Our Primary School Journey: More Praise, Less Criticism

Last week, Vera studied for her tingxie (Chinese spelling) by herself. I had clean forgotten about it until I passed by her desk and saw the list of words on her desk. Then she asked me to test her and I did.

Later that night, JJ asked her to read for him a story from the Berenstein Bears book. She obliged and read to him for awhile. It was near her bedtime and I had to cut it short so she could prepare for bed, but I gave them a couple more minutes in order for her to finish the last few pages.

While she was doing her night routine (brush teeth, pack bag, lay out uniform, etc) I wrote some goals on her closet door.

Goals for my child

By writing them down, I was trying to use them to affirm her deeds that day, while also setting a benchmark for her to continue working towards. I drew her some hearts and stars and acknowledged how she was kind to her brother by reading for him, and how she had planned ahead to prepare for her spelling on her own. (As the days go by, I hope to be able to give out more hearts and stars.)

She was really pleased to see what I wrote and to receive the affirmation. I was also glad that JJ was in the room to witness and hopefully remember what I said.

Note to self: I need to catch the kids doing good more often – it’s something that doesn’t come naturally and needs a lot of practice. But I believe it will encourage them to want to do better intrinsically. I hope that the scales will tip towards this more as opposed to its current state where I have to dish out quite a lot of verbal correction and warnings on a daily basis.


When we started off the year, I remember checking Vera’s school bag, her handbook (where she writes down her homework and important instructions), and asking her, “Have you done this, and that…?”

As the weeks went by, I had to gradually stop myself from issuing such reminders, hoping that she’d pick up more of the responsibility and more “automation.” (After all, I wasn’t the one who’s going to get into trouble when she forgets her homework right?)

2, 3 months passed. I realise I wasn’t looking into her handbook very much anymore. 4, 5 months, I stopped reminding her weekly to prepare for her spelling. I stopped asking her if there’s anything she needs my signature on. It’s been half a year and she seems to be able to take care of her study/homework responsibilities more.

I’m thankful.

But I also see that she has a long way to go to becoming the independent learner she can be.

She still struggles with certain aspects of organisation, like keeping things back to where they belong, and keeping her work desk tidy.

She started violin lessons earlier this year but has not developed the habit of practising every other day. So I’m in the midst of working out a practice schedule for her.

She still needs reminders to finish her meal (sometimes she gets distracted by whatever her brothers are doing or saying.)

She has not developed a strong chore ethic at home yet. Right now, she tidies up messes and cleans the table and folds her laundry on an irregular basis, maybe once or twice a week. There’s a lot of room for improvement so I plan to incorporate different chore items into her schedule.

On my part, I will try not to nag or scold as much. But will rely on a visual schedule and some timely reminders to help her along. I’ll also try to catch her doing good especially on her own initiative, and give her lots of affirmation and hugs in return. And maybe the occasional ice-cream treat.

We are all imperfect. We all have room to grow.

The word for me this season? Delight in my children. Affirm them.

They may frustrate me, but I want to remember to delight and rejoice over them. To remember they are God’s gifts to me.

Here are some affirming words I hope to use more often:

1) “You are such a blessing to me.”

2) “You are beautiful not just on the outside but also on the inside, because you are loving and kind to others.”

3) “I loved the way you played with your brother. Did you see how happy he was?”

4) When she comes home from school, replace “Any homework?” with “How was your day?”

5) End off any disciplinary measures with “I may be angry because I don’t like this behaviour…but I still love you.”

How do you like to affirm and encourage your child?








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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Five and beautiful

Dear Vera,

I can’t believe you turned five last week. And how much you’ve blossomed and grown.

You have morphed from a me-centred tantrum-filled toddler into a sociable, outgoing, loving little girl – all within the past two years. Still me-centred at times but at least now you’ve learnt to spare a thought for others and consider other people’s needs and wants along with yours.

