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Chapter 5

The Focus Fiasco
Nothing frustrates parents of
any country more than the
inability of their youngsters
to focus. Indeed, all children
are born selfish and worry
about their own needs. This
is normal and natural
instincts of self-survival. So
when children enter our
world their first focus is on
food, warmth, and sleep.
Only after a few months do
they realize a need to focus
on others – those that
provide the food, warmth
and safe quiet place to sleep.


As I just explained in previous chapters, we are all creatures of habit and a product of our
environment. Children do not get to select their environments, but they do indeed select
their points of focus. If we can make focusing something fun, interesting or even fascinating
we can lure children to focus away from meaningless play to learning basic problem-solving,
logic, and even dialogue with others. Children can focus playing with lego or a looking at
photos of animals in a National Geographic because it is something new and interesting for
them. But give them that same National Geographic magazine more than once or twice and
they will cast it aside and look for something new to capture their imagination. It is different
with the lego because they can make new and different shapes and forms each and every
time to pick up the colorful pieces. Thus lego is one of the few toys that is conducive to the
learning process and nurturing a child’s imagination. In Chapter 12 you will find a list of all
the toys and games that help you cultivate a creative child. But let’s get back to focusing
your child to focus! If you can achieve this one goal, everything your child undertakes in life


As we grow however, all of us begin to focus selectively on those things we enjoy and
interest us the most. If we cannot acquire self-discipline before our teens, this selective
focus will become the behavioral pattern for the rest of our life. Hence the millions of men
glued to TV sets watching sports games, teens obsessed with their video games, and woman
sobbing as they watch Korean love telenovels every afternoon. Indeed most of us ignore
focus as something we need to control, and if we think of focus this way, how can we really
expect our children to do better than we ourselves.

from academics to sports to social relationships will dramatically improve. Children who can
control their focus is different from those who do it automatically, subliminally, without
even thinking about it. Bear with me as I explain.
If you tell a 6 year-old child you will buy him or her any toy of their choice if they can count
the grains of rice in a teacup, they will control their focus long enough to complete the task
because you motivated them with a reward, even it takes them 30 minutes. But if you
hand that child a bag full alphabet blocks they are likely to lose interest in less than a few
minutes and wander off looking for something new and more exciting to them.
But if you train a child to focus automatically by habit, they will in time, pay more and
closer attention to everything they do and not just their favorite things. Getting them to
do this is not quick nor easy and is the crux of becoming a critical thinker. In CCT classes,
young students are introduced to a variety of new games they have never seen before and
when they see others having fun playing with them, their interest grows to a peek. These
games become something they want to explore because they want to also experience and
enjoy the happiness seen in others who played with those games.


So when children attend a CCT class they do not know what to expect other than a new
surprise that will be interesting and fun. They don’t realize they are being taught to focus or
solve problems for at least the first five or six classes. Eventually they come to think their
goal is to solve the problems we present them, when in fact we are really teaching them to
focus by habit – through repeated behavioral pattern training. We are not about to ruin the
fun and tell them “you are being trained very much like Pavlov trained his dogs.” But in
essence that which we practice most, is what we eventually come to perform the best. Alex
Rodriguez of the New York Yankees struck out over a hundred times at the plate before he
hit his first home run, and Li Na spent hundreds of hours before she could hit a tennis ball
over the net without launching it out of bounds. The key to their success is the same as it
will be for your child… keeping their practice fun and interesting long enough for them to
see they are achieving their goals, a little bit at a time. Then that self-gratification kicks in.


And I remind you, children are real people and all people enjoy something they can do well.
Self-gratification is a secret weapon we use to help children to learn how to focus. When
they achieve the objectives of the new games they are playing, it not only boosts their
confidence and self-esteems, but keeps their focus on playing some more. In less than an
hour of playing these games children instinctively begin comparing themselves with their
peers. This usually motivates them to do better and their built-in competitiveness begins to
emerge from the depths of their personality. It is crucial during this learning process that
they are praised and encouraged to always to try to do even better. As CCT educators we
explain to them the importance of concentration in achieving any task and demonstrate
how it works with the simple balloon test that they quickly comprehend and appreciate.
(See exercise 5A in our workbook)

Focus is impossible without goals. But many parents make the fatal mistake of setting
unrealistic goals or impossible time limits to expect achievement of those goals. Rushing a
child to achieve success will actually be counter-productive and cause resentment,
discouragement or even contempt for the parent who caused all the sudden frustration and
misery. Pushing a child to his limits is one thing, but recognizing their limits is far more
important. Remember, they must be able to see and feel some achievement in every
challenge we present to them, or they will begin to dread any new problems you want them
to conquer in the future. Now grab a cup of tea or coffee so we can delve into a sensitive
area that requires your complete objectivity and understanding as a Chinese parent.


