Two parenting skills I’m practising in the new year

What are you looking forward to this year?

What hopes and dreams do you hold in your heart?

I haven’t been blogging much. With all 3 kids in primary school now and my writing work on the side, I just don’t have the mind-space to write as much as I used to. But I will keep trying.

And today, I want to share about two new parenting skills I picked up in December.

1. Empathetic listening

A person who sits down with you, opens his ears and heart to listen to you, doesn’t judge, and tries to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes—this is empathetic listening.

As with many parents, I’m prone to giving instructions and advice. Perhaps we live in a pragmatic society that values efficiency and we won’t want our kids to make too many mistakes. We tend to go straight to problem-solving.
But by listening empathetically, actively, with your whole presence, we give our kids “psychological air”—the space to feel what they feel and to know they are safe in spite of those huge, hard feelings.

In doing so, we also get to help them identify some of those big emotions. They also learn to be more in tune with their feelings.

Left out during recess? “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that… did you feel more lonely or sad?”

First day at school? “How do you feel about your first day tomorrow? Are you feeling worried?

Favourite snack sold out in the supermarket? “Oh dear, that must feel so disappointing. You were really looking forward to eating it.”

Crying because she had to leave a party early? “I can see you’re feeling really upset and frustrated we have to leave. Do you want to talk about it?”

Results so far?

Practising this skill at home has helped me be more patient in handling my kids when they’re having difficulties or feeling upset over something. I find that they calm down faster, and are more willing to listen after they feel like I’ve understood.

I’m definitely motivated to continue this. I feel kids in general need help in building their emotional skills and EQ. I believe this will strengthen their foundation in coping with life’s stresses and challenges!

2. I-messages

This isn’t the first time I’m learning about I-messages but it is the first time I’ve practised it consistently with others in different scenarios and contexts. Basically, I-messages focus on my (the parent’s) feelings when a certain behaviour is seen. It could be positive behaviour, for example, “I like it when you are honest with me.” Or “I enjoy seeing you try your best in practising violin.”

It could also be negative behaviour, such as “I get very agitated when you guys shout or fight in the car. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on driving.”

At times it can also express a certain belief or value, for example, “I believe in working together as a team to tidy up.”

What is so powerful about I-messages?

I-messages are opposite from you-messages, which are unfortunately what most of us are used to dishing out daily. (“Why are you so untidy?” Why can’t you just listen to what I say?”)

The power of I-messages is that they don’t accord blame or guilt; they simply describe the feeling that is caused by a certain behaviour.

The best form of I-messages that I like to use is “I feel ______[emotion] when [describe the situation or action].”

So, they are compassionate and respectful, while also communicating the need to change the behaviour or to reflect on one’s wrong actions.

I think it’s powerful because it helps me be assertive without being aggressive. Thus reducing the need to shout or yell over anything that goes awry. 

Results so far?

Similar to active listening, I feel this skill has helped me to slow down and express my wishes in a gentler, less aggressive way. In the beginning, my kids laughed because they weren’t used to it. Maybe I was still using an angry tone, rather than a reconciliatory one to express my needs. But I think they are slowly getting the hang of it!

Parenting classes in Singapore

If you’re keen to start the new year with new parenting skills under your belt, check out Parent Effectiveness Training (PET). Developed by psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon in 1962, PET offers proven communication skills that enhance relationships in and out of the home.

There are weekday and Saturday classes coming up in February, so do check them out and sign up early! Classes are also available in Mandarin here

Here’s to building stronger relationships with our kids this year!

 

mum and young son bonding

Disclaimer: I was offered to attend the PET training workshop for free in order to write this review. Views shared above are my own.

Catch The Snowman for Some Family Fun this Holidays!

Looking for something meaningful and fun for the whole family this holidays?

Round everyone up to watch The Snowman at the Esplanade theatres!

the snowman musical

The Snowman musical finale

Thrilling audiences young and old, the enchanting live show has been appearing on stages around the world for over twenty years.

Based on Raymond Brigg’s well-loved book, the story begins when a young boy’s snowman comes to life on Christmas Eve. The duo embarks on a night-time adventure to meet Father Christmas, dancing penguins and reindeers, and more of the Snowman’s friends. But they also encounter perils on their quest – will they escape the evil of Jack Frost and make it back home in time for Christmas morning?

The Snowman is showing at The Esplanade Theatres from 12 to 15 December! Click on these exclusive discount links for amazing discounts!

Applicable to CAT 1 & 2 Tickets, and for 12 and 13 December, 7pm shows ONLY.

Tickets need to be bought in multiples of 2.

Applicable for 14 and 15 December shows ONLY.

The snowman musical

6 hacks for stress-free primary school days

6 Hacks for Stress-free School Days-2-2

Are you stressed out managing your kids’ school routines and homework?

The early morning starts and rushing errands/work while the kids are at school can take its toil on even the fittest among us.

