How to speak life into our children’s gifts

How many times do you criticise your child in a day? And how many times do you affirm them?

I did that test myself one day and didn’t do great. I affirmed all the kids that day, but only once each.

But when it came to criticism, or nagging, or complaining, I did it to all three kiddos…multiple times. (Okay, I admit I lost count.)

“Vera, why is your room always so untidy?”
“JJ, why do you take so long to come when I call?”
“Eeks, Josh, you’re such a mess!”

And I asked myself “Why is it so easy to point out their flaws and faults, and so hard to acknowledge their good sides?”

Today’s kids face performance-related pressures more than ever before. We expect them to do well in school, finish their homework on time, be a shining example to their siblings, help their younger siblings, the list goes on.

What is the result of a high-stress, fast-paced, and overly critical environment?

Highly stressed out and anxious children.

And are they getting enough love and support from us? I think that receiving unconditional love and acceptance in the home is an antidote to the world’s burgeoning mental health problem.

Do we accept them for who they are, mess, quirks, tantrums and all?

Are we ready to forgive and give grace when they make mistakes?

Are we generous with our time, love, words of praise and affirmation, and most importantly our presence?

The word for me this season? Delight in my children.

They may frustrate you. They may defy or turn a deaf ear to your instructions. Their untidiness may drive you up the wall.

But take pleasure in them. Rejoice over them. Remember they are God’s gifts to us. Remember that He finds great joy in them, as He does too in us.

Sometimes I think I express so much disdain that they may feel like they’re not good enough. Now that’s a really scary thought.

How can we express our infinite joy in our children and make it known to them?

1. Practice unconditional love. Let your children know they are loved, regardless of how well or poorly they perform in school or in their chosen sports/hobbies.

2. Use affirming words: You are God’s wonderful gift to me. You are my precious son/daughter. You are beautiful not just on the outside but on the inside, because you are loving and kind to others.

3. Be curious. When asking about their day, replace the question “Any homework?” with “How was your day?” or “Who did you have recess with?” or “What was the best /worst part of today?”

4. Write them little love /encouraging notes.

5. Practise restoration. End off any discipline or confrontation with “I may be angry because I don’t like this behaviour…but I still love you.”

6. Be a great listener. When they are sharing about a funny or exciting story, give them the time of day and your full presence.

7. Lavish them with hugs and kisses.

8. Spend time with them. For 30 minutes a day, log off all devices and tune into their hearts.

As we put aside a critical spirit and put on an affirming spirit, we may begin to see a different side to our children.

When we focus on their strengths and speak life into their gifts, they will learn that they are worthy and have unique talents to offer the world.

“See a child differently, you see a different child.” – Dr Stuart Shanker

see a child differently

What our children really need

Our children need more of our time

Today’s modern and ever-connected world means that all sorts of responsibilities and distractions are eating away at our leisure time and mental space.

We need to take charge of the things that come into our daily lives and set aside some time every day, just to spend with our kids. And try to keep that time unadulterated from the worries of their academic progress, or other concerns.

One way is to let your child know this is his/her time, and ask what they would like to do together.

More of our attention

Our children are practically fighting for our attention with gadgets, screens, and work. I know because it happens in our household too. I know the inertia, the amount of willpower it takes to turn off the screen and answer the cry for attention from one of my kids.

As a work-from-home mum, it is even more of a struggle because physically you’re there but mentally you can be miles away.

But we need to make a conscious effort, and start with small pockets of time to play, bond, and assure our kids of our love.

More play

In my teaching and intervention work, I come across students who have their schedules packed from Mondays to Saturdays.

They often sleep late (past 930/10pm) and have little free play. And they start to exhibit signs of inattention, an inability to focus, tiredness and irritability.

If we don’t make changes to the input (rest, nutrition, play, strong bonds), we are not going to see that much change in the output.

Children need time and space to play, tinker and explore. And I think we all need to constantly re-examine and re-calibrate the balance of play versus work in our children’s lives.

child tinkering with lego

More nature

We recently took a family trip to a forest resort in Malaysia. I wrote about the lessons we learnt from nature on Channel NewsAsia, so do have a read!

