Decoding Your Child

Thank you for following our blog Decoding Your Child. “Why name the blog Decoding Your Child?” you may ask. The reason is two-fold. This blog post will touch on the first reason.

Firstly, the purpose of the blog is to help you decode YOUR child. Decoding someone means truly understanding him/her. When we truly understand our children, we are better able to guide them and help them develop. Decoding someone takes time and effort, and most of all, patience. Patience is a rare virtue in a fast spinning society like ours. We demand efficiency and instant results. If we don’t, someone might surpass us and render us obsolete. At least that is what happens in the economic world. What about in the world of growing children? Can we demand efficiency and instant results?

Farmers Manipulating Crop

Let us for a moment just look at farmers. Can farmers prompt a crop to grow as fast as it can? Of course they can. They load the crops with herbicides, fungicides, unnatural fertilizers etc. They would do anything to get rid of anything that poses as a threat and add anything that will help their crops grow bigger and faster. Heck, they would even genetically modify the plants so their crops can withstand the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on them, or even “better”, they would create plants that kill the pests that eat them. Makes you wonder what happens when we eat those plants, don’t you? But that’s a separate topic for another day.

Farmers Following the Money

Some farmers will also focus on growing crops that make them the most money. When corn was selling well, everyone wanted to grow corn. They cleared their land of other productive but not economically high yield crops to grow corn, thinking the corn will yield them better returns. Then what happened? There was an oversupply of corn. The value of corn plunged and many corn farmers lost the shirts on their backs and went bankrupt. Those who chose not to jump onto the bandwagon of corn growers survived and thrived.

Parents Moulding Their Children

How does farming apply to parenting? Like farming, parenting takes time. It takes cultivation. Like farmers, parents yearn to get rid of as many obstacles as possible, so that their children have the best environment to grow. We do everything in our power to remove anything that distracts our children from doing well in school so they can focus on growing uninterrupted. We do our best to “fertilize” them with enrichment programs. We schedule their days, hours and minutes so every moment is productive. Staring into empty space is unproductive. Go read a book. Doodling is a waste of time. Go do a workbook. What happens then is that our children stop thinking for themselves. They wait for instructions. They are lost and bored when not told what to do. We engineer creativity out of them. And then we wonder, “How can we teach our children to be creative?”

Parents Following the Money

Don’t get me wrong. Parents have the best intentions for their children. I am a parent, I know. We want our children to succeed. We want to help them find the path that leads to success. However, many parents fall into the trap of following the money. Do well in school, get a good job, earn lots of money. What’s a good job? It used to be being a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, and now a programmer. Let’s all gear our children into those areas. Forget about the less well paying careers of being an artist, actor or sportsperson. What happens? Engineers graduate without an engineering job. Programmers find themselves uncompetitive compared to programmers from other countries. What happened? We pushed our children into a dead-end career and killed their actual passion in the process.

Decode Your Child And Develop Him As He Is

What can we do as parents? Decode our children. Learn what their passions are. Help them develop those passions, even if those passion seem pointless. Case in point. The son of one of my friends loved to surf google map. He spent hours looking at the maps, “visiting” different countries and drove his mom up the wall with his apparent waste of time. Several years later, the knowledge that he gained from his “time-wasting” hobby won him third place in a Geography Bee contest in USA. Where his passion for map reading and learning about countries will lead him in the future remains to be seen. But we know his passion will help him thrive in this area further than someone who is pushed into it.

If your child loves painting, let him paint. Don’t tell him it is a waste of time. You never know if he will become the next Monet or Van Gogh. If your child loves to sing, let her sing. She could be the next Adele. And you know what? She will love her life better doing what she loves than if she were forced to be an engineer, programmer or architect, resigned to being a bathroom singer. When we tell our children, “Don’t sing/paint/play computer games because you can’t make money out of it”, we are programming in our children the inability to make money out of their passion. And guess what, they will NEVER make money out of their passion. But if we help them fan their passion, encourage them to fly as high as they can go with their passion, they might surprise us with their success.

