Parents are the child’s first teachers, says Esther Wojcicki, an award-winning educator who founded and has taught at the Palo Alto High School’s Media Arts Programme in California for 35 years and is a mother to three daughters.

In town recently, Esther shared her wisdom at MOE HQ to an audience comprising parents and teachers. Very much against ‘tiger mom’ parenting, Esther uses the TRICK model in her parenting and teaching. TRICK stands for trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness, which she writes about in her book, “How To Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.”

However, Esther notes that success is not just about money and long, fancy titles.

“Success means that you feel empowered to accomplish your dreams, whatever they are. If you can do it at least 51% of the time, that’s a success. Nobody can achieve their aspirations 100% of the time, not even if you have a billion dollars.

If you have good relationships and you can accomplish your dream, you are successful.”


Respect is earned, not given. While Asian values often have us feeling entitled to proper filial respect from child and junior to parent and senior, we must learn that it is simply more practical to earn that respect through an excellent bridge of trust and communication.

To show her daughters she trusted them, Esther often will refrain from interfering in their questionable decisions, as such as her daughter Anne wanting to be a professional babysitter after getting her Ivy League degree. Anne shortly realised that it wasn’t such a great idea after all and accepted a job offer that came along.

“I trusted my children. I taught them everything I could to protect and take care of themselves in life. So at some point, as a parent, we should remove ourselves from the equation so they can sort out the solution eventually.

“If they need you, they will consult you. But don’t tell your children what to do all the time. Children who feel trapped will not be happy.”


Esther was raised with typical tiger-parenting we come to know as Asians. Corporal punishment was the norm in a male-dominated household. But once she became a parent, she was determined to let her three daughters have all the opportunities they need.

“I wanted to change my parenting methods from the way I was parented, which was to listen and obey. When I grew up, I knew I wanted a life in which I could make smart decisions and think for myself. So from when my kids were young, I taught them independence, including the importance of financial independence. All my kids were entrepreneurial at a young age, whether it’s selling lemons from our neighbour’s tree or things they made.

Likewise, I always thought their homework was just that: their homework. They did it without being prompted. If they didn’t do it, it was their problem. If they wanted my assistance, I would agree to help, but only if they directed me. I refused to do it for them.

“Kids should be in charge of their lives, not the parent. They get to make decisions about what they want to do, as long as there is no negative impact on anyone.”

Failure is a learning experience

Often, we tell our children that it’s okay to fail. Do not be afraid to let your children fail. It is okay to fail because as we all know, that’s the only way we could learn from our mistakes. Esther knows this and chooses to see failure as a positive way to learn.

“The number one way to make more kids feel empowered is to allow them to iterate, to redo something. You only learn by failing to do something, like what they say in business: fail fast. That means if you come up with an idea, and if it’s not a good idea, you want to know about it quickly, so you don’t expend a lot of time and energy doing it.

“Sometimes you get it wrong, most of the time you get it right. You want to practice whatever it is you’re doing enough so that by the time you take the test, you’ll be successful, or at least to some degree.”

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