Are You Going to “Amy Chuah”?

Thanks to my BFF who came up with the title of this blog post when she jokingly said:

At this rate, Amy Chua is gonna be a verb:

“So, do you Amy Chua?”
“Yup! I Amy Chua my kid.”
“Wah, numerous peer-reviewed double-blind studies have found that the Amy Chua causes harm.”
“Seriously? Oh no, I Amy Chua-ed my kid! How?”
“Well, you can always start a therapy fund to un-Amy Chua your kid.”
“Dang you, Amy Chua!” *waves fist angrily at book*

Just in case you haven’t read about the hype, you should take a look at the recent article on WSJ by Amy Chua titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior“.

I decided to address this topic because it suddenly occured to me that my last blog post could so easily be misconstrued to be pro-“Amy Chua”. For the record, I don’t agree with Amy Chua. I believe in maximising a child’s potential by starting young. I believe in teaching children focus and helping them inculcate healthy habits that promote success in future. I also believe that success is not only defined by how well a person performs but also by their emotional state. A person is not truly successful if they are the CEO of a multi-national company with an equally accomplished spouse, but secretly suffers from depression or any other hidden psychological issues.

Amy says that Asian parents have more successful children because they Amy Chua their children. No doubt many of these children are successful academically and in their professional life, but many also suffer emotionally. Clearly, the Amy Chua method isn’t quite so “effective” after all once you dig deeper. And based on one of the comments I read from Quora discussing the article, it appears that Amy Chua herself may also agree after nearly losing her second daughter. It would appear that the WSJ article deliberately exposed only a half-truth to Amy’s story as a publicity stunt for her book. Of course, I will never really know if that is true unless I read her book and I don’t intend to because I can think of many better ways to spend my time.

While I have written a lot about extra-curricular activities for children, there is a purpose for all the activities I have suggested. Each activity is designed to help develop children in specific ways that I believe will be beneficial to them in future (for example, benefits of teaching your child music and sign language). However, these activities are merely recommendations – it is not an enforced, one-size-fits-all list. The idea is to provide the children the opportunity to broaden their experiences in an engaging way. At the end of the day, it’s all about exposure and offering choices.

As parents it is our job to encourage and motivate with love. I write “motivate with love” because Amy Chua’s idea of motivating involved calling her daughter “lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic” – so let’s not misconstrue the true meaning of the words here. As parents, we can only guide our children and hope for the best. We respect the choices that our children make because, as Wennie from TweedleWink always says, “We honour the child”.

Amy may have believed that insulting her daughter was a way of motivating her daughter to play that piece of music and while it appeared to have worked for her, there are others ways to help a child without having to resort to name calling. It reminded me of another similar incident involving a Shichida mother and her child who was struggling to play a piece for a competition. In the end, her son managed to win the competition despite the fact that he was never able to play the piece perfectly before. Instead of insulting her child and calling him names, she taught him to practice the piece with mental imaging and used Shichida’s 5 minute suggestion the night before the competition to help him.

We all want our children to be successful, but I think the cost of their emotional health is a price too high to pay. There are ways to motivate without being abusive and I believe these methods will be more successful in the long run. We want our children to be able to take the foundation that we have helped them build and create something beautiful thereafter, not children whose masterpiece will crumble to dust because the foundation it was built upon was poorly constructed.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

6 thoughts on “Are You Going to “Amy Chuah”?

  1. I am no Amy Chuah but no Pamela Hickein either. Amy’s abusive style is a little extreme but neither can I stop learning when the child is unhappy. I dont quite agree that learning only begins when the child is happy. I guess being well balanced is the key.

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  2. You’re right, Irene, children can learn even when unhappy, but it is the left brain that is learning. Unlike the right brain, the left brain functions well under pressure.

    Pamela Hickein was talking about the right brain when she said that learning begins when a child is happy. The right brain shuts off when unhappy. This was quite evident when Jill Bolte Taylor suffered her stroke and was functioning with her right brain. She said that she was put off by the individuals who were too rough and abrupt with her.

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  3. With all the respect to Pamela’s approach, I think there is time and there are circumstances when a child may need some structured “left-brain” intervention to their learning. However, even in such circumstances, I completely agree that it is important that the child feels positive about their learning experiences and that’s when careful and smart reinforcement may be much more powerful than “amychuaing”.

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  4. LM’s Mum – I guess the emphasis on right brain occurs because much of the learning environment in schools is very left-brain oriented. Because of the left-brain learning focus, there is less of a concern that our children will fail to utilise their left-brain potential, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the right brain.

    But as I’ve written before, right brain education is a misnomer. It is not truly right brain education, but “whole brain” education. The idea is to stimulate the right brain so that we don’t underutilise its potential, but at the same time, we’re building the corpus callosum so that the left and right brains function together seamlessly. At least, that is the ideal.

    There was an article I wrote about once regarding a man who was a brilliant Japaness chess player. He talked about being able to see many moves ahead of the board game whenever he played. When they studied his brain activity during a game, they found that he had a lot of right brain activity when studying the board but just prior to making his move, there was left brain activity. Both left and right brains have their own unique potentials but when utilised together, they function synergistically. The end result is not additive, it’s multiplied.

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  5. I just read the WSJ article and can actually relate to Amy Chua’s method. My mum was strict and fierce, but not as extreme as her. Ironically, as a student, I was a perfectionist and often “Amy Chuah-ed” myself. Indeed, Singapore’s education system is very left-brain focused, and extreme left-brainers can excel academically.

    However, success in career and life requires much interpersonal skills and relationship-building, which are right-brain traits.

    The power of the right brain is also more astonishing than the left. With the knowledge of right brain education, I’d definite use it in my boy’s early years. This eases learning in schooling years and reduces the need for Amy Chua-ing. (Her method is certainly out of date.)

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