Help Our Children Find Their Hidden Paths

So decode your child. Know him as he is, not what you want him to be. And parent from there. If we want efficiency, the fastest and surest way to success is to follow one’s passion because the one who is walking the path is intrinsically motivated to walk it. And most of the time, the path is already created, just hidden. And our job as parents is to help our children find their hidden paths, not hack a path for them to walk on our behalf.

– Vivian –



3 Surest Ways to Bring Out The Best In Our Children

As parents, we do our utmost best to provide the most wonderful opportunities for our children. We want our children to succeed. We want our children to soar.

However, if we really pause and think about it, bringing out the best in our children does not necessarily mean sinking in big money after tuition or enrichment classes for our children. It does not mean frantically sending them from class to class, from tuition centre to enrichment centre to dance studio and so on. Sure, those might help a little but to really bring out the best in our children, we just need to be the parents our children deserve. How do we become the parents our children deserve? How do we bring out the best in our children? There are many ways to do that. But here are the 3 SUREST ways:

1) Develop Strong Parenting Skills

If we want to be parents who know what we are doing, we need to learn the skills and strategies needed to parent well. The fact you are reading this blog shows you are a parent who is looking to constantly up your parenting skills. Congratulations!! Unfortunately, some parents are unable or unwilling to invest time to read up on parenting or attend a parenting workshop or talk. Every stage of our children’s development requires new skills and understanding. Parenting is a job that requires constant on-the-job training if we want to do it well. If you want to learn more, check out my series of Decoding Your Child™ programs.

2) Understand Physiological Development of Our Children

When we understand our children’s physiological development, we know what they can or cannot do. When it comes to babies and toddlers, we KNOW their physical limitations. We obviously can’t give hard solid food to babies whose teeth have not come in so we don’t push them to eat solids before they are ready. We know our babies need to be watched over constantly so they don’t get hurt. We know it takes them many falls before they finally learn to walk so we do not insist they walk before they can crawl. We set our expectations and we encourage them based on what they are physically capable of doing.

Likewise, when our children become teenagers, we know they reach puberty and are maturing sexually so we might talk to them about the birds and the bees (actually, that talk needs to be done BEFORE the onset of puberty). Generally, parents also understand teenagers are temperamental because of hormonal influx so we cut them more slack. But why are teenagers so absent-minded? Why do they persist on bad behaviors despite knowing the dire consequences of their actions? Shouldn’t they know better?

The reason for these non-sensible, they-should-know-better behavior is because the prefrontal cortex (decision making faculty) of a teen’s brain is the last part of the brain to be developed. Their ability to weigh outcomes, make judgments and control emotions is still immature. Couple that with the advanced development of the nucleus accumbens (fun seeking faculty) and we end up with teenagers who do as they please regardless of consequences. When we understand the physiological development in the brains of our teens during this period of time, we would be a lot more understanding and gentler in our interactions with them.

Permissiveness Vs Understanding and Empathy
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should just let our children behave the way they do because that’s how they are wired. Being permissive and letting the children run wild without guidance is NOT what good parenting is about. Instead, we are aiming for understanding and empathy. When we know why they behave the way they do, we can guide and help them better.

For example, when we give a toddler a spoon to feed herself, we know she is going to make a mess because she neither has the muscle coordination nor concentration to feed herself properly. So instead of scolding her when she does make a mess, we guide and help her hold the spoon properly and we do it repeatedly until she gets it. We might even invite her to help us clean up the mess she made, not because we want to punish her, but because we want her to feel empowered to help. Very often, it’s not the act, in this case, cleaning up, that conveys meaning. It is the way we want the act done. The tone and intention we set when inviting her to clean up sends the message of whether it is a punishment or an invitation for her to help.

When it comes to teens, we tend to think of them as mini-adults, capable of thinking, feeling and reasoning the way we do. But most teens are NOT mini-adults. They might be as tall as an adult, at least my teenager is taller than I am, but their brains are not as developed as adult brains. Our teens are doing what they are doing with what they have, and believe it or not, they are trying their best. They just lack the ability to make wise decisions because their prefrontal context is not fully developed. Hence, as their parents, we “help” them make wise decisions by putting in place systems, structures and maybe even constant guidance under our eyes to keep them on task. It is imperative that we do so with love and gentleness, just as we would be gentle in helping our toddler feed herself and in inviting her to clean up her own mess.

