Lessons From Missing An Exam

So…. my 15-year-old son forgot he had a mid-term exam at the university this morning. Yep. FORGOT he had an EXAM to sit for.

I only realised it 30 minutes after the exam had started. Thankfully, I was aware that freaking out would serve no purpose. Instead, we hustled to the car and I drove him to the exam hall.

Before you think I am condoning his mistake, or that my rushing to his “rescue” will do him more harm than good, please hear me out. What has been done cannot be undone. Getting mad would do no good. Instead, I see it as an excellent opportunity to help him learn important lessons from missing the exam.

What could the lessons be?  How would he learn them?  Instead of lecturing him, I chose to ask him questions to help him reflect and derive the lessons himself.  So what did he learn?

1) Apologies Are Important
Before we got into the car, I had warned him that heading to the exam hall now did not mean he would get to sit for the exam. In fact, it would not be reasonable to expect his lecturer to stay on for him. So R was prepared that he would score a big fat ZERO for the paper because he had missed it.

Why then did we rush down?  Through Q&A and some guidance, R learned that we made the effort of going to the university so he could apologise to his lecturer in person. His lecturer had been very kind to accept him as a student. But he had stood his lecturer up by forgetting to go for the exam. He had made a mistake and therefore, he needed to sincerely apologise for it.  And he could not be more sincere than giving the apology in person as soon as possible.

2) Reflection On What Went Wrong Is Important
More importantly, he learned that he needed to know how this mistake happened. Yes, he made a big mistake. However, it would be a bigger mistake if he did not learn what went wrong and ended up making the same mistake again. Again through Q&A, he reflected on where the failure occurred and what his hidden assumptions were (e.g.: mom will remind him or he will somehow just remember).

3) Making Corrective Actions Is CRITICAL
But learning what went wrong without taking corrective actions to prevent the same mistake from occurring is pointless.  Hence, he needed to identify what systems and checks he needed to have so he will always be able to remember his appointments, especially those that are not in his regular routine.

4) Mistakes Are Learning Opportunities
Another important lesson he learned is every failure and mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow. The failures and mistakes do not define him. They are stepping stones to helping him discover his blind spots and areas of weakness so he can become better. It is important he does not beat himself up but recognise he has work to do to improve. He learned he could transmute failure into success as long as he learned from them.

5) We Are There To Support His Learning
I guess the most important lesson he learned was that his dad and I will always be there to support his learning. We will not throw stones at him when he falters. Neither will we solve his problems for him. Instead, we will always be there to help him stand up, learn and become better so he can fight his own battles.

I am very disappointed he had missed his exam.  However, I am very heartened and grateful that his lecturer has allowed him to work on the exam paper. Not only that, Prof had agreed to mark his paper. Regardless of whether the grades will be recognised, I am thankful R will have the chance to see how much he has learned or identify the gaps that he still has in the course. Whatever the outcome of this course is, this incident has not been in vain. R has learned some precious lessons, and for that, I am extremely grateful.

Happy parenting!

~ Vivian Kwek ~

Undoing the Work of a “Teacher”

I spent some time reconnecting with my little preschooler who hasn’t seen me last 4 days because of my intense training program. What she said broke my heart.

A said, “Teacher Vanee has left. She went to another school. K1 (Kindergarten 1st year) is too boring, and the naughty boy doesn’t listen.”

I was taken aback by her comment so I asked her what made her think that’s why the teacher had left.

“That’s what Teacher Vanee said to us. She said she is leaving because K1 is too boring and the naughty boy doesn’t listen,” she explained.

So many alarms screamed at me that, for a moment, I didn’t know how to react. After a deep breath and a pause, I decided to begin with the “naughty” boy.   I know exactly which boy A is referring to because she has spoken of him often. The boy who can’t sit still. The boy who is rough. The boy who hits. The boy who shouts at his classmates. Basically, the boy whom the teacher calls “naughty boy”.

