“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948
Over the years, with increased access to news and media, we have been bombarded by more and more stories of just how many things can go wrong, how many mistakes we can make, how many opportunities can be missed if we don’t sign up for this and that. Has this affected how we parent our children? I believe it has. I believe that as the pressure to succeed has increased and spread to preschoolers we have found ourselves caught up in a parenting peer- pressure- cooker and common sense has threatened to go out the window.
As parents, we want the very best for our children. We want them to be happy, to find what they love to do and have the ability and freedom to pursue that. We want them to be kind, courageous and confident. But are we really setting them up for success? Are our own fears and anxieties getting in the way of us being able to give them the values we really want for them?
Children learn by experiencing and experimenting. A child is never going to learn how to ride a bike if you don’t take off the stabilizers. In our desire to protect and nurture our children we can be pressured into going overboard.
Common traps parents can fall into are:
Over-Assisting: When your child is struggling to build a tower with blocks, he is focused and even if he is frustrated the worst thing you could do is step in and do it for him. You would be robbing him of a natural learning opportunity. Think about how a child learns to walk, he toddles, falls down, pulls himself up and carries on and we encourage and celebrate each wobbly step.
Overly high expectations: If our expectations for our children are beyond their ability level then too much time and stress will go into attempting to achieve those goals. If children are consistently not able to perform to your expectation they will begin to feel like failures and any sense of self-worth will be threatened. This can have a lasting impact throughout their life.
Overscheduling: Children learn through self-motivated exploration and play, which is the foundation of creativity and happiness throughout life. The only time this can occur is during an unstructured time when they have time to imagine, invent and create. So many children are rushed from one structured activity to another. Although this may mean that they can read at the age of four, or be able to play chess by 3 ½ it does reduce their time to play and explore, make mistakes and learn from them.
Over-protecting: your child can only be brave if you are brave. If every time they fall down you rush over at top speed and filled with panic. They will scream in anticipation each time they have a bump. Breath, smile and say “wow, that was a big fall but you are such a big boy, you are fine”.
We all make mistakes and our children are no exception. How we handle their mistakes and setbacks will be one of the most important things we teach them. Life is full of ups and downs and if we can learn from all our experiences and apply that learning going forward we will be well prepared to take on any challenge with a positive attitude and a smile. Isn’t that what we want to for our children most of all?
How to enable your child to accept setbacks and mistakes:
Teach flexibility: the more flexible a child the better they adapt to new situations and different ideas. Offer many new experiences, have surprise trips, even around Singapore. Expose them to new places, customs and food.
- Teach your child to be positive: even in difficult situations, there will be something to learn and take away. For example, if your child doesn’t do as well as he, or you, had hoped on a test say “Well, now we know what we need to focus on”.
- Teach your child they always have a choice: If you know a situation can lead to a temper tantrum, speak to your child beforehand and let them know their reaction is in their control. For example, “ I am going into this toy shop to buy Sam a present for his birthday, are you going to get angry because it is not your birthday or will you help me choose?”
- Support your child in mastering a skill: Being good at something helps develop self-confidence and self-esteem. This will enable them to bounce back when they make an effort at something and do not succeed. Knowing they are good at something enables them to enjoy success, so don’t always focus on what they find difficult.
- Teach gratitude: studies have shown that gratitude is a vital ingredient in happiness, positivity and resilience. From a young age you can begin to teach children to be grateful for what they have and what they have achieved.
Q: My son didn’t make it to his school’s soccer team and is pretty bummed about it. How do I handle him?
A: Be understanding. Obviously he is disappointed. Talk to him about the try-outs once the pain is not so raw. Why did he not make it? Were all the other children bigger and older? Did he have bad luck on that day? Does he think he should wait for the next tryouts and keep practising until then? Or does he feel that maybe soccer may not be the sport for him, would he like to try out for the swim team?
If he is an avid soccer fan, share his enthusiasm for the game by reading about latest games, save up for posters and shirts. Show him you can be mad about soccer even if you are not on a team.
Importantly, teach him that even though he failed to make the team he is not a failure.
Q: My daughter doesn’t like getting negative feedback – she always gets defensive and argues with me. What should I do?
A: Firstly reflect on how you are delivering feedback. Are you being negative? Could you approach it in a more positive manner that she may be more open to receiving? Children, like adults, will often react defensively if they feel they are being blamed or attacked. For example instead of saying “ You are so messy, look at your room, why can’t you put away your toys?!” You could try, “ Do you think if we got some bigger boxes it would be easier to keep your room tidy?”.
Q: I want my children to have fun when we are together but I always seem to be saying “NO!” “ Watch out” or “Be careful!!” What can I do?
A: Being aware of what you are saying will make a huge difference. Watch out or be careful, really have very little meaning, especially if you find yourself saying them regularly. Be specific, say things like “ Go slowly when you are going downhill on your scooter so you don’t crash”. “Hold onto the handrail on the stairs”. Only bounce on the trampoline if there are no more than 3 others on it”.
Explain to children exactly what the dangers are and have specific rules for safety.
Q: My son is 5 and he doesn’t want to play any games unless he can win. My husband and I always let him win so he feels good but I am worried that we are not helping him. His teachers have also commented that he gets angry if he doesn’t win.
A: You are quite right, you are not helping him. Learning how to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser are very important skills and ones that many children do struggle with. It can take practice. Board games are wonderful for teaching this. I would suggest that you and your husband try to play at his level. That way sometimes he will win and sometimes, if you have better luck with dice, you may win, and that is ok. I suggest you try winning once or twice and keep reiterating how much fun the game is regardless of whether you win or lose.
Q: I have noticed my daughter is reluctant to try anything she doesn’t think she can do? She won’t even draw pictures because she says she can’t. What can I do?
