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?

What I love (and hate) about having 3 kids

Life as a parent of three kids living in Singapore is busy, funny, and a little mad. To keep myself sane, I drink lots of coffee and try to look on the bright side.

There are pros and cons, ups and downs. I start off this post with 8 things I love most about having three, and end off with the downsides…Here goes.

love and hate about having 3 kids

#1 Entertainment becomes cheap (Three is company)

Jumping on the bed, dancing to the track of Can’t Stop The Feeling, playing dressing up and acting to someone’s jumbled-up screen play. You name it, they’ve done it. They play with anything and everything, as long as they’ve got a companion (usually each other.)

There are some days when the messiness gets to me but you know, it’s also on those days I get to hide in the room (in peace) to finish off some writing work, so messes aside, I am actually thankful.

play dressing up

#2 We get to experience different stages of childhood (all at once)

While I’m coaching my eldest on her studies, and helping her to learn skills like priorities and planning, I also get to do silly things with my boys, and watch Josh make his little discoveries about how our world works. His sense of wonder never fails to make me smile. (I guess that’s the precious-ness of having a bonus kid!)

#3 We get to savour different strengths and specialities

Vera is into drawing and music. She loves doodling in her free time, and has started writing silly short stories around her illustrations. It’s something she does to relax and I marvel at seeing all her works.

child's artwork of a horse
JJ is a sports and dancing boy. He can’t stop moving at times, and his favourite past-time is jumping and dancing on our bed. As for Josh, well he’s currently top at…eating. He is a true blue foodie. I mean, which toddler actually enjoys tucking in a plate of salad?

toddler eating salad

#4 Multiple goodnight hugs before bed

Vera goes to bed first as she’s up the earliest. So we try to pray together and have goodnight hugs. Then come the boys who are always boisterous even at bedtime. Tucking them in can be tedious but eventually they’re out, and I get to smell their hair and kiss their cheeks. Bedtime is the sweetest moment for me, it’s when I can reset the day and give thanks all over again.

READ: Top 10 things kids need from their dads

#5 We can leave the house for date-nights knowing they’ll never have a dull moment

Yes they may squabble and fight over little things, but at least we know they’ll never be alone, bored or hooked to gadgets. And most times, they actually seem to get on quite well once mum and dad are out of the house. Weird but true.

kids playing ping pong

#6 They look out for each other

This applies mostly to Vera at this stage but I’ve seen some glimpses here and there in the boys. Whenever we’re at the pool Vera will be quite willing to care for Josh, especially when I explain that I need to do a lap or two. And the best part, when I go out with the threesome, Vera helps to chaperone the boys, one on each hand.

siblings walking hand in hand

#7 They pass on knowledge and ‘wisdom’

The beauty of having kids of differing ages is that the eldest will always share the stuff she’s learnt in school or through books. Although she’s only eight, her brothers look up to her and listen earnestly whenever she’s teaching them something. I can already see her playing the role of part-time tutor to her brothers in future. (Hopefully she doesn’t teach them the cheeky/naughty stuff too… :P)

#8 There are more hands to clean up

Who you gonna call when a huge mess has been made? Not just the one who made the mess of course, we teach the kids to help one another, and more hands just make the work lighter.

PS. Do you know that when children help out in the family, they feel a greater sense of belonging and ownership? *wink*

~~~~~

There are of course also some downsides to having 3 kids.

– You’re always outnumbered. There’s always a war you need to mediate.

If you’re at the mall, and one needs to go to the bathroom, another needs a drink, and yet another needs to go on the swings (right at this instant), you’ll never win. Every day we are at the negotiating table, teaching them what it means to compromise, have patience and wait.

– It’s so noisy you can’t hear yourself think

For an introverted mum like me, quietness is something I’ve always relished and actually quite need. Now that the kids are at school in the mornings, I get to enjoy some peace and quiet. And I consider it a huge win on those days when I get to take a nap, and the kids don’t start a fight the minute I fall asleep.

– It’s hard to go out in a normal sedan

We don’t drive as it’s expensive and we live in a central location. So we usually Grab or Uber our way around town. Now with 5 (albeit still a baby-ish looking 5th person), it’s tricky. Since the rule for child booster seats were made stricter, some Grab drivers also refuse to take us after seeing so many kids. (Thankfully they’ve launched Grab Family now.)

– It’s expensive to eat at restaurants

Step into a normal looking Jap place and the average bill is $60-70. And we’re not even talking about ordering mains for kids – thankfully they’re content with rice and miso soup bowl, along with chawanmushi (and some additional meat from our mains) on top.

READ: 20 ways to be a frugal family

– It’s expensive to travel too

We’re planning a trip to Melbourne this year and oh boy tickets alone costs about $2.5-3K. It’s also tricky to squeeze all of us into one hotel room. We always need to make room for our littlest on our bed.

– The bugs can make their rounds

With kids in kindy/school, when one brings home a bug, it inevitably “travels.” Some bad months, we’re so busy taking care of one sick kid after another, it gets a bit insane and we lose track of what happened when. (Tell me I’m not alone??)