The “Naughty” Boy
This little boy, Z, is brought to and from school every morning by his grandmother. It is obvious his grandmother loves him because I have seen her hug him occasionally when he cries while waiting in line for the classroom door to open. But more often, I hear her abusing him verbally, calling him names. I have seen her lift her hand to him and he flinched (a sign he has been frequently hit). I have even seen, from a distance, her hitting him. The one time I intervened was when we were walking to school and they were right in front of us. She had scolded him, “You are so naughty. Nobody likes you. Even your teacher doesn’t like you.” When the boy attempted to hug her, she shoved him away. “I also don’t like you,” she responded in disgust.

Here was a small little 5-year-old being verbally hurt by his caregiver, someone whom he loves. And when he sought some comfort from her, she had shoved him off with a hurtful comment laced with repulsion. That tore my heart and I asked her why she spoke to him that way. We had a little conversation and she justified her own behaviour.

It’s hard to teach someone who doesn’t want to learn. So I ended with “He is just a kid and he needs love.” Ever since, that grandmother has made sure she keeps a distance from me when sending her grandson to school.

I have, on many occasions, asked A to stop calling or referring to Z as “naughty boy”. But I understand it’s hard for her do so because that’s what she hears everyday in school. So after A’s comment about why her teacher was leaving, I asked A to stop calling Z “naughty”. I explained that he behaved the way he did because he had not been taught correctly how to behave. He may have been taught how to behave, but because he is not taught properly, he still hasn’t learned.

His Mistake Was Mirroring
I explained to A that the reason she doesn’t shout at or hit her friends at school is because she is taught that yelling and hitting other people is wrong. Not only is she taught that those behaviour is not acceptable, she also doesn’t see anyone at home yelling or hitting. What she experiences at home is the same as what she is taught. So she learns.

But for Z, it is different. Yes, he is definitely taught not to shout at or hit his friends. Umpteen times.  But he is being shouted at and hit, not only at home, but in public as well. So he is confused. He doesn’t understand why he can’t do what his grandmother (and perhaps other members in the household) does. And when he is confused, he just mirrors the behaviour he always sees, which is shouting at and hitting people.

The Boy Needs Love
I also told A that Z needs a lot of love. I told her if Z is nasty to her, she can protect herself by walking away and telling the teacher. But before she does that, she needs to tell Z, “My mom says you need love and I need to be kind to you. But it doesn’t mean you can shout at/hit me.” A nodded her head and she repeated the sentence several times. With each repetition, her eyes teared more.

I asked her if she felt sad for Z and she said yes. She also said Z was sad that Teacher Vanee was leaving.

I explained that he is sad because he loves Teacher Vanee. And he is sad because he believes it is he who drove Teacher Vanee away. I told A that my heart breaks for Z.

Why The Teacher Left
Next I told A that Teacher Vanee did not leave because school was boring or that Z was naughty. Teacher Vanee could have left because she found a school that gives her more money, or she found a school which is more enjoyable for her, or she found a school closer to her home.

“No GOOD teacher would leave simply because one child does not listen. A GOOD teacher will do everything in her power to help the child, to teach the child. And no GOOD teacher will leave because school is boring. A GOOD teacher will MAKE her class and lessons fun.” In fact, I told her I am glad Teacher Vanee has left because I have long felt she is not a suitable teacher for preschoolers. I am glad she found another job which suits her better and I hope she is not teaching preschoolers.

Impact on the Children
My heart remained heavy for the day. I feel sorry that Z will live under the guilt of chasing his teacher away. I feel sorry for her students who now will see their K1 life as boring (because their teacher had said so).

I am glad Teacher Vanee has left my daughter’s school, but I dread the impact she would have on her new students.

– Vivian Kwek –



What Punishment Does

(from 1 Minute Parenting Insights published on Decoding Your Child Facebook Page on 15 Sep 2016)

The whole idea of punishment is to stop a particular misbehaviour.

Punishment is a quick fix method to address a symptom, much like popping a painkiller to stop a headache instead of figuring out what is causing the headache (dehydration, fatigue, excessive noise, etc) in the first place.

Sure, a painkiller can stop the headache. But if the underlying cause is not addressed, the headache could come back once the analgesic wears off. It might even come back with a vengeance and bring with it a whole host of other problems simply because the dehydration or fatigue or whatever it is causing the headache has triggered a stronger response from the body.

