Taming The Tiger Parent

19/09/2014 10:44 | Updated 20 May 2015

Taming the Tiger Parent: Author Tanith Carey speaks to Parentdish

When all about you the tiger parents are honing their children's talents in everything from clarinet to karate (before heading home to a huge pile of extra homework of course...), it can feel as if your kids are destined for failure if you don't join in.

The pressure is particularly intense if you live in one of those areas of the country well-populated with affluent, aspirational parents, or where there's a rush for places at selective secondary schools – state or private.

But now Tanith Carey, a mother of two and author of a new book, Taming the Tiger Parent, is on a mission to help us step away from the temptations of double music practice daily, of the shelves of maths workbooks in the local book shop and of jam-packing every moment with learning and enrichment experiences.

Tanith, who lives in one of the aforementioned hothousing hot spots, knows a thing or two about tiger mums not least because she used to be one.


​She's witnessed first hand the harm pressuring kids too much can do, and more recently, has seen the benefits of taking a more relaxed approach.

With her first born (she has two daughters, Lily, 12, and Cleo, nine), Tanith ticked all the classic tiger parent boxes. She purchased those Baby Einstein DVDs for the newborn Lily and before long was taking her to Mandarin lessons. By the age of six, she was being tutored weekly.

Yet Tanith saw that the more she pushed, the more withdrawn and stressed her daughter became.

Eventually she took Lily to an educational consultant who told her that it was Tanith who had the problem, not Lily.

It was time to lay off the pressure – subtle and overt. Once she waved goodbye to the tiger, lo and behold, Lily seemed much happier and more relaxed.

So what is Tanith's advice if you're feeling your own inner tiger trying to creep out of its enclosure? We talked to her about the pushy parent trap and how to avoid it.

Tell us about your experiences of tiger parents – both having been one and researching the phenomenon for your book.

'Tiger parents generally fall into two camps. There are those who have compliant children, who have internalised these competitive messages, and seem to be doing very well/are at the top of the class.

'These parents often tend to take credit for their children's successes, pat themselves on the back for 'creating' them as it's all seemed relatively easy - and then become absolutely determined to keep their children at the top.

'At the other end of the scale are the parents who can see their child's academic confidence is suffering in this competitive atmosphere in schools and will try anything to help keep their kids' heads above water.

'Both carry their own dangers.'

So what are these dangers?

'Tigers who think it's working often end up with children who feel they can never do enough, who become perfectionist and workaholic, and can cave in under the pressure. They can turn in on themselves at secondary school in particular. They may also disconnect from their parents because they feel more for their achievements - and how good for how they make their parents look - than for who they are.

'The parents who try to help their kids keep up have to be very careful they don't make their kid's failing confidence even worse. In the book, for example, I talk about how these kids can develop issues like 'Maths Anxiety', in which they have been made to feel so anxious that their brain can't compute .

'These parents also tend to grab at tutors who they hope will fix the problem. But if they not are properly trained, this can actually make the problem much worse.

'The overall point is that we can push all we like, but if our child is not happy or given a chance to grow strong emotional roots, all the exam results in the world won't mean very much at the end of the day.'

You've confessed in the book to having been a pushy parent, if you could turn back time to those early years of your daughters' lives, what would you do differently?

'I saw the error of my ways pretty quickly, however, looking back, I would have just spent more time enjoying them in the present, and not worrying about the future.


I would also have given up the belief that somehow we parents can 'make' our children what they are. Of course environment is important but children are not lumps of clay that can be moulded into geniuses by making them listen to Mozart and having them play back-to-back educational games.


You talk too about how tigering isn't just bad for children – what does it do to parents?

'Rising stress and financial pressures can come when parents aim to maximise every moment of their children's life with extracurricular activities and coaching.

'As activities like sport and music start to get more serious as youngsters get older, they expand into weekends. The result is that instead of spending time together, harried husbands and wives end up passing the baton of ferrying children to and from different activities in a joyless relay race.

'One relationship counsellor told me how she was seeing a pair who claimed they didn't even have time for a date-night to reconnect because they were too busy helping their son get into a high achieving school in South West London.'

What about those who are already pushy – how can they become more relaxed?

'The main thing is to ask what you are trying to achieve and put that drive for your child's success back into perspective.


Look forward 20 years and ask how you think your child is going to remember their childhood. Will it be as something carefree in which they were given the time to work out who they are - or will their memories be of being rushed in the back of a car from one extracurricular activity to the next?

'I think it's helpful for parents to really start thinking outside the box and realise there are many more ways to be successful in the world than the normal range of jobs and professions we usually think of for our children - and remember that all the academic success is worth nothing if our children's don't have mental well-being.'

Tanith Carey's book, Taming the Tiger Parent is out now.

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