Letter to my son: Dear JJ, you are five

Dear JJ,

You turned 5 with a pop and a bang last week.

We invited some of your friends over and you had a blast with them. Your daddy was the perfect game-master. We created a few games that went quite well with the theme – first the new “recruits” had to get through a “laser” obstacle course, made with raffia string, not real laser of course.

kids party game laser obstacle course

In the next challenge, they had to throw sand-bag “grenades” into the designated denotation area, cordoned by a hoola-hoop. Then they had to throw spider-darts onto a web-board (a nifty toy we got from IKEA recently). Finally, it was shooting time, and everyone had to shoot the target (designed by daddy) with a nerf gun.

simple DIY party games

The games were simple and doable for all the kids who were above toddler age, and we’re glad for two things. 1) That everyone had fun. And 2) That the games didn’t cost us very much at all as we just used whatever we found in our toy boxes and storeroom. All you need is some imagination and a very fun game-master to execute the plan. (Kudos to the daddy!)

We’re also thankful that you had grandma around to feed you your dinner (it’s terribly hard to get you to focus on eating with so many friends and toys around you!) and your favourite aunties around to play with you and help you with fixing your new Lego blocks. (Yes you couldn’t wait to fix/play with all your new toys.)

You are so loved, JJ. And though it may not seem like it in those moments when you’re upset with us or we’re upset with you, we would not trade you for anything else in the world.

Over the past year, I’ve seen you grow in confidence, in social skills, and in godly wisdom.

You’re becoming more expressive with words. Over the last year, you’ve sprouted so many funny but true things from your mouth. Like this one…

JJ: Mummy can you guess whose “sayang” I like most?
Me: Nai Nai (granny)? Ah gong (grandpa)?
JJ: No, no, no. Okay, you guess whether it is mummy or papa?
Me: Papa?
JJ: No!
Me: Oh! Me??
JJ: Yes, it’s mummy!
Me: (grinning ear to ear) But why do you like my sayang the most?
JJ: Because it’s very nice. It’s very…kind.
Me: (Laughing so hard I could cry) Ok, that’s good to know. I sayang you more ok?
JJ: (also grinning) Yes I would like that.

It strikes me that somewhere within you lies a sensitive and compassionate young man. So I take this conversation as a hint that I need to “sayang” (love) you more.

You’re growing in artistic expression.

You did this painting out of the blue one day and said, “This is Jesus on the cross (pointing to the cross in the middle.) He died for our sins because He loves us. When I asked you where is the ‘e’ in “Love” you explained that you ran out of space for it. (Haha!)

Watching you grow in faith and the expression of faith really makes me glad.

child's art about Jesus dying on the cross

We see your caring and sensitive side more often now. Occasionally I see you taking your brother’s hand and helping him with something, or lending him one of your toys. Granted, the rivalry runs high most days and you’re often squabbling with him over something or other. These, we accept, are things we will need to work on, perhaps for the rest of your growing up years…

brothers playing happily on a slide

Being highly sensitive also means that you have your fair share of bad days where you morph into the Incredible Hulk. When it happens, we have to stay by your side and work with you to return back to normal again.

wearing the incredible hulk mask

Do you know your Chinese name means “joy?” Some days, I think God has a sense of humour when he gave me that prompting to incorporate joy into your name. Don’t get me wrong, you do have your joyful days and moments, but…I still believe the best of it is still to come.

One important thing I’ve learnt from parenting you is to Keep It Simple Silly. (KISS for short)

That means to take the time to listen to you, play with you, explore places with you, and deal lots of hugs and kisses and prayers (not so much lectures and consequences, though we must of course have a few of those.)

JJ_boy blowing candle

You don’t need complex and over-planned schedules. You just need our pure and simple presence — our just being there.

We love you, our dearest JJ.

And I repeat, we will never ever trade you for anything else in the world. God has a beautiful and special plan for your life. I can’t wait to see it unfold, and I pray you will stick by Him, and let Him lead you each step of the way.

xoxo, mummy

JJ with his happy family

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!

A letter to my highly sensitive child (who turns 4)

Dear JJ,

We’ve come a long way from the start of this year, when you experienced some difficult moments and exhibited repetitive behaviour.

After some sessions with the OT (and lots of frenzied seaching for answers on the Internet and everywhere else), I started to see you in a different light. I started to understand your needs and preference for order. I tried harder to see things from your perspective. I also adjusted my expectations of you. Slowly, things began to make sense, and the future didn’t look so bleak.

Along the way, a good friend recommended me this book: The Highly Sensitive Child (aff link). That was when more pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. It’s true, you’re a highly sensitive child. You notice when mama changes her clothes or wears a new dress. You notice and you ask questions when a stranger looks sad or a baby is crying somewhere. You pick up vibes that other people do not. You remember the words I utter, and sometimes even use them against me when they seem to contradict with reality. “Mummy, but you said…” I’ve learnt to be really careful about the things I say, and to make only promises that I’m able to keep.

