What a cardboard project taught me about my middle child


The kids and I were making some simple things out of cardboard one evening.

As Vera was busy with something else, JJ and I started first. We made a carpark using washi tape and a scrap piece of cardboard.

I let him take the lead throughout the time. He would say, “I want the tape here mummy. I want the cars to park here.”

He found a thin spongy material from somewhere, and said “I want to stick this down in the middle.” I asked if he meant for it to be like a speed bump, and he said yes.

There was one point where he got a bit upset. I asked him if he’d like to draw an arrow to point the cars in the right direction, and he said yes. He asked me to help with the straight line of the arrow, which I did, and I asked if he would like to draw the pointy part. He tried to do so, but it didn’t turn out the way he wanted it, so he promptly tried to “erase” it with his fingers. It resulted in a black smudge (we were using gel crayons). I observed that at this point, his voice was turning whiny. He really wanted to get the black smudge off the cardboard!

I then asked him, “How do you think we can solve this problem? Hmm, would you like to get a piece of wet tissue and see if it can help remove the black marks?”

He nodded and quickly scampered off to get the tissue. He tried to wipe the smudgy print off and most of it came off. Whew… Thankfully!

And along came Josh happily holding a blue gel crayon. What did he do with it? He used the crayon and scribbled circles on one corner of the cardboard!

I stopped Josh from drawing on the piece any further. Then I asked if JJ would like to wipe off the blue marks as well. By this time, he wasn’t looking that much affected so I just tried to wipe the blue scribbles off on my own. To my dismay, it turned into a larger spot of blue instead!

An idea came to me at that instant, and I exclaimed, “Look, JJ! This looks like a swimming pool for the cars! A car-wash!”

It must have appealed to him, because a bright smile came to his face. He responded, “Yes, the cars can go there, and get cleaned before they head off to shopping.”

After all that, we played around with the cars for a bit, and I noticed JJ was looking rather pleased.

Now, it was Vera’s turn. She decided her cardboard would be a castle. Vera’s confident when it comes to making things, so with her, I pretty much stand at the sidelines, and help only when help is needed.

She would give me instructions like, “Mummy, can you help me cut another piece of this size. I want it to be the back of the castle.” Sometimes she would decide to do it herself.

JJ just observed. He did meddle a bit with Vera’s castle but when she asked him to stop, he stayed calm and didn’t react.

Halfway through, she said she needed to halt the project because she didn’t have enough toilet rolls to build the 4 pillars to support another level of the castle. JJ volunteered to let her use the 2 rolls that he had, saying “I don’t know what to do with them anyway.”

Hearing that made my jaw drop to the floor. I was really surprised at his act. I said, “Wow JJ, that’s very kind of you!” Vera was happy and also thanked him.

Later that night, as I was discussing this with the hubby, a few things struck me.

First, the time I spent with JJ making the carpark, and listening to his ideas, helped him to feel happy and confident. When he’s in this state, he’s in a position to be more “giving”.

Then I started to compare this incident to another time when I was doing some painting with the kids. My attention was on Vera first, and she painted a simple scene happily. But when I tried to do similar things with JJ later, he got upset over something and was difficult to console and calm.

So the magic was in the order of activity – when I did it with Vera first, JJ’s insecurities emerged (maybe he compares himself with his elder sister’s work? I’m not sure what it is exactly.) When I did the activity with him first, solely focused on him, he had nothing to compare with, no benchmark to reach (and fail in.) He was confident and assured.

Such a simple thing – the order of things. Yet it could make such a big difference in my middle child’s life.

This is a lesson I’m going to remember as I continue to steadfastly parent my children. Each of them are different, and have unique needs, so we too have to adjust our own parenting styles to fit the individual. (This is something that Evelyn shared after the How To Raise A Resilient Child workshop too.)

Isn’t it amazing the things that we start to see, when we truly observe and listen? Our children are telling us things all the time, with their behavior, with their eyes, with their fidgeting. Sometimes we just need to put on an investigator’s hat, and tune in to all the signs that they’re giving us.

What have you observed about your child recently? If you’re keen to join us for our next Resilient Child workshop, you may do so here!

Little Lessons: Re-discovering my middle child

I brought the little brother, who’s now also an older brother, out on a date last week. I honestly can’t recall how long ago since we went out one on one, intentionally, so you can imagine that this was very much needed.

(Sometimes I feel guilty for not having spent as much time on him, compared to big sister. And wonder if we’ve shortchanged him in terms of love, attention, and time.)

I racked my brain for a nice spot we could both enjoy, and decided on one of our favourite spots – the botanic gardens. He loves to feed the fishes there. He also likes tumbling at FFT’s playground so while I have my coffee, he can run around, I thought. Win win.

And so we did.

I was hopeful that the date would bear fruit in terms of less cranky behaviour in the day or two ahead. I thought it would benefit him, and provide some assurance of his standing in my heart.

What I didn’t count on was realising the fact that my heart actually needed healing from all the negativity and scolding associated with bringing up my middle child.

Somewhere between his gobbling up of his scone (with glee and gusto in equal parts) and my sipping my coffee, it hit me. I haven’t taken the time to truly enjoy this boy. He’s such a gift in our lives – his comic antics, nonsensical words, his funny stunts and jumps, his infectious smile and laughter, his funny (mostly fail) attempts to speak mandarin.

I’ve been so engaged in dealing with his moodiness and upset feelings, I’ve unknowingly started to see him as a chore, a problem to be fixed.

I’ve overlooked his cheery gleeful side, that pops up like a bright yellow balloon against blue sky, and his unquenchable excitement that bubbles out from within him when he hears or sees something new.

Re-discovering His Gifts

JJ has a sensitive and sweet spirit that often observes and notices people’s feelings. It is this same sensitivity that appears to be causing his mood swings whenever he feels he is being overlooked or left behind. But I’m thankful I learnt recently that for each character weakness, lies a potential area of strength.

I’m starting to see that his heart for helping and paying attention to others’ needs can be honed and moulded for much good.

I pray I will continue to see him for the person he is, and the person he is capable of being.

Dear JJ, you are my ice-cream surprise on a sunny day, my pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

You’re not my problematic middle child, you’re God’s precious gift to us, and unique gift to the world. 


This is Little Lessons #25. Grab our badge and link up your little lessons / reflections / learning activities below!

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