The final, almost-three-hour-long session of Singapore Parenting Congress 2016 was a bonanza of child-rearing advice and tips from the panel of parents and experts. Hosted by 938LIVE’s Susan Ng, the dialogue was attended by:
Peter Lim, parent of Ethan, 5, one of the children featured in Channel NewsAsia’s Don’t Kid Around.
Dr Khoo Kim Choo, Adjunct Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore, who teaches at SIM University.
Esther Lai, counsellor with Touch Community Services and popular marriage prep speaker
Jeff Cheong, member of the Families for Life Council and Media Literacy Council
Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Social and Family Development and Manpower
Diana Ser, media personality and founder of Crazy about Chinese
Steven Chia, presenter for Channel NewsAsia
Edmund Tay, daddy blogger (edunloaded.com) and member of the Media Literacy Council.
We present useful takeaways from the session…
Keep on talking to your kids
We talk about when they’re teenagers or in their 20s — but a lot of [parenting] is…in their foundational years. The key thing is you’re there to listen to them, let them talk about how they feel, acknowledge their feelings. And also to praise them when they have done well. It’s a whole conversation as you grow with your kids and you talk through each situation and help them contextualise what they are feeling, what they can learn from it. And you share with them your own lessons in life…
Teach junior to be a humble winner
[My wife and I] encourage our kids not to go around telling everyone “Oh, I did this very well”, [telling our kids] “If you did well in a certain subject, perhaps you have more of a capacity to help another student!”
Teach your offspring how to handle failure
Children [need to] learn to deal with failure and also…know that to make mistakes, to fail, is okay. They should know that if they’ve tried their best, but somebody else did better — it’s okay.
Dr Khoo Kim Choo
Build up your child’s sense of self
Don’t be reluctant to praise your kids. Don’t be stingy with encouragement... We mustn’t think only in terms of academic areas, but things that will help our children to feel secure, to feel good about themselves, to have confidence, to have self-worth. They may be good in art, they may be good in music, they may be good in other things that may not bring them as much money but that bring them a lot more happiness.
Dr Khoo Kim Choo
Stress what matters more than getting straight As…
We see our peers, not all of us are all straight-A students — some of us don’t particularly do well in school, but we all find our own niche in time. There are a lot of other things that are important: Values, your character — which is something that I consider very important.
Recruit younger kids to help the elder
When my elder son was preparing for his PSLE, we made it a family affair. We turned off the TV — no TV for anybody — and my younger son would be “helping” his brother, reminding him “You have to make sure you clear the exam, then we all get to celebrate again!”
Recruit elder kids to help the younger
My daughter in P4 likes to solve problems, so [we tell her] that the P1 daughter has a very serious problem, and how would she solve it? Then she’s say, “Okay, Janet, this is what you do… You tell your friend this …” And they are able to interact. I think translates into quite a nice relationship.
When sibs fight #1 ― Make them take turns
I have 3 kids — 11, 9 and 8 — they squabble about everything: Who gets to sit in the corner in the car, who gets the centre seat, the TV, who gets the remote… That’s the tough part of being a parent, not only must we be the role model but we must come in and be the referee as well. But they need to understand that each one has got to take his or her own turn. And when they understand the dynamics of that, when we talk them through it, I think that really helps. It’s always part of growing up because as long as you’re not the only child, this type of squabble will always exist.
When sibs fight #2 ― Teach them resilience
I think it’s great that the kids fight sometimes because we had talked earlier about resilience and I think a part of resilience is being able to get along with other people and bounce back when your emotions are hurt as well.
When sibs fight #3 ― Try this handy tactic
Both of mine were fighting over toys. And I got called in like Justice Bao, and they present their cases and I said “It’s not your fault at all. It’s the fault of the toy! See this is the one that’s causing you to have the fight. See?” I went to get a clear Ziploc bag and I put that toy in there and I said “This one, going to remand, 24 hours!” Then I told them “Any other toy that gives you a problem, just call me. I’m just in the kitchen, right?” So, no more fighting.
How to be your child’s hero in four easy steps, plus, dealing with kids and tech. Did we mention tech?
Being their super-hero #1 ― Be a good role model
As long as I am with the kids, I am constantly their teacher, their role model. They will always look to me whatever I do, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It made me realise that we have to try to be better people all the time.
Being their super-hero #2 ― Walk the talk
It’s the little things where they see your values being translated into action. I’m talking about how we treat others; it’s how we treat domestic help; how we treat our parents — are we making time for them as they are growing older? How do we treat our siblings, our spouses… children are very, very perceptive — they are like sponges and they are just absorbing this on a day-to-day basis.
Being their super-hero #3 ― Offer support
I think teachers are frightfully important... We hope parents carry out their responsibilities as best they can but teachers, I think, will be the next natural adults who can play [mentor or super-hero]. The hope is that as [children from difficult family situations as they] go through life, and perhaps difficult decisions, we always hope that they don’t drop out of school and perhaps they turn to someone that they trust and respect to guide them and keep them on the path, so that at least they have a fighting chance to a normal life. Let’s try our best to do that for our own children but also look out for those in our society, even in our own neighbourhood [who need support].