A: it sounds as if your daughter has a loss of confidence. You will need to help her rebuild that. Be very aware of your language and even non-verbal responses. Praise her for every effort regardless of the outcome. The important thing is she will give it a go. Spend time playing with paint, colour pencils, glitter, and any other fun art materials. Make colourful collages, swirly pictures. Remove the pressure from having to draw conventional images.
If you find a skill your daughter is likely to master encourage that. The more praise, success and sense of achievement your daughter experiences the more her confidence will grow.
Another good way would be to send your children to a preschool like Chiltern house forum that uses imagination and discovery in their lessons so that children will learn to freely express themselves without fear of making mistakes.
List of resources:
Parenting Power in the early Years: raising your Child with Confidence – Birth to Age Five by Brenda Nixon, 2001.
Flying Lessons: 122 Strategies to Equip Your Child Your Child to Soar into Life with Confidence and Competence by Gregg M. Steinberg, 2007.
Parenting, an Heir Raising Expereince: Raising Your Child With Confidence by Mary Glynn Peeples, 1993.
Help for Worried Kids: How Your Child Can Conquer Anxiety and Fear by Cynthia G Last, 2005.
Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids by Julie Bort, Aviva Pflock and Devra Renner, 2005.
Dive into dramatic play at home
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”
By Kay Jamieson, American Professor of Psychiatry
Children play for pure enjoyment! Limitless and unconventional play expands the mind and cultivates creativity, especially when the players are involved in a make-believe world based on their own real-life experiences.
It is through play that children learn to develop their imagination, flexibility of thought and adaptability. They learn to solve problems, both with objects and people, this involves creative thinking, perseverance and negotiation skills. During dramatic play or pretend play, children will use toys, an action, a word, blocks or even marks on paper to represent something else. It could be real experience or a powerful emotion. It is through play that children begin to see themselves as efficient and successful people, with useful ideas and skills.
Why do children pretend?
First, because it’s fun. We grown-ups dress up and fantasize too, when we go to parties, entertain friends at home and play a role at a wedding.
Second, it’s experiential. Children know they must use trial and error to test their ideas, that’s why dramatic play proceeds in fits and starts, with in-built failures as opportunities to stop and re-create the guidelines.
Third, there are no “rights” or “wrongs” because dramatic play is free of external rules except that the players must take it seriously. This is, after all, an opportunity to have fun doing what they enjoy most.
Finally, play is children’s natural learning medium, and children love to learn. You may have noticed that when children play imaginatively, they function at their highest levels of competence, using complex expressive language and critical thinking skills as they learn to cooperate, solve problems and work with others.
Although pretend play may look insignificant to adult observers, the learning that occurs is immediate, deeply insightful and lasting.
Through dramatic play, children practise many different ways of representing reality, by creating symbols. They’ll build homes, shops, trains, schools and zoos with whatever’s on hand. These creations are symbols of representational thought, things that represent something else – an object, idea or event. The significance to learning is that all later education is based on the assumption that a child has symbolic competence. For example, literacy and numeracy are about understanding symbols. How do children gain and practise symbolic mastery in the pre-school years? Through involvement in a wide variety of dramatic play activities in which they use everyday objects to symbolize something else: a cup becomes a telephone, a handkerchief makes a bandage, or a belt is used as a stethoscope because the child using it has seen the real object in use.
Chiltern house Mountbatten is an example of a preschool that also uses dramatic play so that children can simulate living an adult life through the use of their imagination.
Puppets and soft toys are used to symbolize real animals or people in a child’s imaginary world. Often the first parent-child collaboration at dramatic play occurs when a toy needs to go to the doctor or a puppet has a conversation with an interested adult.
Research points to three necessary factors for enabling children’s language to reach its full potential: dialogue with empathetic adults, an enabling environment for encountering language experiences, and imaginative play opportunities. All three are present at home when parents join their children in pretend play, and that’s one great reason why families should play make-believe together.
Consider the numerous linguistic skills a doctor needs to express a medical opinion, a shopper and shopkeeper to resolve a dispute, or a family of mice to persuade neighbourhood cats to cooperate. Self-motivated children at play cast themselves as doctors, shoppers, mothers, fathers, teachers, superheroes, bus drivers, pilots and animals, exploring ideas and concerns that interest them.
When children take on adult roles they practise the language they’ve heard around them. So, a child “playing” at being teacher, will recreate the language patterns of the adults in his/her environment, using correct grammar and a wide range of advanced communication skills if he/she’s been exposed to them.
For social and emotional development
You’ll notice that pre-schoolers also act out things they can’t put into words: Distress at Mummy or Daddy going away, fear of monsters, the dark or going to school. Tensions and anxiety are played out in a let’s pretend situation, and replayed again and again while the child grapples with understanding emotions.
When parents join in, taking a role in imaginary play, children learn important social rules, like turn-taking and fairness, from adults who “teach” by example. Outings to special places, when re-visited in dramatic play, become learning opportunities for “please”, “thank you” and polite forms of address, especially if children take on adult roles as zoo-keepers, ticket sellers, waiters and guides.
When we join in their play we show our children how much we value them by giving them our most precious gifts: time, respect, consideration and loving attention. By listening, we let them practise talking, sharing ideas, turn-taking and trying out different roles. We allow them to learn in the way they intuitively know best, and to “rehearse” skills for life.
A rehearsal for life
As our children prepare for a fast-changing world, pause a moment to reflect on the skills they’ll need to express themselves at their best and lead a fulfilled, happy and successful life. I think the package contains resilience, flexibility, autonomy, courage; creativity; critical thinking, confidence, empathy, imagination, humour and highly developed communication. A tall order!
