Happy June Holidays!

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook post on 12 June 2019)

The June holidays are here and I keep seeing advertisements and flyers about holiday “camps” to brush up on subjects. Truth be told, I have been extremely tempted. I have even put in a request for a 3-day Chinese show-and-tell enrichment class at my 6-year-old’s Chinese school. Thankfully, they did not have enough kids to start the class. But it made me take a step back to analyse my own behaviour.

As parents, we are all concerned about getting the best education for our children. Most of us trust our children to the school system and “enhance” their education with private tuition, holiday camps etc. Many of our children, like my youngest, are in state-run schools while some children are in private institutions. Few are homeschooled. When our children are in the system, regardless of whether it is public or private, they end up running the hamster wheel to follow the system and “game” it so they can excel in it. My girl is rather weak in Chinese, so naturally, I look for enrichment in Chinese for her during the school hols. Many parents do the same and who can blame them?

But let us take a moment to pause and reflect. What does education mean? What qualities does an educated person have? Is it someone with straight As, a degree, a diploma? Or is it someone with a high paying job? What does “being educated” really mean?

Being a Singaporean myself, getting an education was synonymous with going to school (or so I thought). So 12 years ago, when my then 5-year-old son begged me to keep him at home so he could learn, I had no clue what to do and had no choice but to research into homeschooling. It took more than a year of research before I dared embark on the journey. The responsibility of a homeschooling parent is extremely heavy. Our children’s future depends on how we educate them. So I had to think long and hard about what education meant and what the “end product” of education would look like. I believe if my son had not pushed me into homeschooling him, I would still be blissfully ignorant about what education means to me and just let the schools do what they were designed to do.

So 12 years ago, I went to read up the history of education. (Here is a summary similar to what I had learned: https://www.psychologytoday.com/…/2…/brief-history-education). It reshaped the way I looked at education and made me think about what a truly educated person would be like. Here is an article that has a list what makes one “educated” (https://daringtolivefully.com/educated-person). It is not a prescriptive list, but a good one to get us thinking about the qualities of an educated person. 

Would I consider myself educated? Not totally, but somewhat. What about my teens who have been homeschooled? Not there yet too. I realised through my research that education is a lifelong process. There is no end-point. The main thing as a home educator, I concluded, was to ensure my children would continue loving and pursuing knowledge, that to them, learning doesn’t stop after a diploma, degree, or a certain age. 

Amongst the many qualities of an educated child, the one quality that is particularly important to me is that of having a critical mind. To me, an educated person is one who has discernment. I feel that having the ability to ask, “why?’ or “why not?” as well as the ability to come up with a good response to those questions is important so we do not end up doing things blindly.

So some questions worth asking are: Why do schools do what they do now? Why must the children learn about magnets or the life cycle of a frog or chicken? Why do they need to know differentiation or integration? Why must they memorise the dates of the wars and who fought whom where? Not only that, why do they have to learn those stuff at the particular age they are taught? And why can’t our children be exposed to science concepts earlier? 

What I observe now is the force feeding of information to our children. It’s a “you-need-to-know-this-NOW-to-score-well-so-memorise-it” methodology. It’s a “this-is-the-answer-key” or “use-these-key-words-to-score” type of “education”. Worst of all, children are being taught to use different answers in different settings: one that the schools accept, and another that PSLE accepts (it seems some schools do not accept what PSLE markers accept. Go figure…)

Is this what education is supposed to look like? Is an educated person one who can memorise answer keys and score the highest points? Is it the schools’ fault? Or society’s?

What if we re-look education? 

What if we help our children UNDERSTAND why what they are learning is RELEVANT? Telling a P1 or P6 student their PSLE score will affect their future is TOOOOO far into the future for them to grasp. Why is learning about the life-cycle of a frog important? Why is Math important? Is it really the formulae we memorise that matters? Who uses differentiation or integration after graduation anyway? 

Would it make a difference to our children if we explain what matters is the thought processes we train our minds to have when we need to understand the content? I love what is written in the curricula that MOE has made available for public. The reasons for why the children are learning such and such are fabulous, but how much of the “why” has been transmitted to the children, or to parents so we know how to support our children’s learning without being “kiasu” (afraid to lose)?

Maybe with a bit of nudging in the right direction, we, parents, may start thinking about what other things would make our children more “educated”. 

Would learning about human psychology even from P1 or K1 help them relate to others better and build better friendships? Would learning about collaboration be more effective than competition? Would allowing the making of mistakes so our children understand that is part and parcel of learning be more “educational” than instilling the fear of making mistakes? If so, how do we incorporate that into their education without overloading their ever-ballooning curricula?