My son, who has some behavioural issues, remains calm and engaged throughout the trip. And I believe nature (as well as the presence of his cousins as playmates) had a big part to play in this.

children in nature

Less hovering, more autonomy and problem-solving

On our nature trip, there was a river that wholly captured the imagination of our kids. They spent many marvelous hours there navigating it, splashing around, and also working together and solving problems. It was a wonder to witness.

During the three days, I did not hear the usual cries of “mummy, can you help me….(fill in the blanks).” They did most of the things themselves and roamed the resort grounds freely. It gave me a glimpse of the kampong life of yesteryear.

While I cannot bring the river home, I can certainly allow them the chance to let them hone their independence and autonomy.

It takes a conscious effort to deliberately sit back and not do a thing. (Especially hard for mums…)

Just try it the next time you visit a playground. Don’t rescue your child from every sticky situation, but coach them through it and remind them that you are near to help. (This, of course, does not apply if they’re about to hurt someone or themselves, or hurt by others.)

The end result of a confident and can-do spirit is worth it.

More affirmation

I will be the first to confess, I’m not particularly great at this. I come from a family where my parents were not very expressive in their show of love.

But I use my strengths in writing to compensate where I fall short of in the physical affection department. I write little notes of love to them, highlighting the efforts I see them making, or any admirable qualities that I see them demonstrating.

And I try to not let a day go by without lavishing a single hug, smile, or word of affirmation to each of my kiddos.

They need us to call out their strengths

The words we speak can either be life-giving or destructive. They can either add or take away.

Our children need us to identify and call out their strengths, as well as give them opportunities to use their strengths to serve or bless others.

Instead of focusing on or harping on their weaknesses, take the opposite approach and help them use their strengths in their studies, or for friends and family.

If it is in music, play a song to bring cheer to an elderly person. If it is in cooking, give them a chance to plan the family meals. If it is in writing, encourage them to write positive notes to friends, or to craft stories to share about a recent outing or holiday. If it is in helping others, get them to help coach a classmate who is struggling in a subject.

The possibilities are endless once you start to think about it. But the impact is great, as our children start to see that they are given different gifts for a purpose. That they aren’t just chasing academic or sporting excellence for a medal or an award, but the achievement will one day enable them to be in a position to give.

As they grow, they will start to think about how to contribute and give back to society, rather than just be focused on themselves.

Is there anything you feel your kids really need at this stage of their lives, or any ideas on how you meet those needs in your own special way?

Please share in the comments!

Done List, 2017

Many people are busy planning for the new year; new resolutions, fresh to-dos, bold and brave plans.

But have we looked back at the year that is fast coming to a close, and acknowledged ourselves or others for the things already done?

Instead of working on a to-do list, I compiled my done list over the weekend.

What have I accomplished this year? On the work front, my freelance work has found a stable footing. I was really stoked (and totally surprised) by an opportunity to write for a local news site, focusing on education and parenting — issues that I’ve always felt passionate about. I also started to take on cases in special needs and educational therapy. It’s a steep learning curve for me in this new field.

At home, the younger boys settled into their new kindergarten and adjusted to new teachers and friends. JJ also graduated at the end of the year, and is (almost) ready to start primary school as I type this!

We recently went to Melbourne for a holiday and had a blast, although traveling has always been iffy for us, particularly with kids who don’t cope that well with change. But Melbourne has a special place in my heart; it was my spiritual home during my undergrad years, and it felt special to be able to catch up with family and friends there. The farmstay was the highlight of our trip (will share about that in a future post!) I think we all grew a bit through the process and experienced God’s grace even in managing the more difficult moments and meltdowns.

Bay of martyrs besties at Geelong

We actually managed to take a family pic in front of the café where the hub and I met. (So epic!) The kids were not impressed though, as the café had already closed down…we ended up having a coffee at the one that popped up right beside it.

family pic at crema

Apart from that, we’ve been taking things real slow this December. Last weekend, we brought our tent out on a whim and enjoyed a relaxing experience outdoors. Suffice to say that we’ll be doing this more often in 2018.family in a tent

It’s been a year of growth for me in different ways. I learned a few things about connection, kindness, and authenticity this year. Through books such as these:

  • Wonder by RJ Palacio. As well as Auggie and Me. This series made me cry and opened up a new chapter of kindness and empathy in my own life.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Reading this was like giving a gift to myself; it reminded me to stop seeking after / creating a picture-perfect life, but to live an authentic and connected life, more in tune and less judgmental.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. An all-too-famous book on how to find meaning and purpose in life. A must-read in one’s lifetime.
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Also known as the one through which I bawled my eyes out many times over. This book taught me to cherish everything I have.
  • Madeleine L’engle’s A Circle of Quiet. Her writing makes me laugh, and through the guffaws provides a serving of strength to dream about writing more seriously for myself.

