How to help your child thrive in a pressure cooker world

Gym, piano, soccer, swimming, art, violin, ballet classes…and not forgetting tuition for different subjects. Our kids live in a fast-paced world that bring along with it increasing levels of stress.

What causes overscheduling? Are we living vicariously through our kids? Giving them opportunities that we never had? Or is it a fear of them missing out?

Well there is the obvious need to simply keep up with schoolwork, with its ever-increasing difficulty levels in math, science and even the languages.

Then there’s DSA, which encourages us to identify our child’s talents and gifts at an early age, and nurture these talents. The heart of the programme is a good one, as it aims to recognize students with diverse talents and from diverse backgrounds, but inadvertently the ones with the most resources stand to benefit.

To be honest, I’m glad that we’ve shifted the focus away from pure academic achievement, but here is the irony. The move to a “more holistic” approach brings with it its own set of pressures on our young. Today, not only must they ace exams, they also need to excel in sports, music or the like.

Take the rushing around and packed schedules, coupled with daily pressures of school, homework and spelling lists, and you end up with children who are running faster than hamsters in a wheel.

They’re probably feeling the stress from having to excel in many different areas, but are unsure of where they are really going.

Are we wired to learn/live this way? I think the answer is “no.”

How to help your child thrive in a pressure cooker world

So how do we help them thrive in such a fast-paced world? Here are 6 simple ways.

1. Give them ample opportunities to reflect and consolidate their learning

When our kids are at school or at enrichment /tuition classes…It is through reflection that they are able to embed those new neural connections in their brains and memory.

As John Maxwell wrote, “Reflective thinking takes a good experience and turns it into a valuable experience.”

Don’t simply rush the kids from one activity to the next – encourage them to share with you what they’ve learnt for the day.

Pick enrichment classes that intentionally give students opportunities to discuss topics with peers or in a group. This is an important strategy in scaffolding, as written in Edutopia:

“All learners need time to process new ideas and information. They also need time to verbally make sense of and articulate their learning with the community of learners who are also engaged in the same experience and journey.”

 

2. Focus on one or two enrichment activities, at a time

The rationale is, rather than exposing them to all sorts of skills that they only manage to skim the surface off, focusing on one or two new things allow them the time to experiment, go deeper, and likely, go further too.

When our children are young, obviously we should first encourage them to enjoy the instrument/sport. If they have no interest in it, there’s no point forcing them to dive into it.

Most of us just want our kids to enjoy a sport or an interest, but if they cultivate a passion for the sport/music, and seem to want it for themselves, it might be worth taking it further.

In such a case, you may want to consider the “deliberate practice” that psychologist K. Anders Ericsson pinpoints as the strategy used by experts in becoming experts:

“Deliberate practice involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities beyond your current abilities. While repeating a skill you’ve already mastered might be satisfying, it’s not enough to help you get better. Moreover, simply wanting to improve isn’t enough — people also need well-defined goals and the help of a teacher who makes a plan for achieving them.”

 

3. Provide pockets of down-time, quiet time, and me-time

Our kids need me-time too. Outdoor play-time is great, but free play at home works too.

This Harvard Business Review article states that “generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet.” This is true for adults, but it is equally true, or perhaps even more so, for a child.

According to the writers, silence helps restore the nervous system, sustains energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments we live in today.

“Silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory,” according to research by Duke Medical School.

One of the things I love about silence as a daily habit is that it helps me tune in to myself, and it also helps me tune in to what God is doing in my life.

Carve out moments of play/quiet into their daily routine. Write in down on the schedule. Start small and keep it truly free. Also make sure they get sufficient rest. If they’re constantly falling asleep at school, consider what needs to be changed.

 

4. Help them cultivate their own passions

If your kids want to use the internet to do research on their favourite animal or scientific experiment, support them in their latest interest. You’ll be surprised at how motivated they can be on their own.

When we are the ones who push our children to take on-board pursuits like DSA or play a musical instrument, the climb is always uphill, because it didn’t arise from them in the first place. But if they make the first move, they will always be driven – motivation works best when it comes from the inside.

This makes good practice for later in life too, when they will need to be able to find out what it is they truly want to do. No one else but them can provide the answer.

Speak life into their gifts

5. Keep the relationship first

My daughter has been struggling with her Chinese. We speak the language only occasionally at home, and so to be honest, we lower expectations for her in this subject, but we still expect her to put in her best effort.

To support her, we’ve been reading books together, practising writing and recognition of common words, and playing memory games.

