What To Do When Your Child Complains

(from 1 Minute Parenting Insights published on Decoding Your Child Facebook Page on 21 Sep 2016)

Think back of a time your child complained to you about his day, or friends, or teachers. What did you do after you heard his complaint?

Did you tell him he was over-reacting? Or tell him to suck it up? Did you cast doubt on his interpretation of the incident? Or did you offer a solution or strategy on how to solve the problem or prevent the problem from occurring again?

Now think back of a time YOU complained about something or someone. How did you feel when someone told you you were over-reacting? What if they had told you to suck it up. Or if they doubted your interpretation of the incident? Or if they offered you a solution or strategy?

Did you feel good? Did you feel heard? Did you feel understood? Say the solution they had offered made absolute sense. How motivated were you to adopt it?

Many times, our children complain to vent, just as adults do. They are not interested in solutions. Nor are they interested in hearing whether they interpreted the situation correctly or not. They just need to vent. Period.

And like an over-inflated balloon, we need to let them deflate, otherwise they will explode.

It is only when we allow the hot air to be let out and the children are no longer bristling that they become more receptive to thinking about solutions.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we raise a generation of whiners. Instead, what I am suggesting is that we be interested, truly interested, in what our children have to say about why they feel the way they do. It is when they see we are interested in them that they be willing to open their hearts to us, that they will be more open to embrace our guidance.

Complaints are a pain. Absolutely. Listening to them is a drudgery. But they are also wonderful opportunities for us to connect with our children, to tell them we feel them, to acknowledge their feelings. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for us to gently show them how they can take responsibility for whatever that happened instead of laying the blame on others and playing the victim role.

Of course this teaching need to be handled extremely sensitively for there’s no surer way to turn someone against us as telling them they were at fault when they are in the “complain” mode.

In any case, when our children feel heard, we would have succeeded in establishing a connection with them. Our relationship will deepen because they will trust us more. And together, parents and children will be able to work together to achieve greater success.

Be willing to listen and slow to judge or offer help.

Happy Parenting!

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!!

The Ever-Changing Landscape of Parenting

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

In the early years, our babies do not have a concept for self. Their entire world is made up of their caregivers like ourselves. How they feel is dependent on how their caregivers react to them and their needs. That is when we respond lovingly to our babies ALL THE TIME, including bedtime and through the night because that forms the basis of how they see the world.

Later, our children start developing a sense of self. Then our role as caregivers change. We empower them, support them, guide and cheer them on. That is when we give them some level of independence, encourage them to explore, teach them right from wrong, and celebrate their successes so they grow up confident of themselves because we have shown them our confidence.

When they are grown up and have developed a sense of self, we become their cheerleaders. That is when we let go, respect their views and celebrate the person they have become.

Parenting is an ever-changing landscape where our roles are constantly changing. Let us all grow with our children.

Happy parenting!!

What Makes A Champion?


Joseph Isaac Schooling, 21, has just won Singapore’s first Olympic Gold. Not only did he win an Olympic gold medal, he made an Olympic Record for the 100m Men’s Butterfly.

How did Joseph achieve this feat? What inspired him? What made him tick?

As a parent, I wanted to know what kind of support his parents gave him. I also wanted to know the “ingredients” needed to raise a champion.

I was curious and this was what I found.

1) Have Strong Parental Support

Whenever I see successful youths, I know they have a strong support system behind them. Typically, that support comes from their parent(s). Parental support comes in various ways. In Joseph’s case, I see 3 kinds of support.

a) Encouraging His Passion
May Schooling, Joseph’s mom, has said that the passion for swimming comes from Joseph. Neither she nor Colin, Joseph’s dad, forced it on him. Instead of suppressing his love for swimming so he could spend more time studying and taking the traditional path to success, they did everything in their power to ensure he can pursue his passion, including sending him to the US when he was 14 so he could receive the best training.

[Edit (12 Aug) After I published this post, I read an interview given by Colin in Today. In that interview, Colin mentioned that he and his wife had collected an extensive swim library comprising of handwritten notes of Joseph’s swims, including details like split times and cadence. They also learned as much as they could about competitive swimming through attending technical courses and swim clinics. Although swimming was Joseph’s passion, his parents did all they could to learn about it so they could provide more indepth motivation and advice to him. It is easy to see then how much support his parents have given him to pursue his passion and how they have helped motivate him for success.]

b) Helping Him Clear Obstacles
When Joseph was 15, May sought and received deferment from National Service (NS) so that he could spend his time training for his competitions. Yet, Joseph’s parents have no intention of letting him skip his obligations to his country. They still expect him to return to fulfill his NS duties. Even as they support his passion, they are mindful to instill in him the value of loyalty towards his country.

c) Unshakeable Faith In Him
Not only did Joseph’s parents provide support and help him clear obstacles, they had an unshakeable belief in his ability. In a 2013 interview, May confidently said that Joseph will be a finalist in 2016.  That faith, I believe, would have boosted Joseph’s confidence, leading to his can-do attitude.