~~~~~

Life with three means there’s never a dull moment. I’m also aware that it won’t be too long before they’re all teenagers and the only noise in the home will be the squabbling between the hubby and I.

So bring on the mess, the noise, the fights – I’ll take the whole package. I know I’m going to miss all these things when the house gets too quiet 10 years down the road.

Mums and dads, what are your joys and pains about having 1, 2, 3 (or even more) kids?

Children learn what they live – a beautiful lesson in parenting

I chanced upon a poem at a doctor’s clinic one day, and was quite struck by it. I googled and found it was written by a lady called Dorothy Law Nolte, an American writer and family counsellor.

Living in a very academic-driven society and time, children of all ages are busy attending one tuition/enrichment class after another. Our children learn all sorts of things. They are knowledgeable in many areas. But this beautiful poem reminds me that some of the most important things in life are learnt through daily living, the most mundane things that show our attitudes to our children in our daily interactions. How much we affirm them versus how much we express our disdain or criticism of them.

Values and virtues cannot be taught in a class. They can only be observed and followed, and we are our children’s primary role models. If we want our children to make a positive difference in this world, they need to be seeing us walk the talk first.

Enjoy the poem, and remember to pin it or share this post!

PS. You can read the full poem (and excerpt of the book that was developed from it) here.

Children learn what they live

How to talk to nurture your child’s self esteem

As a writer, words mean the world to me, and I try to be aware of the kind of words I use with my children.

Recently, I’ve picked up some communication skills through the workshops I’ve been organising, as well as through this book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (affiliate link). Here are 6 tips I’d like to share with you.

self-esteem

1. Watch out for subtle blaming words

Instead of “what did you do,” which already insinuates that the child has done something bad, try “what happened,” which is neutral and expresses concern, and allows the child the space and time to give his side of the story.

2. Don’t say “You’ll never learn!”

First of all this statement cannot be true – humans were born and created to learn, and yes some things are learnt the hard way, but still at least we do learn at some point. When a child hears this phrase frequently used on him, it will harm his sense of self worth, and hinder him from developing a growth mindset.

3. Watch your tone of voice when you’re coaching.

Are you getting agitated and losing your patience by the minute? Take a break and switch to a different activity – come back to it when you feel you’re ready to tackle it with your child.

Here I’d like to share my experience learning piano with my son. We enrolled in MYC a year ago and I found it’s been quite a fun way for younger kids to learn music. It’s parent-accompanied and the parent who accompanies the child is also expected to practise with him at home. There were a few sessions where I got upset with him, and it showed in the way I was impatient with him (both in class and at home) while practising. During that period, his interest in attending classes started to wane. And I too, felt like throwing in the towel.

Thankfully, I gradually learnt to keep my cool during practice, reminding myself that he’s still a child, and that improvement sometimes takes longer to show up. Since this change happened within me, he’s started playing the piano better, and enjoying it a whole lot more, too. 🙂

4. Don’t say “This is easy.”

It puts pressure on a child and when the child does it, he’s able to do something easy. And when he doesn’t, he can’t even do something so simple. It’s lose-lose.

We used to think that when we told a child something was “easy,” we were encouraging him. We realize now that by saying, “Try it, it’s easy” we do him no favor. If he succeeds in doing something “easy,” he feels he hasn’t accomplished much. If he fails, then he’s failed to do something simple.

