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 –



How To Protect Our Children From Sex Predators like Joshua Robinson?

I have been following the underage sex case of Joshua Robinson with concern. While I feel he deserves a stronger sentence for the unconscionable acts he has done, I am more concerned by the behavior of the 2 underaged girls who had consented to his sexual advance.

Why did Robinson get away with a relatively light sentence despite the furore the sentence had caused? Firstly, it is because the teenagers were over 14 years old, which meant they were not minors. Thus Robinson could not be charged with having sex with minors which carries a heavier sentence. Secondly, it is because he did not coerce them into sex. The girls had consented to it. That meant he could not be charged with statutory rape which also carries a heavier sentence .

Does it mean it was the fault of the girls? I think it would be superficial and unfair to blame the girls. The buck goes further than the girls themselves.

Why? Now let us think about how Robinson got busted? It was because a 6-year-old girl had told her parent what Robinson had shown her.  What had prompted her to tell her parent? Did she know what Robinson showed her was wrong?  How did she know that?

The law does not fully protect our children from sexual predation. Only we, parents, can do it.

How can we protect our children?

1) Sexual Education

a) When they are young…
From the time my children were toddlers, I taught them the actual names for their private parts. A young child who is able to name his/her private parts in anatomically correct terms is announcing to the world that he/she has been taught what those are.  It also signals to others that it is likely the child knows about inappropriate touches.  Sexual predators will stay away from children like that.

When my children were preschoolers, I taught them that no one was allowed to touch or see their privates parts. Likewise, they know no one can ask them to touch or see other people’s private parts. And I mean no one. Not I, not their dad, not their sibling, not even their doctor without us being present. They were taught to let us know if anything like that happened.

My 4-year-old still reminds me that she needs to wash herself when I shower her and I love it.  I always use it as an opportunity to reinforce that lesson for her.

b) When they are older…
I started talking about the bees and birds with my children when they were between 10-12 years old. The look on their faces when they realized what their parents did to conceive them was priceless. And that was when I started talking about when sex is ok. Although the topic still makes them squirm somewhat (they are both teenagers now), they know it is not a taboo topic. Once they overcame the initial discomfort, we were able to talk about the topic in a very carefree manner. Most importantly, my children feel comfortable enough to approach me with questions on this topic at any time.  And they do.

Giving our children sexual education is not equivalent to encouraging them to engage in sex. We will do more harm to them by keeping this subject shrouded in mystery. By speaking openly to our children about this, they learn it is not a shameful topic. It encourages them to talk to us about it instead of getting their information from strangers. The problem with them turning to strangers for such information is that they can then be easily led astray.

2) Close Relationship

However, in order for our children to feel comfortable talking to us about such a personal topic, we must first have a close relationship with them. And having a close relationship is not just about spending time. We can spend 24/7 with someone and still feel disconnected with him/her. Hence, what we need to do as parents is to invest time establishing emotional connection with our children. The more personal and private a topic, the stronger our emotional connection need to be in order for them to approach us with it.


Let us all do our part to prevent the likes of Joshua Robinson from robbing our children of their innocence. Let us educate our children because knowledge is power. We need to arm our children so they know how to protect themselves.


Raising Critical Thinkers

Stephen Covey said, “Begin with an end in mind.”

How does that apply to parenting? Do we begin by visualising our children as doctors? Lawyers? The next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? Probably not.

What is the end we have in mind when we have children? Do we seriously think about it?

Begin With An End In Mind

I feel that it’s easier to parent with a vision of the qualities I would like my children to possess when they grow up. In this post, I will touch on one of these qualities, namely to be independent critical thinkers able to stand up for their beliefs respectfully.

What that translates into is I actually allow them to “argue” with me. From young. Some parents might shake their heads at this. They might wonder how I could allow my children to disrespect my authority.

Before I begin, first let me first state that my children are not allowed to speak to me, or anyone, disrespectfully. We mind our Ps and Qs at home, all the time. That means, my husband and I also speak respectfully to them.

Second, when I say “argue”, I mean an exchange of views and perspectives. After all, arguing means putting forth reasons for or against something. My children are allowed, even encouraged, to tell me what they think and how they feel, especially if they do not agree with me. But like I mentioned above, they need to do that respectfully. And obviously the same applies to me. I need to be respectful when putting forth my arguments to them.

Why on earth would I want to make my life difficult? Isn’t it easier to just make them do what I want them to do without having to “argue” with them?

Well, that’s where beginning with the end in mind comes in. The image of my kids all grown up and standing up for they believe in and being able to put forth their arguments calmly and respectfully is an image I hold constantly in my mind. Even if they cannot get their way at the end, at least they would have had the chance of saying their piece.