[Edit (12 Aug) In the same  interview mentioned in my edit above, Colin Schooling hit the nail on the head.

“For parents, whatever your children do, just have confidence in them, and just love them.” – Colin Schooling]

Lesson for me:
Respect and honour my children’s passions. Do everything in my power to help them fan and develop those passions. Even if it is the path less trodden, have faith that my children will achieve success because it is self-driven. And especially if it is the less trodden path, my children will need even more support and encouragement from my husband and me. Move mountains for them if necessary, but keep them grounded. And more importantly, have faith in them and let them know and feel it too.

2) Find A Role Model

When Joseph was 6, he learned that his granduncle Lloyd Valberg was Singapore’s first-ever Olympian at the 1948 Olympics. From that point on, Joseph aspired to not only be an Olympian, but to also win an Olympic medal.

When he was 13 years old, he took a photo of himself with Michael Phleps, his idol. 8 years later, he competed against his idol and won.

Lesson for me:
Everyone needs a role model to look up to and aspire towards. Likewise, my children need role models in what they do. Their role models will inspire them in ways I cannot. Yet, at the same time, my husband and I are their role models in the values and mindsets we want them to have. Hence, we need to be mindful of what we say and do.

3) Bounce Back From Failures

While attempting to qualify for 200m Butterfly for Olympics 2012, Joseph had to scramble minutes before his heats to find a replacement swim cap and goggles. That distraction caused him to register a poor swim and he did not qualify for the finals at the Olympics. While understandably disappointed, Joseph had said it was a learning experience.  He took heart that he was still very young and had a long way to go.  In 2016, he came back fighting harder, ending with a gold medal in Rio.

Joseph has exhibited the mindset of a champion. He looks at things positively. He is engaged in the positive thinking cycle.

Lesson for me:
Failures do not define us.  Instead we can choose to learn from them (again that is engaging in the positive thinking cycle).  In helping my children overcome their perceived “failures”, I will be mindful not to harp on what they have done wrong previously but will consciously remind them what they can do right.

4) Create a Goal

During an interview with Straits Times in Aug 2015, Joseph had said that his strategy for Olympics 2016 was to focus on 100m Butterfly and 200m Butterfly because he sees himself as a world-class swimmer trying to win. He was intent on winning the 100m Butterfly.

Joseph had a very clear goal. He was going to compete in Rio 2016 and that he was going to win a medal. In fact, while in Rio, he withdrew from the 200m Butterfly and missed out on the 100m Freestyle.  I presume he did so to conserve all his energy for the 100m Butterfly.

Lesson for me:
Goals tell us where to go and what to focus on.  If we do not know where we want to go, our chances of getting there is very low. Hence, I need to help my children create their OWN goals, goals that they feel passionate about, goals that will inspire them.

5) Persevere

Joseph had said that swimming was all about the little things. To achieve his ultimate goal of winning an Olympic medal, he would have to take all those little steps. Even if the trainings were painful, he had to persevere.

He took those little steps towards his goal. And he reached his goal today.

Lesson for me:
No action is too small as long as it propels us towards our goal. Taking a tiny little step forward is better than not taking any at all. That is something I have always believed in and it is reassuring to know Joseph subscribes to that as well. I will continue to remind my children of the tiny steps they can take each day towards their success.

6) Visualise Success

When interviewed by Channel News Asia right after winning his Gold medal, Joseph had said he did not know what to believe, whether he actually did it, or if he was still preparing his race.

That goes to show that like all successful people, Joseph engages in visualisation. He had most likely visualised himself winning the race many times prior to the event. His visualisations were so clear and real that even after the race, he could not tell the difference between his visualisations and reality.

Lesson for me:
Visualisations work. The clearer and more real we can visualise our successes, the easier it will be for us to achieve them. This is a tool I will be using to help my children visualise their success.

7) Being Humble

Why are all of us going wild about Joseph Schooling? For me, it is not just because he has won our first Olympic Gold. Neither is it because he has made an Olympic Record. Instead, it is because I am thoroughly impressed by his humility. And it is the humility in this champion that has made me his fan.

Despite winning against giants like Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh, he did not brag. Instead he had said he was “honoured and privileged” to be able to race in an Olympic final alongside great names like Michael, Chad and Laszlo. Wow!

Lesson for me:
While success can be a magnet for fans, humility in the face of success is even more magnetic. That is something I will need to bear in mind as I guide my children to pursue their own success.


Joseph Schooling has been an inspiration not only to athletes in Singapore but to me as well. He is now my role model on how I would like my children to behave in pursuit of their dreams, and more importantly, how I would like them to behave when they have achieved success.

Congratulations, Joseph. I look forward to seeing more of you in the future. Thank you for being such an inspiration for the budding athletes in Singapore. And thank you, for being an inspiration for this mom here. I wish you every success and may you continue to inspire all of us.