Labels of clothes irritate you. So do socks that don’t fit well on your toes and heel. You dislike it when the string of your pants are tied lopsided (you want the loops on the left and right to be equal). These preferences are often challenging for us and it’s sometimes necessary to remove the issue altogether by thinking twice about every purchase we make for you. (By the way, all the clothes that you dislike have been passed on to your baby brother, in case you’re wondering why he looks like he’s wearing oversized clothes half the time…)

To help transition from activity to activity, we have to prep you beforehand and pay close attention to what you’re trying to say when you resist moving on. We try to address your needs before we can move on together. Of course, many times, I get impatient and play the “you listen to me young man” card. But these days, I catch myself and am quicker to soften up and ease you along without further pushing. I hope you know…I am learning along with you too.

I’ve been observing when our routines do work for you, and when they don’t. It’s already obvious that busy days don’t serve us well as rushing about tends to stress your system. So we tend to take it easier on the weekends, by planning only one major outing per day.

For your birthday celebration, we only invited our usual friends around to celebrate with you. It’s not that we didn’t want to plan a big party for you, but we realised that this is what you’re most comfortable with right now, and we really really wanted you to just be yourself and not be over-stimulated by a large group of people. I’m thankful that you enjoyed yourself thoroughly, and that your little friends did too.

JJ_feeding fish

There are challenges but there are also joys.

I want you to know that I see the small steps you take.

You’re learning to express your emotions in words, and to explain your frustrations to mama and daddy.

You’re learning to let go when your play or reading is disrupted by your siblings or others.

You also make us roll over in laughter many-a-times with your silly expressions and all the funny things you say.


Recently I’ve started to place the problem-solving back in your hands by asking the question “What can we do to help you?” or “What do you think we can do about this problem?” You’ve surprised me occasionally with the ways you’ve suggested to solve the problem, and more often than not, after thinking about it, you’d just say, actually it’s okay. Almost like you’re learning to live with the messiness of this life we have here on earth. Hearing you say those words puts a silent smile on my face.

When you’re engaged in a learning activity, like swimming and piano, you’re happy to be immersed in that learning space, and you respond really well to teachers. I’ve seen you grow in leaps and bounds in swimming. Where is that fear of being in the deep pool now? You’re now utterly enjoying yourself in the water, and the swim coaches are telling me how much you love it. (Of course, although I’m trying to get some laps done now that you’re in independent classes, I often peek over when I’m close enough, and I see it for myself too.)

On good days, you show us that you’re capable of being very loving, to us as well as your siblings. When little Josh is crying, you will sometimes help him by distracting him or offering a toy.

When we’re out on our special dates, you’re usually happy and cheery. On those occasions, I’d hardly hear a whine from you. It’s led me to conclude:

Attention and affirmation are the best medicine for your sensitive child-soul.


Obviously at this age, you’re happy to channel your super-heros into daily life. From Batman, to Captain America, to Spiderman, and even Fireman. We often call upon your heros to remind you of how you can be bigger and braver than you think you are. (And oh, also to eat your veggies, because that’s what super-heroes do all the time.)

I searched through my blog archives and realised that I’ve written a lot about you. Here are a few of my favourite (and not-so-favourite) moments:

on taming your anger

on re-discovering my middle child

on being my sunshine

on the terrible twos

the day we nearly lost you

on making up with daddy

– when you penned your thoughts at 15 months

Reading through the old posts, I can’t help but realise…What a journey it’s been for us.

God has taught me patience and trust through it all. He’s also been gracious to allow us to catch glimpses of your progress, your good attitude towards learning, and your loving acts on good days. These things, though small, remind me of God’s faithfulness. He’s telling us to trust in Him more, and to seek His wisdom as we raise you and your big sis and little bro.

As we celebrate you turning four, my prayer is that you’ll grow strong wings, and sink in deep roots in faith in God. May He grow you to become a God-fearing, and people-loving man, who will walk closely and in obedience to God. May you be brave to take flight and soar wherever He may lead you.

Happy birthday, my buddy boy. Apart from your daddy, you’ll always be my favourite superhero.

Hugs and kisses,


Batman suit

Keeping healthy expectations of your children

Since I wrote this post about accepting my child for who he is, I’ve been thinking about the expectations I have of myself and my kids.

Where expectations are concerned, there are basic ones that help us plan and structure our lives. These include: the expectation that my mother will come around on certain days to help out. That the husband and I will set aside time to spend together as a family on weekends. That the school bus will arrive on time.

These expectations help us to function as a family unit. They are also explicitly said, agreed upon and understood by everyone involved. Healthy expectations drive us towards a shared ideal; they help us move towards meaningful goals.

Then there are unhealthy expectations. The ones that carry unseen weight.

The unhealthy ones tend to place too much responsibility on someone else’s shoulders or depend on circumstances that are beyond our control. For instance, that the baby will sleep through the night all of the time, or that we’ll never see any more pee/poop accidents once the kids are potty-trained.

I guess a good indicator of how unhealthy or healthy an expectation is, is how we react when the expectation is not met. Do we get upset if the husband doesn’t come home with a gift on Valentine’s Day? Do we blame the older sibling when the younger child she’s supposed to be looking after suffers a fall?