But I realise what she needs most is this: encouragement. Given the rate of youth suicide is increasing all around the world, I think this is a lesson worth reinforcing at home: though we may struggle, we can press on together as a family; we’re never alone.

 

6. Set realistic goals and celebrate progress

Knowing that my girl is not going to score an A anytime soon in Chinese should provide a sensible guide for me as to what to expect. As much as we love to see straight-As, it’s important to know that not every child is an A student.

To me, it’s good enough that she is aware of her current weaknesses, and is taking steps to improve. She’s set a goal for herself to learn five new Chinese words a week. I see the amount of effort she puts into her spelling each week, and I already feel…well, thankful.

The positive attitude that our kids carry towards learning is far more important than the actual grade itself, right? As they say “attitude first, aptitude later.”

Giving our kids down-time, chances to reflect, support to attain their goals, are all ways to ensure they are happy and healthy, while also motivated in times of learning.

What other things can we do to help them thrive in this pressure-cooker world?

If you found this post helpful, do share it with your friends.

You may like these other posts on education:

Our Fun Outdoor Photoshoot with Natsuki Photography

We spent a fun morning with Natsuki Photography at Bishan Park (near the McDonald’s).

Here are some of our favourite shots of the day.

Enjoying a picnic…(Check out the little prince lying on my lap)  Natsuki family photoshoot

Natsuki family photoshoot

Natsuki family photography

Family shoot by Natsuki Photography

Do-re-mi

Natsuki family photography

Jump shot! We had to re-take this many times obviously. **Pro-tip: remove heels prior to jumping next time!

Jump shot! by Natsuki Photography

Defying gravity…This one looks like Josh had fallen from the tree. I don’t know how the dad managed to throw him so high.

Natsuki family photoshoot throw shot

Me and my not-so-little ones.Natsuki family photoshoot me and my boy

Natsuki photography great for kids

My boys…

Natsuki family photography cheeky toddler

dad and josh dad and josh 2

And, finally our couple shots…(He nearly dropped me, or at least pretended to!)

Natsuki photoshoot couple shots

Natsuki family photography

Seriously although we’ve been married for years now, it’s still so awkward taking professional shots together. Thankful that we had a beautiful bouquet from A Better Florist to hold, otherwise we wouldn’t have known what to do with our hands!

Natsuki couple with flowers

flowers by A Better Florist closeup

Natsuki family photography

All in all, a fruitful and fun morning. I’m really thankful that Nat and Francis managed to keep the kids happy and smiling throughout the shoot, with their cute soft toy friends that they sprung up at just the right moments. Thanks for helping us capture such lovely memories. (Thank you for being patient with the kids too!)

PS. I booked Natsuki Photography since November last year, and could only get the slot 4 months down the road, so if you’re planning to book with them, do so early! You won’t regret it! The entire package costs $450 (up to 6 pax), and you’ll received min. 40 edited photos, and the rest of the photos will also be returned to you.

Also special thanks to A Better Florist for sending us the beautifully handcrafted flowers! Check them out for your next special occasion or just because. 🙂

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Why listening is so important in marriage

A good listener is a witness, not a judge of your experience

Why listening is so important in marriage

We took a day off to celebrate our ninth anniversary. We had fun all in all but the part I remember most was when we enjoyed a quiet breakfast together at one of our favourite cafes.

The food and coffee was great, but that wasn’t it either. When I drill it down, it was the moments we spent listening intently to each other share our different perspectives and ideas on the struggles that we’ve had managing one of our kids who has been showing anxiety and manifesting difficult behaviour.

Our hearts have been burdened and we’ve had to rely on God and each other for strength.

Seated on a comfy red cushion seat, side by side, I shared my thoughts and observations with him, and he listened quietly and was not in a rush to speak.

Too often, as Stephen Covey put it, we listen to respond, instead of to understand. The reason why we do this habitually is because we seek first to be understood, rather than to understand others. But when we do so, the other person inevitably feels second-rate, judged, or simply not heard.

He gave me a gift that morning – the gift of empathic listening. I didn’t realise it at first; it was all in the subconscious. But then something remarkable happened. Instead of feeling anxious and worried with what was going on at home, I felt secure and calm. We moved forward in the conversation, sharing anecdotes and stories and laughing over some of them.

When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.

Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart….You’re listening to understand. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.

Empathic listening is, in and of itself, a tremendous deposit in the Emotional Bank Account. It’s deeply therapeutic and healing because it gives a person psychological air…When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.” – Stephen Covey

Therapeutic and healing? Like psychological air? Wow give me some of that already.