Hence allowing them, from young, to “argue”, or rather give me reasons for what they want as opposed to what I want, was a way of training them.

Challenge as a Parent

The challenge for me as a parent is to state my case for why they need to do something, so they can see my point of view and, hopefully, agree with me. Many times, if I find that I cannot even convince myself why they MUST do certain things, I would relent. Yep, my kids would “win” the argument and I would actually tell them why. That way, they see the logic in their argument and the flaw in mine.

On some occasions, I would put my foot down and tell them, “I’m sorry, you don’t have a choice.” But I keep those to a minimum so that when I do put my foot down, they know I mean business and they will cooperate. It is amazing. But it works. Really.

This strategy was extremely effective when my children were at the “NO!!!” stage, ie when they were about two years old. As far as possible, I would do my best to understand why they had said no. Most times, it was just them asserting their independence and if it was not a big deal, I would let them “win”.

If their cooperation was non-negotiable, I would explain my case.  It was time consuming to explain to and convince them especially when they were little. I have had family members telling me I was ridiculous explaining myself to a preschooler. However, I am glad I persisted because I see results which I will talk about later in this post.

There were still occasions when my preschool kids would resist what I wanted them to do.  However, because the frequency of me insisting my way was very low, the tendency of them giving in was much higher. I know that sounds counter-intuitive.

I have parents telling me they are afraid to let their children win because then they would lose control of their children. They are afraid that their children would be the ones dictating what to do henceforth.

However, the reason for letting our children “win” as often as is reasonably possible, and letting them know they have won, is to give them a sense that they have some control over their lives. That way they do not feel that they have to fight EVERY SINGLE TIME in an attempt to wrest control.

Results of Letting My Children “Win”

(i) During the Preschool Years
Now going back to when my children were going through the “NO!!” phase. The strategy of letting them win as often as possible actually led to a drastic reduction of them being contrarians after several weeks.

Firstly, because they knew I would listen to what they wanted.

Secondly, because they learned they would tend to get what they wanted if they asked for it nicely.

Thirdly, because they had a certain degree of control over their lives.

Fourthly, they found out that I always had good reasons why I could not give them what they wanted and that even if they cried, and especially if they cried, they still would not get that.

Now, when my soon-to-be 4-year-old wants something she cannot get, she will relent when I hold my ground because she knows I only stand firm on things that really matter and that I will not waver. She may cry for a little while, but she gets over it very fast.

Because of this simple strategy, we did not have the “Terrible Twos” or “Terrible  Threes” stage.

(ii) During the Teen Years
My older 2 children are now 14 and 12 years old. They have learned to put forth their arguments respectfully because they know my husband and I would hear them out.

In fact, I remember once asking my teenager why he did what I asked him to do without telling me he was in the middle of something. His reply? “Because you always have very good reasons for wanting me to do something.”

While I really appreciated his cooperation, I actually told him he had the right to protect his time and if he had told me he was preoccupied with something else, I would have let him finished what he was doing first because what I needed done that time was not that critical.

It may seem like I am teaching my children to be difficult. However, I hold a long term vision, and that is for my children to be able to protect their time and their needs by voicing them respectfully.

The reason why that is important to me is simple. Many times, as adults, we feel “oppressed” because our needs are not heard or met. And many times, it is because we have not surfaced those needs, or we have not argued coherently and respectfully why they need to be met. Imagine what would happen if we had learned and mastered the skills of negotiation and critical thinking from young.

So now, I do hear my children telling me they need another 10 or 15 minutes and wherever possible, I would grant them that 10 or 15 minutes. But when I tell them “now”, they know it is non-negotiable and they would cooperate.

Because of this simple strategy, my teens are not defiant or contrarians. And thankfully, we are not experiencing the “Terrible Teens” stage.


The key to peaceful parenting, having cooperative children is to keep instances where our children feel “forced” to do something to a minimum. That way, when it really comes down to a time when they have no choice, they are more likely to cooperate without putting up a fight.

While allowing our children to argue with us could make parenting a little tougher, the benefits, in my opinion, far outweigh the inconveniences:

  • it helps us, parents, to be reasonable in our demands/requests;
  • it trains our children to think about how to argue their case logically and coherently;
  • it allows our children to see that we respect their views;
  • it leads to a peaceful parenting model where there is hardly any outburst of defiance; and
  • it builds confidence in our children in voicing out their opinions and feelings.

It is hard to parent a vocal child. It is hard to say no to something that is logically and calmly laid out. But if you imagine that your child were now a grown up, would you like for her to stand her ground and be vocal?  If your answer is yes, then you may want to consider training your child to be articulate in putting across her views and opinions from young.

– 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.

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 –