After bringing up Jane to adulthood and with Michelle on her way to college, I finally feel like I’ve got the hang of this parenting thing.

But then a couple of weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, a kind-looking middle-aged Asian woman rang my door bell and asked to speak to Jake. When I told him Jake wasn’t home, she said that her daughter Jen was in the car crying because Jake had kicked her and pulled her bracelet earlier that day in school. She also mentioned that her husband was a colleague of Joe’s.

“Oh, great …” I mumbled to myself. I promised to get back to her after I had a chance to discuss this with Jake.

So for whatever it’s worth, here are a few tips from a mother who’ve struggled to raise loving, sensible and responsible kids in a different culture along with the ever-changing and increasingly challenging environment:

1) Know your limitation: we can influence our children but not control them. So next time your child throws a tantrum or humiliate you in public, don’t feel like a failure, although you can discuss with him expectations and alternative ways of handling things before getting into a situation that may stress him.

2) Instill desirable behaviors by a reward system rather than reasoning. Understanding doesn’t necessarily translate into behavior change. Smoking is a perfect example. We all know the harm it can do to one’s health, but people (grownups) choose to smoke any way. To change behavior, you need a reward system and execute it consistently and objectively. Rewarding desirable behavior works much more effectively than the fear of punishment.

3) Accept your child as who he is. You’ll put your child through a lot of misery and find yourself fighting a losing battle if you constantly try to alter your child’s inborn characteristics. Your son or daughter is more likely to reach their potential and be happy if their uniqueness is recognized and valued.

4) Nourish healthy friendships that yield positive influence. There will come a time when friends mean everything to your kids. You want to make sure they aren’t hanging out with the wrong crowd.

In Michelle’s high school, recently about a dozen seniors were caught in cheating scandal. These kids allegedly used their cell phones to take pictures of the tests and help each other get better grades. The school principal said examining the phones led the administration to discover a significant number of academic dishonesty cases and at least one drug-related case. He told the reporters punishments would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Most of them are smart kids who thought they were heading to the prominent colleges. Some of them came to our house and studied with Michelle occasionally. Imagine the devastation these families are going through six months before the high school graduation.

5) Keep your sense of humor which can save your sanity someday. Every time my six-year-old snaps at me when he is mad, I’d get back at him jokingly “Is this how you treat your mommy, the only mother you have in this world who loves and cares for you every day?” Usually that gets Jake to laugh and change his tone of voice quickly. I know someday I’ll have to come up with a different line, but it works for now.

6) Don’t give up your goals for the sake of your children. They won’t appreciate your sacrifice especially if you make them obligated to live your dreams. Help them find their passion and fulfill their own dreams as well as your own.

7) Always hear your child out no matter how bad the situation is. If he has done something wrong, ask him “What have you learned from this?” instead of “Why did you do that?”

8) Teach children problem solving skills and they’ll be able to acquire knowledge on their own.

9) Stop lecturing your children because their receiving system immediately shuts down when you start with “When I was your age…”

10) Stay connected to your teens even when they refuse to talk to you, and often times act hostile and explosive.

11) Make it your goal to raise well-balanced children who will contribute to the society instead of Ivy-League candidates. This mindset change will yield very different parenting orientations.

12) Have fun, enjoy every phase of the growing up and grow with them!

When I picked up Jake from the after school Safe ‘N Sound program, I asked him the usual question. “How was your day?”
“You know what? I got two visitors today.”
“Your classmate Jen and her mom. They stopped by at our house.”
“That’s nice.”
“Jen was crying. Do you have any idea why?”
“She said you kicked her and pulled her bracelet at school. Did you do that?”
“I-I don’t remember.”
“Jake, you’ll have to think harder, otherwise I am afraid I’ll have to cancel your play date with Ethan tomorrow.”
After a little pause, “Yes, now I remember. It happened during the morning recess. I pulled her bracelet.”
“Did you kick her?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Jake, you know you can tell me the truth. I won’t be happy about it, but I’d rather know the truth.”
“I didn’t kick her, mom. I really didn’t.”
“Okay. Always remember to keep your hands to yourself. You’ll have to apologize to Jen for pulling her bracelet.”
“Okay. Are they coming back today?”
“I don’t know.”
“If they do come back and after I apologize, can Jen stay and play with me?”
“You’ll have to ask her mom.” I tried hard not to laugh.

So I emailed this conversation to Jen’s mom. She was understanding and forgiving and said Jen would love to play with Jake.

I hope you are proud of me because I used many of the above tips.