How to speak life into our children’s gifts

How many times do you criticise your child in a day? And how many times do you affirm them?

I did that test myself one day and didn’t do great. I affirmed all the kids that day, but only once each.

But when it came to criticism, or nagging, or complaining, I did it to all three kiddos…multiple times. (Okay, I admit I lost count.)

“Vera, why is your room always so untidy?”
“JJ, why do you take so long to come when I call?”
“Eeks, Josh, you’re such a mess!”

And I asked myself “Why is it so easy to point out their flaws and faults, and so hard to acknowledge their good sides?”

Today’s kids face performance-related pressures more than ever before. We expect them to do well in school, finish their homework on time, be a shining example to their siblings, help their younger siblings, the list goes on.

What is the result of a high-stress, fast-paced, and overly critical environment?

Highly stressed out and anxious children.

And are they getting enough love and support from us? I think that receiving unconditional love and acceptance in the home is an antidote to the world’s burgeoning mental health problem.

Do we accept them for who they are, mess, quirks, tantrums and all?

Are we ready to forgive and give grace when they make mistakes?

Are we generous with our time, love, words of praise and affirmation, and most importantly our presence?

The word for me this season? Delight in my children.

They may frustrate you. They may defy or turn a deaf ear to your instructions. Their untidiness may drive you up the wall.

But take pleasure in them. Rejoice over them. Remember they are God’s gifts to us. Remember that He finds great joy in them, as He does too in us.

Sometimes I think I express so much disdain that they may feel like they’re not good enough. Now that’s a really scary thought.

How can we express our infinite joy in our children and make it known to them?

1. Practice unconditional love. Let your children know they are loved, regardless of how well or poorly they perform in school or in their chosen sports/hobbies.

2. Use affirming words: You are God’s wonderful gift to me. You are my precious son/daughter. You are beautiful not just on the outside but on the inside, because you are loving and kind to others.

3. Be curious. When asking about their day, replace the question “Any homework?” with “How was your day?” or “Who did you have recess with?” or “What was the best /worst part of today?”

4. Write them little love /encouraging notes.

5. Practise restoration. End off any discipline or confrontation with “I may be angry because I don’t like this behaviour…but I still love you.”

6. Be a great listener. When they are sharing about a funny or exciting story, give them the time of day and your full presence.

7. Lavish them with hugs and kisses.

8. Spend time with them. For 30 minutes a day, log off all devices and tune into their hearts.

As we put aside a critical spirit and put on an affirming spirit, we may begin to see a different side to our children.

When we focus on their strengths and speak life into their gifts, they will learn that they are worthy and have unique talents to offer the world.

“See a child differently, you see a different child.” – Dr Stuart Shanker

see a child differently

What our children really need

Our children need more of our time

Today’s modern and ever-connected world means that all sorts of responsibilities and distractions are eating away at our leisure time and mental space.

We need to take charge of the things that come into our daily lives and set aside some time every day, just to spend with our kids. And try to keep that time unadulterated from the worries of their academic progress, or other concerns.

One way is to let your child know this is his/her time, and ask what they would like to do together.

More of our attention

Our children are practically fighting for our attention with gadgets, screens, and work. I know because it happens in our household too. I know the inertia, the amount of willpower it takes to turn off the screen and answer the cry for attention from one of my kids.

As a work-from-home mum, it is even more of a struggle because physically you’re there but mentally you can be miles away.

But we need to make a conscious effort, and start with small pockets of time to play, bond, and assure our kids of our love.

More play

In my teaching and intervention work, I come across students who have their schedules packed from Mondays to Saturdays.

They often sleep late (past 930/10pm) and have little free play. And they start to exhibit signs of inattention, an inability to focus, tiredness and irritability.

If we don’t make changes to the input (rest, nutrition, play, strong bonds), we are not going to see that much change in the output.

Children need time and space to play, tinker and explore. And I think we all need to constantly re-examine and re-calibrate the balance of play versus work in our children’s lives.

child tinkering with lego

More nature

We recently took a family trip to a forest resort in Malaysia. I wrote about the lessons we learnt from nature on Channel NewsAsia, so do have a read!

