Spoiled Brat Formula

I’ve taught some lessons at quite a few kindergartens around Shanghai. Without a doubt, there are kindergartens with “good kids,” and then there are kindergartens where the kids are all spoiled brats who won’t listen to the teacher at all.

If it’s an expensive private kindergarten, there’s a very good chance that the kids are mostly spoiled, and the school’s “discipline” has little effect.

If it’s a “boarding kindergarten,” a kind of kindergarten popular in Shanghai where the kids only go home on weekends, then the kids are much more unruly. The poor little guys are clearly attention-starved. Teaching these kids makes you a believer in ADD.

On Monday evenings Micah and I teach at a rich private boarding kindergarten. It has, easily, the most poorly behaved kids of any kindergarten I’ve seen in China. Recently when our company did a Halloween activity at that school, one of my co-workers, a kindergarten English teacher, commented that she had never seen such wild kids before either.

My favorite class there is the pre-K (Íаà) kids. They’re only between 2 and 3 years old. Normally I hate teaching the pre-K kids because they’re so young that they can hardly learn anything — especially a foreign language — and I feel like teaching them is a complete waste of my time. In this case, though, I like them because they’re too young to have been already completely spoiled rotten by their parents.

Last week when I went to that kindergarten I had barely gotten past the “greeting” part of class when four kids spontaneously jumped out of their seats and started busting out kung fu moves. They were followed by four more. I was suddenly surrounded by eight little Chinese martial arts munchkins, and my protests were completely useless.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. How much do the teachers you work with use their hands on the kids? I mean everything from a slap in the face to pulling kids into line.

  2. So . . . what did you do then?

    Is the principal any help? I had a high school teacher friend who would pick out the meanest, roughest looking kid in the class & seat that person at the front of the room. He would then tell the class: “If there is any trouble THAT PERSON goes to the principal.” Sometimes he would have to make a second choice but usually no more than that. Peer pressure in action!

  3. John
    Didn’t they have Leonardo and Michaelangelo (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) when you were younger? Didn’t you learn a few moves from them? Maybe you could adopt their persona and dress as an attention grabber for these unfocussed ninjas.

    Good luck!

  4. It’s a total myth that Chinese students are better behaved than Western ones. Every country has its naughty kids, and sometimes having 80 in one class somewhat intensifies that. I’ve never been in a Chinese school that has an actual discipline system, normally it depends on how mean the teacher is!! Would you agree that the best behaved are those that hardly ever have Foreign teachers so even if they can’t understand you they love you? The schools that often have foreign teachers just treat you like any other teacher and misbehave.

  5. The day of better behaved Chinese students are long gone. Now everry family has one kid and every one of these “little emporors” are “spoiled rotten by their parents.” They only become “behaved” in college, not because they are no longer the brats that they are but because the grim career pressure starts to set in. Maybe you have noticed better behavior in poorer countryside schools, John and Kaili?

  6. Tim H,

    I never see any of the teachers anywhere hitting the kids, but they will grab them by the arm and make them sit down.

  7. Tim P,

    Fortunately, when the kids started hitting me and showed no sign of calming down, the teachers actually intervened and made the kids sit down. The teachers at that school normally do very little in the way of discipline, presumably because the kids are just so bad that they’re used to it and see discipline as rather futile.

  8. All of sudden, the abortion clinic’s TV ad you saw weeks ago made so much sense…

    I for one truly hate these young “emperors”. A few of my younger cousins are like that. Little bastards.

    Since my parents had two children (myself and my older sister), we have been treated like second class citizens when we were growing up. Especially with the whole “one child per married couple” policy.

    Have you ever heard of the “4:2:1” symptoms? It is a common knowledge that grandparents (4), and parents (2) always spoil the child (1).

    It makes my blood boil just thinking about it…

  9. You’ve got to enforce. But don’t do it in a negative way.

    Do you have a positive reinforcement system? Like if the kids are good, give them a certain amount of stickers at the end of class. Or set up a point system where they collect points depending on how good they are during each class and then after collecting a certain number of points, they can trade them in for worthless little toys. When I get a new class, I absolutely lavish the points on the good kids and take away the points from the bad kids. They learn pretty quickly.

    Or for slightly older kids (2nd-3rd grade range), divide the class into two sides and whichever side has the most points gets double while the losing side gets nothing. Nothing like a little peer pressure to keep the kids in line.

  10. Wayne,

    The problem is that I only teach these kids once a week for half an hour. I do do some positive reinforcement, but it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference. As a foreigner they only see once a week, I’m still enough of a rarity to get them hyped up week after week….

  11. Maybe you should consider wearing your atheletic “armor” (i.e. cup) just in case one of these naughty ninjas gets in a lucky shot.

