the catch phrase: Every Child Can. Your child can surmount the most daunting challenges and your faith in their strength, not their fragility, will help. Where Suzuki differs from the Tiger approach, is that you express your confidence in your child through loving support and structure, not emotionally abusive name-calling…
• Both spend time working with their children.
Chua relates an anecdote about practicing with her daughter that she uses to demonstrate how her tenacious and unrelenting demands (abusive demands, if you ask me) resulted in her daughter’s heightened achievement. What I see as the positive aspect of this story is that Chua was practicing with her daughter. Suzuki parents also practice with their children; Suzuki parents, however, are trained to support and encourage their child with the goal of making practice time effective and enjoyable instead of a battle.
• Both expect excellence from their children
Chua writes: “what Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” I agree with this quote, but this doesn’t mean that your child has to just suffer along until she can play a Vivaldi concerto. Rather, a student can excel at all the steps in the process of learning an instrument, whether rest position feet or May Song. I do think that “Western” parents often get tripped up in the idea that demanding excellence and repetition is an imposition. It is not an imposition; it is the key to your child’s success and enjoyment. “Nothing is fun until you’re good at it”, or, to put it in Suzuki language, “ability is the life force”.
Both Tiger parents and Suzuki parents want to help their children develop ability. Both are very active parenting styles. Tiger parents, however, look to intimidation and guilt to achieve their goals, while Suzuki parents follow the adage of Dr. Suzuki himself and “nurture with love”.