How to be kinder to ourselves and our children

So I lost it one evening, when my eldest decided it was okay to totally neglect her violin practice for the whole week.

I guess it was partially the frustration I had with myself, for failing to help her to be more disciplined with her practice. I was angry alright – both at myself and at her.

The train of negative thoughts in my head went ahead at full velocity, and I lost control of the brakes.

We crashed into one messy, teary heap.

I started to think about what went wrong. I love this little person in front of me, so why would I say such hurtful things about her?

I stepped out of the room for some air; the space I put between us helped to calm me down and give me a better perspective of the size of the problem.

I thought about how she had had to revise for her upcoming oral exams, and for how she took time almost every night to practise her spelling.

For the first time that night, I stopped thinking about how disappointed I was; instead I switched gears and put myself in my 8-year-old’s shoes.

I took a full breath, pulled the hand brake, and changed course.

I went back into the room, hugged her gently, and apologised for making harsh and accusatory statements. (The words that I’d just spoken were still ringing in my own ears.)

I then told her that we’d work a schedule out together, and that we’d keep each other accountable.

We discussed and worked out the days that would work best for getting some solid practice in. We also set a target of 2-3 practices in a week.

I know my daughter. She takes pride in doing the best she can. This wasn’t deliberate defiance; it was genuine lapse.

It was a wake-up call for us to put some structure in place to help her remember to practise – a clearer visual schedule, or set up an alarm reminder on the calendar perhaps – and that would have solved the problem.

But it was a big lesson in compassion for me; and a lesson in taming the tiger that lurks within us all.

How to be kinder to ourselves and our children

What does compassionate parenting look like?

In order for me to be more compassionate with my daughter, I have to practice that same compassion on myself.

First of all, what is compassionate parenting?

Compassionate parenting is about putting ourselves in our children’s shoes. Compassionate parents set firm limits about core issues that are non-negotiable. With everything else, they encourage cooperation. The result is effective discipline that leaves the crucial relationship between parents and children intact and flourishing.

As I sat down to reflect on the incident, I realised I could have reached out in a more collaborative, more compassionate way.

I also realised that we all need to be kinder to ourselves because there is always room to grow.

Here are 5 lessons I learnt about being a kinder parent.

1) We don’t have to punish for making mistakes

Do children really learn best through punishment, or consequences? The short answer is “no” – they learn by modeling, and through scaffolding strategies, that is, doing with support. They then take on more by themselves, as we withdraw the support gradually over time.

This is at the heart of compassionate parenting: viewing mistakes as valuable lessons in learning and growth.

2) Reframe in a more positive or neutral light

“…There is no such thing as bad behaviour in children. Instead there is a child who is doing the best she can and we don’t understand her.” – Naomi Aldort
Reframing is about being aware of the negative thought that pops up in your head about an event, and then replacing that thought with a neutral or positive one.

Most unexpected child behaviours tell of an unmet need, or a gap in the child’s ability to do what is expected of them. Whatever the case, we need to put on an investigator’s cap to get to the root of the issue.

the way we talk to children becomes their inner voice

3) Seek to understand first, without judging

Instead of jumping to automatic assumptions about why your child behaved badly, ask questions to understand:
– Has it been an overwhelming week for you?
– What do you think you need?
– How can we help you?

Be careful of the words we use, because a carefully chosen word can also offer grace to a child. Remember, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

4) Put ourselves in their shoes

When we switch gears to start thinking from their perspective, instead of being fixated on ours, it helps initiate the empathy muscle. This also enables us to respond in a compassionate way.

Compassion is other-centered, not self-centered. But do note that it does not remove entirely the responsibility to correct the wrong or make amends.

Apologize and make amends with your child

5) Apologize, often

We will all make mistakes, in spite of our best intentions. An apology communicates to our children that mistakes are not final, and that a sincere apology can help to redeem a situation and repair the relationship.

PS. I also realise that to encourage her in this hobby, I should be more involved. I should learn to listen more, and just enjoy her growing in this area of interest.

She is after all just a child exploring her various interests, and is only beginning to discover her passions in life.

How do you encourage your child to grow in their hobbies or interests? How do you tame your tiger mum instincts?

9 Ways To Build Emotional Intelligence in Children

Ways to build emotional intelligence in children

According to this article, emotion coaching is one of the most important parenting practices of all time. Kids can be awfully emotional, particularly around the ages of 2-5 years. My middle child, JJ, had one dark day last week. A day when everything fell apart, laying on the ground like dejected pieces of uncooperative Lego.

He wanted his Lego fixed in a particular way. But frustration got the better of him. (You know how it is when we get frustrated right? Nothing works, and everything seems to be pitted against us.)

He melted into a boiling mess. I was also getting frustrated, but I stood by and tried to console and encourage him, offering my help whenever his fingers struggled.