With our understanding of the physiological development of our children at different stages of their lives, we know what they are physically able to do. It prevents us from having unreasonably high expectations. At the same time, it prevents the children from feeling they disappointed us because they cannot meet our expectations. And because now our expectations are reasonable and achievable, we are better able to help them meet those expectations, thereby helping them be the best they can be based on their abilities.

3) Understand Psychological Development of Our Children

While it is easier to see the physiological development in children, when it comes to psychological development, parents are typically in the dark. Do we realize that from birth till the age of 3, our children’s sense of security and confidence come from how promptly and lovingly their cries are attended to? And because of how vulnerable our children are during that period of time, they form very deep connections with their primary caregivers, especially if the caregivers are loving and nurturing? Do parents realize that when we fail to connect deeply with our babies when they are young, there will always be some sort of invisible unexplainable emotional distance between us and our children as they grow up? When we are aware of the psychological development of our babies and the impact our actions have on them, would we parent a little differently when our children are young?

It is still possible for us, working parents, to establish strong ties with our little ones. In Singapore’s society where domestic helpers are common in households, some parents rely on their helpers to do everything that is childcare related. However, I would urge all parents to make it a point to be the ones who respond to our babies cries when we are home. We can set aside time to play with them, have meals with them and put them to bed. We can be the ones who carry them when we go out. If possible, be the person who bathes or showers them, be the person who brush their teeth. These are intimate caregiving activities that bond a child to his caregiver. The more effort we put in to giving care to our babies, the deeper our connection with them will be. And a strong parent-child connection is crucial when our children are growing up and we want to influence and guide their behaviour.

What about our teens? They too undergo psychological development. Their self consciousness is at its peak. They think that everyone is looking at their every single move. They fret about having said something wrong because they are certain everyone had heard them and would remember it for life. If we embarrass our teens in public, they will never forget it. They might also never forgive us because in their minds, whoever had witnessed them being embarrassed would always remember it. The teens will even believe that those people are talking about the incident behind their backs ALL THE TIME. Knowing that, would we be mindful of our interactions with our teens, especially in public?Would we be more understanding of their social awkwardness? This is but one example of psychological development in teens.

When we understand the psychology of our children, and where they are at at different stages of their lives, we will become more mindful on the impact of our actions and decisions on them. And when we become mindful of our impact on our children, we will do our best to impact them in the most positive way possible. And when we do that, we are  bringing out the best in them


Do share with us how you bring out the best in our children.

– Vivian –

Keep Them Safe (Part 2)

As a young parent many years ago, I had worried about child abduction, car accidents and even earthquakes (we were in living Vancouver then). Slowly, I learnt that some worst-case scenarios were beyond my control. It was no use worrying about them. We can be mentally prepared and teach our children what to do in the event of those situations, but worrying does not help one bit.

We Have Some Control Over Their Safety

There is something, however, that we as parents have some level of control over. And that is car safety. In our recent post, I wrote about making wearing helmets a habit whenever our children ride bicycles or scooters or go roller blading. Today, I will touch on seat belts and car seats.

Like helmets, car seats and seat belts may be uncomfortable. In fact, they seem utterly useless most of the time UNTIL the one time they are needed. And if they were not put into use at that ONE moment they were needed, we may find ourselves uttering the dreaded, “If only…”

We Grew Up Without Them, Didn’t We?

Seat belts were never deemed to be a matter of LIFE or DEATH when we were growing up. My family grew up never buckling up while in a car, until it was made mandatory by law for those riding in the front passenger seat to buckle up. I never ever saw or heard of a car seat growing up, much less sat in one, as car seats were non-existent in those days (yes, I belong to that era). No one I knew, adult or child, ever died in a car accident. The odds of surviving without a car seat or seat belt seemed really good. Why should we suffer the inconvenience and discomfort of these safety devices?