Reading (and crying through) those titles made me realise that if there is only one way that I experience beauty, it is through the written word.

I also benefitted from these books on parenting:

  • The Dolphin Way by Dr. Shimi Kang. I love her insights; a back-to-basics type of book with lots of practical tips and how-tos with regard to parenting in a social, connected, and gentle way. (A great read for parents looking to curb their tiger-mum instincts.)
  • The Explosive Child by Ross Greene – A must-read for anyone who is grappling with an easily frustrated child. (A friend sent me the e-book and I’m grateful to her to this day.)
  • Loving our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk – I’m only halfway through this, but am enjoying its focus on parenting from and to the heart, looking beyond just managing behaviour and all the external stuff.
  • The Happy Mom by Doreen Wong – A book filled with godly wisdom and insight. Read the review here!

Through 2017, I think I saw more compassion rising within me, towards the kids and even myself. Not perfect, but progressing.

The parts of the year that I enjoyed most were the ones where we were able to connect with other like-minded families and friends, be it through the simple play-date, a prayer gathering, or the coffee break with other moms. It was on some of these occasions where I felt most alive, most vibrant, and most in tune with God and his creation. I really thank God for the community He’s given to us.

2017 is also the year where we got to go on date nights without feeling much guilt (if at all!) It’s a sweet place to be, but I’m looking forward to the new year and all that it has to bring. By His grace, so sweet and sufficient, I’m going to embrace our lives–imperfect as it may be–and enjoy the ride.

Blessed 2018 to you and your loved ones! xoxo

no one ever told her
about this thing called “mothering.”
maybe because it was a journey
of discovery –
her greatest work of art –
her biggest lesson in letting go…
where she’d learn to nurture a “self”
to shine bright
and find her own self in the process.
no one can tell you that.
you have to live it to know it.
and when you do,
it changes you forever.

– Terri St. Cloud

Letter to my son: You’ll find your place in life

Dear son,

You’ve graduated from kindergarten! As you danced on stage with your classmates at your graduation concert, I couldn’t help but swell with pride and delight.

You’ve only been in this kindy for a year…Transitions aren’t your forte and sometimes you have reactions that nobody can fathom, not even your dad and I, but we saw that what you needed was time — time to settle in and get used to the new kindy environment, friends and flow. Eventually, you did and you said you enjoyed your new school, particularly the computer “lessons” that you have every Tuesday.

The same way you found your place in this new school, may you also find your place in life.

finding your place in life

Parenting is tough to do. Parenting you has also been quite an intense experience.

Many a time I have faltered, many a time I failed to show you the gracious and loving face of our God, and for those, I can only repent and say I’m sorry.

Sorry for being harsh when I could have been understanding.

Sorry for being impatient when all you needed was time.

Sorry for being only half-present and preoccupied with my work and worries when all you wanted to do was to share about your day.

(I’ll try my best to do better; because of you and your siblings, I’m also growing every day, to be a better mum, and to parent from a place of enough.)

Yet you stick close to me. You’re the one who calls me when I’m out running errands or doing stuff for work. You’re the one asking when I will be home.

Soon you will move on to primary school, then secondary, then college and university. Soon you will be a teenager – will you still want to share with me excitedly about your day? Will our relationship be strong and open enough for you to deposit your thoughts into my mind?

I can only hope and wait for you, my son. Wait for you to strengthen your wings and heart and mind. Wait for you to ready yourself for flight. Wait for you to fly.

Whichever route you choose to take, however long it needs for you to get where you want to go, know that you can take your time. Go at your own pace, learn to love at your own time.

The speed at which you grow does not define you. Nor do the achievement and results that you attain. At the end of the day, God looks at your heart, and who you are. I pray that you will bear fruit for His glory.

