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Monday, April 25, 2011

Say something nice

As parents, we are often quick to criticise our children. We have expectations and feel responsible for them. But it doesn't work this way.

Have you ever been criticised? How did you feel? Did it help you to overcome that particular weakness or habit or behaviour? Unless we are very open-minded and strong-hearted, criticisms don't work. They hurt. They cause resentment. They backfire. They do damages to our relationships, especially so between parent and child.

"I have your interests at heart" is not a good reason for hurling criticisms and hurtful remarks at our kids. Uh-oh. Damage done? Me too. I'm not a "saint" mum who is always as sweet as an angel towards my kids. But I do strive to remind myself that I'm a mother, not a monster. If we look at a mirror when we start to criticise or scold or yell, my guess is it's not a pretty sight. Of course, which parent wants to look like a scary monster? But we have to sacrifice ourselves and act like this in order for the kids to listen, right? If not, they will never improve, right? They should learn to be strong enough to take criticisms, right? They need someone to knock some sense into them, right?

Hmmm. Maybe not right?

From my limited experience, my children respond better to praise and constructive suggestions. My son becomes motivated when I could find something nice to say. Twelve years is not too short a time frame to find praise-worthy improvements and achievements. (Do you remember how when our kids were small, we were forever so enthusiastic in every step they took, every new word they uttered, every milestone they achieved?)

When you say something nice, do you notice that your child's eyes light up, his face brightens, his mood lifts? He smiles? His energy is renewed? When you criticise him, is he stunned? Does he frown? Can you feel his poor heart and spirit sink together?

My ultimate objective is not to teach my child to become immune to criticisms, but to be able to understand his weaknesses and find ways to improve. Even more important is to teach him to love and respect himself, so he will live his life by being the best person he can be. How can he learn to do that if I don't love and respect him? How can he feel loved and respected if he never hears anything nice from someone who is so dear and important in his heart?

Say something nice. It's not for the sake of pleasing but to show our true appreciation. If we can uplift our kids with simple words, why do we need to trample on their efforts with nasty remarks? Have we unconsciously become generous with criticisms but stingy with praises? How often do you say "thank you", "well done", "I love you", "I'm proud of you" to your child?

If we have big dreams for our kids, let's start with a simple step everyday. Once our relationship has evolved into mutual respect and trust instead of conflict and resistance, our kids will be much more receptive to what we have to say, (constructive) criticisms included.

Oh yes, and thank you for coming to this blog, whether you are looking for resources in your journey as a parent, or simply to support me as a friend. I appreciate your efforts and support. Hope that puts a smile on your face too.

Independent or not?

How did you teach your son to be so independent?

This is one question many people asked me. Actually he's not yet "independent" in the real sense of the word. Well he does practise his piano without prompting, does his daily school assignments without needing any of us to sit down together with him, eats breakfast and prepares for school on his own every morning, packs his school bag by himself daily, washes his dishes after meal, helps with housework and babycare at times, and so on. But isn't that what a twelve-year-old boy is capable of doing?

I usually replied to this question that he was "forced" to be so independent by circumstance. Looking back, I think it started because I encountered a difficult pregnancy while he was in Primary One. Starting from around July that year, I barely had energy to do much and could only manage to take care of his basic needs, due to my condition. Worse, on Children's day, I was in hospital for an operation due to miscarriage. After that I had to do a "mini-confinement" for two weeks, as advised by the gynae. So for the whole second half of my son's Primary One education, he had to do whatever school assignments and revise for his exams, all on his own. Most of the time I could only "talk", eg asking: "have you done your homework?", "go do your revision now" etc. Guess he *had* to be independent because I couldn't "peer over his shoulders" or guide him in his studies most of the time. 

However I don't recommend "forcing" your child to be independent. Though I didn't do much physically, I tried to provide more in terms of emotional support. For example, praising him for every achievement no matter how small, explaining my situation so he cooperates with my efforts, involving him in the growth of the tiny foetus in me and so on. He was just as sad as us with the demise of a precious life. So I also had to support him by a simple explanation (our baby took the wrong "flight" or "boat" and has gone back, if it's meant to be, the baby will come again in future).

He's a rather sensible boy. Perhaps the feeling of love and security which I strived hard to provide, could also have helped him move towards an independent learning journey. When he was in Primary Three, I became pregnant again. She was born in December that year. Thus it's such a relief that he could take care of himself while I was so busy with the baby. (Friends also chipped in to help during that first few months. Many thanks to all of u:-))

I prepared him mentally before his sister's birth, that I could be totally focused on her needs for a few months. But once everything was more settled, I spent more time "talking" to him again. I enjoy sharing with him motivational stories, which I hope would encourage him in his every endeavour.

He's still a child and needs guidance and love, I try hard to be a parent who provides that. By being positive and building good habits myself, I hope to give him an example to emulate. I'm so proud of him for doing so well academically, but even more because he has developed into a young man that every mother would be proud of, in terms of personality and character. Oops can't help bragging a bit again huh? Haha, just taking my "daily dosage" of counting my blessings.

I believe that in the hearts of every parent, our child is a gem in many ways. We may get disappointed or angry at times, but we cherish them nonetheless. We may ask questions, but it is precisely these questions which show a deep love and concern for our kids.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Need new toys?

Every child likes new toys. Children learn through exploring their world, and toys provide a good medium for their learning and enjoyment.

However it is not necessary to keep buying new toys for them. Instead there are many "playthings" around us that can entertain them as well as provide learning opportunities. I like giving my kids "useless" things to play with. For example, plastic bottles, plastic tags removed from bread loaves, ice cream sticks, used parking coupons etc.