In this day and age, we are all talking simultaneously, on different platforms, with viral messages flying everywhere and devices beeping every so often. It is hard to keep quiet, stay focused, and listen to any one person at a time.

But for the sake of your family and marriage, this is a skill that we all urgently need to cultivate.

Because of that unrushed conversation and heart-to-heart exchange, we were able to strategise and come up with a fairly detailed plan on how to help our child and our family.

Because of those quiet moments, I saw how God had meant for us to come together to trust in Him and to work in partnership for His purposes. I also saw how my husband’s ability to look at things systematically complemented my own slightly more haphazard, but ideas-based thinking.

I know we may not have the luxury to do this kind of retreats often…I know I sometimes complain of being ignored and not heard…but I also know this is something we will have to keep working at – listening in an unjudgmental, kind, truly understanding way.

Feeling heard and understood is perhaps one of the most underestimated and overlooked ways of loving in this digital age. But giving each other that space and time to feel heard and understood and valued in a marriage is worth every single effort. It is truly a gift of love.

So the next time your spouse or partner says “I’ve something important to share…can we talk?” Drop your phone, turn off the distractions, get you both comfortably seated, stay eye-to-eye so you can get the meaning of those words through the gestures and body movements, and seek to understand things from his/her perspective.

I leave you with a quote from The Lost Art of Listening:

The feeling of not being understood is one of the most painful in human experience. Not being appreciated and responded to depletes our vitality and makes us feel less alive. When we’re with someone who doesn’t listen, we shut down. When we’re with someone who’s interested and responsive – a good listener – we perk up and come alive. Being listened to is as vital to our enthusiasm for life as love and work. So is being a good listener. Understanding the dynamics of listening enables us to deepen and enrich our relationships. It involves learning how to suspend our own emotional agenda and then realizing the rewards of genuine empathy.

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9 Ways To Create A Happy Home

Recently I’ve found myself losing patience at the kids and feeling tired at having to break up fights almost daily.

I was feeling very down one day, and that was when I realised that I’ve been filled with negative thoughts and have also been reacting negatively towards the kids. It was like a spiral of negativity had been created within the home.

So I’ve been more intentional at creating positive moments and interactions. Even though we still experience stressful and angry moments, we also have sufficient positive interactions, to help create a loving and light-hearted atmosphere at home.

There might be a science to it too. Psychologist John Gottman has identified that in the context of marriage, the magic ratio is five positive interactions to every negative one, in determining which marriages are likely to stay longer and which would fall apart.

So…I’m aiming for three positive interactions for every negative one. I think it’s not about rigidly keeping count. Knowing that I have something to aim for helps me to remember to play, hug and tune in to my children more, even if we’ve had difficult moments before this.

Here are 9 ways to increase the number of positive interactions in your home.

9 Ways To Create A Happy Home

1. Get playful.

After staying home for more than two years, and taking on writing assignments from home, I’ve realised the need to set a stop to my work and take one or two play-breaks with my kids daily.

Sometimes it’s off to the playground, or a swim. On some days we stay at home and just bond over a few toys, board games, or pretend play. I try to let them take the lead, since play is one of the few domains that children can have full control over, but sometimes I would suggest a board game that we’ve neglected for a while.

Whatever it is, I try to set work aside and remind myself it’s “Us-time.” It meets my kids’ play needs, which in turn creates a better environment for me to focus on work later on.

2. Manage stress

Throughout the course of a normal day, there will be things that cause unhappiness and stress to your system. That’s life.

The thing is to let the negativity out, without venting on the kids, and not it fester and get out of hand.

It also helps to recognise that some stress and tension in life is actually necessary and good. It helps us to grow, think creatively, and problem-solve. So the key isn’t to avoid all kinds of stress, it’s accepting that it will occur from time to time, and the best strategy is to have a healthy mindset about it.

3. Develop your family values

“In this house, we speak kindly. We share in love. We practise patience. We are givers of joy.” Statements like these help to give children (and ourselves) a sense of identity and values, that come in to help kick us in the butt when we veer in the wrong direction.

Come up with your own set of values, and print them out, so that it is a visual reminder. Name them and speak them out when the kids get into conflict. And don’t be surprised when the kids start using them at you when you get into marital conflicts and disagreements too.

4. Use routines and schedules to help you through the day

This helps to reduce power struggles and give ample time to transit from one activity to another.

If your kids are old enough, enlist their help to set daily/weekly schedules. This helps them to feel in control of their day, and to know what’s coming up next. If changes are expected, like if granny isn’t able to babysit, let them know slightly beforehand too, so they are better prepared for it.