Horror Stories

Fast forward to when I was working in an Orthopaedics Department 15 years ago. One of my friends from Vancouver General Hospital is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon. He shared with my wife and me a clinical case. He had been treating a teenage girl for years for injuries she sustained from a car accident she was in when she was a toddler. That girl needed braces to help her walk and because she was still growing, her braces needed to be changed frequently. He then said something that I would never forget. He said, “She could have walked away from that accident without a scratch. The reason why I’m still treating her 10 years after her accident is because she wasn’t in a car seat.” He added, “If parents could see the kinds of injuries sustained by babies and little children from car accidents, injuries and deaths which are totally preventable with a car seat, they will NEVER EVER let their children ride in a car without strapping them in.”

Make Strapping In A Habit

Thanks to his advice, on top of working in an Orthopaedics Department, we had put each and every single one of our children in a car seat for as many years as possible. Each of them went through a phase where they would squirm, kick and scream whenever they were strapped in. But we never relented or gave up. We always told them that buckling up in the car was non-negotiable because we wanted them to be safe.

Our #1 cried non-stop from the moment he was strapped in till we arrived at our destination and carried him out of his car seat. #2 cried till she threw up and continued crying till we arrived. #3 bucked like a wild horse, and yes, cried the whole journey.

Yet without fail, after a few weeks of crying EVERY SINGLE TIME they were strapped to their car seat, somehow, they would all get used to it. Then miraculously, they would “graduate” to wanting to buckle themselves up as soon as we got into the car. And once they grew out of their car seats, and subsequently their booster seats, they would automatically put on their seat belts. Yes, automatically, by themselves.

To further instill in our children the need to be buckled up, my wife and I would always verbally announce that we ourselves were buckled up before we started our engine. Now that my children are older and can buckle themselves in, sometimes we would start the engine without checking (especially if we are in a hurry). But my children would protest and insist we shut off the engine and wait till they are all buckled up. And we do oblige. Continuing to instill the habit of safety, of strapping themselves in, especially since we still have a preschooler in the car, remains important to my wife and me.

All It Takes Is ONE Accident

Fortunately for us, touch wood, we have never been in an accident where we can prove that the car seat or seat belts have saved us and our children. A friend of ours, however, can attest to how the car seat and seat belts had saved his family. Years ago, their car had hit a patch of black ice and overturned on the way home from a winter trip. Luckily, all the adults had their seat belts on and his little boy was strapped in his car seat. No one sustained any injuries. Today his son is formidable ice hockey goalie. His story could have been very different if the little boy hadn’t been strapped in. His story could have been very different if my friend and his wife had not had their seatbelts on.

So parents, please help your children develop the habit of buckling up whenever they ride in a car. Yes, it’s hard to buckle a screaming, kicking, buckling baby in the car seat. Yes, we are highly competent drivers; we can drive as safely as possible; we can drive slowly. But we cannot control the road conditions. We cannot control how other drivers drive. What if the car hydropaned during a rain storm, or if we hit a patch of oil spill on the road? What if another driver was reckless or inexperienced and hit us? Accidents are called accidents because no one had intended for them to happen.

Correct Use of Car Seat

Like helmets, car seats are useless if they are not used properly. So how do we ensure we are using the car seat correctly?

a) Put Children Under 2 years Old in Rear Facing Car Seats
Children under 2 years old have very weak neck muscles. If they are in forward facing position, they could get seriously injured in the event the car jerks to a sudden stop. Rear facing car seats will prevent unnecessary serious whiplash injuries on these young children.

b) Secure Car Seat Tightly
Unlike the cars we had in US and Canada, the cars in Singapore do not seem to come with the LATCH system. These anchors and tethers help to tightly secure car seats to the seats on which they are placed on. I really wish LTA would insist upon cars having this feature for the safety of our children.

