Small Talk

WHY IT’S BETTER TO BE TIGGER THAN A TIGER WHEN IT COMES TO PARENTING

 

 

Child psychiatrist Dr Holan Liang explains why being more of a Tigger than Tiger parent will result in happier more resilient children

 

Of all the creatures in A.A.Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood, Tigger will always be my favourite. His self-belief (“Tiggers can do everything”) and playfulness (when Pooh says: “Oh Tigger where are your manners?” and he replies “I don’t know, but I bet they’re having more fun than I am”) make him irresistible.

Endlessly bouncing, enthusiastic and perhaps just a little bit clueless – Pooh’s four-legged friend might not jump out at you as a parental role-model, but for Dr Holan LiangConsultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and author of Inside Out Parenting, a Tigger mum is a better bet than her Tiger equivalent.

Chinese, but raised in the UK, Liang can talk about the principles of Tiger parenting (named after Amy Chua’s polarising book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, that became shorthand for strict discipline and tough love) from experience.

In her book she takes the ambition, drive, work ethic and discipline of Eastern parenting and explains how to balance them with the positives of Western child-rearing: curiosity, independence, sociability and creativity. And the result? According to Liang it’s a more resilient, happy child.

 

Dr Holan Liang with her husband and two children

“I can see the benefits and downsides to both cultural styles of parenting,” she explains. “Rather than debase each others’, isn’t it better to pick and choose the positive aspects of both and pioneer a new global ethos? Tigger understands that he doesn’t know it all, but he is always willing to give it a go. He’s full of energy and loyalty. That’s how I hope that my children will see me.”

With 13 years training in experimental psychology, medicine and surgery at Cambridge University and plenty of honesty about her own parenting fails, Liang’s book makes compelling reading.

“Before having children I probably considered myself something of a ‘parenting expert’. I doled out advice to parents like hot dinners and wore my, ‘I know about parenting; I’m a child psychiatrist y’know’ badge with pride. It was only when I actually became a parent that I woke up to the humbling reality that there is no such thing as a ‘parenting expert’. Parenting is, in essence, often a process of mainly well-intentioned trial and error.”

Having read Liang’s book, I tried the simple tip of praising my eldest with the over-enthusiasm only Tigger can muster. Cecilia, who had previously refused to practice her writing, wrote a little story. It made me feel re-energised and motivated.

I couldn’t wait to find out more.

 

 

HOW EVERY MUM CAN BE MORE “T-I-DOUBLE –GUH-ER! THAT SPELLS TIGGER!”

 

1. HAVE FUN

Liang says: “My number one is to ensure that both parents spend enough time having fun with their children, particularly up to the age of seven. Having a good solid relationship will make everything else easier. Try and choose fun activities led by the child. Asking your child to spend time watching you play X-box does not count. Most of the time what your child wants to play is really boring, but suck it up, it makes them happy. Other times it can be surprisingly fun – embrace your inner child and release your Tigger!”

 

2. GET TO KNOW THEM

“I hate it when my husband walks in half way through Poldark and asks who the characters are and then walks off. He’s clearly not interested and this is how our kids feel when we show half-hearted interest in their lives. It’s better to be actually interested! If you don’t talk to them in childhood, they likely won’t talk to you in adolescence. Sometimes this can mean listening to banal conversations about “who said what to who” in the playground, but this not only gives you insight into what is happening at school, but creates an environment where your children experience your interest in their lives. Try and know everyone in your child’s class so that when they tell you about their school day you know who they are talking about.”

 

3. BUILD DISCIPLINE

“Having boundaries and pushing a child to work hard is not all bad. Most children do not develop ambition, motivation and discipline on their own. Some parents expect this to be the role of school, but I think with all things in parenting, it starts in the home. Regular chores, homework and music practice build discipline and the expectation that applying oneself to challenges is positive and reaps reward. Don’t be afraid to push, just make sure that you have a perspective, keep demands in moderation and expectations in check. I think that if you keep fun activities childled then you are allowed a little lee-way to lead in the not-so-fun activities.”

Holan Liang (in pink) and her family holiday in Paris before moving to London. Picture: courtesy of Dr Holan Liang

 4. LET THE KIDS DECIDE

“Here age is important. I don’t think a three or four-year-old can make an informed choice. If you want to start an activity at a young age, it will always be the parent’s choice, but as they get older, they should be given the choice to stop and do something else if they want to. I made a deal with my children to do piano until grade three, then they could decide if they wanted to continue or not or change to another instrument. My eldest passed grade three this year, but has chosen to continue and also take up violin (good grief). As children get older it will be harder to enforce things that they do not want to do and so it is absolutely important to let them decide – it is ultimately their life!”

5. PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE

Accept your child for who they are and parent in response to your child’s individual needs. Seek to support their weaknesses and amplify their strengths. Promote their awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses and encourage self-acceptance. I don’t think there is such a thing as over-praise from parents if it is genuine. Clearly praising your kids for terrible singing leads to ill-informed children/ adults that make fools of themselves on the X-factor auditions, but if your child is genuinely good at something, praise shouldn’t be held back. For young children seeking approval from their parents and what they read back from your responses goes on to shape their identities. Young children all want to please their parents.”

 

6. TEACH THEM TO PRACTICE

“There isn’t an easy way to teach children that practice makes things easier except real life experience. Until they gain some mastery it is bribery, coercion, encouragement and yes, some shouting (nobody is perfect!) and then point out to them the improvements that they have made. If they have done it once –e.g. riding a bike, explicitly use these examples of mastery to help them get through the next challenge. Remember when you did such and such. In the beginning, it was really hard and you thought you’d never be able to do it…then you did it. It will be the same with this. You think you can’t do it now, but I bet if we keep on trying…etc etc But if practicing x,y,z is thought of as something positive for the child (which it is), then it removes some of the guilt (which is usually what holds parents back). Frame it in the way that you would frame a child having to eat broccoli or take medicine. In those situations, it’s difficult but parents usually eventually find a way to get the child to comply. If in doubt, make the task easier and shorter to see if this will help with compliance and then gradually increase it. Supervising will mean that you will be able to get an idea if the child is unable to do it or unwilling to do it. Finding out which is important. If bribery, coercion, encouragement and shouting feel absolutely terrible to you, my mantra is this: build up a massive bank of love (from doing other things with your children) then you will find that when you need it, you are able to cash out a few cheques and still be loved! That’s why the relationship is the most important thing.”

 

7.   HAPPY MAMA HAPPY CHILD

“Finally, and most importantly: be happy with yourself (or spend time to get yourself happy and secure) as secure parents with good self-esteem tend to raise children with good self-esteem.”

 

Dr Holan Liang is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Great Ormond Street hospital. Previously research fellow and clinical lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. This is her first non-academic book. You can find out more on www.effraclinic.co.uk.