Of Wolves and Dragons

What kind of a person will our child grow up to be?

We saw a live Ninjago performance at our recent visit to Legoland Malaysia. The story was about the ninjas rescuing a dragon from the forces of darkness so it will be a dragon of light and do good instead of a dragon of darkness and wreck havoc.

The thing is, it’s the same dragon with the same power. But what it would use its power for will depend on what it has been trained to do. 

Was it reared with love, kindness and encouragement? Or was it reared with darkness, hatred and resentment?

Obviously the environment will shape the type of dragon it would become.

It reminds me of the Cherokee story of the fight between the 2 wolves inside us, except in this version, the fight between light and darkness is internal.

You see, inside each and every one of us resides an “evil” wolf and a “good” wolf. The wolf that wins the fight is the one we feed. 

If we feed our wolves with anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and/or ego, the evil wolf will win.

But if we feed our wolves with joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith, the good wolf will win.

While our environment plays a role in shaping who we are, it is we who determine what we allow into our system. 

As parents, we not only control the environment which our children grow up in, we also serve as their teachers and guides. Subsequently, when our children grow up, we become the inner voices they hear when they process their thoughts. Are they capable enough? Are they good enough? Are they loving towards others? Are they showing empathy to those who have been mean to them? Are they kind? Are they resilient? What would they do when they encounter difficulties?  Their answers to these questions depend on what we teach them and what we say to them. 

Recently, A had a difficult time with another child and was repeatedly reduced to tears. I could take the easy way out and reduce interaction between that child and A. I could paint A as a victim and the other child a target for negative labels. But I see a higher purpose in their interaction. I helped A see how she could be a teacher to that child, to help that child learn gentleness and generosity. And at the same time, I felt it would help A build her resilience so she wouldn’t be so easily affected by what others say or do. Amazingly, she agreed to be a teacher. In fact she said, “I can stand up for myself because I am resilient. And I still love XYZ and I will be a teacher to help him be nicer.”

That really warmed my heart bcos she sees herself as a learner (in self-defence) and a teacher (in guiding the other child). When she grows up seeing adversities as opportunities to learn and teach, nothing will fazz her. Her blueprint in dealing with adversities and “difficult” people will be a positive one.

We, as parents, help our children build their blueprints: blueprint in dealing with setbacks, blueprint in dealing with difficult people, blueprint in dealing with abundance, etc etc. Our children carry these blueprints with them unconsciously. 

Many people live with negative blueprints without even realising their thoughts were “imprinted” from young. For those of us fortunate enough, we realise the existence of our negative blueprints and do our utmost best to undo them and create a new set of positive blueprints.

Hence it is very important that we remind our children they are capable (even when they make mistakes), that they are good enough based on the knowledge and skills they have at that moment. We show them how to empathise, love and be kind to others. We encourage them to get on their feet when they fall and help them see obstacles and challenges as opportunities for growth and development. 

Which wolf our kids will feed subsequently when they grow up really then depends on what we say to them and what we teach them when they are young.  Whether they will grow up to be dragons of light or dragons of darkness too will depend on the environment we provide for them.

While it may seem a scary thought with overwhelming responsibility, we can choose to see it in another way.

In order to build an environment of light for our children and be the voice that will feed their “good” wolf, we too will end up feeding our good wolf and become dragons of light. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?

We may not be able to motivate ourselves to become better, but for the sake of our children, we will be able to do it. That’s why our children are our best teachers.

Happy Parenting!!

Teaching While Resolving Conflict

It All Began With A Cake

I had been craving for a chocolate cheesecake for quite some time. So the day before Mother’s Day, I told my teens that I would like to have a chocolate cheesecake to celebrate Mother’s Day. I even found a simple no-bake recipe and sent it to them. (I have realised that subtlety is frequently lost on teens. I need to be direct and specific to get what I want.)

Thankfully, they sprung into action and got busy with the cheesecake.  After putting the cake together, they left it in the fridge to chill overnight, in preparation for Mother’s Day celebration.

When my teens served it after dinner the next day, my 17-year old exclaimed, “That went well!” and my 14-year-old agreed with her brother.  I added, “Wow, that looks great!” But my little 6-year-old took one look at it and said, “That didn’t turn out well.”

My 14-year-old took offense at that. “What do you mean it didn’t turn out well?”  she asked incredulously.

And the evening went downhill after that.  Tears flowed because the 14-year-old was hurt by her sister’s critical remark while the 6-year-old was upset that her sister had challenged her opinion.

Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?

Well, in my opinion, both were wrong.  

My littlest one had lacked tact in her comments and had hurt her sister.  My teen girl was too thin-skinned to take a critical remark despite getting good comments from her brother and me. 

Yet at the same time, both were right! 

My 6-year-old had probably based her impression of how the cake would look from what she had seen from the online recipe.  THAT cake had frosting and strawberries as well as chocolate drizzle on it. So comparing THAT with the decoration-free cake made by her siblings, it would be fair to say the actual cake “didn’t turn out well”.  

Similarly, my 14-year-old was right to insist the cake had turned out well because the teens had not intended to frost the cake, nor did they manage to buy strawberries to adorn the cake. They had intended to present a plain chocolate cheesecake and, as far as that went, the cake turned out really good!

What Caused This Conflict?

1) Expectations
Both my 14-year-old and 6-year-old had different expectations as illustrated above. And because of that difference, there was disagreement.

2) Focus
My 6-year-old was focused on how pretty the cake should look instead of focusing on the effort that her siblings had put in to make the cake on short notice. My 14-year-old was focused on the negative comment from her younger sister instead of the positive comments from her mother, the recipient of the cake, and her older brother. 

3) Carried Over Emotion
Prior to making the cake, my 14-year-old was, as usual, playing “mom” to her little sister, correcting the little one, telling her what to do, etc. Understandably, that did not go down well with the little one.  So she harboured some animosity towards her older sister. When presented with an opportunity to hurt with a negative comment, she grabbed it whole-heartedly.

Was she right to do so?  No. But was it understandable why she did it?  Yes.

How to Resolve This?

As with all conflict, we can always choose the punitive way or the loving way.  Of course, there is a third choice, which is to ignore it. Knowing me, I chose the loving way.  But for the sake of understanding, let us look at the impact or consequences of the other ways as well.

a) The Punitive Way
If I had chosen to reprimand the girls for their behaviour, I would have only focused on how they were wrong, that one was rude and the other was too thin-skinned. Both of them would have felt invalidated. The 6-year-old would learn it didn’t pay to be honest.  The 14-year-old would learn it was not ok to feel hurt by hurtful comments from someone whom she loves dearly.

Obviously, those were not the lessons I wanted my girls to get out of this conflict. 

Moreover, if I had opted for the punitive way, both would feel I was unfair, that I had obviously ignored the “wrong” done by the other party. That would breed their resentment towards me. Both would feel I was siding with the other party. 

2) Ignore It
If I had chosen to ignore it, I would be tacitly agreeing with what both were doing. They would both stand firm that they were right and the other party was wrong. And that would breed resentment towards the other for the perceived attack.

Furthermore, they would be upset with me for not putting the other person right. Since I did not reprimand them, they must be right, which means the other person was in the wrong. And, by their logic, if the other person were wrong, then I, as Mom, must correct that person. If I kept quiet, then I would also be in the wrong! And their resentment towards me would grow.

Obviously, breeding resentment was not one of my goals in building strong relationships within the family.

3) The Loving Way
What is the “loving” way?  To me, it is one where we help one another see others’ perspectives so they can each can agree or come to the conclusion the mistakes they have made.  

This was what I did to resolve their conflict.

I started by telling my 6-year-old that I thought the cake turned out really well because it was something her siblings had whipped up on short notice.  I agreed with her it would have looked nicer if her siblings had had time and the frosting and strawberries to decorate the cake, but because they didn’t, the cake was as great as it could have looked.  More importantly, it was the tastiest chocolate cheesecake I had ever had.  Hence, to me, the cake was a huge success.

With that, my 14-year-old was able to understand the “standard” her sister was using when she had made that hurtful comment.  It helped to somewhat soothe how she had felt.  

To help diffuse the tense situation further, I turned to my 14-year-old, looked her in the eye and told her all I wanted was a plain chocolate cheesecake and I got my wish. To me, the cake was a success because it was also extremely tasty. I added that she could choose to focus on what her little sister had said about the cake, or what her brother and I, the recipient of her gift, had felt about the cake. I acknowledged that she had felt hurt because she loved her sister dearly and the latter’s comments mattered to her.  I also added that I agreed with her that the little one could have been more tactful in her comment but seeing that she was but a 6-year-old, tact would be a difficult quality for her to possess. Hence, all of us needed to work harder to model tact for her to learn.