However, if we take the time to find out why there is a headache and address the underlying cause, we would solve the problem at its roots and the headache will disappear for good.

Likewise, misbehaviour is a symptom. A child may act out because she is hungry, tired or over-stimulated. A child can get into a fight because he is bullied, provoked into it, or frustrated because of something else. While fighting should not be encouraged, punishing the child without understanding why he misbehaved breeds resentment and detachment.

Punishment will in no way foster cooperation from the child. Neither will it elicit a willingness on the part of the child to behave. Instead, it teaches the child to weigh the punishment against the misbehavior. He may end up choosing to misbehave either because the punisher is not around, or because he no longer fears the punishment.

All it teaches him is that should he want to misbehave, he should do it where or when he won’t get punished.

So instead of punishing our children, it will be more productive to find out what caused them to act out and address the root cause.

Be quick to understand, slow to punish.

Happy Parenting!!

When Children Show Signs of Depression


Has your child become more withdrawn or turned more aggressive and violent? Has he become increasingly whiny, clingy or dependent? Has he, on a regular basis, resisted going to school? Does he constantly complain of headaches or stomachaches?

If your answer to any of the above questions is “yes”, chances are your child COULD BE going through a depressive episode. Statistics show that about 1 in 5 children go through a depressive episode while growing up. Teens, unfortunately, suffer higher rates of depression compared to younger children.

Before we go any further, let us first understand what depression is and what this post aims to achieve.

What Is Depression?

Clinically, depression is a sustained depressed mood. It is not an occasional sadness or depressed mood that most of us feel from time to time. Most depression lasts between 7-9 months, though in some cases, it could last for years.

Depression is typically accompanied not only by a feeling of sadness, but also a loss of interest in most activities or a sense of unworthiness and/or guilt. In more severe cases, frequent thoughts of deaths/suicides occur.

The psychological state of depression is typically manifested physically as constant fatigue or physical aches, sudden changes in sleep patterns as well as sudden weight loss/gain. In severe cases, attempts at suicide are also committed.

This Post Does Not Offer Medical Advice

This post is NOT intended to offer medical advice on depression as I have neither the medical knowledge nor expertise to do that. Should your child suffer from prolong or severe depression, my advice would be for you to seek medical intervention for your child immediately.

If you aren’t sure if your child is suffering from depression but you feel that something is amiss, I’d strongly encourage you to seek medical advice nonetheless. It might well be the case that your child needs medical intervention and/or counseling. When it comes to the well-being of our children, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

So if I am not dealing with the medical intervention of depression, what then is this post about?

What We Can Do To Help Our Children

My aim is to share with adults (parents and teachers) strategies we can use when our children exhibit depressive symptoms, with the assumption that medical advice has been sought.  As the adults who have the most interaction with our children, both parents and teachers play significant roles in making or breaking our children.

Regardless of whether our children are going through a depressive phase or suffering from an actual full blown case of depression, there are many things we can do to support them. I believe that given the right support, our children can get out of that state more easily. So what can we do to elevate their feelings?

1) Show Them Love and Support

The first thing we can do is to show our children love and support.

Talk to them and let them know without a doubt that they are NOT alone. Many times, children feel depressed when they think they are alone in dealing with their problems, when they think no one cares, or when they feel unsupported. Letting our children know we are with them always, especially through bad times, is a significant boost to their morale and confidence.

Be available to listen to them and resist giving them advice. Let them work out their emotions and feelings, allow them to get things off their chests.

Just by being there for them, showing them we love them and that we will always support them will help them climb out of the darkness more quickly and easily.

2) Accept Our Children For Who They Are

Acceptance is key to letting our children feel they are worthy. They do not feel the need to be someone else. They do not feel they have to be perfect.

Accepting our children for who they are does not mean we just let them be and allow them to run wild without guidance. That would be irresponsible of us.

Instead, accepting our children means we love them with their strengths AND we love them with their limitations. It means loving them with their flaws and all.

