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!

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: Discovering your child’s talents and gifts

Vera was busy painting last Sunday.

rainbow painting

When I asked her about her artwork, she said:

“Someone squeezed this black thing here (which looks like an ink jar to me…) and a rainbow shoots out!”

I was a little surprised at how she got the idea of squirting a rainbow out from a little black pot. But I just stood back and let her do her thing. Occasionally, I glanced over just to see how she’s going.

After she was done, I asked her what were the two things jumping on the rainbow. (I honestly thought they were monkeys…) She said they were water droplets since a rainbow is formed from droplets in the air, and light shining through them. (She had just been learning about the water cycle at school.)

I just stood and examined the finished piece. We’ve long realised that she’s interested in art, and loves to doodle and draw on her own. Obviously since the days of Frozen, everything has to do with princesses and castles and snow and kings and queens. But occasionally, she goes and draws something out of the blue – like this one.

She loves rainbows. She always has. (Maybe it has something to do with Aunty Waijia’s A Taste of Rainbow book that she read long ago.)

I remember thinking sometime back about discovering each child’s interests and area of giftings – yes it might seem a little young to jump to conclusions about where these may lie, but I think what they naturally like to do, and also seem to excel at, give us some handles to go by.

In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve done much to hone her interest in art. I’ve pretty much provided the paints, different media for her to paint on, and sometimes we paint twigs, leaves, and other little things that we pick from the park. Yes we also love to do simple crafts at home. But that’s about it. I think it’s time to pick up some art books from the library.

At some point in the near future, I’d love to bring her to take up some formal art lessons, but for now I am enjoying watching her express her ideas and personality through her paintings and drawings. It’s raw, childlike and gives me a window into her thoughts and feelings too. It’s also a joy to behold, every new piece is like a little surprise. I hope she continues to love and express herself through art.

This is Little Lessons #22, which runs on the blog every Thursday. Do grab our badge and link up your little lessons / reflections / learning activities below!

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The love / discipline sandwich – Lessons from The Five Love Languages of Children

I learnt something important after re-reading The Five Love Languages of Children (affiliate link) over the weekend.

On the subject of discipline, the author emphasises the importance of contextualising discipline in love. That is, when the child is receiving correction and consequences of his behaviour, he needs to know he is first of all loved by his parents, and also that this discipline /correction is part of that love.

That is, “We love you, that’s why we need to correct you.”

One useful method that Chapman advocates is to sandwich the discipline with love, using your child’s main love language.

So for instance for Vera, quality time and physical affection are important to her, so before I mete out a discipline or consequence, I can give her a hug or hold her hand. Then after the discipline, spend a few minutes with her instead of rushing off. Or I could actually sit her on my lap throughout the whole time. This way, she knows that I am not withholding my love from her, even when I need to address the wrong she’s done.

5 love languages of children

Another tip I learnt from the book is to refrain from using a form of discipline that is directly related to your child’s main love language. So if words of affirmation is important to your child, avoid using harsh words on her. As Chapman states, “Critical words can be painful to any child, but to this child, they will be emotionally devastating.” And if quality time is his thing, don’t discipline by removing that quality time you were scheduled to spend with him.

Now does this mean that if your child’s primary love language is touch, you should avoid spanking? I think for the most part, the answer is yes. And if you do need to use such a form of discipline, try your best to be measured in the spanking, for instance, setting a limit to the number of spanks that matches the level of misbehaviour. And when the discipline has been meted out, remember to hold your child close and reassure him or her of your love.

Reading the chapter turned on a light bulb for me. I’ve been rather stretched of late and I haven’t realised how curt and harsh I can be when disciplining the kids. I’ve been task-oriented, moving the kids through a long list of to-dos, and feeling frustrated when they don’t comply promptly. I’ve (conveniently) forgotten the love part of discipline, and am feeling a little bummed for allowing stress to steal our joy away.

But I guess it’s never too late to start on a clean slate. And I’m glad to have re-read the book just at this point in time when I needed a reminder. I hope you find this helpful too.

This is Little Lessons #19. Little Lessons linky runs on the blog every Thursday. Do grab our badge and link up your little parenting lessons / learning activities below!

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Pretend play is great for the imagination

We’ve been busy at home having indoor picnics, fighting crocodiles and dinosaurs, beating away the big bad wolf. Etc etc. (And more recently, or after watch Frozen to be exact, playing princess.)

Yes, the kids love to play pretend. I love to watch their dramatic eye-popping action and guffaw-inducing scripts, and I play along while trying my darnedest to fight back giggles.

Props like this picnic basket (featured below) from IKEA always help to start things going. So do puppets and costume props. Books are also great fodder for dramatisation. I remember one of the earliest times we did this was after we read We Are Going On A Bearhunt. For the longest time, the story captured the kids’ imagination and we always imagined the big bear was chasing after us, and of course they love the part where we all hide under the comforter most.

So here we are, having a picnic on our bed.

Kids are busy slurping ice-cream. Josh wears the look of “What’s going on” on his face.

Let's feed Josh

Ooh, let’s feed J some easter eggs. Yummy chocolate, baby J?

Let's shoot the bad guy

Oh no. The big bad wolf (A.K.A. papa) is coming to steal our yummy food! Quick, shoot him!

play_laugh

The poor wolf falls over while dodging JJ’s fireball. Kids fall over laughing.

Whew. Tired.

Whew…Pretend play is tiring. I give up…

pretending to be princess Elsa

I wanna be Elsa. (What’s new?)

What are the benefits of pretend play?

  • Helps children to explore their emotions and gives them a safe way to learn how to express / cope with difficult emotions like anger, jealousy, and aggression.
  • Encourages them to build bridges between different ideas and concepts, which is the foundation of creativity and symbolic/abstract thinking.
  • Helps children rehearse and prepare for upcoming real life events, such as moving house, or a visit to the dentist.
  • Helps them learn and develop social skills.

Pretend play gives you both permission to try on different emotions for size, and in doing so you’ll both gain confidence in experiencing and expressing a fuller range of human emotions. – Building Healthy Minds

How do we encourage pretend play?

  • I remember one of JJ’s first “pretend-playing” was when he was trying to cook me an egg. So real-life activities (cooking, shopping, a trip to the zoo, or an airplane ride) make great fodder for sparking a drama-activity.
  • Read books that inspire pretend play. Try Little Bear, Ladybug Girl Dresses Up, The Very Cranky Bear, or We Are Going On A Bearhunt.
  • Have lots of pretend-play items within their reach. Things like dressing up costumes (even an old handbag or hat), cooking / food items, and all sorts of puppets.

Mary-go-round dress on Vera, Fly Me To The Moon shirt on JJ, and The Bandit onesie on baby J have been sponsored by Baby Att. Inspired by the curiosity and imaginative powers of kids, Baby Att’s pieces have hand-sewn details that have become trigger points for story-telling sessions and quality interaction with our children.

~~~ GIVEAWAY TIME! ~~~

One lucky reader will walk away with a $50 Baby Att shopping voucher. Just enter via the rafflecopter app below.

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Contest is open to Singapore residents only, and closes on 21 May 2014, 11pm. Winners will be notified by email.

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