That helped my 14-year-old recalibrate what she could choose to hear: the praises or the criticism.  She realised her cake WAS a success (she had said so herself before her sister’s negative comment) and it did not matter what her sister had said. It also helped her realise that our every comment to one another was an opportunity to model tact and if she wanted tact from her sister, she needed to speak with tact as well.

As for the little one, she realised she was the “odd-one-out” thinking the cake was not a success.  It also helped her see she was being tactless in her comment and that she still had lots of room to learn how to be tactful. 

Doing what I did helped my girls reflect what they could each improve upon.  They did not feel “invalidated” as their “erroneous ways” were based on understandable reasons. But they knew what they could work on to become better and more loving towards each other. More importantly, they understood each other slightly better as a result of this conflict resolution.

Why Is This Important?

This is but a typical small conflict within any family.  Some may feel it’s not something worth blogging about.  But what triggered me to write about it was I realised the way we parents handle any conflict amongst our children will make a huge difference on how everyone feels about everyone.  

If we handle conflicts amongst the children in the punitive way, not only would that breed resentment in the children towards one other, it would also lead to our children resenting us, the parents, for being unfair! 

The same applies if we choose to ignore the conflicts. By not doing anything about something that we know about that is wrong, we are actually communicating something.  We are actually silently screaming to our kids, “IT’S OK! YOU ARE RIGHT! CARRY ON!” Like the punitive way, our children will resent one another and us because they don’t see us correcting the other party.

By choosing to resolve conflicts lovingly, we can help everyone see different perspectives.  We help our children develop empathy. With time and constant modeling from us, they will grow to develop the ability to see the “bigger” picture.  

And if I may add, it trains us to go beyond their conflict and allows us the breathing space decode their behaviour instead. We stop seeing our children as being naughty or rude or overly sensitive. We see them as children who have room for growth and development. We begin to accept them as children who are reacting based on their understanding and capability to control themselves. And THAT helps us regulate OUR blood pressure so we will not get triggered easily by their conflicts. That, in turn, allows us to discipline and guide our children with patience and love.

More Lessons

Was that the end of the episode?  No, not really.

My 14-year-old came to me at bedtime and had a long chat with me about how she had felt about her sister’s comment.  So I reiterated everything I had said earlier.  I also told her that we were all one another’s teachers.  

Whenever someone triggers us, there is something we need to learn from there. We can go beyond the incident and look deeper into why the other person is doing what he/she is doing. When we do that, we can grow our empathy. OR we can look deeper into ourselves and see why we react the way we do thereby growing our self-awareness.  OR we can do both and grow even faster!

In her case, the reason why she felt so hurt was because of her need to be perfect. That is why even though the majority of us had told her the cake was successful, she only heard the negative comment and took that to heart instead.  Hence for her, her lesson could be she needed to feel she was good enough. Even if there were room for improvement, she was good enough at that point in time with what she knew and what she had. The thing is this. Nobody is perfect. That is a fact. The sooner she acknowledges she is NOT perfect and can never be, the more she will be open and less offended when someone shows her where she can improve. If anything, she needs to be grateful to that person for helping her become a better person!

I am extremely grateful to have had that conversation with her because every time I “teach” that, I remind myself not to be prickly when someone criticises me. Yes, I too suffer from the syndrome of “being Ms Perfect”.  And I suspect most people suffer the same…

What about my 6-year-old? Well, I had a conversation with her the next day sharing with her how much her sister loved her and how her comment had hurt her sister. Then I asked her how would she feel if she had put in a lot of effort making something and someone just told her, “It didn’t turn out well.” She replied, “Sad.” I followed up with my favourite question, “What do you think you need to do now?”

And she went and gave her sister a hug and said, “I am sorry.” And her sister replied, “It’s ok. I love you.”

I love teaching with love. No accusations, no blaming, no tears.

Happy Parenting!!

Read more about improving relationships between siblings:

8 Ways to Help Siblings Get Along

What To Do When Kids Fight?

Know Vs KNOW

I have been having very interesting conversations with my 14-year-old recently.

Last night, she was commenting about myopia. You see, she has been saying she needs glasses for a while and recently she went to the optometrist. 

C: You know mom, I can’t imagine how people who need glasses function without glasses. My prescription is only 75 and 100 degrees. Yet I have so much difficulty seeing the bus numbers without glasses. I can’t imagine how it is like for someone who has a prescription of more than 400 degrees and does not have glasses.

Me: Well, I have a prescription of more than 400 degrees and I can’t function without my glasses. I thought you knew that. That’s why I always say I need my glasses to find my glasses. I can’t see without my glasses.

