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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Get Organised for Primary School – 3 Essential Skills Your Child Needs

It’s the end of the first year of primary school for Vera. We are thankful that she has done pretty well, and has been able to take responsibility for most of her school work and studies.

There are however still some gaps that I hope to work with her on during the holidays…here are the 3 essential study skills I wish I had taught her earlier.

1) Time management

Time management is a crucial study skill when it comes to exams (both preparation as well as actual taking of the papers) but it’s also important in day to day living.

Since school started, I’ve tried to wean her off my involvement as early as I could, since I felt she is capable enough to take care of her own daily schoolwork. For the most part, I think she’s learnt that homework is her responsibility, and if she doesn’t get it done, she has to live with the consequences.

But she has had days where she would have her lunch, dive into a book and then suddenly realize that she has homework to do in the evening…after dinner.

These little incidents (hopefully) serve to teach her to be more aware of the way she has chosen to use her time. I’ve also tried not to nag or scold her for it (it’s hard, I know. I literally have to bite my tongue to keep from saying “I told you so!)

Ideas on how to teach your child time management during the holidays:

  • Setting up a simple and visible routine and schedule would be helpful for kids starting on their primary school journey. It helped us to set her up in the morning and now I see we may need one for the afternoons too.
  • Use everyday lessons to think about time. Eg., if I choose to watch a DVD, I will not be able to finish my assignment – do I really have that luxury of choice or is it better to finish what I’m doing first?
  • Model time management – if your child sees you always in a rush for time or constantly late, what kind of lessons is she learning? It’s tough that our kids are looking and learning from our daily lives, but I think it also makes us try to do better each day.

2) Money concepts

Money is a great asset if only we learn how to manage it wisely. It’s a good idea for your child to learn how to handle money from kindergarten age. Start small – she wants to buy a bun from the bakery? Ask her how much it is, and give her the money to hand over to the cashier. Then check the change together. Kids are mostly excited to learn such skills and you don’t even need to encourage or cajole them to do it.

Before starting school, sit down and plan how much your child needs for recess. It’s a good time to check the meal prices at the school canteen during orientation. Usually a plate of veggie rice or noodles is about $1.50, but if she needs a drink or an extra snack, it may be safer to budget $2. I give Vera an allowance of about $10 a week. I chose to start off with a weekly allowance so she learns how to budget $1.50-$2 for each day, and not over-spend, but it really depends on you and your child how you wish to structure it.

At the end of the week, she always has some left over for her piggy bank. So it’s a good way to teach her frugality and the value of saving money for something worthy as well.

Tips on how to teach money concepts:

  • Give ample chances to order food at the food court/hawker centre. Check the change together.
  • Let your child accompany you to grocery-shopping and help him calculate the cost of your grocery list. (Start with a short list of 1-2 items)
  • If your child really wants to buy something for herself / a gift for someone, work with her to save money from her allowance. Or if she doesn’t yet have an allowance, you may choose to even give small rewards for household chores that she can do. I sometimes give 50 cents or a dollar when the kids make themselves useful, eg., packing the messy shoe rack, folding the laundry, or washing dishes, or vacuuming the floor.
  • Have 3 small piggy banks in the home – one for savings, one for spending, one for sharing (or giving to a cause). We teach the kids to dedicate roughly a-third of their “earnings” to each piggy bank. (But you and I both know it’s tempting to put most of it into the spending bank…so this is also work-in-progress.)

3) Planning and prioritizing

This is closely related to time management. How much time do you have in total for that English paper? How much time should you dedicate to the different sections to ensure you have sufficient time left for the final few questions? All this is related to being able to look ahead and plan accordingly.

This is also helpful for homework. If your child has 3 different kinds of homework due at different times, ask her, hmm which should you do first? When do you need to hand these up?

Sometimes your child will be able to tell you, “this is more urgent because…” Let them think and verbalize and come to this conclusion by themselves as much as you can.

If your child gets fixated over a particular piece of work, let her experience the natural consequence of that choice. Say she enjoys colouring and drawing, and so spent time on these unnecessary aspects while neglecting to answer the questions of the assignment, then she rushes through the last part and makes a couple of careless mistakes as a result. Use this as a teaching opportunity. Ask questions that will allow her to reflect on her choices: what do you think you can do differently next time?

