Stereotypically, Chinese parenting is known to be more strict, demanding, and controlling than parents from other parts of the world. As much as I dislike making assumption base on cultural backgrounds, some cases are just too stereotypical that crack me up and irritate me all at the same time. I’ve taught the piano in New York, Taipei, and Shanghai, so I got to experience different parenting styles first hand. Teaching 1-to-1 piano lessons gave me a closer look into this matter.
Before we start, I just want to say compare and contrast parenting style by cultural backgrounds is just an easier way to discuss. However, it’s a personal observation and a generalization. The original post was published on Oct. 3, 2016. I have recently (December 2018) made some edits after 2 and half years of teaching local Chinese children. New thoughts have surfaced.
During my time teaching the piano in Shanghai, besides local Chinese students, I had students from the U.S., Spain, Japan, Italy, Israel, England, Germany, Turkey, and France. Most of the expat parents are happy as long as their kids are making some sort of progress. They want their children to learn to enjoy music. Most of them hold the intention of building a hobby for their kids. On the other hand, I do need to invent alternative methods to work with expat kids often because most of the time, expat parents tend to exercise the idea of free will. Therefore, usually, my expat students rarely practice regularly in which made them improve much slower than my Chinese students.
Now, let’s talk about Chinese parenting – China: The land of tiger moms where “everything is a competition.”
There are two types of Chinese parents, but let’s talk about the stereotypical ones. The typical Chinese parents are known as “tiger moms”, which is a term that 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.) Chinese parents usually are not aware of the fact that they are being too hard on their children. The TV series “Fresh off the Boat” also portrays how intensive Chinese parents are towards their children’s education.
Chinese parents usually began to stuff their children’s schedule with different classes and activities before the kids turn 3 years old. From learning musical instruments, languages, science and mathematics to participating in sports like horseback riding, swimming, and tennis – It’s all about winning at the starting point because as soon as the kids enter elementary school, everything is a competition.
So, if expat parents are that chill in contrast to Chinese parents, do they ever involve themselves with their children’s piano lesson?
There was one expat parent who wanted me to update the student’s progress every single week via text messages. However, the particular parent has been living in China for over a decade, so I suppose he has a different mentality. Otherwise, only a few expat parents would check-in with me on their children’s progress on a regular basis.
In China, it is actually a bit strange because as time goes on, the expat parents who are here for a longer period of time seem to be influenced by the competitive vibe. They began to ask me to push their kids more (in a healthy way.)
On the other hand …
Most of the local Chinese moms want to sit in lessons. In the beginning, I was okay with it, but eventually, their “enthusiasm” began to interfere with my teaching. Here comes the second type of Chinese parents – The ones who want to take care and help their children with everything. Yes, I mean EVERYTHING. They tend to worry a lot, and sometimes, they would blame the teacher or anyone but their kids when the student is not improving.
As I mentioned before, Chinese moms are competitive, and they want their children to win and to make significant progress fast. They help their children to practice at home. They want to learn it for their kids (some of them actually do), so they can make sure their children don’t fall behind or make any mistakes that would affect their progress.
What else would Chinese parents do to their children?
One issue that annoys me the most is when the kids couldn’t answer my questions or find the right notes, Chinese moms would directly give them the answers, which completely defeats the purpose of me asking students’ questions! I want the students to think and be conscious of their own learning, so the answers stick better with them. I want them to have a solid knowledge with what I taught them, and giving them answers just doesn’t help.
Another issue is how the Chinese parents want me to push their children for exams even when they are not there yet. By all means, I believe that goal setting is important for progress. However, in China, it’s all about that piece of paper. I cannot recall how many times I had a
Chinese parent asking me to help the student to “skip grades”, so they can attain that piece of credential before they enter year 3 in elementary school, simply because the kids will become very busy and won’t have time to practice.
Chinese kids seem to improve faster because their parents push them harder. They might be playing at a higher level than expat or western children of the same age. Yet, in my experiences, only a few of them practice out of their own will.
Supportive Chinese parents definitely help. However, impatient Chinese parents actually make the whole learning experience counter-productive, and their ambitious attitude could be too intense sometimes, which would gradually make the students losing interests towards learning the piano.
In contrast, it’s great when expat parents don’t interfere with the lessons and trust my judgment completely. However, sometimes, I wish they can involve a bit more to help the students to get into a practice routine. This would reduce the chance for me to repeat, review, and teach the same things in lessons every week.
Are you a piano teacher (or any musical instruments) who’s dealing with a Chinese parent in your studio? Here are the things you can do:
- Set boundaries and be firm with your teaching philosophy. If necessary, ask the parent to leave the lessons when they cross the line.
- Reinforce the importance of letting the child learn on their own.
- Let the parents know making mistakes or repeating pieces for another week is totally okay. In fact, that’s where we learn and make progress.
- Stress the importance of building a solid foundation – It’s all about the journey, not the destination. (As teachers, we all know the art of playing the piano is an endless voyage!)
- Keep a notebook and write down everything you need the student to review and to pay attention to in lessons. It’s a great way to keep track of their improvements and to make the parents feel better.
- If they don’t trust your judgement, let them go. You are the professional here.