Pressures and expectations of education encourage the cynic in all of us to view with suspicion an early childhood education based on play. It’s easier to perceive value in the old, traditional and more formal approach to learning rather than a fun-loving school with play at its centre. Beware! Controlled activities such as drills and worksheets can be heavily adult-directed, de-motivating for active learners and lacking in both imagination and space for children to become creative, self-directed thinkers. While this approach is unlikely to empower children, their intuitive, undirected dramatic play fosters communication, collaboration and creativity, high-level thinking to solve problems, resolve differences and take responsibility.
Creating a playful space at home
So dramatic play is clearly worthwhile but won’t it feel silly and awkward? The elaborate, imaginative play of 3 and 4-year-olds grow out of a trusting, playful relationship with parents. Start this when children are infants and play will follow quite naturally, when parents allow children to lead them into dressing up and playing pretend.
If you find it hard to recapture the playfulness of childhood, an easy way in is to extend favourite stories by taking on character roles from a book you’ve just shared. Also remember that play isn’t just something children do. When a Chinese philosopher was asked about the meaning of civilization, he said that all of human education is about one thing, recapturing the mind of a child. The Institute for Play explains this beautifully:
“Learning through play means trying things this way and that, and then perhaps standing on your head and trying them again. It means staying loose, changing your perspective, trying the intuitive instead of the logical and thinking outside whatever box you might be in. It is peppered with humour, motion, questions, ideas and theories to be tried out. It produces unexpected discoveries. It’s a tool scientists use in their research and it’s a big reason why research scientists love what they do.”
The ideal context for learning language and life skills is the simplest to achieve: at home, as a family. So go on, have fun and PLAY!
Setting up a dramatic play space
- Nothing elaborate or expensive!
- Books, stories and poems to stimulate ideas: Read, talk and extend them into dramatic play featuring characters and events from your favourites.
- A dressing-up box, full of old clothes, jewellery, hats and bags (Old skirts make wonderful capes and cloaks; handkerchiefs, scarves and scraps of cloth become bandanas, bandages and slings)
- A box of exciting objects to use as props: Old phones, bus tickets, train passes, obsolete calculators, keyboards and food packaging all have numerous uses in children’s play.
- Art equipment to make masks and anything else you don’t have available
- Large cardboard boxes to become counters and hideaways
- Lengths of cloth and some clips to hold them together to create camps and dens
- Time to spend with your children
- Space that you’re happy to leave a little messy
- Phones that can be ignored
- Willingness to re-learn how to play and have fun
“It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer”
There is significant pressure on children in Singapore to do well in school. From Primary 4 onwards children feel that pressure mounting and parents are faced with the new challenge of keeping their child motivated under these stressful circumstances. Research has shown us time and again that children who are motivated do better in school. This is not because they feel that they HAVE TO be the best but because they are TRYING TO do their best.
The Parent Institute identifies characteristics of children who are motivated as being more likely to:
- Choose tasks that are challenging
- Begin tasks without having to be prodded
- Show serious effort and concentration
- Have a positive attitude toward learning and schoolwork
- Use coping strategies to get through the rough times
- Stick with tasks until successful completion
While children who are not motivated are likely to:
- Choose work that is inappropriately easy
- Need lots of prodding to get started
- Put in minimal effort
- Show a negative or apathetic attitude about learning and schoolwork.
- Give up quickly when the going gets rough
- Leave many tasks unfinished.
It is easy to see why children who display more motivated characteristics will be more successful in both school and life. It is therefore important that instead of focusing on keeping your child’s grades up you must put your efforts into keeping them interested in learning and motivated to do their very best.
At Chiltern House Preschool, children are encouraged to use their natural curiosity in their learning in order to stay motivated in learning.
The first way to ensure you can do this is by understanding their learning style. This means you can be more effective in communicating with your child and can more easily have realistic expectations. Dr. Caron B. Goode has identified 4 main styles, their traits and ways to approach such a style.
|Cognitive||Analytical, orderly, organized, logical persistent, can be stubborn||Set clear goals and ways in which to achieve them. Set deadlines with a reasonable amount of time to do a good and complete job.|
|Behavourial||Independent, competitive, results orientated, problem-solver, can be impatient and want to do things their own way.||Just be clear what is expected and have an agreed timeline. Leave them room to work in their way without too much control.|
|Affective||Passionate, creative, sociable, intuitive, can be undisciplined and find time management very hard.||Break large goals down into small achievable goals. Check in regularly to ensure they are able to stay on track. Give lots of breaks and praise.|
|Interpersonal||Dependable, calm, cooperative, practical, patient, can be introverted and wants to please you and teachers.||Be very thorough in your explanation of expectations, work closely with her to ensure she understands and agrees she can do it.|
We are models for our children. This is true even for tweens and teens. There are a few ways in which we can show our child how important we think success in school is and that we are there as a support for them.
- Make time to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher. Nowadays with email, this is much easier for both busy teachers and working parents. Share information about your child and what your idea of success is.
- Support them in their assignments and homework. This doesn’t mean doing it for them but do make sure they have a suitable space to work, away from distractions. Keep an eye on deadlines and speak to them about their progress, find out what exactly they need to complete the assignment. Limit time spent on video games and watching TV if that sucks up too much time to get much else done.
- Make time to go to parent evenings and special events at the school. If you can volunteer as a parent helper this can be an enormous motivator for a child.
- Be positive about school and school work. Even if you don’t see the point of a certain assignment or unit of learning, keep that to yourself or share your concern with the teacher or the school. Share what you enjoyed about school and how you benefitted from what you learnt at school. Say how much fun you think a certain field trip will be or how exciting a new subject may be.