“This can be hard sometimes,” I offered, “the pieces keep falling off.”

“They just don’t act the way we want them to, don’t they?”

“How frustrating.”

I tried to use empathy and acknowledge his feelings.

At some points, he kept quiet, which I took as a good sign. But as he kept going and new struggles emerged, he would start up again.

As you can probably tell, we’ve experienced our fair share of bad days. But I’ve learnt some very valuable lessons along the way, and here are nine of them.

1. Focus on the problem. Don’t view the child as the problem.

Trust me, I know it’s so easy to look at your kid and start thinking, “you’re being a pain in the a** again.” But the moment we do this, we start to see our child as being the problem, instead of having a need that needs to be resolved. It takes our attention away from the problem at hand and curbs our ability to solve it.

2. Try not to get angry

Over-reacting comes easy when you’re already irritable or just had it up to here on any given day. But take some breaths and keep calm, and things usually take a turn for the better. At the very least, they will learn to eventually calm down because you are.

If you do react, try to regain composure by leaving the scene for a couple of minutes – drink some water or just look at the sky – whatever that helps you refocus. Then head in there and press rewind. It doesn’t always need to go downhill, you’re capable of turning around and trudging uphill. The same goes for your child.

It isn’t easy, especially in the heat of the moment. But this encourages me:

Try thinking this way: ‘You know, I don’t want my child behaving like this, but right at the moment he is. I can handle this. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, I give him permission to do this right now. In time, we’ll learn something new.’ When in your heart and mind you give him permission to be the way he is, your stress level goes down and you feel more in control. It works.

Helping Your Kids Deal with Anger, Fear, and Sadness, H. Norman Wright

3. Involve them in problem-solving

Tell yourself, there are at least 10 ways to resolve this peacefully. Verbalize your thought process. Let your child see first-hand how problem-solving is done and you’ll see him following your example down the road. “Hmm, you want your skate-scooter now but mummy forgot to bring it out for you today. What can we do about it?” If it’s the first few times you’re problem-solving together, maybe give some prompts or suggestions as starters. (“Hmm, shall we race home and see who gets to the scooter first?)

You’ll be surprised. Sometimes your child will come up with his own creative solution; at the very least it will distract him from his overflowing emotions and start thinking, which is exactly what you want.

4. Label their feelings.

Give him the words to express his frustration. Eg., Are you feeling sad or mad? The funny thing is many emotions get expressed through (or covered up by) anger. When someone feels hurt or rejected or scared, it’s common to see them lashing out in anger. But it’s good for us to be able to recognise the actual emotion that’s going on and be able to process it in a healthy way.

The book I quoted above has this to say in relation to identifying feelings:

Repeat out loud what you think is occurring. If your child was hurt, let him experience hurt. If your child was afraid, let him experience fear. If your child was frustrated, let him experience frustration.

5. Give them avenues to express their emotions

We all need healthy ways to express our emotions, especially when they are overwhelming and negative. One way is  to talk about them with someone you trust. Now as much as you may find it unnatural to share about your feelings with your kids (especially when you’re feeling cranky or upset yourself), it actually helps them to see you model how it’s done.

After that unhappy episode with his lego, we started to play with some chalk. I suggested to JJ to draw out his feelings when his lego wouldn’t cooperate, and he drew an angry face on the ground. (See below) The next time, he gets unhappy with his toys or siblings, I’ll remember to ask him to DRAW his emotions out. Or maybe suggest that he release the negative energy by cycling up and down the block really fast. (I know going for a walk/run certainly helps to lift my mood!)

chalk drawing of angry face

6. Give opportunities for social and peer to peer interaction

Plan play dates. Or just head down to the playground regularly so he is able to make new friends, or play with existing ones. To be honest, sometimes I’m tempted to stay away from such play dates because of the 101 possibly negative things that could happen. But I realise that kids just need practice, and the more he socialises, the more he gets to learn about coping with another person’s demands or needs, and negotiating with others.

7. Use games as a tool

If you have simple boardgames that are age-appropriate for your kids, play with them. There are so many things that you can learn through games, such as how to be a gracious winner or loser, turn-taking, and being patient while waiting for the others to make their moves.

8 . The aftermath

This is an important stage of building emotional awareness. Take advantage of it; if you don’t, it’s like having a quarrel with your spouse and then sweeping it under the carpet. No one learns anything from it, and the incident is very likely to repeat itself.

The aftermath is where you are both calm and able to think back to the incident and explore questions like, “How did you feel when [incident] happened?” and “What can we do differently next time?”

9. Seize teachable moments

Teachable moments crop up every day, and the best way to impart emotion skills is to seize these moments.