My son, who has some behavioural issues, remains calm and engaged throughout the trip. And I believe nature (as well as the presence of his cousins as playmates) had a big part to play in this.

children in nature

Less hovering, more autonomy and problem-solving

On our nature trip, there was a river that wholly captured the imagination of our kids. They spent many marvelous hours there navigating it, splashing around, and also working together and solving problems. It was a wonder to witness.

During the three days, I did not hear the usual cries of “mummy, can you help me….(fill in the blanks).” They did most of the things themselves and roamed the resort grounds freely. It gave me a glimpse of the kampong life of yesteryear.

While I cannot bring the river home, I can certainly allow them the chance to let them hone their independence and autonomy.

It takes a conscious effort to deliberately sit back and not do a thing. (Especially hard for mums…)

Just try it the next time you visit a playground. Don’t rescue your child from every sticky situation, but coach them through it and remind them that you are near to help. (This, of course, does not apply if they’re about to hurt someone or themselves, or hurt by others.)

The end result of a confident and can-do spirit is worth it.

More affirmation

I will be the first to confess, I’m not particularly great at this. I come from a family where my parents were not very expressive in their show of love.

But I use my strengths in writing to compensate where I fall short of in the physical affection department. I write little notes of love to them, highlighting the efforts I see them making, or any admirable qualities that I see them demonstrating.

And I try to not let a day go by without lavishing a single hug, smile, or word of affirmation to each of my kiddos.

They need us to call out their strengths

The words we speak can either be life-giving or destructive. They can either add or take away.

Our children need us to identify and call out their strengths, as well as give them opportunities to use their strengths to serve or bless others.

Instead of focusing on or harping on their weaknesses, take the opposite approach and help them use their strengths in their studies, or for friends and family.

If it is in music, play a song to bring cheer to an elderly person. If it is in cooking, give them a chance to plan the family meals. If it is in writing, encourage them to write positive notes to friends, or to craft stories to share about a recent outing or holiday. If it is in helping others, get them to help coach a classmate who is struggling in a subject.

The possibilities are endless once you start to think about it. But the impact is great, as our children start to see that they are given different gifts for a purpose. That they aren’t just chasing academic or sporting excellence for a medal or an award, but the achievement will one day enable them to be in a position to give.

As they grow, they will start to think about how to contribute and give back to society, rather than just be focused on themselves.

Is there anything you feel your kids really need at this stage of their lives, or any ideas on how you meet those needs in your own special way?

Please share in the comments!

Why Mothers Never Ever Give Up

Motherhood is often stressful and messy.

But it also makes a good faith stretching exercise.

Amidst the messes and failures, the broken toys, the deeds of mischief and wrong-doing, the tears and quarrels and strife, amidst all these things, there remains something of a spark of hope still flickering within us.

And that’s what makes mothers mothers. We just don’t give up easily.

Even when one kid throws his fifth epic tantrum of the day.

Or when they get into a scuffle and refuse to own up to their mistakes.

Even when they lash out at us in anger.

We may cry, flail our arms around, throw our crumpled faces into our pillows, and send angry, ugly messages to our significant other…

But we don’t give up.

We cling onto hope.

We pick up the pieces, hit the proverbial reset button, and move on.

I’ve learnt some things from seeing how my own mothers put up with the “dirty dishes in the sink.”

I have three mums. They each have a fire in their belly that they are actually unaware of.

This gets them solving problems (often not of their own making), scaling higher heights and staring challenges down in the face.

My late nanny soldiered on to raise her two children even after her husband walked out on her. She somehow made space in her heart to accommodate more children eventually, and I was blessed to be one of those under her loving care.

My mother refused to walk out on her marriage even when things got rocky, for the sake of my brother and I. She walked through the storms with an undying optimism.

My godmother made many personal sacrifices for me, and she taught me about God and His ever-powerful presence in our lives. Even to this day, she continues to shower many blessings and prayers upon my children and family.

Every mother has that fire. It’s within you even though you may not notice it.

It calls you toward making sacrifices of love that you never thought yourself capable of, doing things you never thought you would, and it calls you towards a higher life.

Regardless of the challenges facing you right now, know that you have the shoulders of friends and family to lean on.