If on the other hand we say, “It’s not easy” or “That can be hard,” he gives himself another set of messages. If he succeeds, he can experience the pride of having done something difficult. If he fails, he can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that his task was a tough one. – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

5. Describe what you see he has done.

“You managed to fix the tiles into a dinosaur structure – and all by yourself too!” Notice I did not use the word “good job” or “amazing” or “you’re so clever” anywhere. (Now I know it’s hard to erase these words completely from our vocabulary because it’s quite entrenched in our culture to say such things. My guess is that most of us grew up hearing these words! It won’t be an overnight thing but change begins from awareness. Catch yourself saying the wrong things, tweak it intentionally, and celebrate small steps.)

6. Acknowledge effort

If he got a spelling word wrong, try not to focus on the lost mark. You can, however, acknowledge the mistake and make sure he knows where he went wrong. But also affirm him for mastering the other nine words, and for making an effort. Say something like “You managed to get 9 out of 10 words correct! I can see that it’s because you put in the effort to learn and practise.

But what if the child got nine words wrong? Allow him to learn at his pace and work together to understand what went wrong. Maybe it’s a particular letter / word type he struggles with. Whatever it is, don’t condemn him to a life of doom – “If you don’t get full marks next time, you’re going to end up sweeping the streets!!”

Acknowledge his feelings and give him a chance to problem-solve. A simple “I see that you’re feeling disappointed at the spelling test. How do you think we can help you improve?” Allow him to come up with his own ideas and don’t throw or reject any of them. After you have a list, decide together which idea is most workable and focus on doing that.

Even as adults, we need room to grow and we thrive when we are entrusted with responsibilities and are trusted to do the job well. Do you agree?

 

Raising children is messy business

Raising children is messy business.

The house is messy.

My thoughts are messy.

Getting everyone organised and dressed and out of the house can be a tall order on some days.

Resolving sibling fights gives me a headache (and sometimes a sore throat because I have to yell louder than they do.)

Trying to keep track of what I hope to accomplish and teach each one of them (at their varying stages of development) can induce a terrible migraine.

Parenthood is messy business, almost like running a farm. Amidst the poop, the spills, and the drools, there is also a little boy running amok and trying to clobber his brother with a plastic hammer.

It can be tiring, and madly frustrating.

But it can also be unpredictably fun, in a side-splitting kind of way.

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I do now. I don’t think I’ve ever thought to myself “how incredibly blessed I am” as often as I do now too. Granted, this happens only after the kids are in bed and are unable to argue with me or drive me up the wall. (Which is also why I like to gaze at them sleeping – it’s a healing process for my tired soul.)

My life is filled to overflowing, if only I would pause long enough to see it.

In the bible there is a proverb that goes, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In context, it’s saying that you can enjoy a clean and tidy farm if you have no oxen or animals inside. But without animals to plough and work the field, it will be hard to enjoy a good harvest.

Any worthy pursuit in life requires hard work and sacrifice. And you can be sure that raising the next generation is a worthy pursuit.

It may look like just one big mayhem at the moment, but I choose to believe there is a purpose to the mess.

With each messy fight, they are learning about how to use and curb their strength. How to socialise with another human being.

With each messy fall, they learn how to pick themselves up, and how to receive comfort, only to be able to give that same comfort to others who fall too.

With each messy meltdown, they learn how much it means to be accepted and loved even when they lose control.

I often wonder wistfully at that career I’ve left behind. At all my ex colleagues who have progressed up the ladder. At the possibilities that could have been. But I realise that only distracts me from loving and serving my family at this very moment. That only subtracts from my already limited energy. Thinking about all those what could have beens disheartens me.

So I switch gears.

I think about the time I have on my hands now. I think about every new day as a gift. I think about the possibilities and ways to invest in building the right foundation in my kids. And hopefully, by some grace that is larger than mine, I’ll be able to wake up to brighter and more peaceful mornings in the years to come.

Parenting is like working the field. Without the messiness of falls, tears, failures, and difficulties, there can be no beauty, strength, and resilience in later life. Without the sowing of today, there can be no fruit tomorrow.

Even on a teary and messy today, may we stop and give thanks for our little ones. And see them for who they really are – little blessings from God given to us to hug, cherish, and be stewards over for a time.

In spite of the mess they bring to our lives. Or perhaps because of it.

parenting

PS. A Pancake Princess just wrote about how we can’t put a price tag on motherhood, and how our sacrifices can look so small in the larger scheme of things. Hop over to be reminded to count our joys.

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