  12. Hello John,

    After checked your pics, Im sure Ive seen you near my restaurant the other day. It was a morning, I remembered.lol

    Well..very nice page and like your pics a lot.

    Silvia in Shanghai

  13. Generally speaking, positive enforcement and peer pressure do not work in Chinese schools. You have to act a tough guy, like the terminator instead of the kindergarten cop, yell, smack the table, and never let out a kind voice even when appraising one of them. You’ve got the build, can you get rid of the grin?

  14. Typo, didn’t mean Chinese schools, should be Bratsville schools.

  15. Gin,

    Got any reasons to back up such a claim? The Chinese are, after all, human beings, so basic principles of human psychology should apply, yes?

  16. The Marines are humans too, right? I have no theory, just know it works. My sister, a petite and soft-spoken 16 year old when she was sent to the countryside, taught the elementary school there. She kept a very mean face, nothing physical only facial and tonetic and always meaning what she said, that we never knew she had and it worked well. All the male, adult teachers couldn’t keep order in that room only she could.

    This is well known among parents. Kids are little bastards who detect and play the parents every imaginable way. Parents are big bastards who play the kids everyway that works without being detected. Often the couple play good cop bad cop. In Bratsville the effective way is being the bad cop, by this I don’t mean abusive or sneaky, just act tough and be firm, the latter being more important than the former.

    In your case, it’s not too late if you still have sessions to go. You could plan to turn completely mad at a right moment (pretending you are finally fed up is no longer hard at all) and try this face for the rest of the semester. I think you’ll like it.

    There is no fixed way to educate. It takes whatever tactics that will spin the kids’ wheels TO GET THEM TO LEARN (°×èºÚè). Your reputation may suffer among kids and even with some dense parents, but teaching is a teacher’s duty and maybe his only duty.

    I remember this “Who’s the Boss” (too long ago for you kids?) episode where Tony went to a positive ed class for parental psych and learned all the tender loving phrases/manners and came home only to fail with the two bastards miserably until rounds later Mona simply told them to “stop it!”

  17. Only after establishing authority (or call it rapport) first, can and will positive enforcement and peer pressure be asserted effective.

  18. I do personally think students in the countryside are better behaved, however, I’ve only taught them for short periods of time so they have no time to get used to me.

    I’m not too sure about the tough-guy approach to kindy. Although I do agree we need to be firm and set boundaries on behaviour. A psycho teacher that flies off the handle — well that takes a bit of effort — and what if one day you don’t feel like it? I guess I think we have to be consistent.

    Personally, I like it when the English teacher sits in on the lesson, as the students are more likely to behave if she is in the room too.

  19. “Who’s the Boss”

    (to stupid when I was 12)

    “worthless little toys”

    (or candy or Rittilan? come on)

  20. angelina Says: April 5, 2005 at 9:36 pm

    I am so glad that other people have experienced naughty children in class. I was starting to go out of my mind!
    I teach at a private school and middle school, grade one (aged 12-13). Some of the classes I teach are lovely and some are really disruptive.
    It’s hard to know what to do with classes like that. I like to make my classes interesting and varied, so I can give everyone the chance to speak English. However, some students just do not seem to want to learn English.
    I am not fond of choral repetition, but I think I may have no choice with some classes. Does anybody have any other suggestions?

  21. Hi John, nice to see your place today. I am not sure where you are now and what you are doing, but I would like to talk with you a little bit since I am an Early Childhood educator. I am from China and I am currently studying @ US in the EC field. I am very interested in the current situation of the private kindergarten in China since I had little experience there before I came to US. I am planning to go back and establish my own kindergarten/preschool one day using the knowledge I learned here and adapt it into the Chinese culture and current situation. So, if you are interested, please feel free to get in touch with me. 🙂

  22. […] Apparently, everyone dotes on the grandchild/child and they feel very special, begin to go wild, and consequently find themselves in boarding school. Here is a related antidote […]

  23. Is China the only place you’ve taught? Just curious whether you think Chinese students behave worse than kids elsewhere or whether this is your intro to dealing with kids.

  24. Teaching English in these countries – how important is it to know Chinese? Does it impress or help in dealing with kids if you know how to speak it? Do they sit there muttering to each other in Chinese and you can’t understand? How does it work? I’m going into it myself you see 😀

  25. This is totally true, I meet many chinese kids, that are picky in food, and opposable. They fight their parents, they only care about themselves, it pisses me so off sometimes. The parents are obviously spoiling their kids.

  26. You state “I hate teaching the pre-K kids because they’re so young that they can hardly learn anything — especially a foreign language”

    The younger the kids are, the easier it is to teach them a language. Check out some of the info on this site.

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