Being their super-hero #4 ― Offer encouragement
[We should] satisfy that emotional need [in kids being drawn off the right path]. Maybe he just wants somebody to pat him on the back and recognise that “Oh, you can play football so well! Yes, you failed all your maths but congratulations on doing football so well!” [The kid can then feel] “At least someone sees some value in me!” You could all join in, all put in the effort to be able to be a change agent in this person’s life. Yes, it’s going to be hard but you know what? It’s really worth the trouble. If you can, invest yourself in someone else’s life and see that change, you know, it’ll be so rewarding, I think.
Tech woes #1 ― Set boundaries
Our Pact is a free fantastic app [for smartphones] that I found! It’s almost like a contractual agreement between your children and yourself, your two phones will need to interact, and you go to a website and download it and for your data plan, you can actually set parameters down, a certain timing where they can use the cellphone. So I said “Okay, let’s say you come back home from school between 6 and 8 o’clock, this is where you have free time, you can do whatever you want, you can surf you can chat with your friends.” And the other kids know that if they want to talk to my son, this is the window of opportunity.
Tech woes #2 ― Be vigilant
For my youngest son, who is 6, when he is surfing, watching YouTube, I make sure I am within earshot to get a sense of what he is watching, to tell him why you shouldn’t be looking at certain things. For my daughter, she’s got WhatsApp... But I’ve told her, I will randomly go in and look at your phone and look through the groups, just to get a sense of what is happening out there.
Tech woes #3 ― Offer alternatives
Technology is neutral: These platforms can do good, they can also do bad. [This is important to] help us realise how critical it is for us to take an active interest in the Internet space. When you have a void, children are looking for things to fill it. So, they are looking for different alternative sources of information, looking for alternative sources of solace or distraction (and of course you read in the surveys and newspapers, about internet porn with the boys and so on). If parents are in that space, trying to provide as balanced a life as possible, guiding them — perhaps that may nullify, to some degree, that need to fill that vacuum with something else.
Tech woes #4 ― Control access
My son and daughter-in-law came up with this plan so, there is a certain time that my grandchildren can play their games on the computer, and certain amount of time they can have access to the television. There is a timer to it and when the timer rings, they have to stop. Regardless of where they are at, even if it is at the most exciting point, they have to stop. Otherwise they get a forfeit, no more access for this week. The kids are now very careful about keeping to the time.
Dr Khoo Kim Choo
Tech woes #5 ― Give them a reality check
My kids saw me posting an Instagram photo and they said “Wow dad, you got so many ‘likes’ on this on this Instagram photo.” I looked at them and said, “You know it’s not about the ‘likes’, you know. Just because someone ‘likes’ your Instagram photo it doesn’t mean they really LIKE you.” I used it as an opportunity for them to understand who they are as a person and their value cannot be [tied to] the number of ‘likes’ or ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ that they have on Instagram or on Facebook.
The most important lessons the audience picked up…
Make time to bond
We must spend more time with them and that is the main challenge. I used to bring the kids to the supermarket when I was working the morning shift, and sometimes they didn’t like it but it became a routine. It became part of our “bonding process”...
Create family moments
My boy is in NS and when he comes back home for weekends, because the whole week he’s had no Internet access, he wants to play. But I always plan something for him that keeps him busy. Family time doesn’t wait for you. You create it. Spending time together…so we watch movies [together] and he won’t be playing games.
Grandparents are a vital resource
I think as a parent you need to manage your expectations [of your own parents]. Don’t fight over the vegetables [for your child] if that’s gonna really tear the house down because at the end of the day, the whole family unit does make a big difference. Grandparents have different perspective and they offer great experience and input to your child. In my mind, I know that they are the best solution that I have for my family already.
Explain your parenting style to grandparents
Grandparents love to feed the children and sometimes, they may not know that the child is allergic to certain things or that too much candy makes them really hyperactive… [That’s where] communication comes in, say “You know, ma, when you do this, when you give them all these sweets, they really get hyperactive, they cannot settle down, they cannot sleep… So it would help if you can cut down maybe to one piece of candy or two pieces a week because if they have too much candy they also will spoil their teeth. And after eating that, maybe go and brush their teeth and I think they should be okay. Are you okay with that?”
Dr Khoo Kim Choo
Tap your extended family ― for babysitting help!
As you have smaller families, the extended family becomes quite important. Parents with special-needs children sometimes just need a break. Having your siblings play a part, bringing your children out for an outing and also developing a healthy relationship... I think is useful because they also learn from a different perspective. It also allows you [parents] time to recharge yourselves — both as individuals and also as a couple.
YOU are your child’s best toy
The main thing, the most important toy that one can give to a child, is actually a mum, a dad and grandparents. Because you don’t come with batteries. You are very flexible. You can do so many things. You can read, you can play, you can sing, you can dance, you can do so many things with them. You are invaluable!
Dr Khoo Kim Choo
Show junior the ropes
[My late father] used to bring me to the airport to actually observe how he worked. It was a good opportunity for him to impart some knowledge. And if your workplace allows you to bring your child to work and let him observe you, I think it’s a big thing for a child... Today we looked at the theme of “being a super-hero”. To be a super-hero, you can do simple things daily to charm the child and to win him over.
Just be there for your kids
[To raise your children] it requires one, a choice [to do so]. I think secondly, just put in the time and effort to work on it. I mean it will not be perfect but [we should] work on our craft as parents. We’re not talking about being super-hero parents, but just put in your effort. And lastly, everything [we discussed] here today, it all boils down to essentially just really one thing: It’s just being there and making time. That’s what our children need and when you fill up that void…they don’t need to seek other things to fill the void with.