Little Lessons: Parents need to be good listeners

I came across this quote recently:

“We often think that if we are able to successfully express our thoughts and feelings to another person, we are good communicators. We think that if we talk to our children about God’s righteous ways, we are teaching them and reaching them through communication. However, truly beneficial communication is based not only on the ability to talk, but also on the ability to listen.”  

Me? Guilty.

Guilty of trying to talk TO my child, instead of talking WITH.

Guilty of being too fast to speak and too slow to listen.

Guilty of thinking I know it all. So I don’t have to listen.

I even get smug after speaking my peace, but if you actually dig deeper beyond the surface, the true heart-to-heart connection is missing.

One day, Vera was being a little uncooperative while getting ready for school.

Without talking to her first and understanding the reasons behind her behaviour, I jumped to the conclusion that she was just being difficult. I slipped into my chiding tone of voice and then a few seconds later caught myself and tried to change tack. It was too late. She already clammed up and just refused to share what was in her little mind. So I gave up, and asked daddy to take over.

When daddy went to talk to her, she told him after a few minutes that she didn’t want to go to school because “teacher keep asking me to write small letters.”

Turns out she was a little put off because she felt she wasn’t good at it. (She’s used to practising block letters at home, and we have not spent much time on writing small letters.)

When I found out from daddy later, I was both relieved and ashamed. Relieved that this was something we could deal with together, now that we know what’s going on. Ashamed because I had jumped to my own conclusion that she was just being unreasonable…

Sometimes I slip into this I’m-your-mum-so-I-know-it-all mode. But what a lesson I received in the importance of loving and listening.

I’m determined to listen more, encourage them to share their feelings more, and assume less. Will you join me too?

art of listening

This is the third post of the Little Lessons series – because as parents we are constantly growing and learning along with our kids. If you want to follow the entire series, you’ll find each new post listed here every week.

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Sleep no enough

Sleep is almost always a big huge thorn in the butt for parents. Most of my friends with newborns or young babies are usually asking about sleep, naps, schedule, tactics, strategies, and the rest of it.

JJ was a rockabye baby. I remember when he was two to three months old, I felt like my arms were dropping off from all that rocking, so I turned to the yaolan for a few months. It helped because I could train him to settle into a reasonable routine (inspired by Gina Ford with a few of my own personalised tweaks). And when night came, I just made sure that he slept in his cot.

Overall, he was a better sleeper compared to Vera. Less yelling and fussing when sleepy-time came. More disciplined after feeding so he would unlatch and sleep when he had had his fill. I once thought he was quite the dream baby actually.

Then he reached his one-year milestone, and somewhere between that and 18 months, things went downhill. We saw periods of bad sleep, interspersed with some good “miracle” nights. But unfortunately, bad was the norm — He woke multiple times in the night, always needing some rocking and cajoling before going back to sleep.

When he started childcare at 20 months, his sleep remained pretty bad, partially due to the onset of flus and fevers, we think. It wasn’t till after 2 months had passed that we saw the light, which was just about time as I was starting to tear my hair out and scream, “What are we doing wrong?”

His nap was a good solid 1.5 – 2 hours, and he had a bedtime routine. Apart from sometimes running around playing with his sister, and getting a bit too excited because of that, I just couldn’t identify anything that could be the culprit. He was eating well at dinner-time (which was a clear two hours prior to bedtime), and having his milk before bed. We even tried to give him some bread with his milk for a time, just to eliminate hunger as the issue.

Then one day, hubby had a revelation. He suggested turning on the aircon at night. I felt dubious, but went along. We had nothing to lose, barring some increase in PUB bills.

Guess what? It worked like a charm. That first night with air-con, JJ slept and slept, with only a slight stirring round about midnight, and went all the way till dawn. And for subsequent nights too.

Today, a few weeks from his second birthday, he can fall asleep on the bed without needing to be rocked, but with me (or grandma) beside him of course. (Of course, that didn’t just happen, you say? But it did. Daddy just asked him to sleep by himself on the bed one night, and it happened…Like a flick of a switch.)

Till now, I still wonder if it was a fluke. That he was developmentally ready to sleep through peacefully, and we just happened to push him over the edge (or enhance the sleeping environment for him) by turning on the AC.

Whatever the case may be, I’m just glad to have a normal life back.

What I find funny is this — we crack our heads and spend half our zombified days fretting and trying to find a solution, and then suddenly the answer just appears, like a door that was always there but that you never saw. (I don’t like to generalise, but men sometimes have their moments of brilliance like that…)

And now I’m thinking that maybe just maybe it’s no use fretting and trying all ways and means to solve this and that problem with our babies. Maybe just maybe, it’s not really a problem per se.

No, I’m not saying that we leave them to their devices completely. But if you’ve tried and have left no stone unturned, then maybe it’s time to give it a rest. Maybe it’s okay to walk away from it all and process it when you’re able to do so without an emotional overload.

Maybe just maybe, they will be ready and do it all by themselves one day.

Maybe just maybe, despite all the best intentions of the Gina Fords, Elizabeth Pantleys and Tracy Hoggs, sleep is just a real mystery, one that needs time to unlock its secret keys…

But what do you think about children’s sleep? How do you cope with tiredness and lack of energy?

pretending to sleep

Choosing joy and what it means to me

April is turning out to be a rather reflective month for me. I’ve been intentionally reading more, which is one of my priorities this year, as part of carving and creating more time for myself.