Ideas on how to teach your child planning and prioritizing this holidays:

  • Work on recipe based cooking or baking during the holidays. Being able to ensure you have all that you need and when you need it is part of that same essential planning process.
  • If you’re going on a family vacation, encourage your kids to be a part of the planning and packing process. For instance, help him to think about what is necessary and what should go into the luggage first.

Vera and I will continue to work on her time management and prioritizing skills as we believe these are essential study and life skills that will serve her well for life.

With these tips in mind, I hope both you and your child will be better prepared for school next year! If you do feel that your child needs specific help to get organised and motivated to learn, you may also want to check out The Little Executive’s upcoming P1 prep camp in December. Happy holidays! 🙂

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What is the Size of Your Problem? (Problem-solving for kids)

Middle brother got really upset and whiny yesterday when he was told to wait to go swimming. He took awhile to calm down. In the evening, I drew this on the doors of our wardrobe and did some problem-solving and brainstorming with them.

What is the size of your problem?

When I asked him to identify where on the scale to place the size of the problem, he could rightly identify it as a small problem. When I asked where was the size of his reaction (a bit of crying and whining), he identified it as level 6 on the scale.

Then I asked, “Is the size of your reaction proportionate to the size of your problem?” Where should your reaction ideally be? He thought a bit and said, “it should be lower – maybe 1 or 2.”

I said, “Yes! That’s great! You can see that the size of your reaction should be lower on the scale.”

This is the second time I’m going through this concept with the kids so he’s had some prior understanding of it. On the first occasion, I identified what a level 1 problem looks like, for instance losing a toy or dropping a spoon. While someone falling into the pool would qualify as a level 10 problem : where there is real and imminent danger. As for reaction, kicking, screaming or hitting would be level 9/10, while frowning or sulking would be level 1. In the middle could be whining or crying.

Then I moved on to get them to think of ways that we could battle with the emotions of feeling frustrated and impatient at having to wait. So the next time he would have some strategies or ideas.

The kids came up with:
1) not whine
2) think about something you can do now
3) look at the schedule for ideas on what to do
4) don’t get stuck
5) think of a game to play (I contributed this one)

Essentially, these strategies/ideas are meant to help distract the child from his frustrations of the moment. (Tip: While brainstorming, it’s helpful to list down every idea that the child contributes and not throw them out just yet.)

I picked up this concept from a recent Social Thinking conference I attended. I learnt a few useful things in relation to parenting and helping kids with social / learning difficulties. This was one social tool that I immediately related to and started to apply at home.

I think it’s extremely useful in helping kids think about their reactions. Here are some lessons you can point out to your child while applying this “size of your problem” tool.

  1. We always have a choice on how we act and behave – Our goal is to choose to behave in ways that are more acceptable and in line with the problem or situation.
  2. Our reactions should continue to move down the scale as we grow older and more mature, even though our problems may get larger and more challenging.
  3. Our reaction has an effect on others – When we react at level 9/10 on a daily basis, we regularly cause small problems to become BIG HUGE problems. Other people are affected by it and may start to have negative feelings about you. If they continue to react at such high levels when small problems occur, it also causes a lot of stress to their family and carers.

Now all this may take a while to sink in and translate into real self-regulation and social consideration for others, but it’s definitely a good and helpful framework to introduce such social concepts to them early.

Whenever we meet with certain issues, I would stop and ask out loud “hmm, what is the size of this problem?” This gives the kids a chance to think and self-monitor, and measure their reactions accordingly.

Note that it may not work if the kids are already emotionally strung or in the middle of a wild tantrum, but I’ve seen it work when they are just at the beginning stages of a negative emotion.

Even for myself, when I mess up and over react, it gives me a chance to laugh at myself, and point out how I over reacted to a small problem. It has helped me to breathe and calm down, and not have big reactions to little things like a kiddo dropping his plate of food on the floor.

This is something I’ll continue to work on with my kids. It’s not just teaching them self-awareness, it’s also imparting the skill of problem-solving. And when they have the right attitude towards solving the little problems that crop up in daily life, I believe they’ll also be better big problem-solvers in future, be it handling school-stress, relationships, or even work.

Do try this at home! And let me know how it works out for you too. 😉

Here’s a shot of the size of your problem poster available from Social Thinking’s Singapore website.

size-of-problem-poster2

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5 Values From Wicked The Musical To Teach Your Child

Watching Wicked The Musical is like entering a colourful fantasy world of wizards, witches, enchantment and magic.