As responsible parents and teachers, we can and should help our children gradually strengthen themselves and overcome limitations. But our children should at no time feel unworthy because they are imperfect.

Our love is not conditional upon them overcoming their limitations.

3) Reduce Stressors In Our Children’s Lives

Many times, especially when our children become teens, they encounter so much stress it becomes unbearable. It can be made worse if parents and teachers pile on so much expectations on them that the latter can hardly breathe.

When our children struggle to perform under stress and find themselves failing or not doing as well as expected, feelings of self doubt or unworthiness could creep up. Left to fester, it could lead to severe depression.

When we sense that our children are under too much pressure and they begin to show signs of depression, one of the best things we can do is to remove as many stressors as possible. That could mean reducing the number of enrichment programs or assignments. It could also mean laying off well-intentioned “scoldings”. It could also mean giving more free time for our children to relax and regroup.

As the Chinese saying goes, “Rest is necessary for a long journey.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with rest. It is ok to have free time throughout the day to idle and recuperate. We do not have to pack every single moment of our children with enrichment, practice or homework.

When we allow our children downtime daily, yes DAILY, they will be able to unwind and de-stress themselves. That way, any stress our children feel have a chance to dissipate and they won’t feel bogged down emotionally and psychologically. That will result in them have a better mental health and not be susceptible to depression.


Depression is on the rise amongst children, and more notably, in teens. As parents and teachers, we can do our part to alleviate the problem by showing unconditional love for, unwavering support to and total acceptance of our children.

When we are sensitive to our children, we will be mindful not to load them with excessive stress and we will be gentler in our interactions with them. When our children feel love, supported and accepted, they will thrive. And given enough breathing room, they will blossom.

Are you willing to give your children room to grow and bloom?

– Vivian –

Could My Teen Be Suicidal?

It started as a normal one-to-one pillow talk with my 14-year-old son last night.

I have always been honest and vulnerable with my children, telling them about my feelings and thoughts about parenting, about our relationship, about why I make the choices I do about discipline, homeschooling and so on. And last night was no different. I was sharing with my son about teen angst and the tight rope we parents balance on when dealing with our teens. On the one hand, we want to give our teens freedom. On the other hand, our teens need guidance. It’s really a hard balance to strike.

My main purpose last night was to re-connect with my son, having given him a serious and extended lecture the night before. He had been so upset after the lecture that he locked himself in the bathroom journaling his feelings for a long while. He emerged way after I had fallen asleep.

Then yesterday, he had spent the whole day out.  He basically went out right after breakfast.  I only saw him at dinner time.  Throughout the day, I had been anxious to understand the frustrations he had been feeling as well as his struggle to focus on school work. I also wanted to soothe the hurt I knew he must have felt from the lecture.

And so I initiated a pillow talk last night, and I was grateful he was open to talking to me in the dark. He had rested his head on my left arm and taken my right arm to wrap around his chest. My 14-year-old wanted a cuddle. My heart melted. I could feel he needed me, desperately.

And so we talked. Or rather, I started talking.

I talked about the angst that teens go through, about why teens have difficulty focusing on school work, about the stress teens face. I also talked about the reason I wanted to conduct the teens workshop that I will be running in Jun, that I felt it was important for teens to understand what they are going through and why they are going through the tough patches.

I confessed that sometimes I might think I was right, but actually I could be wrong because I was only seeing things from my perspective. “That’s why it is important for you to tell me what you are thinking about and what you are feeling so I can have a better picture and navigate from there. Otherwise I’ll always be navigating from my perspective and you may think I don’t understand you at all. You need to help me understand you because I can’t read your mind,” I implored.

“Like the blind men and the elephant,” he offered.

“Yes!” I agreed. He couldn’t have found a better analogy. If we don’t communicate our perspectives, we will always see a different part of the elephant. He could think the elephant is long and soft like a swim noddle, while I insist the elephant is wide and rough like a tree trunk. The more I insist upon my views, the more he thinks I don’t know what I am talking about. That is why I take great pains to describe my elephant to my children, hoping they can see my perspective. But if my children, especially my son, don’t tell me what they see, I can never get a full picture of how the elephant looks like.