Know that you never walk alone.

Generations of mothers have walked the path before you, and many still will follow after you.

You have the power to choose how to write your family’s story and the kind of ending you want.

May your story always be filled with hope, love, and an unbridled, burning fire in the belly.

A Mother “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13, on love)

mothers never give up

Building rituals of connection in your marriage

rituals of connectionI’ve noticed that my husband and I have established some rituals of connection. This is a term I picked up from the Gottman Institute.

Rituals, as the name suggests, are regular habits of interactions with our spouse.

For us, it’s the morning kiss as he bids me goodbye and leaves for work.

It’s the bedtime hug or “love you” that we give each other before turning in.

It’s the coffee that we make for each other during weekends.

It’s the bi-weekly date nights that we aim for, even if it’s just to check out a new coffee/food joint. (We now have to plan this in stealth mode as the kids are quite possessive of us these days).

It’s the weekly tennis sessions we try to have. (Not so romantic, but at least we keep each other healthy, right?)

It’s the 10 minutes of him listening to me rant, I mean share, about my day, after the kids have gone to bed. (He talks a lot at work, so he usually maxes out his quota by the end of the day, but he knows I need to talk so he graciously lets me do it.)

For this last one, he’s been making an effort for quite some time, but I hardly noticed it until last night. After “downloading” my thoughts to him, I turned to him and said, “Thank you for listening.”

He smiled, albeit in a half sleepy state. I have no idea how much he really receives from me every night, but I know that I feel loved and cherished at the end of it.

I guess that’s what really matters.

I hope to say “thank you” to him more. Maybe that could be a new ritual – a ritual of gratitude.

I hope to surprise him more (a breakfast in bed morning perhaps, or sweet text messages) – a ritual of giving delight.

Even when I feel cranky or overwhelmed with the kids or with the day’s troubles, I hope I still find the strength to smile and ask for a hug. A ritual of turning towards.

With kids in the picture, it’s easy to lavish all our affections on them and neglect our spouse. These small everyday rituals remind us that we still have each other at top of mind.

What rituals of connection do you enjoy in your marriage? 

4 Values My Kids Learnt From The Nightingale Musical by SRT

The nightingale musical

We caught The Nightingale by Singapore Repertory Theatre last weekend, and the kids had a really good time. The musical was funny, acting on point, and the songs were catchy and upbeat too.

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale, The Nightingale is a joyful burst of song that reminds us to appreciate and value the world around us. Enchanted by the lilting birdsong of the plain-looking, brown Nightingale, the Emperor of China captures and keeps her in a gilded cage for his daily entertainment. But soon, disenchanted at losing her freedom, the Nightingale stops singing and is replaced by a singing mechanical bird.

Here are 4 important values the kids learned from the musical.

1. You cannot force people to do what they don’t want to do.

The Emperor tried to force the nightingale to sing, and kept the bird in a cage. Only later does he learn that this wasn’t the best environment for the nightingale to thrive.

2. Friendship comes only if you try to understand the other person

The Emperor chased the nightingale away, angered by the fact that it would not sing for him. He could have tried to see things from the little bird’s perspective and seek to understand its needs, rather than just being focused on his own desire.

nightingale 3

3. A “gadget” can never truly replace a real friendship

When the mechanical bird that the Emperor receives from his cousin, the Emperor of Japan, breaks down, the Emperor starts to realise what he has lost. This parallels our world today where kids tend to value screen-time more than face-time, and raises the question: Can we really call a friend whom we interact with online a true friend? 

4. You should not be afraid to try new things. 

In the musical, the Emperor’s Protector was too good at doing his job of protecting the Emperor. The result: the Emperor was sheltered and ill-prepared to deal with the responsibilities of being a ruler.

This last point may be relevant for parents as well. We all need to be reminded to allow our children some degree of freedom and choices as they grow, so as to enable them to learn through different experiences.  

The musical runs from 7 March till 20 April 2018. Get your tickets here before the show flies away!

**ENJOY 25% DISCOUNT OFF TICKET PRICES FOR ALL SATURDAY AND PUBLIC HOLIDAY PERFORMANCES! (Applicable for Cat 1 – 3 tickets.)

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