Car seat latch

(Photo credit: )

Until it becomes a common feature in our cars, as parents, we can only do our best to secure our children’s car seats with seat belts. If you can wriggle the car seat and it can slide, it is too loose and will not be able to protect the child sitting in it. To tightly secure the car seat for our 3-year-old, we press our knee on the empty car seat, pushing it as far into the seat as possible and then pull the seat belt threaded through the car seat to tighten it as much as we can. When this is done properly, the car seat will not wiggle a millimeter when you try to shake it from its base.

c) Tighten The Harness On the Car Seat
The harness on the car seat needs to be snug against the child, regardless of whether the car seat is rear or forward facing. Of course it should not be so tight as to make it difficult for the child to breathe. However, it should not be loose enough for you to slide you hand through it. If the impact of the car is high enough and the child is not snuggly fitted into his car seat, he can actually slide out of his car seat and be propelled forward, unprotected. To know if the harness is snug enough, try the pinch test. If you can pinch the harness after your child is strapped in, it is too loose.

Car seat pinch

The Pinch Test: Too loose
(Photo credit:

d) Proper Threading Of The Harness
Why are there so many slits on the back of the car seat? When your child is seated rear facing in the car seat, the harness should emerge slightly below his shoulders from the back. That will prevent him from sliding upward when the car jerks to a sudden stop. When your child is seated forward facing in the car seat, the harness should emerge slightly above her shoulders from behind so that her shoulders don’t get crushed if the car jerks to a sudden stop. As our child grows, we will need to adjust the harness accordingly.

Car Seats And Seat Belts Save Lives

Car seats save lives. Seat belts save lives. As parents, not only do we want to insist on our children being buckled up, we need to lead by example ourselves and buckle up even if we are in the back seat. All it takes is one, just one, accident to show us that car seat and seat belts are essential. If the time comes and we didn’t have them on, it might be too late to say, “If only….”


Read our previous blog post on helmet safety.

– Juay –

Keep Them Safe

To me, the most painful phrase we tend to use when things go wrong is, “If only…” This phrase is highly unproductive and leads us to either lay blame or instill guilt. Yet, when we hear of fatal accidents that could have been avoided, it automatically surfaces.

An Unfortunate Death

A couple of weeks ago, Sam Koh suffered serious head injuries when he fell from his electric scooter and passed away the next day. His younger brother, Benson, had told The New Paper that his brother “just wore a cap, but didn’t wear a helmet. He’s an expert. He has been riding for a long time.”

My heart aches for his family and friends. Such a promising young man’s life cut short just like that. His life has been so needlessly lost at a young age of 23. If only…

Let Sam Not Die In Vain

It is with sadness and togetherness with the family and friends of Sam that I wrote this article. It is my desire to not let him die in vain, to use this incident as an opportunity for others to learn so that more people will be saved. One life lost in this manner is one too many. What can we learn from this incident? How can we prevent a similar occurrence?

We Grew Up Without Helmets, Didn’t We?

I’ll confess. I’ve never ridden the bicycle with a helmet when I was growing up. I just went to East Coast, rented a bicycle and sped around. I was never taught about wearing a helmet then. I only started wearing a helmet regularly after I enlisted in National Service. No one I knew ever died because they had ridden without a helmet.

Horror Stories Of Cycling Without A Helmet

It was only after I became a father that the importance of a helmet while riding a bicycle was instilled in me. Maybe because at that time, I was working in an Orthopaedics Department and heard horror stories from emergency personnel of cyclists dying or suffering severe head injuries because they did not wear a helmet. Those were deaths and injuries that could have been prevented by wearing a simple device called a HELMET. The importance of wearing a helmet was brought closer to home following an accident experienced by a colleague who cycled to work everyday. One day, a truck bumped into the back of this colleague’s bicycle while he was cycling to work and he literally flew off his bike. He was badly bloodied up and his helmet cracked in two upon impact on the ground. If he had not had a helmet on, his skull would have fractured instead of the helmet and he probably wouldn’t have lived to tell his tale.

