Chinese parenting is known as more strict, demanding, and controlling than parents from other parts of the world. As much as I dislike making assumption base on cultural backgrounds, I have seen some stereotypical cases that crack me up and irritate me at the same time. I now teach the piano at an international school and a local music school, so half of my students are from China, and the other half are from other countries. As an expat piano teacher in Shanghai, I get to experience different styles of parenting first hand. Teaching 1-to-1 piano lessons give me a closer look into this matter.
Here are some honest facts about Chinese parenting from my observation as a piano teacher teaching in an international setting. Before we start, I just want to say these facts are generalizations. They don’t apply to every single expat or Chinese parents in the world.
Besides local students from Shanghai, I have students from the U.S., Spain, Japan, Italy, Israel, England, Germany, Turkey, and some I have yet to discover the origin of their families. In general, expat parents are happy as long as their kids make some progress in lessons every week. They want their children to learn to enjoy music, and I think this is one of the most important things piano lessons could bring for a child. Their intention is to build a hobby for their kids, so I consider it rare when expat parents force their children to go on piano benches every day. On the other hand, I do need to think about alternative methods to work with expat kids more often because sometimes they are less motivated to practice and tend to slack off more.
NOW, LET’S TALK ABOUT CHINESE PARENTING – CHINA: THE LAND OF TIGER MOMS.
Chinese parents are famous for pushing their children to become the best. The term “tiger mom” became widely used when American author and lawyer Amy Chua published her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in 2011. She glorifies the strict and authoritative style of Chinese parenting (although later it backfired on her,) and most of the Chinese parents do, too. Or more precisely, they are not aware of the fact that they are being too hard on their children a lot of the times. The TV series Fresh off the Boat also portrays how intensive Chinese parents are towards their children’s education.
Okay, if expat parents are so chill in contrast to Chinese parents, what else do they do to involve themselves with their children’s piano lesson?
There’s one expat parent who wants me to update the student’s progress every week via chat app. However the particular parent has lived in China for over a decade, so he’s probably affected by the style of Chinese parenting. Otherwise, some expat parents wait outside and speak to me after lessons. Some occasionally drop in to see how their kids are doing in class. It’s all cool with me! Communication between parents and teacher is essential. Also, I always tell the parents practicing on a daily basis could help them make steady improvements. They understand my concerns, but putting it into action is another story.
ON THE OTHER HAND …
Almost all the local moms sit in lessons while acting overly enthusiastic in participation when I am teaching. I appreciate their voices from time to time since my Chinese students are more likely to throw a tantrum or give me an attitude in lessons than my expat students. Some friends suggested that Chinese kids today are more spoiled due to the one-child-policy. I agree, but I will leave that up to debate. However, I do think parents jump in too much during lessons could have a negative influence on my relationship and chemistry with the students.
Chinese moms are competitive, and they want their children to win and to make significant progress in a fast and steady speed. They help their children to practice at home – I am not complaining since this attitude certainly helps since I won’t need to strengthen the basics every week. However, they are too eager sometimes.
Here are some examples of excessive eagerness:
A student’s mom told me her kid cries when she forces him to practice. She started to wonder whether learning the piano is the “right thing” for him. For the love of God, her kid is 6! (Maybe what’s wrong is how you force him to practice!)
Another one is:
I have a six years old student who is a perfectionist and has a very sensitive personality. The student’s mom knows that, and his former teacher warned me that he would start raging if he cannot play a newly assigned piece right away. His mother still wants me to give him difficult pieces to learn because she thinks he is capable of doing it.
I don’t doubt the student’s ability, and I believe that it’s good to give students a challenge. I told her I would take it into consideration when planning his lessons, but she kept coming to me and my boss nagging about it. Frankly, I don’t feel comfortable with it at all, and I think it’s my responsibility to create a reasonable pace with the student.
WHAT ELSE WOULD CHINESE PARENTS DO TO THEIR KIDS?
Chinese moms would shout to their children impatiently during lessons if the kids couldn’t seem to play the right notes or are acting up in lessons. It’s helpful from time to time, but I always find it a bit awkward after the yelling although I’ve learned to ignore it.
Another problem is, If the kids couldn’t answer my questions and find the right notes, they would directly give them the answers. In my opinion, this completely defeats the purpose of me asking students’ questions! I want the students to use their brain to think, so the answers stick better with them. I want my students to have a solid knowledge with what I taught them. Giving them answers straight just doesn’t help.
Also, so far I ONLY have Chinese moms asking me to prepare their children for ABRSM exams. ABRSM is a worldly recognized British music examination system. They want their children to have a goal to move them forward. It’s all about the ranking or having a credential. Sometimes I even wonder if they’re doing this for the children, or they just want to impress other people.
My parents are not typical Taiwanese Chinese, so I didn’t experience extreme Chinese parenting when growing up, but I am sympathetic to my Chinese students because I know what they are going through.
Chinese children seem to progress faster because their parents give them pressures. They might have higher achievements than expat or Western children of the same age. We never know if they actually love what their parents signed them up for, or if they are just little robots being controlled by their parents.
Incredibly supportive Chinese parents often help students to skyrocket students their progress. I also don’t need to play the bad cop if students don’t behave in lessons. However, impatient Chinese parents interfere more with the pacing I’ve set up for my students. Their ambitious attitude could be too intense sometimes. This approach might make students gradually lose their interests towards learning the piano.
In contrast, it’s great when expat parents don’t interfere and trust my judgment, but sometimes I wish they would make some effort to help my students to get into a practicing routine. This would reduce the chance for me to repeat, review, and teach the same things in lessons every week. You can see my dilemmas here.
Of course, parenting is not an easy task, and I have all the respects to every parent out there. No matter it is Chinese parenting or western parenting, I am learning to keep an open mind as a teacher.
Do you have any experiences with the parenting of different cultures? Share your opinion with me. I’d love to hear them 🙂
Also published on Medium.