It’s also been a joyful, happy and encouraging month. Thanks to all the photos I’ve seen under the #ichoosejoy initiative. Have you seen them yet?

As I looked through all the light and cheery pictures, I saw some common themes arising.

Many posted playful, fun-filled moments.

Loving family moments.

loving family moments

 Yummy moments. 

Beautiful and inspiring moments.

inspiring moments

Even the mundane, not-so-joyful, moments made it into the list.

And finally…heartwarming seeds-of-friendship moments.

friendship moments

If you look through the pictures again, you’ll see that they are filled with our favourite little people and places, and plenty of those warm fuzzy moments. Things that we can’t really put a price tag on, except maybe the food bit.

When I embarked on this project, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was just hoping that it would encourage others (and myself) to look for joy in our everyday moments. Even amidst the highly-stressed and fast-paced lives we now lead, I thought that surely we would be able to find something fun, funny, delightful, and joy-giving.

Just as this quote goes, “Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.”

One mum and fellow blogger commented at the start, that even though she finds that her life is not quite full of joy now, she will give it a try.( I was glad that she did, and not just one picture too.)

For me, it’s also helped change my focus from the difficult days I’ve been having with the kids. As most of you would know, life with a headstrong, I-want-it-all-NOW toddler can be quite taxing, and it’s been the case for me.

I was struggling to choose joy, and to just enjoy my children just as they are.

But as I saw the beautiful moments captured here, I was forced to change gears a little, and to look at my temporary pains in greater perspective. To look at the bigger picture.

It helps to know that I’ve gone through these pains before with Vera, and she’s now more mature, and more able to listen, more able to love and give some thought to others.

It helps to know that there are many other parents and mums like me, struggling quietly in our little corners, and yet we have that ability to choose our feelings and to let joy and hope rise up in ourselves.

This is what #ichoosejoy is really about. So thank you. And please don’t stop choosing joy, chasing it, and capturing it here.

Do connect with all the awesome mums on instagram (user nicks shown above), and hashtag your pictures #ichoosejoy to make a difference in our community. 

Anger Management 101: Mums have meltdowns too but…

Have you ever had a meltdown?

After Vera popped into our lives, I found myself being angry more often than I should. Joyful, yes, but angry too. I lost it when there was incessant crying, night wakings, and basically when tiredness and stress overwhelmed me.

Things got better after I got the hang of motherhood, but then the toddler threw it out of whack when she decided to exert her independence and showcase her intolerance for anything other than what ‘I WANT’.

At times, I would lose control and spank her harder than I should, while yelling “why are you acting so naughty?!” or “why can’t you listen to mummy?!” I even spanked with my bare hands — something I’ve told myself not to do because we have decided to use a small wooden spatula for disciplining, and we wanted very much to reserve our hands for loving.

Well, we also told ourselves that we would not try to discipline her when we were angry, as it’s easy to get out of control when wild emotions are ravaging your body. So I guess we failed in the very things we told ourselves not to do.

Looking back, I probably went through some of my darkest moments then — the guilt was over-powering. I became aware of the fact that I came from a family where yelling was a usual occurrence, and I had started to reproduce that same pattern of behaviour in my own household.

Yet, by some grace larger than our own, the hubby and I committed to learning through our mistakes; we worked together and tried to find solutions to each ‘new’ issue. And we set new boundaries for ourselves and our daughter, after learning each time what went right and what went wrong.

We re-strategised our disciplinary plan through each developmental stage that she went through. (Vera kept throwing us new curve balls after we thought we had her ‘figured out’.) I guess through that, we also learnt about our own flaws, and how to work better as a couple. (You simply have to work together. There is no other way. Inconsistent messages will just make things more confusing for your child.)

Today, I found out that yelling (including blame, name-calling, or belittling) can be as emotionally damaging as physically hitting a child. This came through a workshop on anger management held by the NUH Women’s Emotional Health Service. I also re-learnt the reasons why we should try not to let anger get the better of us:

  • Children who are spanked become more aggressive themselves
  • The more corporal punishment is used, the greater the risk of escalation into child abuse
  • If you are constantly angry, you minimize the opportunities to bond with your child
  • Children of angry parents are less empathic, and have poorer overall adjustment later in life
  • Punishment may not be as effective in helping children internalize the value of good behaviour as compared to positive reinforcement and explaining
  • The long-term impact on your child could include low self-esteem, higher chance of depression, eating disorders in females, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating no-spanking, period. But if spanking is a form of letting out your anger on your child, then I believe there can be a better way.

Here’s the good news: While we may be born with the potential to be aggressive, we CAN learn to channel our emotions into more constructive forms.

Here are some ideas that can help:

  • Do not react immediately (if you know that you are angry)
  • Step back, analyse the situation
  • Find out the cause for the action
  • Discuss and find solutions, rather than act on emotion
  • Develop a forgiving mindset (for yourself and for your loved ones)

Personally, I find that walking away from the ‘scene’ for a few minutes and just taking deep breaths as I walk does wonders.

Of course, humour works wonders too…

Anger management

How do you cope with your emotions when they run high?

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