Children who understand that learning is not restricted to the hours in the classroom are more motivated. By understanding your child’s learning style and interests you can help them extend their learning by expanding their points of view and understanding that there is the opportunity for learning in so much. In Singapore, we are so lucky to live in a vibrant city with so much on offer. Museums, theatre, different cultures and experiences all can make what they learn in school relevant. Once you are able to make your child see how what they do in school can be applied and be of benefit to them they will naturally feel more inclined to continue and keep learning.
Strategies to keep your child interested in learning:
- Be enthusiastic and involved
Show an interest in your child’s school day. Ask questions about their subjects, friends, and activities. Get excited about what they are doing, share stories about your school days and what were the highlights for you. If your child has a problem or concern about a teacher or subject, find out more and help them come up with solutions. Show them that obstacles that stand in the way of enjoying school can be overcome with perseverance and support.
- Get involved in activities
Sometimes children will lose motivation because they haven’t yet found an area of learning they are passionate about. Look for extracurricular activities that excite your child. Sometimes finding that activity, be it soccer, music, chess or ballet, may be all it takes to get your child bouncing out of bed and ready for the day!
- Celebrate success and effort
Everyone needs to be motivated! Keep showing your child that you are proud of his or her achievements. Remember that this is NOT about results. The school system focuses on results so it is important that you focus on effort.
- Share the benefits of education
If your child is swamped with algebra, spelling tests and chemistry you may wonder what on earth this is all for and how does it relate to real life? Keep explaining to your child the benefits to a good education. Talk about how it will affect their future. Ask your child what they want to be when they grow up and discuss the educational path to get there. I personally have been trying to explain to my 9-year-old son that the likelihood of him being able to focus only on soccer and still be able to drive a Ferrari when he gets his license is microscopically small! I need to keep working on that one.
- Set realistic goals for your child
Very few people are motivated by overwhelming pressure. If your child feels your expectations are not possible to achieve, like a certain grade or standard, then he may not even want to try at all, especially if he has failed to meet expectations in the past. What is important is that your child keeps trying his hardest and keeps trying to improve his personal best.
- Extend your child’s interests
If you are aware that your child has a specific area of interest then try to find ways to expand that outside of the classroom. Museums, theatre, air shows and many other exhibitions can all be ways to expand your child’s interest. Keep in mind that schools are only responsible for a narrow and limited number of interests, it caters to the masses. You can expand and extend your child’s interest in learning and curiosity by offering him many more experiences that appeal to him.
- My tween’s teacher complains that she isn’t handing in her homework and her usual good grades plunged after she made the school’s tennis team. What should I do?
It sounds as if the extra time tennis is taking has affected her ability to manage all her commitments. Being able to balance both the requirements of the classroom work alongside the newly added responsibility of training for the school’s tennis team has been challenging. I would speak to your daughter and try to come up with ways she can better manage her time. Time management is something many professionals struggle with but is a skill that can be learnt and this looks like the perfect time to explore strategies to be better able to organize her time.
- My son complains that he’s bored by his lessons and doesn’t see any point in school, not when he can just take over daddy’s business even if he doesn’t have a degree.The last thing you want is a child who grows up with a sense of entitlement, nothing will lose friends faster! I would make it very clear that Daddy isn’t going to let anyone take over his business that hasn’t been well educated. Daddy may let him own the business but he may not be able to work there if he isn’t the best person for the job. Explain to him the types of jobs available if he doesn’t study and how running a business, even his Daddy’s, is not one of them.
- My child does not seem to be interested in studying. Her grades are really not good enough. Would it work if I punish her if she does not improve?Generally, punishment does not work as a motivator. A small minority of children will respond positively, but this will not be long-lasting. A more successful motivator would be rewards; these rewards should initially be based on effort, not results. If your child is putting a great deal of effort and still not achieving the results you would like to see you will have to rethink your expectations or other ways in which to support your child. Tuition or educational support from a learning specialist may make all the difference. Also look at what you mean by her grades are ‘really not good enough’. Maybe she will not be getting the high grades throughout her school years you would like. Her talents may lie away from academic subjects. Your job then is to find what her talents are and support her development there as well as in school.
- My son seems to think school is all about recess and seeing his friends. How can I make him understand the benefit of studying hard too?If your son is enjoying school and looks forward to going every day then that is great. Obviously the classes are not getting in the way of his enjoyment so he must be feeling confident with the subjects. If you feel he is not paying enough attention to his studies speak to his teacher. It may be that all he talks about are his friends and games at recess as these are the areas he enjoys most in his day. If he is managing his school work well then that is fine. I know that when I think back to my school days it is the friends, social groups and games we played that stand out. As he gets older work will be a more important part of his day but for now be happy he enjoys school.
I don’t believe there is a parent reading this article who doesn’t want their child to be happy. This is often our top priority in our parenting journey. We make so many choices and decisions based on what would make him or her happy. This can lead to us providing every gadget, game and experience we can afford, protecting them from every possible danger and hardship and jumping in to stand up for them whenever the going gets a bit tough.
However, this can all stand in the way of their happiness.
What makes us happy is a sense of appreciation, of achievement and of accomplishment. If we give our child everything he can think of or help him each step of the way we are in fact robbing him of the chance to be truly happy. We do know that one of the secrets of happy people is that they are filled with a sense of gratitude.
Gratitude is not something you can instil in a toddler or preschooler in the same way you can teach them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Gratitude and generosity take time to develop. Don’t get disheartened when your trip to the toy store to buy a birthday present for a little friend goes horribly wrong because it turns out your five-year-old would much rather focus your attention on all the thing he or she would like to have.
Keep at it, involve your child in choosing presents for others, it will get better!