I have two kids in primary school and Josh my youngest will join his brother next year. I also have an elderly godmother to care for at home. Some days can be overwhelming but I am learning that the difficult days will pass, and to relish the good and fruitful moments.

If you find yourself struggling to keep up with a hectic schedule, these tips/hacks may be useful for you.

1. Prep breakfast in advance

I’ve fed my children rolled oats for breakfast since they were little tots. When they were around 2-3 years old, we started them on baby oats, or oatmeal, that is easily softened by just milk or water. Top it up with their fav fruits like berries, raisins, or granola.

When they started primary school, they started on rolled oats, which has a chewier bite. I prepare their individual bowls at night, top them with fruits and leave it in the fridge. In the mornings, my kids will get their bowls and fill them with milk/water. They will have breakfast by themselves and clear their bowls after.

I’m blessed that they are independent in this small way, and thankful for the few minutes of extra sleep. It also helps that I don’t have to think about what to prepare for breakfast! (I know oats are not everyone’s thing, but I’m sharing this so you can think about what might work as a fuss-free breakfast for you.)

2. Talk to your child about school

With three kids at home, it can be hard just getting through the day, much less find time to connect with each child.

But I’ve come to realise how important this is, especially for my tween. She comes to me at night and just wants to grumble/chat/tell funny stories/hang out, and occasionally share about her struggles.

So whether it’s in the car, or snuggled up in bed at bedtime, strike up a conversation with your child. Find out how he spends his recess time, who he hangs out with, where his favourite places in school are, and the highlight (or lowlights) of his day. There may be priceless moments when he reveals something that is stressing him out, and when we can step in to trouble-shoot, reassure, and pray.

Time spent in less-structured activities (i.e., free play or child-directed play) leads to better self-directed executive functioning.

3. Minimise enrichment classes after school

I’ve observed that my kids need to wind down after school, whether it’s by reading a book or playing a board game. While this can be linked to each child’s personality, it is essential to provide some free time for your kids to relax and unwind after school.

Studies have shown that structured activity after structured activity is not the best way for children. This study shows that time spent in less-structured activities (i.e., free play or child-directed play) leads to better self-directed executive functioning. In layman terms, this means they are better at setting and meeting their own goals, which is the basis for independence, self-motivation and autonomy.

4. Create an inbox at home for school communication

You know how letters from school and little projects/excursion notifications tend to pile up. I try to input dates into my family calendar straightaway so I know when each child needs to be picked up early/late.

For letters with a “what to bring” segment for the child, I’ll put it on a notice board (just an empty wall space near my desk). So when the child hollers, I just ask them to refer to the “board”.

All other things like spelling and tingxie lists, or ongoing projects like a book list go into each child’s in-tray. This helps to minimise the risk of important things going missing.

5. Scenario plan for anxious children

I have an anxious child under my wing, and school can be a stressful affair for him. Things like being late or losing school worksheets are especially sticky.

To help him along, we have clear morning routines that we modify if he wakes up later than usual. For example, if it’s very late, he skips his regular breakfast and I pack a peanut butter sandwich for him to eat on the way.

If his pencil case is missing, we run through what to do the next day – things like looking around his row, and going to the lost and found corner at school. Instead of scolding (although yes sometimes I’d nag), we try to shift our focus to identifying the problem and solving it.

6. Break up revision for spelling/tingxie

I typically leave my kids to handle their own revision for spelling, as they are more confident with the language. But for Chinese tingxie, I break up the learning into two chunks. His spelling day is on Thursday, so he starts learning the first five words on Tuesday, and the remaining five on Wednesday.

This helps them memorise the words better and makes the learning more bearable too.

Which tip is most helpful for your situation?

Don’t wait for big problems to arise to see a marriage counsellor

We recently went for marriage counselling.

Some friends raised their eyebrows when they heard the word “counselling” and I found I had to quickly explain that while we don’t have major problems in our marriage, we wanted to work on our weak areas and have a plan for our growth.

Our coach was Winifred Ling, who is based at Promises at Novena Medical Centre.

Overall, our experience was comfortable; nothing too intimidating or intrusive.

During our first session with her, we played a simple game. She gave us a stack of questions like “What do you admire in your partner” and “What is your biggest worry at present?”

We took turns answering some of the questions and tried not to laugh while doing so. It was actually quite an insightful exercise as we don’t often get the opportunity to think about such things, much less share with our partner about them.

Over the three sessions we had with her, we each discovered a couple of things.

One, my hubby realised that he wasn’t sure how to support me through my grieving (my godmother has a terminal illness). While he had been through loss of his own, the context was different and his way of dealing with difficult emotions was to park it somewhere and move on with life.

Two, I realised that there had been times when I would silently sweep my struggles under the carpet instead of opening up to him and asking for support. When times are hard, I am more inclined to stay silent than to cry out for help.