C: I knew you need glasses and without them you can’t see. But I never thought about how that felt, or how blurry things would be for you without your glasses. When the optometrist put the glasses on for me and I went out of the shop to look around, suddenly everything looked clear. And when I removed them, I realised how blur things have been. If it has been so blur for me, I can’t imagine how it is for you or anyone who has worse eyesight than me. I didn’t understand how it was like to NOT be able to see. But now, I have a better idea of how it is like for you.

With that comment of hers, a light bulb came on for me.

Lesson for Me

My dear C, you have no idea how important a lesson you have taught me, AGAIN.

How often have I known, yet NOT KNOWN, how difficult things are for my children?  

When they struggle to stay focused, I know it is because their more mature nucleus accumbens (the pleasure-seeking centre of their brain) is driving their thoughts and actions and that their pre-frontal cortex (the logical decision making centre of their brain) is not quite mature yet to hold their goal in view. 

But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to focus because I still get impatient and judgmental when they are distracted.

Likewise, when they lose their temper, I know that, for my teens, it is because of the fluctuations of hormones in their bodies making control difficult, or, for my little one, that it is because she is really tired/hungry etc.  

But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to control their temper because sometimes I still get triggered when they “lose” it.

And there are parents whose children are hyperactive, or depressed, or perfectionists, or have sensory sensitivities, or a zillion other challenges. How WELL do most parents REALLY know the struggles their children go through?

Most times, we may feel “if only the kids would try harder…”, or worse, “they are leading us by our noses, manipulating us,” etc. I know I have been guilty of that.

If we really KNOW how our children feel and how they struggle, we will not have those thoughts at all.

The truth is we don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to function “normally” unless we have the same condition as they do. That is why we tend to be more critical and impatient, less sympathetic and loving. 

Unfortunately, that does not help our children. Our lack of empathy and lacklustre support makes it even harder for them to function normally.

So while I may “know” my children are having a tough time, and that they are doing their best, I still need to do the following:

  1. remember I don’t REALLY KNOW how awful they feel or how hard they are struggling,
  2. remind myself to take my 2 deep breaths, 
  3. strike down my fear that I have lost control over them, 
  4. tap into my unconditional love for them, and
  5. support them when they falter. 

Once again, I am grateful to C for the insight she has given me. May her insight help you decode your children so you can help them overcome whatever challenges they have as well.

Happy Parenting!

Apologies Heal

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook Post on 14 Feb 2019)

So last night, my 14-yo asked me to help dry her hair as she has hurt her shoulder and can’t raise her arm to hold the hairdryer.

As I dried her hair, nostalgia hit me. When was the last time I dried and brushed her hair? I couldn’t remember.

Then as if reading my mind, C started talking.

C: Mom, it has been so long since you dried my hair. I think the last time was at Falling Water or was it at Waterford? The house w a pond in the backyard.

Me: That’d be Falling Water.

C: You used to dry my hair everyday. Then one day, I told you I didn’t want you to dry my hair anymore because it was taking away my screen time.

Me: Oh, is that right? I don’t remember. I only know I haven’t dried your hair for a very long time.

C: Yes. I think you were very hurt when I said that.

Me: Was I? I can’t remember.

C: I remember thinking about what I had said when I was in bed that night and realised it was not a nice thing to say. I felt “ouch!” But I never apologised to you. I’m sorry.

Me: it’s ok. I didn’t take it to heart.

And after that, she gave me a big hug.

Lesson for Me

We parents usually don’t remember the hurts caused by our kids. Otherwise we would have been too wounded to function. 

Maybe I was hurt at that time. But because I had buried it or chose to forget it, it didn’t bother me. 

But MAYBE I still carried the hurt unconsciously because I realised her apology had lifted me. It showed me she was aware, and it showed she cared because it had bothered her that I was hurt. And I actually felt lighter.

Maybe I WAS hurt but her apology has healed it.

And it’s obvious that careless comment she made all those years ago (8 years?) still bothered her. But because she got the opportunity to apologise, her guilt got lifted and she got healed.

So, this Valentine’s Day, I strive to think about the hurts I may have caused my loved ones, the words I had said or things I had done that I had felt would have hurt them yet had never apologised for. 

Maybe they won’t remember those trespasses of mine. But it doesn’t matter. Based on C and my interaction last night, I believe my overdue apologies will not only relieve me of my guilt, but also heal the unconscious wounds my loved ones have buried/ignored because of their love for me.

