Parenting and child expert Dr Michele Borba has advice on how to raise successful kids, plus handling different parenting styles.

As parents, you want to bring out the best in your child and to help them realise their potential. So, you set performance targets for junior.

But is this intense emphasis on success unhealthy?

Not unless your expectations are unrealistic, says Dr Michele Borba, an internationally renowned parenting expert and author. “There’s a real fine line between I want you to succeed as compared to I want you to succeed and get the Nobel Peace Prize, which is a little bit over the top.”

Dr Borba, an educational psychologist, notes that there’s less time for you and your kiddo to rest because far too much emphasis is placed on school grades.

“We now have to [send] our children from an activity to activity to activity to yet another activity to give them an edge over their peers. As a result we aren’t just raising perhaps one of the most stressed out generation of children, but we ourselves are the most stressed out on record, too.”

Dr Borba advises that you make sure your expectations are fair and realistic. “It has to be one step above what your child is capable of doing and gently nudging them in that direction along the way.”

“There’s a real fine line between I want you to succeed as compared to want you to succeed and get the Nobel Peace Prize, which is a little bit over the top.”

Dr Borba was in town recently to share her practical parenting advice at the Singapore Parenting Congress. The mother of three adult sons touched on topics ranging from empathy to social media and smartphone usage.

SmartParents sits down with Dr Borba to get tips on handling your strong-willed child, raising successful kids and dealing with your in-laws who may have differing parenting views.


In your experience, what is the most common challenge among Singaporean parents?
The biggest challenge so far — and this isn’t a problem that’s unique to Singapore — it’s social media. How much should I allow and where are the bounds to this? Another is smartphone usage — when should I let him have the cell phone and for how long? How do I take it away?

But is it even possible to take the cell phone away?
Sure, if you pay the bill. Also, when it becomes addictive and when you see that it’s changing your child’s behaviour and you’re worried that your child’s focusing ability is going away. And, if you see your child playing a video game and it’s making him more aggressive afterwards. All these are grounds for taking the phone back because it’s having a negative impact on your child.


What tips would you give parents who feel that they aren’t naturally maternal?
There are bound to be people who feel this way but what I’ve realised is when they actually have children, they realise that being maternal can come in many different forms. They don’t have to be offering kisses and hugs all the time and you don’t have to be the one who’s always all over your kid. Every parent brings a different set of skills. What we do know is that parenting can be taught and parenting style is something that you can change and you can make it work just by putting in the time and effort required.

How can parents bring up confident kids?It’s a combination of several factors but parents should try to give their kids a voice. If we don’t give them a voice or let them think that they have good ideas, they are going to have a tough time becoming assertive in a noisy world out there.

“Parenting can be taught and parenting style is something that you can change and you can make it work just by putting in the time and effort required.”

What are the top three things that parents of successful kids have in common?
The first is having unconditional love and a strong relationship with the child because without it, you’re going to get nowhere with your child. The second thing is actually being able to handle your own stress because our stress is mirroring over to our kids and it’s impacting our children. Third is communication, it’s about figuring out how to talk and communicate with your child. Fourth is perspective taking [looking at an issue from your child’s point of view] and finding out what your child’s needs are. Fifth is being an example. As parents, we spend so much time going on about the stuff that we do and the tutoring that we do and the stuff that we buy for our kids. But what the research is saying, it’s not about the stuff, it’s about who you are.

How should parents handle differences in parenting styles?
That’s a common issue and in certain situations, it just cannot be solved because they have differing values. I’ll always tell parents that they cannot be 100 per cent in line with each other. But if you can sit down and agree on what is one issue that concerns you about your kid and agreeing on one thing that you both should do in common, you’re much better off than countering each other all the time. Because, the kid is going to get mixed messages and you’ll be better off if you are both sending the same message because you’ll get better results in a shorter amount of time. Remember, kids are very good at figuring you out and they will take sides.


How do parents prevent a power struggle?
You can both try attending parenting workshops and classes together. I find it most wonderful when I look out into the audience and see couples attending the course together because during the talk, I would get them to turn to each other and share their thoughts. That’s when they are actually communicating and figuring out what they should do as a couple. The other thing you can do is read the same parenting book together and if you like something you’ve read, mark it with a post-it and then leave it on the night-stand for your partner and encourage your partner to do the same. If you’re both in agreement over something, then you’ll be more likely to give it a try together as well.


How should parents deal with their strong-willed kids?
Well, first of all, they should know that their strong-willed kids are likely to become CEOs [laughs]. But what you really want to do is to allow your child to have a voice but always ensure that it’s respectful. What happens a lot of the time is a strong-willed kid wears you down because they are very sharp in knowing what buttons to push. They are also usually very verbal, so try not to get into a battle with them. Just hold up your hands in the time-out signal and tell them we’ll talk later. The more you get in to the battle with them, the more you’ll be wiped out because they are very good and strong at it.

How do parents deal with in-laws who have differing views on raising kids?
They will have differing views and there’s nothing you can do to change that. But there are certain issues that you’ve to be able to say, this is becoming a concern. And then have the parent who’s related to that in-law to make the phone call and say here’s what’s going on. Be specific but don’t undermine them or be disrespectful to them. Another thing which can be helpful is to give your in-laws or the grandparents a call and say: “We are really struggling with this issue and here’s what we’ve discovered really works for the child, so if you see a certain issue happening — say bedtime problems or feeding issues — can you please back us up? Because we’ll get better results if we do this together and we’ve been trying for a very long time to better manage this behaviour.” If the parent is aware of what the issue is and they see you trying to solve it, they will usually be on your team.


What do you love most about your job?
Oh, meeting the people. Absolutely fascinating. No matter where I go. It’s been an incredible. Just in the last month, I’ve been in Abu Dhabi, Denmark and Lebanon.

“Because they are different, the key is to get to what works for that child and not to deviate from it because no one knows your child better than you.”

What things will you never leave home without?
My computer and a notebook. I keep in touch with my family through texts ― depending on the country I won’t call them. If not, it’s e-mails and texts back and forth.


Complete these sentences:

* The one superpower I hope to have is… Getting rid of jetlag [laughs]. I travel so much. It’s really exhausting, I’m really wiped out right now. It’s the travel that is horrific.

* If I weren’t a parenting expert, I would have been a… Well, I started out as a teacher. I didn’t mean to become a parenting expert. I was drawn into it by publishers, I’ve always loved to be a writer. And I would have continued to be a teacher, a writer or an educational consultant. But it is the publishers that told me you need to become a parenting expert.

* My biggest obsession now is… Empathy. I read anything there is about the subject because I think it’s fascinating. It’s the core of what’s living inside of everyone of us. And every time there’s some new research or book about the subject, I devour it.

* The one thing people don’t know about me is that I’m… More of an introvert and people are shocked by that, but I really enjoy talking to people one-on-one. Even in a large social setting, it still prefer to talk to people on a one-on-one basis because I think it’s more interesting.

* My biggest hobby is… Reading. I read about five books simultaneously ― I love reading. My biggest concern is bookstores are going out of business [laughs].

* The one piece of advice I always give parents is… Use your instincts. Don’t rely on asking your neighbour what works for her child because it won’t work on your kid. Every child is different and that is what makes them wonderful and makes the world a better place. Because they are different, the key is to get to what works for that child and not to deviate from it because no one knows your child better than you.

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