Perpetual problems vs temporary problems

We also learnt that there are perpetual problems (problems where there are no real solutions for) and temporary problems (problems that can be resolved). Many of us are not aware of this but it could well be the reason why we sometimes argue over the same thing.

Perpetual problems are usually linked to very fundamental values and aspects of our personality. For example, to him, money is something to be saved for a rainy day, while to me, we also need to enjoy money for the here and now. So disagreements linked to finances can sometimes boil down to this fundamental difference in the way we perceive money.

Or he may be neat and organised in the home, while I have a higher tolerance for mess. Rather than insist that the other person changes their ways, we need to find ways to cope with such differences, or come to a middle ground.

Winifred also guided us to practising healthier ways to communicate during conflicts and deal with our differences.

She also helped us see that we bring different strengths into the marriage, as well as different weaknesses.

The dream behind the conflict

The best part for me was when she made us re-do a conflict situation using a simple principle: Behind every conflict lies differing dreams.

Often the dream is linked to some of our own experiences growing up, or just something we value, like freedom, creativity, or stability. We don’t often express this dream but it silently drives our behaviour, and sometimes, it makes us hold fast to our position and it becomes a struggle to let go of whatever it is we want to achieve.

It can be very frustrating for both parties during such a stalemate, because we don’t articulate and understand each other’s dream and vision behind the conflict.

This was the biggest ah-ha moment for me. Not only did it help me in my own self-awareness, it also helped me understand his perspective and why he behaves the way he does.

Marriage is for a lifetime. It is worth investing in.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my thoughts are: Marriage counselling isn’t such a scary experience. It is actually very helpful to have a professional guide sit beside you and facilitate the digging deep and unveiling process (similar to peeling an onion, and yes some tears will flow too).

Many couples will think, “We don’t need it,” and place it on low priority…until something blows up in the marriage. Just like we go for regular health checks, it is totally worthwhile to invest in your marriage for the long haul by going for a marriage checkup.

Problems and issues will be unearthed, and new strategies and ideas will be learned and applied. Your marriage and family will thank you.

Special for readers

Winifred is offering a 10% discount for the first session to all my readers. (U.P. $300 for a 1.5 hour session). To make an appointment, call 6397-7309 or email wini@promises.com.sg.  You can check out her credentials here.

PS. Winifred was kind enough to offer us pro-bono counselling sessions as she wanted to raise more awareness in the community of such marriage coaching services. I utterly enjoyed the sessions and was thankful my husband was brave enough to join me! Thanks Winifred!

great marriage quote

 

Two phrases that will help you be a more mindful parent

It’s the start of a brand new year and people are busy making plans for CNY, holidays, as well as setting new year resolutions.

I was inspired to write this post as I’m trying to be more mindful about my parenting this year. This includes being more careful with what I say, and what I do.

Here are two mantras I hope to be more intentional in teaching the kids, and using it with them this year.

1. “There is a time for everything”

I first heard this statement being used by a psychologist friend. Her niece was whining about not being able to play for a longer time.

In response, she said simply, “Remember, there is a time for everything. You’ll still get to play with your friends next time.”

Now that school has started, and our schedules need to be tighter, we are trying to keep to an early bedtime of 8.30pm.

This means that in the evening, when the kids are busy playing a game or reading a book, the activity sometimes needs to be cut short.

I hope to use teach them this mantra this year, and use it consistently, whenever we are preparing for a transition. It will hopefully help them to overcome the disappointment of having to end their play-time, and go to bed in a happier mood.

2. “Turn your unhappiness into a request”

Just the other day, I was feeling a little upset at my hubby for a minor thing. I lapsed into a usual complaint routine where I express my irritation at him.

After the event, I realised how unpleasant I sounded, and it hit me then, how I could have made the situation more bearable by turning my unhappiness into a request.

For example, instead of going, “Why didn’t you do _________?” I’m going to say:

  • “I feel upset when you don’t _______(using the I-statement to avoid blaming the other person).
  • Next time, can you _______?”

Now doesn’t that sound more palatable than a rant?

Sometimes the kids tend to grumble or throw a tantrum when something doesn’t go their way. This is when I’m hoping this phrase will come in handy and remind them to turn the upset feeling into a request. Of course, I’m not promising that every request will be met with a “yes”. But at least I would consider it and if it’s practical and doable, then why not make it a “yes”?

To teach them these mantras:

  • I will choose a time when everyone is calm and ready to listen.
  • I will write the statement down on a white board (keeping things visual helps for young children)
  • I will ask them how they’d feel if someone else communicated their desires and needs in such a way.

It will take time and repetition, for sure. But I hope these two phrases will provide us with some handles to better manage the school year ahead.

If you have other ideas and mantras that you’ve heard of, would you share them with me by leaving a comment? Thank you and blessed new year!

hi five with parents

People image created by Freepik

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