Your mother too has taken quite a few roundabout routes in life, and through them learnt many things. Maybe it was only through those meandering journeys that she grew to be who she is now. (Only God knows.)

So, take your time, my darling. I will do my best not to worry and hurry you, and instead trust that you will find your sweet spot, that special place in life that God intended for you.

Love,

Mummy

happy boy and mom

Kids need real dollars and cents to learn money sense – don’t digitize their pocket monies

“The financial habits you develop when you are young are going to go with you into your adulthood.” – Warren Buffett

The “invisibility of money to young people” is one main factor exacerbating the problems that young people have with money. – Founders of Money Doctor, Nicky Reid and Marilyn Holness, quoted in ST

I read with some disdain the news of POSB introducing digital watches that basically act like prepaid debit cards for kids in certain primary schools. It allows students to buy food and stationery at the canteen and school bookstore by tapping the gadget on NETS digital payment terminals. They can also use the watch at such terminals outside school.

The initiative has been rolled out to various primary school levels at 19 schools, but the bank aims to get all students from all 190 primary schools here to own this gadget within the next two years.

But would you seriously considering giving such a “debit card” to your 8-year old? Albeit this smartwatch would have a safe daily limit of say $2 a day. But still…

I know countries around the globe are moving towards a cashless society, and cashless generally means greater convenience, and less hassle of carrying cash that can be physically lost or stolen.

Through an app that parents download onto their phones, they can track their child’s spending (and saving), and also send their child money in the event of an emergency.

But honestly, I think if we are talking about young children who are aged 7, 8, or 9, who are just getting a grasp of money matters, it is best to stick to the devil we know – real, tangible, countable cash.

Here are my 4 key concerns about this initiative.

1. It will create a “buy first, think later” culture

Because all you need to do is flash your watch and receive an item, it makes it all too easy to buy things and worry later.

We all know (even as adults) that it’s hard to curb spending with cards. Which is why as financially savvy adults, we choose to limit the number of credit cards we hold and have a clear reason and purpose for every card that we do choose to apply for.

As it is a digital medium, the concept of money is made more surreal and less tangible, which makes it harder for young children to fully grasp the concepts of spending within your means, budgeting, and saving, although the programme tries to sell these things.

Everything is reduced to mere numbers on a screen.

Instead they may learn that there is no need for delaying gratification, since you can just buy things so easily and without much thought.

Mary Hunt, author of Raising Financially Confident Kids, has this to say when comparing cash and debit/credit cards, “Cash is very visual, clear cut and not confusing…Credit sends a mixed message to kids.”

2. It takes away one of the most natural places for kids to practise money management

The school canteen /bookshop is one of the safest and most natural places for kids to learn about money –

  • counting (Did I bring enough for a bowl of noodles?)
  • budgeting (If I get an extra drink today, how much will I have left for tomorrow or day after?)
  • differentiating between needs and wants (Do I really need that new rainbow-designed pencil?)

It also provides real-life opportunities for them to practise life skills such as checking the change, making sure that it’s right, and if it’s wrong, to be able to speak up and tell the truth. (With the digital watch, there’s no need for change.)

We give our eldest a weekly budget of $8-10. She’s expected to manage her budget on her own – in other words don’t go buy some fancy pencils on Monday and expect us to give you extra money on Wednesday when you’re left with nothing.

If she overspends, she will have to figure things out on her own – maybe go hungry, or buy something of lower value, or pack a sandwich for recess on Friday.

With all this daily practice, I’ve noticed her becoming more aware of the money that we spend as a family. One day, when I got charged for an extra cup of tea that I didn’t order, she was able to pick it up on the receipt, and I was able to ask for a refund.

With the smartwatch, it may become too convenient for parents to come to the rescue and top up a zero-balance account electronically. (Let’s face it, even if you don’t want to bail your child out, the temptation is there, at a click of a button.)

It thus makes it harder for children to learn through experiencing the very real consequences of money-related mistakes that they make.

As Hunt also says, “It’s important [that children] make choices and then live with the consequences.”

3. Is this going to be another digital distraction?

I’ve heard stories from my daughter about friends owning new gadgets like a smart watch. She says her friend sometimes gets into trouble for playing with her watch in class. It is a distraction to her and her friends sitting close by.