It tells the tale of two unlikely friends – the blonde and popular Glinda and the green-skinned outcast, Elphaba.

wicked-uk-international-tour_carly-anderson-and-jacqueline-hughes

While you can watch Wicked and be absolutely blown by the cast, the singing, the beautiful live music, and theatrical effects, there are also several meaningful lessons that we can teach our children through the tale.

In the enchanted land of Oz, things are not always what they seem. This brings us to the first value that we can teach our children…

1. Never judge from face value.

The green-faced “Wicked Witch of the West” actually has a heart of gold, while the more popular Glinda the Good Witch tends to go with the flow and pander to the people’s wishes. The Wizard of Oz is supposed to be all-powerful and all-wise, but he turns out to be a fake.

So while it’s ever tempting and easy to judge people and situations from the way they look on the surface, let’s teach our kids to always dig and examine a little deeper.

wicked-uk-international-tour_carly-anderson

2. Friendship stands the test of time, and change.

Though Glinda and Elphaba may have started off on the wrong foot, though their personalities are at the opposite extremes, and though they are rivals in love, they build a firm and loyal friendship.

Also when Fiyero, Elphaba’s love interest, gets turned into a scarecrow towards the end of the musical, she continues to stay true to him.

wicked-uk-international-tour_carly-anderson-and-jacqueline-hughes2

3. Always help the lowly and outcast feel included
The “Dancing Through Life” party scene is perfect for discussion here. When Elphaba shows up to the party in the weird ol’ witch’s hat (gifted by Glinda) and tries to join the dance, she makes a fool of herself. The dancing stops…until conscience-pricked Glinda decides to be kind to her and adopt her awkward dance moves. The result is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the two. Sometimes you never know what you do for another person when you help them feel part of a group.

4. Good deeds may not always be rewarded, but do them anyway.
As the song goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” However hard Elphaba tried to save the animals from losing their speech and status in society, she kept getting wronged and blamed. So let’s remind our kids that doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily lead to rewards. A lot of the things that we do out of conviction of our hearts will go unseen. But keep doing what is right and honorable anyway.

5. Keep getting up even if you fall, and you might just defy gravity.

Elphaba may have been heartbroken and disappointed by the ones she held dear many times, but she kept going and was relentless in her pursuit of what is good and noble. At the end, her ingenuity rescued her as she managed to fool all Ozzians into thinking that she was already dead, when it fact she had only disappeared through a trapdoor.

What a story to encourage our young ones to keep pressing on inspite of challenges and difficulties. A worthy and beautifully-moving musical spectacular through and through.

Wicked The Musical is running till 20 November at the Grand Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets, ranging from $55 to $230, can be purchased from Sistic.

Images from Base Entertainment Asia. All opinions and stories are my own.

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12 strategies that have helped control my child’s digital diet

We live in an increasingly hectic world. I work as a freelance writer, and when there are looming deadlines for my writing assignments, it’s ever-tempting to let the kids go to their “nannies,” namely the iPad, TV, or computer.

My kids’ digital diet has been steadily increasing. Almost every day, JJ (or even his younger brother) will come to me and ask for some TV time.

I decided that I needed to do something about it, in order to curtail a downward spiral.

But why is it important that we moderate our children’s digital diet? What do kids lose when too much time is spent with and on screens?

This article captures it well: Even the smart kids are lacking social and conversational skills. They don’t know how to:

1) read non-verbal cues (which is a real problem because non-verbal makes up the bulk of all communication)

2) take turns

3) stay on topic

And surprisingly, it is the wealthier ones who are most affected:

A 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics found a 63 percent increase in disability associated with speech problems between 2001 and 2011, though the percentage of kids with disabilities rose just 16 percent. And the biggest increase was among the wealthiest families.

So what are we parents to do? Here are 10 things that I’ve found helpful for my kids…

1. Decide on a schedule

Work as a family to draw the boundaries.

Decide on a duration and limit that suits your family and your kids’ age.  For some, this could mean 45 min of screen time daily. For others, it could be 2 hours but only on weekends. There isn’t a right answer, but most experts recommend limiting to 1-2 hours of total screen time per day. As a guide, children under 2 need little or no screen time, while older kids can get some screen time a few times a week.

On weekdays, I work their TV schedule around the times I need to bring them out. For example if your child has music classes on Monday and swimming on Thursday, then those are no-TV days.