– Vivian Kwek-



How To Bring Up Self-Motivated Learners

As parents and educators, we are always looking for ways to help our children be self-motivated learners.  What if I told you it is actually not difficult to achieve that?

Self-Motivation At Work

The last activity my 3.5-year-old asked to do last night before bed was to have a piece of paper and pencil to write her name. She wrote it several times, including the names of the rest of the family, before declaring she was ready to sleep.

This morning, she woke up and asked to play the alphabet game. So we brought out her kit and she happily settled down to trace the alphabets and match the uppercase letters with the lowercase letters.


Prior to her interest in the alphabets, she was obsessed with colours and would ask to make different colours. That was when she would bring out her paint set or even our food colouring set to mix different colours together.

She did these activities on her own accord. Not once did I suggest or entice her to do any of them.

Children Are Programmed to Learn

The fascinating thing is all our children are programmed to learn. When they are ready, they will pick up what they want to learn really fast.  All we need to do is to watch for openings like that and offer them what they need.

Introduce Concepts And Let Curiosity Take Over

Why did my preschooler ask to write? How did she know about the alphabet game? Why would she want to mix colours?

My role in her education is to expose her to different concepts and different games. Occasionally I would bring out different games/toys and let her mess around with it.

For example, when she was painting, I took the opportunity to show her how mixing different colours would give us a new colour. And that was all I did. I did not insist that she had to do likewise. I just planted a seed of colour mixing in her mind. A few days later, she tested out mixing different colours on her own when she was painting.

The beauty was she kept repeating the activity over several weeks until she remembered what colours to mix to get whatever colour she wanted. She learned how to mix more colours on her own than what I had shown her. And she learned that all by herself.

Likewise for writing and alphabet recognition. I showed her how her name looked like on paper and she was intrigued. But I did not ask her to write. Some time later she asked me to teach her how to write her name. After some practice, she learned how to do it herself. That subsequently extended to writing the names of the rest of the family. And because she was interested in alphabets, I introduced her the alphabet game matching uppercase and lowercase letters.  Then when she felt like it, she asked to play the game.

We did the same with time. We have a book on time which she enjoys. One day, I showed her a toy clock that she could play with. A few days later, she brought the clock out so she could show the time on the clock as we read the book together at bedtime.

Subsequently she extended that to showing time on the clock that went beyond what was covered in the book.

A lot of the learning that happened resulted from me introducing a concept/toy/game to her once or twice without asking her to do anything. If she wanted to try it out, great. If she was not interested, that was fine too. Invariably, she would pick up the learning on her own. And she almost always learned more than what I had shown her during my introduction of those concepts.

How different would it have been had I structured her play and insisted now was time to mix colours, or now was time to trace letters? Would I have to cajole her? Would I have met with resistance? Would she have willingly spent so much time doing those activities and learning? Would she have extended her learning to find out more than what I had shown her?

The Danger of Over-Structuring

Why is important for us to pick up the cues of our children instead of structuring their play?

The reason is simple. It is because we want our children to be self-driven and self-motivated.

When we constantly tell our children what we want them to do, or entice them to do what we want them to do, we deprive them of the ability to listen to their needs. We deprive them of the time to think about what they want to do. We deprive them of the freedom to pursue their own interests. We deprive them of the opportunity to learn what they want.

How Self Motivation Is Lost

By definition, self-motivation  means doing something because you want to.

Like I mentioned earlier, our children are programmed to learn. But they lose their self-motivation when we over-structure their learning.  Why?

That is because they then see learning as something external to them. They begin to associate learning as something that someone wants them to do, not something they want to do. To them, learning is something their teachers or their parents or their school or the exams want them to know. It is not because THEY want to know.

By and by, our children forget how to be self-driven. They rely on us or someone else to tell them what to do. They lose their initiative. They become disinterested. They lose their self motivation.  They become unmotivated.

What Should We Do?

Our role is to introduce an idea or a concept that triggers curiosity. And that needs to be followed by a keen observation of when that seed of curiosity has taken root so that we can provide the resources when our children are ready to learn.

Math can be learned through games.  History can be learned through play and dramatisation.  Science facts, geography etc, can be learned through songs.  We are so blessed to be living in this day and age where the internet makes such resources readily available to us.

Let Them Play

Playing is what children do best. And playing is how children learn best. When they play, especially play that is self-directed, they do it because they want to. And because they want to, they absorb the lessons from the play effortlessly.

It is extremely important that from young, we give our children time and space to play.

Playing is doing and learning with self motivation.

Playing is NOT a waste of time.

Playing is how children develop curiosity.

Playing is how our children satisfy their curiosity.

Playing is how our children continuously desire to learn and find out more.


The more our children play, the more questions they have, the more they want to find out the answers and the more they are motivated to learn more on their own.  It really is as simple as that.

If you want your children to be self-motivated learners, I strongly encourage you to set aside time for your children to play.