To illustrate further, for young babies we could use small plastic bottles as a "music instrument" by filling it with some beans then sealing it tight. I remember my baby usually stopped crying when I distracted her with such a shaker. Some plastic bottles could be used for water play during bath time. The kids love learning how to scoop up and pour out water. When babies grow into toddlers, they can practise motor skills of opening or closing the caps. 

Bigger plastic containers (for example those which contained festive goodies) can be used to sort and contain their different types of smaller toys. This gives them the concept of similarities (a basic maths skill), encourages them to organise, and is easier for them to put their toys away after playing.

Another example is the plastic tag that comes with the bread we buy. It secures the opening and usually has some information, for example expiry date or price on it. I usually collect a lot then recycle. But I found that they can be entertaining toys too. When my daughter was around 2 years old, I gave her a spoon, two bowls and those plastic tags. Then taught her to scoop out the tags from one bowl to another. At that age she was trying to feed herself. This gives her the opportunity to practise her skills while at the same time it's not so messy compared to "practising" with her food at meal times.

I also let her try slotting the tags into a coin bank. This helps her to concentrate on an interesting task while practising her motor skills. She loves slotting them in, then removing them from the opening at the bottom of the coin bank, then repeating the process again and again. I've a short video of her playing with those tags on YouTube.

Another example of "useless" stuff turned into playthings is the parking coupons we use in Singapore. When parking our vehicles, we tear out the relevant tabs for year, month, day, hour, minute, and display them on our dashboard. After that it's useless. I usually recycle them. When my son was younger, he liked to tear out all the other tabs. Then we would play a game of searching for the number each other called out. Example of variations could be giving addition questions and finding the answers.

Other recycled materials like ice cream sticks, disposable spoons etc, could be used for handicraft projects.

There are many possibilities in using discarded items as "toys". The best part is they cost no extra money, are easily replaceable, and teaches our kids to recycle. 

However I do recommend playing together with the children. Choking hazard aside, it's a good bonding time. Toys are "useless" and children quickly grow tired of them. But your children will always enjoy your company.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's no use

Have you tried to get your children to listen to you? Have you tried telling them to eat more nutritious food? Sleep early? Stop playing computer game? Do their homework? Revise for their examination? Clear their desk? Organise their room? Make their bed? Wash their shoes? Behave themselves?

I assure you, it's no use. Yes it's no use 'telling' them what to do. It's no use yelling at them. It's no use punishing them for not doing what they're supposed to do. 

If we want our children to grow up into self-respecting adults, we cannot allow them to develop a habit of relying on other people to tell them what they should do, or waiting for someone to kick them into action.

This does not mean we should hasten the process of their independence by letting go altogether. Nor should we keep dictating their every action. Rather, a parent's love and motivation is very important in guiding them along this inevitable route of growing up.

If we reflect upon ourselves, what are the actions we take everyday? We do what we 'should' do (most of the time, I assume), what we 'want' to do, and what we 'like' to do. So if we can motivate our children to like what they're supposed to do, then we don't have to keep telling them what to do, right? But HOW do we achieve that? Through playing games? Through ourselves setting an example or role model for them? Through our praise and encouragement? Through their own sense of achievement and fulfilment?

The above thoughts are really too brief. Perhaps I'll spend more time reflecting and expanding upon them in future. Bringing up our children is essentially a project in progress. However this project also enables us to progress in our own life journey, expanding and deepening along the way.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Are you ready?

When your children want to play with you, do you feel energetic & enthusiastic? When your children want to confide in you about a problem they are facing, are you able to lend a sympathetic ear?

Are you feeling too tired, too busy, too stressed, too worried?


Have you been taking care of yourself? Do you have enough sleep and go to bed at an appropriate bedtime? Do you take regular nutritious balanced meals? Is your body in optimal health?

I find that physical health is a very important but usually neglected aspect. We need our body to carry out tasks that we set our mind upon. Without good health, we are not able to enjoy our life, our children or even pay close attention to their needs. Many mothers are 'guilty' of not taking good care of their health. But our family love and value us, and definitely wish to spend many more good years with us.

Are you ready to love and nurture yourself as well as you love and nurture your children?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sibling rivalry?

Many parents who have more than one child will be worried about sibling rivalry. Can it be avoided?

Frankly I don't know. But I do know that with some efforts on our part, the relationship and situation can be greatly improved.

I have not done much, except to "explain" positively my daughter's behaviour or actions to my son, and vice versa. For example, my daughter look up to her brother and imitate him in many ways, so I'll point out to my son that he's her "idol". Once when I was doing something and left her for a few short minutes, she had climbed onto her brother's stool, sat at his desk and scribbled on his papers using his pens. I had to interpret for my son that she was imitating her "idol" doing his homework and not purposefully mischievous or destructive. She was taught to apologise to him. Thankfully the incident was never repeated. On the other hand, my daughter is rather sensitive sometimes and become agitated by some of her brother's actions. I'll explain to her that he is not disturbing her but playing with her and that he loves her. Gradually they learned to love and appreciate each other more.

One day my daughter asked for grapes, I washed some for her. As she walked away happily with her bowl to sit at her favourite spot to enjoy her favourite fruit, I was pleasantly surprised to observe her detour to her brother's desk and offer him some grapes voluntarily. She was not yet two years old but she expressed her love for her brother by sharing without anyone asking.

On another day, I had brought my daughter out to fetch my son from school. It was almost her nap time and she fell asleep in her car seat. On the short journey home (about 7-10 minutes drive), my son saw the afternoon sun shining through the car window onto his sister. Without any prompting from me, he found a towel and started to put it up so as to shelter her from the bright and hot sun. I was speechless and touched by his gesture.

There're other examples, like my son buying books and toys for his sister when he went on trips with his school, the two of them playing together and having a good laugh, etc. As a mother, one of the most satisfying experiences is to see our children's love for each other. I believe it's partly natural and partly nurtured.

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