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.

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

 

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? 

38 habits of love that can change the atmosphere of your home

We’ll be celebrating our 10th year anniversary this year and I’m feeling thankful for the journey that we’ve made thus far.

Still, there is room for us to grow and become better life partners to each other. And we’re constantly trying to think of ways to keep the flame burning.

Sometimes we tend to overlook the small daily habits, but apparently…we shouldn’t. As the Gottman Institute says, “It’s the seemingly meaningless little moments of connection that are the most meaningful of all.”

How to love your spouse (1)

Here are some daily habits that we can cultivate at home (listed according to the 5 love languages):

Words of affirmation

1. Say “thank you” when she cooks a nice meal

2. Say “thank you” when the other takes over the kids

3. Say “thank you” when the other has done something for you

4. Express words of affection, e.g., that she’s beautiful, gentle, or understanding. (Likewise for him, tell him he’s   loving, kind, or hardworking.)

5. Listen with curiosity and seek to understand first before responding

6. Express support when you know she’s been having a rough time at work. (Likewise for the ladies too.)

7. Sneak a love note into her handbag (or use the note to wrap a chocolate bar and hide it in her handbag.)

8. Compliment her on a new dress or hairstyle

9. Make a gratitude list for each other, and take turns to read it out one date night.

10. Send her a sweet WhatsApp message out of the blue

 

Acts of service

11. Do the laundry, sometimes

12. Wipe the dishes she’s washed

13. Play chef for the night

14. Wash the car without her asking

15. Throw the trash at night

16. Top up the fuel when it’s low

17. Offer to ferry the kids to enrichment classes and let her sleep in on the weekends

18. Carry her heavy bags

19. Inform her early if you’re not having dinner at home

20. Check with each other before making a major decision

21. Make an effort to protect family time and prioritise it above other commitments

22. Ask her how you can help out more at home

 

Gifts

23. Surprise her with flowers for no reason

24. Pick out a handbag/jewellery for an occasion

25. Plan a romantic getaway/staycation just for the both of you.

 

Touch

26. Hug often, before you leave for work/after you return

27. Hold her hand when you’re out on dates/shopping

28. Give her a kiss the moment you step in the door (John Gottman even suggests doing a 6-second kiss every single day!)

29. Lead her across the road or at crowded places

30. Diffuse some essential oils, turn down the lights, and give him a massage.

 

Quality time

31. Spend time exercising together

32. Go for a walk in the park

33. Learn something new together

34. Check out a new cafe or restaurant together

35. Catch up (even if just for a few minutes) at the end of a long day

36. Pray for each other often

37. Plan a surprise date and pick her up after work.

38. Put your phone on airplane mode during your weekly or monthly date night

 

As part of my focus to be faithful in the small things, I hope to cultivate more of these little habits of love at home. 

What would you add to this list? What are your favourite ways to show and receive love?

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