2. Make it a family decision

Kids are intelligent and understand more than what we give them credit for. Talk about why you need to set limits for screen time. Talk about the dangers of excessive screen time (less outdoor play, reduced social interaction, and how that affects children and even young adults). And then set the rules together as a family. This helps them to understand why too much TV could be a problem, and helps them to gain ownership over the rules that are being set.

3. Make it visual

Kids need reminders to help them control their impulses. After deciding on the days that we allow screen-time, I put it into a simple calendar. Because JJ isn’t reading independently yet, I put in simple icons to help him identify what the words are. But trust me, he knows what the two letters “TV” means…

And because he knows 4pm is TV time on a particular day, he will keep asking if it’s 4pm, how long more, etc. The schedule doesn’t mean that we need to be totally strict and inflexible. It actually allows for flexibility. For example the other day we had a playdate with some of his friends. Because they chose to watch a bit of TV, and it wasn’t a designated TV day, he negotiated to have it swapped with the following day’s TV slot. I agreed, and when the next day came, there’s wasn’t any mention of the two-letter word.

Of course, some days can be hard. He is after all still young, and waiting is a hard game to master. But it has its benefits, and sticking to the schedule, more or less, may even help them to learn the most important skill of all.

kids schedule

4. Have special TV times

We allow kids to watch their favourite shows on Netflix on weekends. The older ones get to pick one show to watch and this becomes their special designated TV time with the dad. You can even plan for a special movie night on weekends or certain holidays. This way, it’s the bonding that is the focus, not merely a screen.

5. Be selective with content.

Rather than allowing kids to watch anything on TV (because you never know what’s on supposedly kids programmes these days), I prefer choosing a variety of DVDs and/or programmes on Netflix and making sure that the content is age-appropriate for your child. I quite like some of the programmes on Netflix and find them both educational and entertaining (our favouites are Science Kid and Wildkratts!) plus the fact that I can hit pause when I need to, and of course…no ads!

6. Designate tech-free zones and times

Mealtimes and bedtime are the usually natural tech-free zones. Explain to your kids that these are special bonding and connecting times to talk and share as a family. It’s not good to be distracted by a noisy screen as we want to appreciate our food and actually taste what we are eating.

What happens when children eat with their eyes glued to a screen? First, they don’t learn to fully taste their food. Second, they have no idea when they are actually full. They only know that when they finish, the screen gets taken away. So it might actually take longer for them to eat, because they’re so distracted.

I believe it isn’t a route we all want for our kids. But if there is already such a habit, you can still take steps to cut down on the screen time, little by little.

7. Try audio books instead

Audio books are great, especially if you have preschoolers who are not of reading age yet. Listening to audio books help to hone their listening skills, and also visualisation skills, which is the brain’s ability to draw mental pictures. Check out Common Sense Media‘s and Modern Mrs Darcy‘s favourite audio books selection.

8. Increase sensory play

In order of turning on the TV, reach for a sensory bin. Sensory play can be messy because children are allowed to use their hands to feel materials like sand, foam, water, ice, or other things like beans and rice. But that’s just one aspect: the sense of touch. How about engaging the other senses such as smell and hearing? Sensory play also allows children to be in complete control of their actions and experiences, which encourages experiential learning. How do you do sensory play at home without making too much of a mess? Here are some ideas.

Sensory play is messy but fun!

9. Play old fashion board and card games

It helps to have a wide range of activities on hand to choose from, in order for young ones to not feel like they need to reach for the remote each time they feel bored. We love to play tic-tac-toe, Gobblet Gobblers, Uno games, memory games using cards, and good ol’ snakes and ladders.

There are many board games that can help encourage executive function and math skills too.

10. Head outdoors

Try to have outdoor time a couple of times a week, if not daily. Some sports or playground time? Outdoor play is an essential for children’s well-being. It stimulates creativity, promotes problem-solving, reduces anxiety, and increases imagination. (source)

11. Choose games wisely

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Tech can be used to our advantage too. When we need some time waiting outside, I occasionally let the kids play games like Cut the rope, which helps to promote flexible thinking and problem solving skills, and some Chinese word apps.

12. Lead by example

This is probably the hardest part for most of us. How many times have you heard your child say to you, “Mum, put your phone down!” (I admit, I’ve heard this at least once in the past week.) But if we can exhibit self-control, and even let our kids know our own strategies of controlling media usage, the kids will soon be inspired to do the same.

12 way to manage your child digital diet

I hope you find these ideas useful! What other strategies do you use at home to help your little ones control their media usage?

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