And I thank C for the precious gift of letting me see the value of apologies even if it seems like the other party doesn’t “mind”.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!! 💖💖💖

And Happy Parenting!!! 😘

It’s Not Personal

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook Post on 2 Feb 2019)

It’s personal only if we decide to make it personal.

It has been a rather crazy week this week. I had had a super full load of work to get done, plus a talk to prepare for. Unfortunately, my little 6-year-old came down with the flu on Sunday. She had been a real trooper, resting, sleeping and leaving me practically very much alone for a few days to do my work because she knew I was busy.

But by Wednesday, her love tank was empty. She wouldn’t let me go. She was only content when she was in my arms. When I attempted to reach for my phone or laptop to do some work while craddling her, she would grab hold of my wandering hand and place it firmly against her face.

And so I savoured the moments and focused my 100% attention on her until she fell in a deep sleep and I was able to snap this photo.

Soon after, she stirred and pulled my hand back to her and we stayed in that position for a few hours. 

By Friday, she was well enough to go to school. She had been looking forward to seeing her classmates and teachers and it was a happy occasion as we headed towards school.

My husband had started the “tradition” of bringing iced water for her when picking her up from school because it’s hot in the afternoons. But on Friday, I did not bring any iced water when I went to pick her up as she was still having a cough. 

When she realised there was no cold water, she stomped the whole way back. And when she reached home, she threw herself on the sofa and cried as if the world had let her down. She practically had a meltdown.

I had 3 options. 

One was to be angry and upset that she was ungrateful, that I too had walked in the hot sun to go pick her up AND bring her home. (Guess how I knew of this option?)

Two was to ignore her and leave her alone (give her a time out).

Three was to show her love and compassion.

Truth be told, I felt anger bubbling. I felt she was ungrateful. I feared she was becoming self-entitled. And boy was I tempted to leave her and go get a glass of cold water for myself! 

But in the end, I took my 2 deep breaths and I chose love and compassion.

I bent over her and asked if she wanted me to cuddle her. She put her arms around my neck, all the while still crying. I took that as a “yes” and I craddled her. 

After a while, she started kicking and writhing in frustration. So I asked if she would like me to put her down. She hugged me tighter and I took that as a “no”. So I just held her while she kicked and writhed and cried. After 25 minutes, she finally calmed down. I told her a joke, she laughed and that was the end of it. 

She had let all her “angries” and stress out. I didn’t take any of it personally. We both emerged fr the “ordeal” happy and deeply connected.

After we had lunch, I explained why I couldn’t give her cold water and I got a hug in return. I asked her if she knew why I didn’t bring iced water when I went to pick her up and she said she knew.

You see, I knew she had understood. But I also knew she did not have the ability or muscle to not feel or act disappointed. Plus she had just recovered from flu and must have been exhausted being in school after a long MC. She had no reserves left for any self-control. Had I chosen to get angry at her, it would have been akin to getting angry at an 8-month-old baby for not walking.

She throwing a tantrum was not an attack on me. She just couldn’t control her emotions. I do not need to take it personally, and I’m glad I stopped myself, re-wired my brain and refused to go any further down the rabbit hole of anger.

I’m not a saint who doesn’t get angry. I’m just a regular human with normal instinctive emotions. I get angry a whole lot bcos of my imprint as a child that scoring 97 or 99 out of 100 is a punishable offence. I have tremendous fear of being not-good-enough. I fear being a lousy parent. And so, yes, I correspondingly have a lot of anger.

I mean, if I were a good parent, my kids should all be behaving well, doing well, listening well, controlling themselves well. So if they act out, it must mean I have failed. My first instinct is, “oh dear, I have failed. How can I help other parents if my children are still giving me problems?” 

And if you have read Part 2 of my Dealing with Anger series, you know that it will very quickly be translated by the mind into, “How dare you not do what I have taught you so many times?” which if left alone will become an explosion of anger.

But as mentioned in Part 3, I have learned to take my precious 2 breaths. And those 2 breaths have on many, many occasions given me space and time to re-wire my brain to move away from anger, face my fear and tell it to go away because I AM AN AWESOME PARENT. It’s a conscious decision every day, to re-wire my brain. Sometimes I fail, but over the years, I have had more successes than failures. My brain synapse to anger is weakening.

May you also find courage to face your tiger, face your fear and tell it to go home.

Happy Parenting!

PS: If you have missed the Dealing with Anger series earlier, you can read it here:
Part 1: What is Anger
Part 2: Why We Choose Anger
Part 3: How to Overcome Anger