Be assertive but not tough

One of the biggest difference between a Chinese classroom and an American classroom is the presence of discipline. Before coming to US, Claire had been in preschool for one and half years, which meant she was well “trained”. The first thing Chinese kids should learn at school is to sit still, with hands on the knees and eyes staring at the teacher.

One can easily imagine how noisy Claire found her new preschool. It’s a good thing to give kids freedom and respect their comfort. We were all cheered for such a lovable social climate. But for Claire, class organization was messy and confusing. She definitely was the most obedient girl at school, but sometimes didn’t know what to do in free time.

Two months later, she got much more used to the new rhythm of school life. Just one things bothered her: how to deal with those disobedient kids. When somebody did something wrong, she usually stood up and stopped him, even it was non of her business. Sometimes, she became very angry and even shouted, like a tough supervisor.

Claire’s main teacher used the word “assertive” to describe her, which made us bewildered. In China, teachers and parents loves those children who help to discipline the class. They are bossing around and gain the respect from most of the classmates. In general,the praise and the punishment are all very serious.

When Claire came home and told us how she stooped a boy from jumping into the line or grabbing others’ toys, we were reluctant to praise her, which made her confused. In stead, her daddy asked her to be nice to everyone and not to interrupt others. “You are a girl! Don’t be the boss! Make friends with everyone!” we tried to calm her down, while she still couldn’t bear others’ bad behaviors.

“She is brave!”, commented her main teacher, “which is good, especially in America.””But we don’t want her to be tough, even hated by others!” I admitted to be always over worried, “Yet, for a girl, isn’t it rude, if she takes everything seriously and tries to correct them?”

Later, we happened to discover a lot of picture books of school bullying. Our astonishment was big. Apparently, children in China are over protected. I naively thought that school was the perfect place to live together, with peace and happiness.

We began to hear Claire imitate one of her classmate who always says” I don’t care”. We were shocked by the sentence”I will shoot you” . Kids really repeat everything.  “Stop talking these junk words!” we scolded her. But when she had stopped other to say these words, we didn’t show any excitement. Sometimes, she came back home with tears and told me not to invite someone to her birthday party, although her birthday was far away. I never tried to confirm her judgments, believing that children at her age seldom know exactly what is hurting others. However, we are not proud of Claire’s boldness and continued to tell her to be nice and generous. “Don’t be the boss! Don’t quarrel! Teachers will judge!”

“It’s awesome to stop bad behaviors.” Having heard our concern, some friends supported Claire. We know it’s politically correct, but as parents, we would not like our  kid to be the hero. Are we wright?

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