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Dr. Joni Bhutra: Be an example of success to your child


Posted: February 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Amy Chua, Yale professor and mother of two, has caused quite a stir recently with her much discussed book excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. In the excerpt, she praises ultra-strict “Chinese mothers” who often resort to harsh discipline and deprivation of so-called “fun” activities to try to raise the perfect child — one who will have perfect test scores and will perform at Carnegie Hall.

Chua points out that “Western parents” — a term she uses loosely — are afraid to exact limits and expectations on their children and therefore produce less “math whizzes and music prodigies.” 

Critics abound, and one writer, Ayelet Waldman, an author of several books about motherhood and mother of four, responded by pointing out that Asian-American girls have an above-average rate of suicide. She also countered that her own dyslexic child focused and overcame this challenge on her own, leaving her with a sense of accomplishment that did not require yelling or insults. But the real question everyone wants answered is “What is the right way to raise a successful child?”

The only way to answer this question is to first answer a few other questions. Among the first to ask yourself: What does success mean to you as a parent?

Once you’ve answered this question, then you need to address your temperament as a parent. How do you react to conflicts or disappointments in your everyday life?

For Chua, this means debuts at Carnegie Hall, while for Waldman it means overcoming dyslexia by positive means.

In reality, the answer can vary, possibly even within a family. For example, for your sons and daughters, you may have different fantasies or ideas of their successes. Until we truly reach gender equality in the world, this is only natural.

These are important parts of parenting that we see in every study conducted. For instance, at work you may tell the same news to two different people in two very different ways based on the temperament of the two individuals, how they are motivated and how you best interact with them.
Now that we’ve addressed your expectations and your temperament, we can address actual parenting to raise a successful child.
The interaction between parent and child was first truly studied in the late 1970s and the following four parenting styles have since been identified — permissive, uninvolved, authoritarian and authoritative. The last two can be confusing so we will go over those in more detail.

The permissive parents are what Chua might call Western parents.

These parents are highly responsive to their children’s needs, but demand nothing. These are the parents that will make and cut a sandwich 10 different ways until their children are fully satisfied with the result. They put few demands or limits on their children, and exercise less control. Their children can often become angry, aggressive or impulsive, and as adolescents, may engage more in misconduct and in drug use.

The uninvolved parents are neither responsive nor demanding of their children. They have a laissez-faire attitude and are more concerned with their own needs than their child’s. They rarely express affection and more often express hostility. If they do impose limits, they offer no explanation and often use force or assertive techniques.

They will provide the basic needs of food, shelter and water, but provide no emotional support. Children become emotionally withdrawn from social situations, and in adolescence, they may show patterns of truancy and delinquency.

The authoritarian parents are what people might call Chua. These parents are rarely responsive but highly demanding on their children. They exercise considerable control with limits and rules, and leave little room for individualistic assertiveness.

These parents use one-sided communication techniques like “Because I said so” with little explanation and little affection.

This often restricts their children’s emotional expressiveness and other self-assertive behaviors. Children with this type of parenting may have less social competence as the parents generally tell the children what to do, instead of allowing the children to choose for themselves.

Finally, the authoritative parents are both highly responsive and highly demanding. These parent promotes autonomy and supports assertiveness and individuality, all the while maintaining expectations for mature, age-appropriate and responsible behavior.

Communication about expectations and standards is usually clear, and it comes with explanations that go beyond “You do it because I said so.”  These parents also set limits for their children, and recognize when their children are testing them. In those circumstances, they will only hold more firmly to their ground.

These parents are also often affectionate as they encourage two-way communication with their children. This is supposed to result in children having higher self-esteem and independence. The authoritative approach is the most recommended style of parenting by experts.

So how do you raise a successful child? The fact is that there is more than one right way. Each path, however, must include a balance between promoting autonomy and setting expectations and limits. Achieving this delicate balance will be a daily effort and must take into account the temperaments within your family.

Overall, you should build this balance with four key ingredients — trust and open communication; consistent and reasonable limits; steady demanding expectations of mature, and age-appropriate achievement.

Finally, the most important ingredients of all are you and your example.

Remember that your child is watching you — learning first words and first steps — from you. Don’t be surprised if they also learn how they deal with math, friends, money and vegetables from you. Be an example of success to your child, whatever that means to you.

Joni Bhutra is a pediatrician at Santa Clarita Pediatrics. She is a native Californian and completed her training in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  Within pediatrics, Bhutra is especially interested in genetics and learning disorders.


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