As a teacher of young
Chinese children ages 5-10
years of age at Drama
Rainbow, TOEFL students at
Bayi High School, and
drama and CCT students
elsewhere in Beijing. I
perspective of Chinese
society because in every
brutally honest and seldom
conceal their true feelings
until they start turning
7-8-9 years old when they
really begin to mirror their parents in their communications and behaviors. By no means do
I think nor believe that western society is in any way better than, or superior to Chinese
culture. On the contrary, The Chinese have 5,000 years of social experience that may be the
most considerate and outwardly polite culture I have every witnessed. But I will say this,


As I stated on page 1 of this book, I do not claim to be some wise sage of parenting, but I am
sharing my 15 years of research an parenting for children with your, which most parents
have agreed is more accurate than not. Remember too that I grew up in a Western culture
which when compared to the Asian cultures is far less refined, and far more aggressive
without the obstacles of mian zi and deference to elders. Coming to China and suddenly
being immersed into the Chinese culture for me was probably like taking a Mongolian who
lived his entire life on the grasslands into Shanghai or Beijing for the first time. It was
overwhelming and I was in awe not because of the amazing buildings or great foods, but
because of the what I call “the mystery minds of the Chinese”. Remember, it took me three
years to figure out and fully understand my Asian wife, but China was yet another new
mountain for me to climb and explore, full of many hidden caves, winding paths, and even a
few beautiful waterfalls. Thankfully most or my surprises were pleasant ones, but being
swindled was not, even though it became a great learning experience for me.

Chinese kids are at a distinct disadvantage to compete in the international world, when
from birth they have been exposed only to Chinese customs, culture, and learning methods.
It is much harder for Chinese children to focus than most other children in the world and
here is my reason for saying this… The Kao brothers. Jun Kao and Gao Kao.
In reality, I subscribe to the Confucian learning method, that is, we all learn best by doing.
All of my CCT teaching methods follow his basic approach and I have witnessed with over
900 of my own students, that they truly learned more and faster by doing lessons that are
fun rather than just listening. But with the introduction of the horrible Jun Kao and Gao Kao
examinations, things changed dramatically in China’s school system, and in my personal
opinion, for the worse. The focus of educators had to be shifted from knowledge retention
to high scores achieved through rote memorization. Granted, children’s test scores have
climbed to become the best in the world but research at most universities abroad and even
in China at Beijing Normal University (famous for cranking out the best teachers in China)
we now know that 80% of all that is memorized in the short term to pass a test is
completely forgotten within the following 90 days. We would think that all this memorizing
would sharpen a child’s focus but please remember what I explained in Chapter 3 about
defining the success of any learning process. It must be measured on the long-term
accumulation and application of knowledge – not just passing tests with high scores.


When raised in this environment focused on
passing exams, children are taught to only


Now think about this… In China parents and
the entire Chinese society raise their children
to be “harmonious” and to “fit in with others”
even at the cost of sacrificing their own
personal identity and goals, or what I refer to
as “specialness”. It is my belief that every child
is unique and special in their own way. Indeed
Children are like snowflakes – no two, even
siblings are alike. They may be similar in many
ways, but when I evaluate children for my CCT
programs I always find some distinct character
trait, special ability, or personality quirk that
makes them stand out from others. This can
be a positive or a negative, but I can
categorically tell you that every child is unique,
yet they are forced to fit a standard mold in
the Chinese school system that needs them all
to be the same for the sake of teaching such a
high volume of children with limited

