Tending Our Gardens

It is really not easy being parents. Many of us struggle daily with parenting, with the various challenges we face with our children, more so if our children have special needs.

Many times we feel we have failed as parents because our children are “too sensitive”, “too insensitive”, “too active”, “too inactive”, “too loud”, “too quiet”, and “too clingy”, “too independent”, and the list goes on. We feel others judging us for the behaviour of our children. We feel (dare I say it?) embarrassed by what our children do or how they behave.

Such feelings are normal. Having such emotions do not make us less worthy parents. We do not need to feel ashamed of feeling embarrassed. What we need to do, however, is to recognise the emotion and remind ourselves we are doing our best. And, more importantly, remind ourselves that our children are doing their best. They are who they are. We cannot change that. What we can do is to change the level of our acceptance to their quirkiness, their uniqueness. At the same time, we can gently guide them, with the patience to know it may take hundreds, if not thousands of repetitions before our guidance sink in. 

Many parents lose faith and patience because they do not see results. Unfortunately, that negatively affects the children who may end up feeling unloved and unaccepted. That then causes them to act up even more, not because they want to, but because unmet needs trigger tantrums, outbursts and all sorts of behavioral challenges. 

As difficult as the journey may be, one thing I have realised in my own parenting journey is that challenges yield growth. The more challenges I face with my children, the more I grow as a person. I become more loving, more patient, more accepting, more creative. They are NOT a problem I need to fix. They are helping me identify MY gaps so I can grow, so I can guide them without spirally negatively downward in anger and frustration.

A few days ago, I was commenting to my teens that I feel so blessed they are so easy-going, accommodating and pleasant to be around. They did not become rebellious, argumentative, rude or dismissive towards me or their dad. I’m grateful they are able to respectfully discuss the differences in their desires from what we, the parents, have in mind for them. 

My teens concurred. Indeed they rarely, if ever, felt the need to rebel or fight us. “You are really blessed,” they agreed wholeheartedly, pleased with themselves.

But I said to them, “Maybe the way you were parented had something to do with it. If your dad or I had constantly forced you to do what we want you to do, you would probably rebel and fight us at every point. If we had shouted at you or hit you to get you in line instead of explaining and getting buy-in from you, you wouldn’t be so respectful towards us. So while we are blessed to have teens like you, you two are blessed to have parents like us.”

The teens thought for a moment and nodded. “Yes, mom. You are right.”

Parenting is about building relationships. What we put into the relationship is what we will reap from it. Sow respect and we will gain respect. Sow love and we will gain love. Our garden is dependent on the seeds we sow. The earlier we plant the seeds, the sooner we see the harvest.

What kind of “harvest” would you like to have? 

Happy Parenting!

Mastermind for Teens

(As shared on Decoding Your Child Facebook post on 4 September 2019)

My sharing of our weekly mastermind sessions with our teens yesterday has generated some queries from parents on what mastermind sessions are and what they encompass. I would like to thank those parents for PM’ing me to ask. For the benefit of those who may have been too shy to ask, let me share a little more about our “Masterminds”.

Mastermind sessions are essentially mentoring sessions. 

Part 1: Review

In terms of the structure of our Masterminds (and different groups can have different structures), we always begin with a REVIEW of the previous week.

Some typical questions we would ask are

1) What went well?
2) What could be done better?
3) What goals have been achieved?
4) What goals have not been achieved and why not? 
5) What kind of support would have been helpful? 
6) What lessons have been learnt? 

We would celebrate successes mentioned in 1).

If there is guidance/teaching to be done based on the review, my husband or I would do a short teaching session. These usually pertain to mindsets, values, habits, systems, etc. For example highlighting the growth mindset my daughter had when she decided to enter into a race where her competitors were stronger than she was, or the willingness to learn exhibited by my son when his internship required him to learn new programming languages, or the strategies to combat procrastination, or the importance of being on time, etc.

Part 2: Looking Ahead

After our review, we’d plan for the upcoming week. Typical questions would include

A) What SMART goals to set? (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time Bound). Usu 3-4 goals per week.
B) How to achieve them?
C) Any extra support needed?
D) What activities/events are coming up? 

As to what kind of goals the children should set depends on the children themselves. One of mine wants to be more physically fit, so the goals are more fitness oriented. Another loves the arts and sets goals to complete more work in those areas. Sometimes, they have projects to complete and would set goals that will push them towards the completion of those projects. Sometimes, I may find a child lacking in an area and urge that child to think about a goal that will help him/her grow in that area. Most times, my main role when it comes to their goal-setting is to ask them how they plan to achieve it and whether they need any extra support to complete it.

After goal setting, we would synchronise our calendars and lock down slots throughout the week to do family activities together. If the kids have specific requests on activities they would like to do together or foods they would like to eat, we would pen those down in our calendars. If they have a upcoming performance, we will be reminded to attend. That way, our family time is always pre-fixed. 

After going through the calendar and factoring in all their activities, I’d disburse their allowance for the week. If they have excess savings from previous week(s), they’d pass to me to put in their banks. Usually, that’d be the time we talk a little about financial prudence and financial planning.

By the time our mastermind session is over, we would have learned what our children have done the previous week and what they have learned (if any ;p). If any corrective measure needs to be taken to prevent similar mistakes from happening, we would be able to identify them and make the necessary corrections. In addition, everyone is up to speed on the plans everyone has for the coming week. And we all begin the week with great clarity and purpose.

I hope this sharing on our Mastermind sessions is helpful to you. While I had thought Masterminds were more suitable for pre-teens and teens, my little 6-year-old has shown great interest in it. She wants to set goals and has been reviewing her goals throughout the week to ensure she meets all of them. She also wants to share her successes and the challenges she faced. And she most definitely wants to participate in the collection of allowance and counting of savings. So I guess as long as the child is keen, even a Primary 1 (First Grade) child can participate in a mastermind.

Do let me know if this is a process that will be helpful for you. Or if you have a different process, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Parenting!

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!!