I took part in a panel discussion on family bonding last weekend organised by Oreo and the good folks at Text100.
Early childhood specialists Esther Ng, Jacqui Balloqui-Probert, and Yang Chien-Hui shared their views and experience from working with troubled or special needs children and their families.
Parents from all walks of life shared about the different ways we bond with our families, ranging from weekly lunch dates to one-on-one time with our children. Doing homework, by the way, doesn’t quite count as a bonding activity due to its task-oriented nature.
We also shared our universal struggles of having not enough time, and of the increasingly competitive and hectic lifestyles that hinder our efforts in building relationships within the home.
I struggle too, despite having flexible work arrangement. Despite having two extra weekdays at home with my children, I find that a portion of this time could easily be eaten up by urgent work-related requests or phone-calls. Either that or sometimes time just slips me by, and I find myself feeling guilty when I’m unable to spend as much time as I wanted playing with the kids.
And at this age, they need loads of play. Jacqui, an art psychotherapist and youth counselor, shared that play is an essential part of childhood (and even adults need to play more often). Through play, we learn to interact socially and form relationships, and develop emotionally.
Despite the time I carve out for family, I realise I still need to intentionally switch on to play mode, and sometimes my need for routine and to “get things done” stand in the way of me simply enjoying my children.
In this day and age where online modes of interaction are slowly replacing face-to-face time, it is all the more important that parents take charge and build in positive interactions into our everyday.
This is where creativity helps. One father shared about how he steals lunch-hour once a week to have a 20-minutes sports activity with his son. En route to the meeting at L’etoile cafe, I also caught a glimpse of bonding in action. One mum was reading a book with her young daughter. I thought to myself that this must be the way to go. I love cafes, me-time, relaxing with people I love, and here it is — the answer to all manner of education-related stress! Chilling out and teaching your own kids in a relaxing atmosphere, while enjoying your Saturday morning. That’s creative parenting at work!
You don’t need to stress yourself filling every minute of the day with high-level bonding activities, and 15-30 minutes of quality time and undivided attention goes a long way, says Esther.
These could be the everyday games or sports that we love playing, or even a walk in the park. We could ask our children what they would like to do for a change, and meet their desires, even if we don’t like their preferred activity all that much.
One takeaway for me is that we should seek to affirm their heart and efforts whenever possible and remember not to put them down. Especially for younger children who while helpful, are not fully able to be wash the dishes clean or to clear the remnants on a plate without bits falling on the floor. Their hearts may be 100% but the results would usually be around 50-60%.
The challenge then, is to put aside the domestic goddesses in each of us and to affirm them for making the effort. And perhaps when appropriate, ask them how they think they can do better next time.
Another key to strong relationships is to give our children room to make mistakes. As parents, we can temper our own expectations so that our kids don’t get paralysed by the fear and unrealistic expectations that they should ever get less than 100% at every test.
One last takeaway for me is to place zero conditions on my love.
My kids may not be at the age where I return home from work and ask them, “Have you done your homework?” But I do still ask questions like “Have you had your milk yet?” and “Were you a good girl/boy today?” – questions heavily loaded with parental expectations. So often, we feel the pressure to raise “good kids” that we place overwhelming emphasis on either ace behaviour or ace results, and unconsciously send out a message that it’s only when they do good, then will they receive our love.
Chien-Hui wraps it up nicely when she said that from this strong foundation of family and relationships, trust and communication, children are prepared to face the world and the challenges that will most definitely come their way.
Indeed, family is the launchpad for success in all other areas of life.
What are your favourite ways to bond with your family?