listen and remember to do exactly as their teacher instructs them. They are not asked for
their opinions nor to use their imaginations unless they are in one of 20 model school
programs. So it becomes easy for a Chinese student to become programmed to tune out the
urge to be unique and express themselves creatively because that will not help them get
high scores on the Jun Kao nor Gao Kao exams. Only a few parents who have studied abroad
really recognize the true value of creativity and critical thinking. But for their children to
benefit from CCT training they must be introduced to their uniqueness and praised for being
different, not scolded. They must be encouraged to question and disagree with teachers
(when the subject is not math!), and learn to speak up and disagree when they believe in
their hearts they are correct. Growing up thinking and believing that they will always be
“instructed what to do” breeds academic robots in my opinion.
For the reasons I explained in chapter two, the sooner children embrace their unique
creative side the greater impact it will have in their adult life when they enter the work
force and have to interact and compete with foreigners who never concern themselves with
saving face for others, or being harmonious. In America for example it is normal and routine
for young children to seek a “win” by any means allowed or unseen by adults. We are far
more aggressive and assertive in the west and you never have to wonder what a western
person thinks or feels – they will tell you one way or another! And while Chinese place more
value on building and preserving relationships, in the West, the emphasis is always on
winning. Friendships are a welcomed bonus but not a required ingredient of a business
model. The sooner we can prepare Chinese children for foreign worlds and cultures, the
better prepared they will be, and we cannot expect to achieve this level of preparedness
without first getting them to master their own focus. If you think about it, nothing requires
more focus than a debate or argument that is fluid. It requires what I term dynamic focus
which is the opposite of static focus and I will give you an example of each.


At the other spectrum of difficulty is dynamic
focus, the debate I mentioned where
comments, ideas, and arguments are suddenly
exchanged and must be analyzed in our minds
for flaws in logic, or reason, and rebuttals
formed and presented with conviction in real
time. Debates are where real critical thinkers
shine the brightest, and we can see this


If you ask anyone to solve a jig-saw puzzle
they will resort to a pattern of trial and error
analysis using the same focus repeatedly –
matching colors and shapes until the pieces
fits. This does not require more than basic
visual skills and is a relatively simple process
of elimination. This I call “static focus”.

historically when we study Plato,
Socrates, Voltaire, Martin Luther King
and other great orators we have all
admired at one time or another like
China’s own Sha Zu Kang the former
ambassador to the United Nations. All
focus is good focus, but mastering
dynamic focus should be one of our key
goals in life.
Playing a game of chess or weiqi also
requires dynamic focus as does dealing
with a bully on the playground or an
abusive boss later in life. Being “street
smart” is just as important as being ”book smart” and parent needs to know the difference.
See workbook page 23 for parents. If you score less than 20, you should probably enroll in
one of my online parenting seminars. Remember you are a role model for your child, and
their very first teacher in life. This is why focus must be mastered at an early age to give a
person the most important offensive and defensive weapon they need to do battle with
every enemy they will encounter in life, no matter if the enemy is a a legal predicament,
project management, or a family crisis.
When teaching CCT, we of course start off crawling before we attempt to walk or run. Our
students must achieve their focus goals at each stage and every step of their journey of
self-discovery to be motivated to reach higher and deeper within themselves. It has been
my experience that Chinese children fear problems whereas western kids see them as a
challenge. Just this difference in attitude alone makes a big difference in life. If you doubt
this for even a second, turn to page 17 in the workbook and watch the TED video links in


Now think of the great golfer Tiger Woods who learned to focus on playing golf and putting
as a 7 year old child. He continued to focus on playing golf for 37 years and that focus
carried over into all aspects of his life. He became a successful businessman until he lost
focus and indulged in a bit too much alcohol and other excesses. When he lost focus in his
life he basically lost everything. But forget Tiger Woods let’s talk about someone more
important – your child.


Once we achieve our goal of getting a child to focus by habit, it requires parents to start
feeding their curiosity on a daily basis, with at least one “bed-time challenge” every night
until your child turns 13 years of age. By this time their thinking patterns will be fined-tuned
and locked in. But we essentially have the first 10-12 years of a child’s life to teach them
how to think and analyze, and they simply can not do this without focus. What they think
is up to them, but how they think should be the responsibility of parents in my opinion.

Completing a CCT course is just the basic training for a
critical thinking child. The course will provide the
focus training and immensely boost you child’s
confidence, but when they complete their course
their mind will be more curious and hungry than ever
before. As their parent it is up to you to feed their
mind with such things as piano lessons, 3D puzzles
and art classes, anything and everything that keeps
provoking their mind to think and ponder. Part of
every CCT course includes a two hour class and
workshop for parents to keep the focus flowing with a variety of games that can even be
played while you are stuck in traffic with your child. Getting grandpa to play a weekly
game of wei qi can make your little one’s focus a family project. Besides you will all have fun
tryimg to stump your child, and in the end they will almost always prevail. For young girls,
origami, writing poetry, story telling and sculpture will keep their minds sharp and in focus.
For both boys and girls ages 5-12 I will recommend something that will make you gasp as a
parent but trust me on this and you will be pleasantly surprised. There is a video came
called “Prince of Persia” that is so challenging and requires intense focus that I can only
recommend that this game be given to children who complete a CCT course. Even parents
will find the game that gets progressively more difficult with each level addictive. For kids
this game as well as another older game called combat will keep their focus a habit. At
present I am reviewing other such video games for their focus value and will update my
website accordingly.