You know how to manage JJ so well now, you come across like a little mummy. Of course bickering over silly things like him intruding into your space, or erasing your drawings – that still is rampant, but you generally hold your emotions better now (as opposed to random bursting into tears), and have learnt to negotiate or turn your energy towards something more productive. (You also like to come running with an official complaint against him, and sometimes we do step in to mediate.)

You are such a loving big sister! You simply adore your new little brother – you always want to play with him, touch and cuddle him, and can even help to soothe him when he cries by giving him the pacifier and singing him a song.

lots of love from big sister

And of course, you’ve our lovely sunshine daughter too. I love the way you create your own cards, make funny knick-knacks from recycled scrap, and your little girl drawings. Very often they tell me the things that matter to you most – namely earrings, long hair, high heeled shoes, and necklaces, bangles, flowers and rainbows.


You may be obsessed with princesses and painted finger nails (we tell you you can only paint them when you grow up), but we love you very much and are ever so proud of you. Always remember this no matter where you go or what you become.

Vera turns 5

We are blessed to be greeted with your loving hugs and kisses, and to share in your funny dreams and ambitions. Just the other day you said you wanted to invent a sticker machine so that all your friends can come over and never need to buy stickers anymore. “Can save money,” you said earnestly. I just smiled and nodded my head. (I don’t have the heart to poke holes in your dreams…)

a graceful pose

On your fifth birthday, we celebrated with your friends at school, had a picnic with your godparents (to celebrate godpa’s birthday too), and watched Hello Ling. (Oh we also managed to catch bits of the chingay procession that happened over the weekend.) These are simple things but I pray they make up part of your childhood memories and tell you that you are dearly loved and precious in our sight.

I pray that as you grow, you’ll develop a big heart for people.

I pray that you’ll continue to love nature, dance and art, and be able to connect with others through this love.

I pray that you’ll continue to dream those wild and beautiful dreams, and that one day you’ll be able to turn some of these into reality. With a bit of support from us and help from God.

Love, mummee.

Positive labels, the in/out tray and other lessons from Parenting with Confidence

I gave my girl a gift last week, the gift of positive labels.

As I wrote each one down, I explained to her what the meaning of the word, and how she lives them out in daily life.

(I’ve been wanting to do this since I attended a parenting workshop with Focus on the Family some time back.)

I guess we all know a girl’s heart when it comes to praise and words of affirmation.

True enough, when I was done, Vera said,”Mummy, I like this, you must keep for me okay?” This simple artwork now hangs on our wall, near the dining table, and every so often, I will name one or two out, to remind her of her unique qualities and to highlight good behaviour.

I see this not only as a way to affirm her character and behaviour, but also as a way of reminding her to keep reaching for such character traits, especially when she’s struggling with her emotions or if JJ has stepped on her toes. Not as a form of manipulation, but as a form of encouragement.

positive labels for children

Another thing I’ve picked up from the workshop, which is tailored for parents with children 0-6 years old, is the in/out tray.

It’s a simple exercise. Just imagine an in/out tray at work, except that in this case, your in-tray should be filled with things that you want to do, or want to do more, as a parent.

And conversely for the out-tray. (I would imagine if you’re anything like me, there’ll be a lot more things in the out-tray.)

So here’s what’s currently in my in-tray:

  • Hug and kiss more
  • Play more, laugh more
  • Spend more time on creative projects


  • Less yelling as a way of venting my frustrations
  • Less time on machines (more time on people)
  • Less stressing out over the small stuff (this relates to being able to identify the majors from the minors)

Since attending the workshop, I’ve also changed from seeing myself as a disciplinarian to a parent-coach.

The parent-coach is consistent, flexible but strong, calm, playful, positive, not overly protective, shows affection, sets rules with reasons, encourages cooperation, uses consequences, and sees mistakes as opportunities to learn.

You may identify with some of those traits, and you may be struggling with a few of the others. Remember it’s all part of the learning journey – as long as we keep striving to be better than we were yesterday.

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