The “tiger mother” approach to raising children is a failure, according to a new US study.


Fierce tiger mother Amy Chua with daughters Louisa and Sophia.

You may recall that last year Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother advocated an Eastern view of parenting; pushing children to excel and succeed, even at the cost of their personal happiness.

It caused a global storm of controversy and topped the best-sellers lists.

Two incidents Chua documented that pushed some readers over the edge: Chua, Yale law professor, forced her 7-year-old daughter Lulu to practice a piano piece for hours on end, “right through dinner into the night,” with no water or toilet breaks, until at last Lulu learned to play the piece.

Then there was the card Lulu made for her mother’s birthday.”I don’t want this,” Chua announced, adding that she expected a drawing that Lulu had “put some thought and effort into.”  She threw the card back at her daughter and told her, “I deserve better than this. So I reject this.”

Now US reseacher, Desiree Baolian Qin, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Michigan State University says that approach is wrong.

Turns out that high-achieving Chinese-American students are more depressed and anxious than their European-American peers. 

Drawing on survey data collected on 295 Chinese American and 192 European American ninth graders attending a highly selective magnet school, Qin’s findings show that Chinese American adolescents reported significantly lower levels of psychological adjustment, significantly less family cohesion and more conflict than their white classmates.

“I strongly believe that happiness matters tremendously for children to develop well, so they don’t just have success now and then later on experience maladjustment,” Qin told “It’s really important for parents to pay attention to this.”

 Qin went on to say that some parents from the “soft and forgiving” Western approach went too far the other way and overpraised

“I agree with Amy Chua that a child will develop strong self-esteem when they really master something. So that self-esteem should be grounded in their achievements, their ability, rather than empty praises from parents and teachers saying ‘great job’ for drawing a circle or for just about anything.”

As in all things, Qin says moderation is the key. She says there’s nothing wrong with having high expectations for your kids, but loving communication in the key.

“There is a healthy middle ground between the parenting extremes of the East and West,” Qin added. “What is most beneficial to children, regardless of the culture, is clear and high expectations in a warm and loving family environment.”

As it happens, one of The Hoopla’s readers, Julie Boyd has submitted a personal story on just this topic. If you’d like to hear how “Japanese Whispering” works for her two grandchildren, read on…

“Amy Chua ignited a global parenting debate with her story of  strict parenting techniques.

Described as anything from a ‘comic memoir’ to a torture chamber for kids, gems such as “I’ll take your stuffed animals and burn them” was supposed to provide motivation for her two girls.


Chris Lilley as Jen Okazaki in Angry Boys.

From the response by the girls during subsequent interviews it would seem they didn’t quite get the joke.

While Chua’s Chinese mother/Jewish father/American style could be best characterised as demanding and directive, I always found a “kid whispering” style worked best for me, i.e treat them as you would like them to be.

Now, the Japanese/Australian style my two tiny granddaughters are experiencing could not be more different to Chua’s.

My 18-month-old grand-daughter does not attend formal “lessons” with expensive instruments like Chua’s kids, but plays her pink plastic 10 cent saxophone with great aplomb, accompanied by the enthusiastic dancing to the appropriate Wiggles song.

While it doesn’t really matter if little Ellua Belle accidentally drops her saxophone, she puts it away in her toybox after she’s finished playing when asked to by her Dad, along with the tiny soccer ball she kicks with double-footed skill and a large pile of books she is loving to death.The keyword here being “asked”!

Her parents have always spoken to her with a balance of polite respect and playful insistence, rather than demand and coercion.

In countries where people do not have the luxury of the space we often have in Aussie houses, kids have to put their stuff away from communal spaces, often including the family bedroom – it’s just expected as they grow up.

She moved into her own single bed with minimal fuss when baby sister arrived home to co-sleep with Mum and Dad, and has also learned to undress herself in preparation for her bath, put her dirty clothes in the “pink bucket”, then to walk carefully to the bathroom where she is learning a combination of Japanese bathing routines, combined with good Aussie water play. In Japan, bath-time is traditionally Dad time, though with a new baby sister now, it’s a shared family pursuit.

 But possibly the most clear difference in parenting techniques has come with mealtime.

She loves sitting at the table for a family meal, and her food, and will happily eat an entire punnet of blueberries or a plate full of watermelon chunks, a cake of plain rice or a plate full of steamed broccoli and cauliflower with equal gusto.

No coercion, no tears or tantrums, just a happy, curious, independent little person enjoying every new experience.

She’s just learning to speak – wrapping her tiny mouth around two home languages is a challenge, so she uses a combination of signs and words.

To say “please” she places her little hands into a yoga prayer position which sees Mums at the local playground totally besotted and happily handing over balloons, while “thank you” involves a double handed fist pump and two hands flung high in the air.

Raising our kids in the best way possible for them is different in each culture.

The question we have to ask ourselves in Australia is whether “Chinese mothers are superior” as claimed by Chua, or whether there is another way to raise our kids and grandbabies which helps them become compassionate, caring, contributing and (self)controlled individuals who can excel in their ultimately chosen fields.

I’m trying to convince my kids to write a book called “Why Japanese Australian parents do Kid Whispering better” just so I can send it to Amy Chua’s kids to read.”