I know it is painful to see our kids frustrated to the point of tears at times, but just
remember their elation and the huge ear to ear smile they wore on their face when they
first rode their bicycle all by themselves. This emotional and spiritual high is the reward for
their focus and mental dexterity. Just as you cannot eat their food for them and expect
them to gain the nutrients, you cannot always solve all their problems for them. If you do


Parents must discipline themselves however,
because when we see our children struggling we
want to “help them just a little” and this can lead to
even greater dependency on parents. The idea is to
leave your child with a challenge and see how they
deal with it – by themselves. Perhaps you might say
“you may want to look for pieces that have the same
color” relating to a jigsaw puzzle, but suggesting
where a piece might go is crossing the line. They will
not feel the same self-gratification nor self-esteem if
you are the one “suggesting” where all the pieces
might go.

this more than once a month, you will raise a dependent child who grows into a dependent
adult, always expecting others to solve their problems for them. This may be hard for you to
swallow but you will not find any leading child psychologist in any country who disagrees
with this theory. And remember, we only get one chance to raise our children.
Unfortunately neither your kids nor mine came with instruction manuals and our parents
grew up in a different era with a different world to deal with. Their advice is always
well-intentioned, but not always current nor practical. If it was, you probably wouldn’t be
reading this book right now. As parents we all want the best for our kids. On this your
parents and mine would agree as would every other parent on our planet, no matter what
language we speak, what politics we embraces and no matter what foods we eat. I have
learned a great deal from Chinese parents, especially about controlling my temper and
concealing my true feelings at times. By the same token I hope you will understand and
learn from me when I tell you that focus is the first step in the year long journey to become
a critical thinker and perhaps 2-3 years to master dynamic focus.

6-7 years old

8-9 years old

10-11 years old

12-15 years old

6.5 minutes

9 minutes

11 minutes

15.5 minutes

17 minutes


4-5 years old


Remember that memorizing the words to a song is not learning that song. But singing or
playing that song with a focused passion from the heart that brings tears or joy to those
who hear it is our goal. Memorizing math formulas means little if you cannot apply that
math to solve cash flow problems or calculate forthcoming expenses as your company’s
accountant. Focus leads to practical solutions that work. Making focus fun is the only way
your child will actually want to focus. The below table shows that average focus times for
children to solve the below brain teaser. Count the minutes until they give you a number –
or give up. Give it to your child and see how they compare. Or if you are in Beijing, make
an appointment to have your child fully evaluated on six key points required for critical
thinking (memory, focus, confidence, logic, imagination, communication skills)

In summary, focus is so important I could probably write a separate book on the subject, but
for now I just need you to have a basic understanding of it’s role in developing your child
into an independent critical thinker. Focus and determination to succeed go hand in hand as
you will see in the next chapter that breaks down all critical thinking into a seven step
process. No matter what challenge may come your child’s way during their life, the same
seven steps will provide him or her the ability to assess the severity of the problem,
determine the cause, and find multiple solutions that would be most effective and practical.
Not all problems in life can be solved in a single day but critical thinkers learn this early in
life as do students in CCT classes who also learn about progressive resolutions, damage
control, and leveraged mediation. Children may forget these names but not the methods
they learn.
For those of you who were
once also a child, think
back to your early days in
this world when you were
still naïve, innocent, and
gullible. Those were the
times of your life when you
were most curious and
hungry to explore new
things and places. It was
also the time you were
most receptive to learning
how to think. But CCT was
just a crazy concept back
then and our parents and
schools were busy telling
us what to think, and
children were not expected to have “opinions” back then. Times have changed. As parents,
have you kept pace with our evolving world that grows smaller and more international
every year?


Yet another great critical thinker and focus master was Mahatma Ghandi of India who
solved that nation’s greatest problems when diplomats and world leaders could not. He
taught the world that too much of anything could be dangerous and that we must seek out
the best in others and not the worst. Most importantly Ghandi made parents around the


But regardless of the world our children must face tomorrow and further into the future,
their focus and the ageless wisdom of Confucius will serve them well. I so wish the schools
in China could devote just 30 minutes of every day to share his clever think with our
students. In CCT classes, it his words I adopted as my motto as a teacher…”There are many
paths to the mountain top,” and I train my students which is the best path to choose for
them and their families, not the paths that serves the needs nor desires of others.

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