Share your delight in choosing something that would be really appreciated by the friend. Remember that you are your child’s model. If your child sees the pleasure you get from doing something that someone else will appreciate, or how grateful you are if someone has done something for you, then he or she will learn to do the same.
Here are a few ways you raise your children to be grateful:
Use the language of gratitude.
Being grateful is a complex concept and one that takes time before any child will really get it. Start by using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and expecting your young child to do the same. From as soon as they can speak you can encourage them to use these words. Share how pleased you are with small things that can happen in the day, or how lucky you feel when things go well. When we are out at night we always look to see if we can see the stars in the dark sky and feel very lucky whenever we can. My children now do this without being prompted; it is lovely to see how happy they are when they can see lots of stars or even a big moon.
Don’t overwhelm your child with gifts.
With young children, it is really tempting to shower them with lots and lots of gifts. I know that because I love shopping and choosing gifts for my children. But we have all seen that glazed look on children’s faces as they rip open wrapping paper, glance at what is inside and onto the next. We are not helping them appreciate what they have or what they receive when we give them so many gifts at any one time. By giving them fewer presents they can really enjoy and focus on the one or two gifts they receive. For our children’s birthdays, we now suggest close friends or family members band together to get one big gift rather than many smaller ones, which can easily get lost in the excitement.
Show how much you appreciate your children
We often get caught up in being busy and laying down the rules, which often start with “don’t do this or don’t do that”. How often do we take a moment afterwards to show our appreciation? ‘Thank you so much for coming with me so quickly after school. I know how hard it is for you when you don’t get time to have a play on the playground but we are in rush and I appreciate you being so fast”.
Tell them how happy you felt when they came into your life. My children love to hear that!
Chiltern house review is a preschool which aims to create the same warm and family-like environment for children in school.
Find ways to help those that are less fortunate
Explain that sometimes others don’t have as much as we do. If there are ways that you become involved in a community or regional charity then try to become active in that. There are usually a number of different ways to do this; it could be helping out in an animal shelter with animals that don’t have anyone to care for them or love them. It could be donating books to a local hospice or children’s ward in a hospital. Explaining that others may be ill or very old and need help can open their eyes to seeing how lucky they are.
We have a wonderful helper who has been with us ever since my first child was born and we have often filled large boxes to send back to her family who has suffered in floods, fires and storms in Manila. The children can choose what books, toys and clothes they would like to send and also be a part of us choosing what we would send, from kitchenware to food. To be able to help others is very empowering, even for young children.
Start family traditions for expressing thanks
There are many ways to do this. This is what makes Thanksgiving my favourite holiday of all the celebrations and festivities I have experienced. There are no presents, loved ones come together and share what they are grateful for. You don’t have to be American to follow this great idea. You could make a ‘Tree of Thanks’ and get everyone to write on as many leaves as they like what they are thankful for and place these on the tree, where they can be read by everyone.
I just recently spoke to a teacher who told me that his family, which includes his two children, aged 7 and 3 and his wife, go around the table every evening and each person has two stars and a wish. You get to choose two of your favourite events or experiences from that day and give them a star each, and one wish for something from your day that maybe could have gone a bit differently.
I love this idea! I am truly grateful that I had the opportunity to hear his way of instilling gratitude in his young children and developing in them a habit of reflecting on each day, sharing experiences with people who care and focusing on what made you happy. That is what I want for my children.
Singapore has an enormous amount of enrichment classes aimed at children as young as 6 months. How on earth does a parent decide between science and speech and drama, karate and baking and ballet, Mandarin and music appreciation? This is a huge business and the choices are enough to blow anyone’s mind!
There are two main types of extra classes. Firstly there are enrichment classes, which enrich your child’s learning experiences. These classes extend your child’s learning beyond what is generally offered within the school system. Secondly, there are tuition classes, which support the learning in school and focus on the school subjects and curriculum style.
You know your child best, you know their strengths and interests as well as your own expectations and the opportunities for learning you can provide. Your knowledge of your child should always be the basis from which you make a decision about which classes he or she may enjoy. It is through spending time together and carefully observing your child that you will see the areas he or she enjoys or may have a talent in. Using classes to get to know what your child likes can be rather hit or miss. Of course, it is wonderful to expose your child to a wide range of activities, but this can easily be done, especially with pre-school children, by planning a number of fun activities together.
With very young children any enrichment programme should focus on language skills, social skills and confidence building. These skills are acquired when the child is actively involved in engaging activities. To keep young children engaged, activities need to change about every 15 minutes as it is very hard to hold their attention for much longer. Young children also learn the rhythm and pace of a language through music so an environment where there is lots of singing is vital. This is especially true if you are introducing a second language, for example, Mandarin.
Chiltern house Thomson is a good example of a preschool that provides preschoolers with the adequate language skills using speech and drama in their enrichment classes.
For young children (6 months to 2 1/2 years) classes will usually always involve physical activities, music, snack, free play and storytelling. To choose the class you think you would like, make sure you visit the centre and look carefully to see how happy everyone seems to be, teachers, children and parents. You also want to make sure it is very clean and well cared for environment.
Once children reach the age of 3 and can come to programmes independently, the choice is enormous! Where do you even start?
I think you must be clear about what you think is important. It is terribly easy to get caught up competing with everyone else and before you know it you are spending your afternoons and weekends rushing from one structured class to the next. Don’t forget they will soon enough spend their adult working life doing that! This is their precious childhood and no one is going to protect that but you. For me what is important is that my children have time to play with their friends, have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, a sport and are able to manage their school work. When they were a little bit younger they also did swimming lessons because we spend a lot of time outdoors and enjoy beaches, snorkelling and pools.