Our children are constantly showing us how they feel through their facial expressions, how tightly they hold our hands, or by their tentative walk. We can take these precious times to talk with them how they feel and to listen and share our own feelings. Parents and teachers often don’t take the time to talk about feelings, and yet when we do, we get enormous rewards. We give our children a vocabulary that will help them navigate through the difficult moments and celebrate the great moments with others. These are the children who will be there and to say “Love you.” – Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn

What are some strategies that you employ at home to train your kids emotionally? Please share them with us in the comments below.

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Little Lessons: Never underestimate a child’s ability to love

Occasionally, my little girl astounds me.

This is one incident where I’m left deeply humbled.

There are tantrums, and there are tantrums. JJ was having one of the latter and I was at the end of my rope. I felt like screaming. Instead, I walked away, feeling helpless and exasperated. I looked at Vera, and thought she might be able to help her little brother, so I asked her to go and talk to him.

She went. She sat. She said some words. She gave him his water bottle and asked him to stop crying.

The words she spoke probably echoed some of mine, uttered over the past two years.

Her actions, like handing him his bottle, reminded me of my own.

But her heart, was different.

Where I had been harsh, she was gentle.

Where I had been frustrated, she was calm.

She told her little brother, “It’s okay, stop crying. Listen to mummy huh…” In a sweet, sing-song voice.

I was stooping beside her, facing him. Him in his orange calm-down chair. Him with the red face, the heaving shoulders, the loud sobs.

I could see, all of a sudden. The frustration with dealing with a temperamental child often cripples my ability to love, despite my best attempts to do so.

But Vera carries no such frustration. She is free from baggage. I simply asked her to help. And she did, in a way that she knows how.

My girl (who’s really an angel in disguise) humbles me. She teaches me how to love, better, purer, with each ordinary day.

She shows me how kind-hearted love ought to be.

My friend once told me that God gave us children so we can grow to become better people. I see that clearly now…
children teach us what life is about

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Little Lessons: Learning to love extravagantly

A friend gave me a pack of Love Dare cards not long after I got married. From time to time, I refer to it for little reminders on how to be more loving and thoughtful to my hubby.

This particular one has got me thinking this past week about how I can love more extravagantly. Something extraordinary, and that goes beyond our normal routine.

love dare

Extravagant love need not come with a hefty price tag. But it’s often big on thoughtfulness, effort and sometimes creativity.

It could mean walking malls in search of that out-of-stock briefcase.

It could mean rounding up a few of her friends to help plan that surprise birthday party.

It could mean going all out to have that much needed we-time at your special favorite cafe or restaurant.

It could mean reminding her to schedule some rest and relaxation time while you take over child-minding duties on a Saturday afternoon.

It could mean learning to cook his all-time favourite dish.

It could mean that we stop complaining and starting our sentences with, “You always…” or “You never…”

Post-children, it’s easy to lavishly love our children, and to scrimp a little on our spouse. They take centre-stage and the spouse gets the leftovers. Why is this so?

It’s easy to take each other for granted, to lapse into a comfortable all-is-well mode. But this love dare card reminds me to push the envelope, and to think of new ways to show my appreciation and love for the hubby.

It also reminds me of the origin of love. That God is love, and that He abounds in love towards us.

I pray this weekend you will discover that love knows no boundaries. May thinking of new ways to love become part and parcel of the way we do family.

This is Little Lessons #27. Grab our badge and link up your little lessons / reflections below!

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Little Lessons from learning to ride a bicycle

Vera took off on her own two-wheeled bicycle last week.

It had taken a couple of lessons with daddy, who was helping her to get the hang of balancing and pedalling by placing his hand on the seat while she cycles.

She started off very cautiously, and was a bit fearful when the two support wheels were removed (which we did right after bringing the new bike home).

Since then, there’s been no turning back. She says she loves cycling and simply just can’t stop!

She’s learnt to break by back pedalling. (We were told by the bike guys that at this age, using the feet to back pedal /break is more effective than using the hand break.)

She’s learnt to make right angle turns too.

There’s still some way to go before she becomes a safe and responsible cyclist. But we’re just so glad that she’s come this far. She even credited her dad for her learning, saying he gave her right instructions. I asked what exactly he said to her, and this is what she had to say:

Daddy told me to look straight ahead and find my own balance.

Daddy, who was obviously bursting with pride, then told her that it will be hard and scary every time we learn something new, but with practice, she will be able to learn and master anything as long as she doesn’t give up.

It kinda made me recall my own journey as a parent.

I will be able to master it, and find my balance. As long as I keep looking ahead.

There is no turning back. Just lots of looking forward and oh yes, letting go too. I’m sure at some point, daddy had to let go of her bicycle seat, right?

This little girl is growing up…

The bicycle lesson

This is Little Lessons #26. Grab our badge and link up your little lessons / reflections / learning activities below!

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