South Asian parents pride themselves on encouraging their children to be academically or professionally successful. While this value can result in hard-working, high-achieving children who strive to improve themselves, many South Asian children crack under the intense pressure placed on them. Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are all common experiences of South Asian children who feel the immense pressure to be the type of child the parents want them to be.
The downside of this is that not only are the parents disappointed by the child’s behavior and academic achievements, but the child also does not learn the tools and skills that the parents are trying to teach him about how to succeed in life beyond school.
Here are some tips for South Asian parents on how to encourage your child to be successful while ensuring to maintain positive mental health of your child:
1. Remember that your child is not your carbon copy. Genetically, your child is only 50% you and 50% your spouse. In actuality, your child can also have traits of many of his relatives on both sides of the family. For this reason, it is important to keep in mind that just because you have certain skills, talents or traits does not necessarily mean your child, even if he is the same gender as you, will have them too.
2. Learn to identify what makes your child unique. Pay attention to your child’s individual traits. What is he good at? What does he enjoy? Play his favorite games with him and try to understand why he loves it so much. The more you know your child and who he actually is – as opposed to who you want him to be – the more likely you will be able to guide him and teach him life lessons in a manner that he will be able to understand.
3. Know what your child’s love language is. All children, even if they are siblings, require different things from their parents. While one child may be very independent and only enjoy praise for truly difficult tasks, his young brother may require praise even for the smallest successes. That does not make one child better than the other, only different. Know what your child needs from you to feel loved and know that it may be different than what you think he needs.
4. Know how your child interprets what you say. A common phrase South Asian children hear their parents saying is, “Where did you lose those last 5 points?” when they present their parents with a test. South Asian parents are dedicated to constantly improving their child and this questions often does not come from a critical place. While one child may interpret that question as a motivator, learning to be curious about how to improve himself, his sibling may take that to be a criticism or a blow to his self-esteem. Ask your child what he hears when you ask a question or think you are being encouraging. Make sure that what you are saying is what he hears. If not, you will be speaking 2 entirely different languages and you will miss the signs of stress that your child is exhibiting.
5. Understand where your child is developmentally. Childhood was decades away and most South Asian parents forget what it was like to be a child. Thus, they tend to push children beyond what is developmentally appropriate or possible for the child. Know what your child is realistically capable of doing – by reading child development books, asking his pediatrician, speaking to a counselor or his teacher. This information will help you better understand what tasks are truly difficult for the child and which he is resisting because they are boring.
6. Encourage your child to do things independently but be there as a support. In a method called scaffolding, South Asian parents who encourage the child to try new tasks have children with higher self esteem and who do better in school. If a child is trying to master a new skill, for example a 3 year old learning to put on a shirt for the first time, encourage him to try on his own. Help him only so that he is no longer stuck but let him complete the task himself. When the tasks are just one step beyond what the child is capable of in the moment and he knows that you will help him learn, he gains invaluable self-esteem, something that is necessary for academic achievement later in life.
7. Teach the child how to accept defeat or losing in a healthy manner. The misconception that may South Asian children grow up with is that they should win at everything. However, there is only one number 1 spot in any given situation and it cannot always be held by your child. Teach them how to lose graciously and how to not blame themselves if they do not get the first prize. When they are no longer disappointed and open to learning, teach them how to review the situation so that they can learn how to do better next time. If you engage in this conversation when the child is feeling bad, he will most likely think you are criticizing him and your invaluable lessons will be lost on him.
8. Broaden your definition of success. While success may have meant one thing for you growing up, you have to remember that your child is from an entirely different generation, possibly growing up in a different area than you. Their experiences will be entirely than yours. Therefore, be sure to update your definition of success. Educate yourself on the different career choices your child may be naturally talented in so that you can remove any mistaken preconceived notions that you may have. This will also teach your child that you are more interested in seeing him succeed as an individual instead of reaching a level of success that may not be realistic for him.
9. Explain your thought process to your child. Skills like decision making and prioritization are learned by watching parents but also by having discussions with them. Instead of telling your child what to do, tell him why you think it’s important to do it. Walk him through the short and long term consequences of the action and why you think it is better than the other options. This will teach him a valuable lesson on how to make good decisions rather than making decisions just to make you happy. This increases self-efficacy and independence, both necessary to succeed in schools.
10. Remember that academic success is not the only way to measure a child’s success. If a child has straight As, is valedictorian and going to the number one college in the country but is unhappy, his academic success will not translate into overall life success. In addition, encouraging positive mental health and developing self-confidence have indirect effects on a child’s professional achievements later in life.
If you want your child to get good grades and be successful academically and professionally, remember that some of the indirect parenting techniques are going to help more than pushing your child to study harder. Increase their self-esteem, acknowledge their individual characteristics and be flexible about your definition of success. Not only will you be helping your child actually do better in school, but you will be providing them a healthy and strong model for how they should view themselves as they get older.
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