I also felt that learning Mandarin was important, but my son soon began to really dread his Mandarin lessons. He didn’t enjoy learning a new language and one so different from English was hard for him. His talents are not in languages. He now does French at school and I have accepted he is unlikely to ever be fluent in Mandarin. He is a talented drummer and enjoys his soccer games! My daughter, on the other hand, enjoys Mandarin and studies it both at school and during the school holiday when she does week long Mandarin Programmes which involve a number of cultural arts. This she thoroughly enjoys.
I was recently asked if there is a case when enrichment classes are counterproductive. The answer is when the child is not enjoying them. Or if the child is spending so much time in structured activities that they do not have the opportunity for some quiet downtime. Often children who are rushed from one programme to the next are unable to make their own decisions and cannot entertain themselves. It is important that a child develops the ability to spend time with themselves and feel comfortable with their own ideas and thoughts.
When a child can feel confident sharing ideas, asking questions, expressing their thoughts and exploring their imagination they develop a belief in their own abilities and feel valued. This comes from rich and varied experiences and opportunities, and enrichment classes can offer that. But what is important is a balance between feeding your child’s innate desire to explore, learn and succeed and packing in as many classes as is humanly possible. As your child’s parent, finding that balance is what you must do.
Several great ways for parents to develop a well-adjusted, well-rounded individual who is confident in his/her abilities
- Laugh often ― point out the funny side of an issue, see the humour in life.
- Give him some responsibility
- Be consistent, both in your praise and in your expectations
- Enjoy new experiences together, whether it is new food, adventures like horseback riding, snorkelling, parasailing…. Do it together.
- Share your values from a young age, importance of kindness, fairness, sharing, etc. Talk about why these things are important.
- Celebrate success and discuss failure. It is ok to not succeed, look at what you can learn and either try again or move on to a new challenge.
Q: I don’t want to be a kiasu parent but at the same time, I don’t want to hold my child back if she has a special ability, what is the best approach?
A: If your child has a special talent or ability it is important you provide the opportunities for your child to reach their full potential. However, it is important to always remember that a balanced childhood is the most important thing. A special talent should be something that can bring your child joy and pride; this must be the aim of any enrichment or lessons to stretch that ability.
Q: Thanks to their privileged lifestyle, I notice a lot of kids are becoming so self-assured, they sound very cocky when they talk, as if they know a lot. I’m not sure if it’s the company they keep or TV. How do I ensure that my child doesn’t become a cocky, smart aleck?
A: Teaching your child important values and manners should ensure they don’t come across as rude or impertinent even if they are confident and self-assured. Children will pick up what they see others do, whether it is on TV or even from friends and neighbours but as parents you are your child’s number one role model and should reinforce the good manners and respect you expect them to have when talking to others.
Q How can I know whether my child is benefitting from his enrichment classes?
A: The first question is does he seem to be enjoying his classes? For all children, especially young children this is vital. The second question is does he seem to be improving on this subject? If your child is taking extra Mandarin classes, is he more likely to speak in Mandarin and are you seeing him having a greater understanding of the language? If your child is enjoying the class, making progress and feeling successful, then he is benefitting from that session.
Q: Every week my child kicks up a big fuss about going to class but once it is over he says he has enjoyed himself. We go through this every week, what can I do?
A: Persevere! Sometimes children will take longer to settle into a once a week class as it is harder to make friends and feel a part of the group given the short period of time they are together. The important thing is when he comes out of the class he has enjoyed it. There is also learning in the fact that you have committed to series of classes and you need to see that through.
Q: So many of my friends have their children in a number of enrichment classes which are all academic. Will my child be at a disadvantage if I don’t keep up?
A: Enrichment classes are to ‘enrich’ their learning. Often it is to enable your child to spend more time on their areas of interest or talents than the school is able to do. For some children that may be music, drama or art, for others, it may be sport or science. If your child is struggling academically in certain areas it might be an idea to send him or her to a class that will help them keep up and feel more confident in that area. I believe enrichment classes should be to ensure your child is given a well-rounded education, keeping in mind that the school system focuses on academic achievement and the assessment of those achievements. Many children will gain an advantage by also being educated in areas not covered by the core curriculum areas taught in school.
Your child will only be at a disadvantage if they feel they cannot keep up with their friends and feel a pressure to do so. You are in a position to either make them feel confident in their own abilities or feel inadequate when compared to children who may do better than them in certain areas.
M&B Help for You
List of resources (books and websites) where parents bone up on how best to go about developing a well-rounded kid, maximise his/her abilities.
Books available from Amazon
Your Child’s Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them by Jennifer Fox M.Ed
Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice by Howard Gardner
In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences by Thomas Armstrong
Young Children’s Talent Education and It’s Method by Shinichi Suzuki and Kyoto Selden
Bringing Out the Giftedness in Your Child: Nurturing Every Child’s Unique Strengths, Talent and Potential by Rita Stafford Dunn
Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for the Young Child by Kathy Martin and David Messing
As your child prepares for Primary One it is perfectly natural that they will feel a combination of excitement, anticipation and even trepidation. The important thing is that this new challenge of moving into ‘big school’ is something your child feels they can cope with and not something they want to avoid at all costs. There are many factors that will determine how successful this transition is. It is important you are aware of these factors so you can support your child and avoid a situation where your child refuses to go and instead looks forward to the new adventure.
Confidence: Confidence is defined as a belief or trust in your own abilities and judgment. Children begin to develop confidence from a very early age. Early positive experiences provide the foundation on which self-confidence is built. If your child has a strong belief in their own ability and appears confident when faced with new situations they are very likely to take the transition to Primary school in their stride. For children with less confidence, they will need more reassurance during the first few weeks as they settle in.