We’ve recently been re-learning from ground zero how best to parent JJ. We’ve also discovered a few things about him, such as he loves order and perfection, to the point where he sometimes throws a fit when things fall out of order.

I’m starting to see that loving order isn’t a disorder. It’s a personality trait that can be positive if managed well.

Because of his personality, we are mindful to not impose expectations that certain things need to be done in a certain way. (We try to encourage flexibility rather than rigid-ness.) For instance, we try not to say you must paint the fire engine red.

As far as possible (and where it doesn’t cause harm), we let him do things his way. We allow him room to be the artist, the story-teller, the builder. It doesn’t matter if the story he tells isn’t absolutely logical. We just let him run with his imaginations.

Coping with disappointments

When he accidentally wets his pants, we try not to make a big deal of it. We remind him to go earlier next time and ask him to change his pants.

We didn’t use to be like this. There was a time when we thought he was potty trained, but he went through some regression and started to poop in his diaper. As we didn’t understand the whys, we scolded and even used the cane, thinking that he was acting out of defiance. But we read the situation wrongly. Our expectations of him were haywire. He simply wasn’t ready at the time, and the best reaction from us is to have no reaction as all. (Of course now we have the benefit of hindsight. At the time I remember being really frustrated at all the pee/poop accidents.)

Now when he loses control and throws a tantrum, we try to remain calm, sit by him and calm him down. I don’t entertain lofty expectations of him being able to control his emotions all of the time. I understand he’s still learning to cope. He is after all just 3 and a half. This helps me to appreciate (and affirm him for) the times he does show us he can control his temper.

In a sense, I’m keeping my expectations of my children realistic.

This mindset helps me to look out for the bright spots. For one, JJ’s been learning to cope with unwanted interruptions (usually from baby Josh) by stopping his play activity altogether. Say he’s been building his blocks halfway and they get toppled over. He’ll just pack them up and do something else for a little while. Of course, he’ll still get upset. But if he expresses his emotions in a controlled manner, we think it’s okay for him to “let it out” – as long as he does not spiral out of control, and no one is harmed.

I take heart that he’s learning to cope with life’s little disappointments. (We can’t shield him from these. We can’t make every single thing go his way – that would be setting ourselves up for a bigger disaster.)

I take heart that as we encourage him to keep trying, and remind him that he can do it with God’s help, he’s slowly but surely making small steps.


I don’t expect parenting him (or any of his siblings) to be a breeze. I expect curve balls and shocks and surprises, and tears, fears and disappointments. I expect failures, multiple times, my own and theirs.

But I do hold on to hope.

I hope that as we take to this new way of parenting him, he will be freed from the weight of expectations.

I hope that he’ll enjoy being him, and that we’ll enjoy him as he is.

With young children, letting go of some of our expectations (especially the unhealthy / unrealistic ones) can help to minimise the frustrations felt by both parent and child. It can help us become calmer, happier parents.”

Have you experienced this in your own parenting journey?

Accepting my child for who he is

2015 has gotten off to a rocky start.

JJ had some behavioural issues at the turn of the new year, and we’ve started seeing an OT to find out how to help him. The basic issue seems to be that he has low muscle tone and correspondingly higher levels of anxiety. He is also frequently temperamental.

What does muscles have to do with behaviour? I was told that he compensates for the lack of control by being more controlling over others and over himself (by engaging in some repetitive behaviour like strapping and unstrapping his Velcro shoes.)

Since we received that piece of information, it was like a missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle. A lamp was finally lit in this dark room. With that, we’ve also grown more aware as to how to help ease him through his daily routine tasks. Mainly, we’ve stopped getting frustrated and/or yelling at him to hurry up. As tiresome as it may be, we try to give him greater allowance and breathing space to finish his tasks the way he wants to. (According to the OT, if we rush him or try to intervene in his tasks, we may exacerbate the problem and his mind never leaves the task because he didn’t finish it properly.)

I was taught simple mat exercises to help him with spinal alignment and strengthening. I was also encouraged not to keep to a strict schedule, and to give ourselves greater time allowance to get out of the door. This has helped to minimise the stress for everyone.

I can’t help but ask myself if we’ve done something in the past to have contributed to his challenging behaviour right now. Perhaps I’ve been too controlling over time. Perhaps I haven’t let loose enough, or let him play enough. Perhaps we have placed too much pressure on him to perform. Perhaps we have been too strict in our discipline.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. I confess, the doubts and guilt are hard to shake off.

But I try to shift my focus from myself to helping him. It is an uphill climb, both emotionally and mentally, so we will need all the energy and grace to see us through. I’m reminded that when things seem out of control, He is in control. He has a purpose for this season. And I pray He will let us see the light of day.

So…I am learning to accept my little boy for who he is, God-created and God-designed. Not for who I hope he will be someday.

Whatever difficulties you may be having with your child, I pray that you will also find strength and encouragement in God, and be able to love and enjoy your child for the special little person that he is.

God has a story to unfold in his life, and a good plan for him. And we as mums and dads are privileged to be a part of this learning journey.


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