For me, I know the pitfalls of school-going kids. Many will start dreading school and learning. Most will dread making mistakes, or worse, failing. Hence, I will strive to ensure my little A, who is currently in the public school system, to not become that. I’ll continue holding the end in mind: what it means to be an educated person, and help shape the way she sees education and her experience while getting an education in school.

Education…. What does it really mean to you? How do you want your children to feel while being educated? How would you like your children be after they get their diploma, degrees etc? Are those paper qualifications necessary to prove they are educated?

I am sorry I do not have any “model” answers. But I hope those questions will help trigger some thoughts to augment your view of what education means and how you can help with the education of your child(ren).

As always, Happy Parenting!!

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!!

Bringing Motivation Back To Our Children

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook post on 31 May 2019)

If there’s something I hear most from parents, it is their frustration at their unmotivated teens, esp their boys. 

It is very interesting to note that motivation is not something we inculcate in our children. Like creativity, motivation is actually something we and our children are born with! (Just watch how fast a baby crawls towards his favourite toy!)

Unfortunately, along the way as our children grow up, we parents start to put up a lot of boundaries. We start dictating what they need to do. We start telling them a lot “no”s. And research shows that boys tend to get more “no”s than their female counterparts. 

The more persistent the child, the more vehement our “NO!” gets and the more demoralised the child becomes. For every “no” a child receives, a part of him is stifled. Of course I’m not saying we cannot say no to our children. But if our kids receive mostly “no”s for every request they make, they start to realise they have no say in their lives and they STOP to think about things they want to do or brew up interesting ideas they have or activities they want to pursue. THAT is how we kill BOTH their creativity and their motivation. Why motivation? Because they are no longer doing things they enjoy or want to. Because they are doing things that we tell them to do ALL THE TIME. And we know how extremely difficult it is to stay motivated doing something that someone else tells us to do. 

Hence if we want our children, esp our boys, to be motivated, give them room to pursue their interest. Give them back control over their lives. The more control they have over their lives, the more motivated they would become. 

Slowly but surely, we will see the spark of motivation and creativity rekindled in their eyes.

The school holidays are upon us. Do give as much time as possible for your children to chill, play and do what they like. It’s a time for them to recharge so they can fill THEIR cups and have room to find motivation within themselves.

Happy Vacation and Happy Parenting!!

From Being Depressed To Being Inspired

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook post on 9 March 2019.)

Many years ago, after a few years of being a stay-at-mom, I had felt my self-worth diminish. 

There I was a university graduate w a good Honours degree, previously doing an amazing job, discussing about high level intellectual stuff, but now reduced to being a cow constantly nursing a baby, constantly dealing with toddler tantrums and constantly changing diapers and cleaning up my 2 little ones. 

And having a husband who is a man of few words meant I ended up having conversations with MYSELF. Sadly, my most “intellectual” conversation with myself on a daily basis was to debate the healthiest meal I could make in the shortest possible time given what I had in the fridge and pantry.

I was, to be honest, feeling rather sorry for myself. But I had put on a brave front for my family, for my kids. For several years, I felt unaccomplished as I watched my peers rise up the organisational hierarchy and my sister’s business grow from strength to strength. No, I wasn’t jealous, but I had felt a little defeated. I had felt I wasn’t maximising my potential. 

Yet I wouldn’t change what I chose to do (be a stay-at-home mom) for anything because I really wanted to be the one who raise my own kids.

I shared that with my sister one day when we met and she had told me that what I was doing was extremely important. That I shouldn’t measure my success with that of others’. She had told me, “Perhaps the greatest work you do is in the adults you raise in your family.”

That was a HUGE inspiration to me. While I had always wanted to be a good parent, I was now fired up to be the best parent and bring up my children who will make a positive impact on earth and who would help many people. 

So to all you stay-at-home parents, be heartened that the work you do is extremely important. You literally leave a legacy with the work you do in parenting. 

And to working parents, my absolute salute to your dedication to not take the easy way out. The fact you are following and reading Decoding Your Child shows you are working on parenting your children positively. And trust me, it’s harder to parent positively than to parent using fear and pain. You having to balance that with the stress you feel working is no mean feat. So should you stumble, it’s ok! Just pick yourself up, and try again, and again, and again.

Sure, some days are extremely hard, and they never seem to end, but they will. All the investment of time, energy and emotion to parent your child(ren) lovingly WILL YIELD adults who are kind, loving, empathetic, and most importantly, resilient. They will have higher self esteem and will persevere through difficulties as you have. THEY will become the adults who will thrive and who will have the heart to help others.

I don’t really know what kind of impact my children will have in the future, but I am really happy with the way they have turned out thus far. I am comforted that my years of effort have been yielding sweet fruits for me and my family all these years.

When the going gets tough, just remember that muscles grow when they are stretched. So we are ALL growing. Yes, I am constantly being stretched too!!

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