Independence: Being able to dress independently, pack and unpack a school bag and follow routines and instruction without numerous prompts is vital in school. It is often children who struggle to function independently that face far greater challenges in Primary school. A mistake some parents make is focusing solely on academic development but not on the social skills of independence and confidence.
Temperament: Children have different temperaments, in other words, their own natural style of interacting or reacting to people, places and things. By understanding your child’s temperament, which can vary greatly from yours, is important for you to be able to help your child settle into his or her new school. For children who are very slow to open up and express themselves in new situations, it is important for you to reassure them that it is ok to ask for help or directions. For children who get overly stimulated by many new sensory experiences a quiet time to unwind after school is very important.
Learning Style: Once children enter Primary school you can expect an increase in homework so be prepared for some brain strain as you try to remember your algebra and the capitals of far-flung countries. By understanding your child’s learning style you will be able to make the time spent on work at home a time you will treasure as opposed to dread. Your child will most likely fall into one of these three categories:
- Auditory learners remember by talking out loud, like to have things explained orally and may have trouble with written instructions. Auditory learners may talk to themselves when learning something new.
- Visual learners easily remember visual details and prefer to see what they are learning. They prefer to write down instructions and may have trouble following lectures.
- Kinesthetic or tactile learners prefer activities that allow them to do what they are learning about. Tactile learners like to touch things in order to learn about them and like to move around when talking or listening.
Chiltern house uses speech and drama as one of their learning styles to allow preschoolers to learn quickly and grow more confident in the process.
Role Models: if your child has an older sibling or close cousins and friends who already attend Primary school it means that your child is not stepping into the great unknown. Generally, younger children look up to older relatives and friends and look forward to being able to do what they do. Going to the same school as an older sibling is a very proud moment for many children.
Developing positive self-esteem and confidence in your child is not something that can be done overnight and neither is gaining an insight into your child’s temperament and learning style. Laying the foundations for developing secure, confident children takes time and begins in the very first year of life.
With only a few days to go before the new school year starts, there are a number of ways you can use this time to further prepare your child.
- Routine: get your child into the new routine of bedtime and getting up early a good few days before school starts. A good night’s sleep and nutritious breakfast is vital for success in school.
- Be prepared: involve your child in buying the necessary school supplies, this can create a sense of excitement.
- Talk it through: Spend a lot of time talking to your child about the new school, what will be different, for example, buying food from the canteen or supplies from the shop. Also give them advice on what to do if they are unsure. Talk about your experiences at school and all your happy memories. Give them time to think and ask questions.
- Remember to be positive, should you show anxiety it will certainly spread to your child. It is natural that as parents you are anxious that they make a success of the new environment, that they settle in, make friends and enjoy going to school each day. That is a normal part of parenting, but it is also our job to focus on the positive, talk about what a big boy or girl they are now, how much they will enjoy the school and focus on all that will be exciting and new.
- Even if they are reluctant to go to school in the first few weeks, don’t panic. Focus on all that is good and exciting about school, keep steering the conversation back to the positives. Don’t focus on the negatives. A very important lesson is that there are things in life we must take on face to face and school is one of them. Attitude and outlook will determine whether that is a positive or negative experience.
I believe there is no skill more important to your child’s future success and happiness than the ability to communicate well. To be able to share feelings, thoughts and ideas in a variety of situations is what will enable him or her to develop the relationships and connections that will, hopefully, enable them to live a rich and fulfilling life. A child could have brilliant ideas but without the ability to share his ideas, eloquently defend his opinion and influence others, that brilliant idea is unlikely to see the light of day.
As human beings, we are social animals and have an innate desire to be a part of a social group. For some of us that are easier than others. We may be shy, have a stutter, feel unsure of ourselves or be unaware of personal space. If that is the case then we will need a bit more help in developing communication skills. For many of us we automatically learn how to communicate in a way that is accepted by the society we grow up in. We learn the language as well as the body language and other nuances of communication quite effortlessly.
In the past, this was all learnt from being a young baby as we were with our mothers, and other relatives or close family friends as they chatted, worked and interacted with each other. At times they would sing to us or tell us stories. Nowadays we are living in a very different world and ironically, the great steps forward in electronic communication could well hinder our children’s development of communication skills. We don’t seem to spend the same time interacting with people but more time interacting with devices. And the reality is playing with an iPad will not teach your child communication skills in the same way human interaction and exposure will.
Communication skills are made up of three main components.
Firstly, self-esteem or how you feel about yourself, and the thoughts that run through your head have a direct impact on your communication. A child who knows he is valued and loved will be more likely to share his thoughts and express his feelings than a child who often receives a negative reaction to his behaviour.
Secondly, verbal communication, this starts at birth when babies realize that if they cry they will get fed. From then on the baby is watching your face and eyes and attempting to copy the noises you make. I found one of the most amazing experiences was watching my toddler talk into a pretend phone. She was still at the babbling stage but she had my body language, tone and inflection and was doing an amazing and somewhat hilarious impression of me. Even now as a mother, I laugh when I hear myself say things to my children in exactly the same way my mother did when I was little. Children develop verbal communication from the people they are exposed to. For that very reason, as a parent you must be conscious of how you speak, not only to your child, but around your child.
Thirdly, is non-verbal communication. We communicate so much about our feelings, our thoughts, how interested we are, in non-verbal ways. A lot of what we consider manners would fall here. Listening, making eye contact, showing you are interested in the communication by nodding or making small noises to show you are engaged in the communication. Have you heard yourself say ’Please look at me when I am speaking to you!” So much is expressed non-verbally and again our children learn this from us and others around them.
