4 Simple Ways for Tiger Parents to Start Gentle Parenting

Most of us tiger parents are trying to walk the fine line between permissive and authoritarian parenting. We want to give our children a measure of freedom and expression that we weren’t allowed to have as kids. But at the same time, we will not tolerate sass, disobedience, or sloth. Our parenting approach ends up being a strange blend of East-meets-West: when time outs, sticker charts, and words of praise fail us, we resort to shaming, yelling, and the silent treatment.

Unfortunately, the conventional parenting wisdom from both Western and Asian cultures has proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful.

So what’s a tiger mom to do?

Start gentle parenting.

Build a relationship with your child that is founded on empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.

Here are 4 gentle parenting strategies to try out:

1. Connect with Your Child

Tiger parents are involved parents. We ensure our children finish every grain of rice in their bowls. We check that homework is completed and that the musical instrument of torture choice is practiced. We shuttle them to school, soccer practice, church activities, and Chinese school on the weekends.

But too often our investment into our children doesn’t translate into connection with them.

I think of connection as the bond that develops when you are known and valued. There are many ways to build this bond with your kids, but one way is to simply spend intentional, individual time with them. Even something as little as 10 minutes every day develops a sense of belonging and love between you and your child.

This can look like:

  • Reading a book
  • Having a dance party
  • Playing a game
  • Debriefing the day before they sleep

The possibilities are endless. There are no rules except to have one-on-one time doing something the child enjoys. But don’t sabotage your efforts by forcing your own objectives on them, however beneficial or educational. Instead, let your Daddy or Mommy Time be an invitation, without any agenda except to connect.

2. Be Affectionate

Many of us did not come from physically or emotionally affectionate families. We grew up marveling at all the bear hugs and kisses that were common among our white friends and those picture-perfect family sitcoms. In contrast, there were maybe only a handful of times in our childhood when we received a gentle pat or an awkward hug from our parents.

Research shows, however, that loving touch is essential for healthy thriving, not only in infancy but on into adulthood. It can lower blood pressure, boost immunity, and produce emotional well-being. If that is not enough to convince us, perhaps the fact that meaningful touch also improves brain functioning will induce us to be more physically affectionate with our kids. Hugging your children actually makes them smarter!

So offer your children a lot of physical affection; not just when they’re infants, but even as they get older. Continue massaging, hugging, snuggling and kissing them. Yes, even your boys! My boys of 7 and 9 still enjoy holding our hands, sitting on our laps, and giving us kisses on the lips.

Be in tune with what kind of loving touches they enjoy, and how much. Don’t tickle them when they’ve asked you to stop. Don’t smother them with squeezes when they’re ready to run off and play.

Consent is key.

3. Talk Less

Tiger parents lecture way too much. We try to reason and explain and problem-solve too soon and too often. Our well-intentioned advice often ends up antagonizing and exasperating our kids. Not only that, they are rarely effective. Perhaps we need to talk less and try these strategies a little more:

  • Become better listeners. Invite your children to share their thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Empathize with them and validate what they say. Understand their perspective instead of imposing your own.
  • Become better observers. Notice what peaks their curiosity, makes them laugh, or sets them off. Pay attention to what unmet needs or stresses might be causing them to act out: overtiredness, hunger, fear, etc.
  • Become better coaches. Ask the right questions instead of always offering the right answer. Avoid solving their problems for them, but give them tools to handle it themselves.

The next time you feel like sermonizing, bite your tongue and step down from the pulpit. Try to listen, observe, and coach instead.

4. Smile More

(Like my homage to Hamilton?)

My children are quite familiar with my furrowed brow and withering glare. Only for their most exceptional feats do they receive the rare gift of a smile. (This may also explain why Asian women are known for aging so well: infrequent smiling is our secret to preventing laugh lines and crow’s feet.)

As tiger parents, sometimes we are so intent on molding our children that we forget to actually enjoy them. Sometimes our eyes are so focused on their future that we fail to witness how precious they are in the present moment.

I don’t want my kids going through life knowing that I love them, yet unsure if I actually like them. I want to take every opportunity to show them how much I delight in them.

I just need to get my face on the same page.

If scowling comes more naturally than smiling for you too, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do my eyes light up when we see my child?
  • Does my demeanor communicate delight? Or displeasure, frustration, and apathy?
  • Do I make eye contact with them when they’re talking with me?
  • Are there ways for me to be more playful instead of so serious?
  • How can I take time for self-care so that I can be less grouchy?

Becoming more aware of how our disposition and body language affect our kids can help us become more intentional.

So let’s be generous with our smiles, and our time and affection too. Let’s hold back on all the nagging and lecturing. Let’s leave no doubt in our children’s minds of how loved, valued, and delightful they are to us.


Try these out these next few weeks and let me know how things go in the comments!




  1. Liwen

    September 20, 2017 at 8:30 am

    I’m loving your blog, Iris! Thank you for being willing to go against the tide and share about your experiences. I’m a mom of 2 and everything I thought I knew about parenting has gone out the window. I’m happy to say it’s a much more rewarding (and challenging!) adventure that is making me a better parent and person. (By the way, I found you through our mutual friend, Fred.)

    1. Iris

      September 20, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Liwen, glad you found the blog! Parenting is definitely humbling yet rewarding for me too. Such a joyful/painful growth opportunity. Hope this can be a place of mutual encouragement for all of us who are trying to go against the tide.

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