We live in an age of digital distractions. A child at lower primary levels is not likely to own a phone, but also for good reason, since they are not going to be travelling about on their own.

Alone the same lines, why give them a smart watch that will serve as a distraction, as the latest cool gadget in town, and as a means of comparing between the haves and have-nots?

Will it not distract them from the real meaning and purpose of school, which is to learn, to practise life skills, to socialise, and to curb impulsive behaviours?

4. Are there going to be safety issues with money flowing so easily to your child?

This may sound extreme but imagine if your child finds himself in the situation where he is being extorted for money or for an expensive item at a bookstore outside school.

Of course the daily /weekly allowance limit won’t be set too high, but if he’s being forced and he calls you for help, the parent may try to send him the money he needs on the spot, just to bail him out of trouble.

It’s potentially tricky to navigate such unexpected situations. Also the issue of privacy regarding spending habits that are tracked electronically is always lurking in the background.

learning money sense with three piggy banks - spend, save, share

TRAINING IN FINANCIAL LITERACY STARTS YOUNG

We treat financial literacy training with our kids quite seriously.

As mentioned earlier, we choose to give a weekly allowance, so as to give my daughter a chance to exercise choices and learn responsibility.

We also make sure they have a bit leftover for the practice of saving. This goes into 3 piggy banks – for spending, saving, and sharing.

The “spending” bank is to allow the kids some freedom to exercise choices. We try to discuss with them and help them make better decisions by weighing the pros and cons of buying a small toy now versus waiting a month later for the money to grow in order to buy a more valuable or higher-value toy.

We dissuade them from impulsive buying behaviour, and try to verbalise our own money decisions and dilemmas, so that they learn from us.

The “sharing” bank is to encourage the kids to share in terms of buying small treats or gifts for their siblings. It is also for giving to the church or to communities in need.

The savings go into their individual savings fund. At the end of the year, we tally the total, and put them into their own fund. (This is the equivalent of a savings account except that the money isn’t physically with the bank, it’s kept as part of our family bank account. But the concept is the same, they get to practise and see us tally their money at the end of the year, and they know that we’re safekeeping it for their future.)

I’m sharing this because financial management is probably one of the most important life skills and gifts that we could ever give our children.

The money habits they form now will likely follow them through life.

Just look around at those with burgeoning credit card debts or finance-related troubles – “money no enough” is one of the top destroyers of families around the world.

I understand the beauty of hassle-free technology and conveniences that it brings, but in this case, I think it only benefits the markets and companies involved, not so much our children. So please, please leave our kids’ pocket monies alone.

OPT FOR LIFE SKILLS INSTEAD

Yes, not opting for this smartwatch may mean slightly longer and slower queues at the canteen. But the upside then is our kids get to exercise invaluable life skills of

  • patience (why so slow…)
  • prioritisation (I want to pee but I’m hungry, hmm quickly get food and then go to the toilet)
  • flexibility (Wah, chicken rice queue so short today, let’s go for it!)

Yes, it means that we have to scrape together small change for our kids every week. (I like to give my daughter a mix of $2 notes, and various coin denominations, in order to teach her to count and manage her own daily budget.)

Yes, it means that our kids may accidentally lose that $2 note on an odd day or two, but then they get to exercise problem-solving skills and initiative by asking a trusted teacher or friend to help.

When it comes to technology and kids, we need to proceed with caution and think about the cost.

What price do we as a society pay in the end?

Are we letting go of precious opportunities to hone life skills and money wisdom?

Will we raise a generation of children who think that money runs on tap and it’s easy come, easy go?

Like how we are so reliant on our smart phones and can’t be bothered to use our memory to remember phone numbers. Or when we rely on calculator or excel spreadsheet to tell us what the answer is, and avoid doing mental calculations on our own. Will our kids not learn or bother to count simple cash anymore?

Precious opportunities to hone life skills are lost when we rush into technology recklessly. As Dr Nicky Reid, founder of Britain’s Money Doctor, said in this ST article:

“As parents, we always want to make things better for our children, like giving them everything. But as we become more affluent as a society, we are not giving them that life skill.”

I hope that we will take the time to think first, and weigh the pros and cons, before we embrace and adopt smart technology like this.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...