The foundation of good communication skills is self-confidence. Instil in your child a belief that what they think matters, how they feel is important and that they have a valuable contribution to make. You can do this in many ways. Firstly show them how much you love them, even when they may be acting somewhat unlovable. Be calm through tantrums and fits of rage. Talk to them about how they feel and encourage them to share their darkest thoughts. Ask their opinion often, even simple things like “We need to buy bread and vegetables here, which one do you think we should get first?” Then wait, even if it takes ages, for them to make that important decision. Give them many different opportunities to communicate with others. For example, asking for the bill in a restaurant, giving your address to a taxi-driver or ordering food at the food court. Communication skills are further developed through play so allow your child as many opportunities to engage in pretend play either alone or with friends. There is a great deal of research on how important play, especially pretend play, is to the development of language and social skills.
More than anything communicate to your child how important they are to you. Do that both verbally and non-verbally. Do that day and night. Do that from the day they join your life and don’t stop.
At Chiltern house preschool, students are encouraged to express their thoughts freely and become confident in communicating with both their classmates and teachers.
Ways to improve communication skills at home:
- Talk to your children. Share your thoughts and feelings and do so using varied language.
- Read to your child every day. Sharing books together has many advantages but the first is the development and love of language.
- Encourage pretend play. Create situations where your children will be encouraged to play. This can be done by providing dress-up clothes, props or creating special spaces.
- Show appreciation to your child for good communication. Sometimes it is appropriate to show your child how pleased you are that they communicated well. This is true once they are bit older and may have been in a more formal setting which has required proper manners and body language.
- Listen! All parents need a reminder here. If we want our children to be able to listen well we need to listen to them. This means putting down the phone or iPad and giving over our full attention.
- Don’t interrupt. Even if your young child is struggling to find the right word unless he is becoming frustrated give him time to finish expressing his idea before responding. We so often interrupt our children and then get cross when they do that to us.
- When my son makes a mistake talking, how do I show him the right way without making him feel bad?
- Don’t correct him or interrupt him while he is talking. The best thing to do is to repeat it back to him correctly but in a natural, conversational way. For example:
Child: “ Mama, Daddy goed to the shop. He saying he buyed me a toy”.
Mum: “Really, did Daddy go the shop and he said he would buy you a toy?”
Remember that for little children “language is caught not taught”. So your job is to model correct language and he will indeed pick it up. If you criticize his language structure or pronunciation too often it will make him reluctant to speak and share his ideas which would really hinder his language development as practice makes perfect!
- My daughter is very shy and when anyone outside of the immediate family speaks to her she hides behind me or puts her head down and refuses to talk. What can I do?
- Try to empathize with your child and don’t shame her by pushing her forward or calling her “shy” or “silly”, even if you feel embarrassed. She is not doing this to upset you.
Model confident behaviour yourself. Children do learn their communication and social skills from the models of that behaviour around them.
Teach your child basic social skills. You can’t expect her to know them automatically. So explain what you would like her to do, Look people in the eye, smile and use a big voice so they can hear her.
With increased exposure and gentle encouragement over time, you will see a positive change.
- My son gets so angry and can’t seem to control himself sometimes. What can I do?
- Stay calm! Regardless of how old your child is the best thing to do is to accept his feelings and remain calm yourself.
Anger is natural and an emotion that all humans experience. It is a defence against deeper feelings of fear, hurt, pain and disappointment. What children need to be able to do is control aggressive impulses that can be connected to the feelings of anger. This is certainly possible once they are around 4. Younger than that it is harder. As they get older they can begin to solve problems so they are less likely to get angry. For example, removing toys from the reach of a younger sibling who may destroy them.
Depending on your child’s temperament you should either stay close to them and offer a sense of connection and acceptance or give them space and time to calm down. With younger children staying close is more likely to help them.
Talk to your child about how he feels when he is angry. Show that all feelings are allowed but what must be limited is the way in which he reacts to that anger.
Different types of communication skills and how you can help to develop them.
This is the communication that takes place between two people. Children develop interpersonal and social skills based on their experiences and interactions with those around them. From birth, they begin to develop this. For example, babies soon learn to scream if they want to be fed or changed or even just picked up.
The best way to teach your child interpersonal communication skills is to model appropriate behaviour in a variety of situations:
- Appropriate greetings
- Ways to initiate play or interaction with peers
- Use of an appropriate amount of assertiveness to communicate needs, desires, beliefs and ideas.
- Sharing toys, or taking turn resolving conflicts peacefully as they arise.
This is the communication that takes place internally. This communication goes on all the time in your head and dictates our reactions and relationships. The quality of this communication depends on our own sense of self-esteem, self-awareness and personality. As parents, we play an important role in ensuring our children develop positive intrapersonal skills. The words we use to describe them and even the tone and body language we use with them will all play a large part in whether or not they develop a sense that they are special and important.
Examples of intrapersonal communication would be talking to yourself when playing, keeping a diary, prayer, and the first example is often counting to ten when angry.
We can help children recognize the importance of this communication by asking them how they felt, what did they say to themselves when they saw something, teaching them to count to 10 when angry or even count sheep when trying to go to sleep. Tell them there is always a little voice inside of them and they must listen to that voice.
- Non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication is hugely important as it reinforces what we are saying and provides additional meaning and, occasionally, meaning over and above what has been said. Remember that we take in much more from what we see that from what we hear. So when communicating with another person we are not only listening to the language being used but also we are in tune with what we see, the friendliness, enthusiasm, and openness, all of which will come through non-verbal communication.
We use our bodies to express our attitudes and emotions.
As parents, we must be aware of our own body language when communicating with our children.
As much as we remind them to make eye contact, smile, stand up straight and pay attention, we can only really expect them to do so if that is what we do when communicating with them.