Wearing Helmets As A Rule

We were living in Vancouver at that time and it is a local rule that all cyclists must wear a helmet. When my son took his first cycling lesson at the age of 4, the instructors coached and taught the importance of wearing a helmet while cycling. Two years later we moved to the US and my son joined Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as a cub scout. It is a written rule in BSA that all scouts and accompanying adults taking part in any activity on bicycles and roller blades must wear a helmet. No helmet, no wheels.

So from young, my children were not allowed to be on anything with wheels (of course that excluded buses and cars) if they did not have their helmets on. As soon as they rode their first tricycle, bicycle and scooter, or put on their roller blades, we made them wear their helmets. There were no exceptions. No helmet, no wheels. That was and still is our rule to this day. Even if they wanted to cycle in or around the house, they needed to have their helmets on.

Make Wearing Helmets A Habit

Many parents may think that the little ones don’t go very fast on their bicycles or scooters. Even if they fall, they won’t hurt themselves very badly. However, putting on the helmet at a young age is not about whether the children are fast enough to hurt themselves or not. It is about developing a habit. As parents, we can only hope that putting on a helmet every time they get on wheels becomes a habit that will carry over through their teenage years to adulthood.

Sadly, in Singapore, we see many people, children and adults alike, without helmets when they cycle, scoot, skate or blade. When our children ask why they have to wear their helmets when others don’t, we explain that it’s our family rule because we want everyone to be safe. Once the children are used to putting on their helmets when they are young, putting on their helmets when they are older becomes a natural habit.


It’s Easier To Instil Habit When They Are Young

When the children are not competent on wheels, it is easy for us parents to insist they wear a helmet. If they have never needed a helmet when they were younger, slower and less sure on their wheels, will they think they need a helmet when they become more competent and go faster on their wheels? Probably not. And therein lies the danger.

My 3-year-old knows our helmet rule too. Whenever she wants to ride on her scooter or balance bike, she will go look for her helmet. My teenager also knows if he forgets to bring his helmet when we go roller blading, he can sit by the side and watch the bags for the rest of us. As an accompanying adult in any activities on wheels, I make sure I set a good example by wearing my helmet too.


Wearing Helmets Right

While wearing a helmet is very important, it is practically useless if it is not a sturdy helmet or if it is not worn properly.

a) The right helmet
Getting a good helmet is important. When getting a helmet, choose one that has passed ANSI or ASTM tests. Such helmets will be able to absorb the impact and protect the skull. The box for the helmet will indicate clearly that the helmet had been certified and there will be stickers inside the helmet indicating likewise.

b) Helmets have limited shelf life
The foam in a helmet has a limited shelf life typically of about 5 years. Beyond this period, the foam will have deteriorated and not able to absorb impact forces even though it may look perfectly good on the outside. Get a new helmet if yours is old. Do not use hand-me-downs or second-hand helmets especially if you do not know how many years it has been in use. A helmet with poor material will not serve the purpose of protecting your skull.

c) Buckle it
So now you have a new certified helmet.  Just putting the helmet on the head without buckling it is useless. As soon as we fall, that helmet will fly off our heads, defeating the purpose of wearing a helmet in the first place. So make sure the helmet is clipped on.

d) Strap it tight
Got the helmet buckled? Fantastic. But let’s make sure it is snug against your head. After buckling the helmet on your head, jerk your head around a little, forward, backward, sideward. If the helmet slides, it’s too loose. Adjust the straps till the helmet doesn’t slide around. If no matter how you adjust the straps the helmet still slides, it is not a well fitting helmet.  Get another one.  Of course there is not need to tighten the straps so much that you choke yourself. There are helmets with tightening devices at the back of the helmet. Those help to hold the helmets in position when they are properly put on.


Invest in a new, certified and well-fitted helmet. It is worth it.

Let’s Keep Everyone, Especially Our Children, Safe

Let us all help protect our children. Help them develop the habit of putting on a helmet whenever they get on wheels, be it a bicycle, scooter, roller blades, long board, hover board, unicycle, etc. We never know when that helmet might save lives. Let us never have to utter the phrase, “If only…”


If you have enjoyed this post, you might like Part 2 of my Keep Them Safe series.

– Juay –