Get them to suggest alternative ideas too, if a block of time gets freed up during the day. This helps them to practise active problem-solving rather than be passive and expect others to entertain them.

5. Identify trigger areas

Perhaps it’s managing TV time. Perhaps it’s meal times. Kids do know how to press all our buttons sometimes.

For me, a hot button is TV time – when the kids try to stretch their allowed TV time, I get irritated to no end.

This is why we try to use agreed upon schedules such as a designated TV time at 4pm. So that it becomes less of a contention. Each time my kids ask, “Mum can I watch TV?” I reply, “What does your schedule say?”

6. Recognise early signs of negativity

Are you snapping at the slightest of things? Are you walking around with a scowl on your face? Are you responding with disdain or being a wet towel on everything your kids are doing?

Learn to identify these warning signs, let them ring a bell in your mind and remind you to work on reconnecting, and keeping a positive mindset.

In the same vein, look for signs of tiredness or anxiety in your child. It can often help to avoid major meltdowns if you can catch them early and take appropriate action to help them feel better.

7. Keep a sane schedule 

There’s only so much school, learning and enrichment a child can take. There’s also only so much running around an adult can do too. So recognize this, and establish healthy limits for your family.

Downtime is important for kids to consolidate and reflect on what they’ve learnt. It’s also important for their emotional stability and well being.

8. Do things you enjoy too

Every parent needs time-out once in a while. It’s up to you to decide how often you need it, what you want to do with it, and how to plan ahead so that it happens.

It could be a creative hobby, like watercolour painting or sewing. Whatever it is, recognize that you need to recharge and unwind. Develop a network of close friends who understand and listen without judging.

9. Empower your kids

Allow our kids to grow and rise up to new challenges. Don’t try to do everything for them or make things too easy, as this will do them more harm than good.

I have one child who is more sensitive and emotional that the others. For him, I know that he needs to feel confident about a new game or toy first, so I try to frame it such that he meets with some success or satisfaction at his first attempt. But as he grows more confident, I would remove the initial support, so that he learns to “level up” and deal with small difficulties and failures.

Every meltdown is a teaching moment, if we would just allow it to help us practise staying calm, reconnecting, and problem-solving.

At the end of the day, it’s about allowing our children to learn independence while they’re still in a safe place – our home. Think and plan ahead on the kind of decisions and control you can allow them to have; start small and work from there.

Empower them to make choices within safe boundaries, talk through and discuss options, and before long they would have honed these life-long skills: taking responsibility and decision-making.

What are your favourite ways of creating a calm and joy-filled home? Do share your tips in the comments!

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If you had the chance to do the year all over again…

Do you feel like the year has just taken off like a very angry bull and you’re being dragged along in the sand?

I felt a bit like that in the past week.

So I dug in my heels, and hit “pause” on some of the areas of life that I could. And then I learnt about what Viktor Frankl (renowned neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor) did for his clients. In his famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he wrote:

“So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

And I asked myself this question: If you could do the year 2016 all over again, what would you do?

If I could do the year all over again, I would:

  • yell less (practise compassion)
  • connect with my husband more
  • listen to friends with my whole being
  • fret about my imperfections less
  • enjoy my loved ones more
  • declutter our lives (keep our things and schedules simpler)

This method of thinking back, and allowing hindsight to teach us, is actually a therapeutic method used by Viktor Frankl in helping his clients find meaning in life, and create a more meaningful life.

It is about not letting life take you by the reins or allowing busy-ness to overwhelm your days; it is about living the most meaningful and productive life possible. It is also about letting go of trivial and energy-draining matters, because you keep your eye on the bigger picture – the goals and theme for your life.

Because of this, I’m not doing any resolutions this year. Instead, I’m letting this list of what I would have done differently last year, guide my actions and choices this year.

To yell less, I’m going to recognise that there are several degrees of yelling, and the worst should only be used in times of serious danger. I’m going to be conscious to minimise the degrees each time, and work on recovering quickly. I’m going to recognise my anger triggers too.

To connect with my hubby more, I’m going to use this list to help myself: 30 ways to love your husband.

I will share more on the blog in the coming weeks, as I work out more strategies to live well and spend my time fruitfully this year.

Let’s also adopt a growth mindset and be kinder to ourselves this year. I think this is crucial if we hope for our kids to cultivate same growth mindset for themselves.

Now tell me…If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

if you could do the year all over again, what would you do? #goals #newyear

Print this out and pin it over your desk as a daily reminder of the important things!

 

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