“There is nothing you can tell me that will stop me from loving you. And there is nothing you can tell me that will make me go ballistic. No matter what it is, you are still my child and I will love you forever,” I assured him.

He kept quiet for a long while.  I could sense he was on the verge of saying something.

“So is there something you’d like to tell me?” I asked.

“I can’t say it,” he replied after a long silence.

“It’s ok. There’s nothing you can say that will make me upset with you,” I repeated.

“I’m not worried that you will be upset with me. I’m concerned you will beat yourself up if I tell you,” he answered cautiously.

Now if there’s a better way of keeping me in suspense, I don’t know what it is. He has definitely piqued my interest. What could he want to say that could make me want to beat myself up?

After beating about the bush for a while and receiving numerous reassurances from me that I will not be upset with him or myself, he finally revealed his “secret”.

“You know, last night, I was worried about my mental health,” he started hesitantly. “I was thinking my life expectancy will be cut short.”

Internally, I gasped.

“What do you mean? You contemplated suicide?” I asked quietly.

“Well, last night after your lecture, I was really depressed. I was already feeling depressed before your lecture and your lecture only made me feel worse. And dad was also quite harsh with me. So I really felt I didn’t want to continue on.”

“So what did you do?” I nudged, quietly alarmed the thought of suicide crossed his mind.

“I knew it was not normal. But I just couldn’t talk about it. So I journaled. Once I could get my emotions out, I felt better. I also thought about how my friends from scouts and co op would feel, about how you and dad would feel if I really did what I was thinking about,” he confessed.

“Thank goodness for your friends then. And thank goodness you cared enough for us and your friends to stick around,” I said half jokingly. I hoped some humour would ease the lump I felt in my throat and my heart.

I thanked him for telling me how he felt. Luckily, I have learned enough about teens to talk to him about this dangerous thought he had. I am thankful he had the presence of mind to see it was not a normal feeling. I am even more grateful he has the love of his friends and his family to keep him going.

I explained to him about how his emotions are amplified during the teen years and how his problems would seem insurmountable especially when he feels estranged from me and his dad. More importantly, I apologized for making him feel worse than he already did.

Was I alarmed he contemplated ending his life? To be honest, yes. Though I told him I was not surprised, knowing what I do about teens’ brains and hormones. But yes, I was alarmed that I could have lost my son. I, a mom who prides herself on understanding teens, who thinks she has appropriately addressed her son on all occasions and has a strong connection with her son, was, at a moment in time, close to losing her son. That was a huge scare for me.

This incident has made me more determined to help more teens and parents. If my son, my boy whom I have treaded so carefully with, whom I have taken great pains and efforts to stay connected with, could contemplate suicide, even for a split second, what more of teens, or children, whose parents are not as cognizant of such issues and emotions?  If I had not been sensitive enough to initiate a pillow talk to stay connected with him, but had continued with my lecture the next few days, or worse, next few weeks, where would that lead my son to?

It only takes a split second of decision to jump out a window. Any regret on the way down will be too late.  I shudder at that thought.

My mission has become more urgent. I need to help all parents understand their children and be connected with their children. I need to help parents retain the link which will cause their children to stop and consider, “I’d better not do that because mom and dad will be devastated. I love them too much to do that to them.”

Understanding what my son is going through has definitely helped me in my subsequent communications with him. Having him understand that I am on his side, that I am willing to see his perspective will also help him to hang on.

Now, I want to help other parents and children achieve that.

Do you think thoughts of suicide could have crossed your child’s mind? What would you do differently if you think it did?

– Vivian –

PS: In case you are wondering, I do have my son’s permission to write about this because he knows how important this is for all parents and teens. He read this before I published it on the blog. He wants it to be known, however, that he is NOT suicidal. It’s just the thought flashed across his mind and it scared him enough to journal about it. And he is relieved he got to talk honestly and calmly about it with me and understood my support and love for him. At the end of the day, that’s all our children want from us: our understanding, support and unconditional love for them.  Once they know they have that, they can surmount all difficulties.