What a cardboard project taught me about my middle child


The kids and I were making some simple things out of cardboard one evening.

As Vera was busy with something else, JJ and I started first. We made a carpark using washi tape and a scrap piece of cardboard.

I let him take the lead throughout the time. He would say, “I want the tape here mummy. I want the cars to park here.”

He found a thin spongy material from somewhere, and said “I want to stick this down in the middle.” I asked if he meant for it to be like a speed bump, and he said yes.

There was one point where he got a bit upset. I asked him if he’d like to draw an arrow to point the cars in the right direction, and he said yes. He asked me to help with the straight line of the arrow, which I did, and I asked if he would like to draw the pointy part. He tried to do so, but it didn’t turn out the way he wanted it, so he promptly tried to “erase” it with his fingers. It resulted in a black smudge (we were using gel crayons). I observed that at this point, his voice was turning whiny. He really wanted to get the black smudge off the cardboard!

I then asked him, “How do you think we can solve this problem? Hmm, would you like to get a piece of wet tissue and see if it can help remove the black marks?”

He nodded and quickly scampered off to get the tissue. He tried to wipe the smudgy print off and most of it came off. Whew… Thankfully!

And along came Josh happily holding a blue gel crayon. What did he do with it? He used the crayon and scribbled circles on one corner of the cardboard!

I stopped Josh from drawing on the piece any further. Then I asked if JJ would like to wipe off the blue marks as well. By this time, he wasn’t looking that much affected so I just tried to wipe the blue scribbles off on my own. To my dismay, it turned into a larger spot of blue instead!

An idea came to me at that instant, and I exclaimed, “Look, JJ! This looks like a swimming pool for the cars! A car-wash!”

It must have appealed to him, because a bright smile came to his face. He responded, “Yes, the cars can go there, and get cleaned before they head off to shopping.”

After all that, we played around with the cars for a bit, and I noticed JJ was looking rather pleased.

Now, it was Vera’s turn. She decided her cardboard would be a castle. Vera’s confident when it comes to making things, so with her, I pretty much stand at the sidelines, and help only when help is needed.

She would give me instructions like, “Mummy, can you help me cut another piece of this size. I want it to be the back of the castle.” Sometimes she would decide to do it herself.

JJ just observed. He did meddle a bit with Vera’s castle but when she asked him to stop, he stayed calm and didn’t react.

Halfway through, she said she needed to halt the project because she didn’t have enough toilet rolls to build the 4 pillars to support another level of the castle. JJ volunteered to let her use the 2 rolls that he had, saying “I don’t know what to do with them anyway.”

Hearing that made my jaw drop to the floor. I was really surprised at his act. I said, “Wow JJ, that’s very kind of you!” Vera was happy and also thanked him.

Later that night, as I was discussing this with the hubby, a few things struck me.

First, the time I spent with JJ making the carpark, and listening to his ideas, helped him to feel happy and confident. When he’s in this state, he’s in a position to be more “giving”.

Then I started to compare this incident to another time when I was doing some painting with the kids. My attention was on Vera first, and she painted a simple scene happily. But when I tried to do similar things with JJ later, he got upset over something and was difficult to console and calm.

So the magic was in the order of activity – when I did it with Vera first, JJ’s insecurities emerged (maybe he compares himself with his elder sister’s work? I’m not sure what it is exactly.) When I did the activity with him first, solely focused on him, he had nothing to compare with, no benchmark to reach (and fail in.) He was confident and assured.

Such a simple thing – the order of things. Yet it could make such a big difference in my middle child’s life.

This is a lesson I’m going to remember as I continue to steadfastly parent my children. Each of them are different, and have unique needs, so we too have to adjust our own parenting styles to fit the individual. (This is something that Evelyn shared after the How To Raise A Resilient Child workshop too.)

Isn’t it amazing the things that we start to see, when we truly observe and listen? Our children are telling us things all the time, with their behavior, with their eyes, with their fidgeting. Sometimes we just need to put on an investigator’s hat, and tune in to all the signs that they’re giving us.

What have you observed about your child recently? If you’re keen to join us for our next Resilient Child workshop, you may do so here!

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  1. says

    This story reminds me of two little boys who used to be in my kids’ floorball group. They were 6 and 7 years old. The oldest was quite serious, had a streak of perfectionism and a temper. The young one was all laughter and carefree. At first, we all gravitated to the younger happy boy, especially as the older one could be so touchy and would get upset easily. Then one day I switched – for the first ten to fifteen minutes I paid extra attention to the oldest, and gave him compliments when he did things right. I did not compliment or single out the younger one. After the first ten minutes, I would behave as normal, but the oldest one would be much calmer, and happier, and able to share in the practice. He needed a little re-affirmation, and his younger brother never cared much for compliments anyway. For him, the joy was already in the doing. Thank you for reminding me of this lesson! It’s always good to be reminded that being treated equally, does not mean being treated the same way – as all children have different needs and wants. Thank you!

    • June says

      It’s amazing how much difference that 10-15 min can make for the older boy. Thanks for sharing your story too, Katrijn! 🙂

  2. says

    It’s nice to see how parents spend time with their kids individually. I think it is really important to them. Glad you found out how to make that even better in the order of things! 🙂

  3. says

    Wow, I learned something from your post 🙂 i know that as parents, we should always treat our children fairly, but you also have to “play it by the ear” because each of them is unique. Thanks for this post!

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