Why you need to measure (and celebrate) your child’s progress

why you need to celebrate your child's progress

A friend said to me one day over coffee: Always measure and celebrate progress.

The only yardstick should be an objective view of your child’s performance in a certain area, over time. And not vis-a-vis another child’s performance.

We all know there is a lot to lose when we compare our kids to other kids. Besides, there will always be those who are more advanced, and everyone grow at a different pace. Everyone tends to be strong in certain areas, and weaker in others.

When adults slip into comparison mode, we all end up feeling crappy. What more for children who are learning new things every single day, and for whom learning often entails a degree of struggle and failure?

But you can always safely and objectively measure the progress of your child. All you need to do is observe your child and record what you see.

Here’s a short story to illustrate my point.

Early last year, JJ started piano lessons. I was hoping that he could develop a skill that was unique to him (big sister had not started on any music classes at that point).

So every week, we would trudge along to class and I would buffer some extra time before class to sit down for a bite at a cafe, and spend one-on-one time with him.

Because he was struggling with some anxiety-related behaviour, I was mindful not to put pressure on him. I told myself to just let him learn at his pace.

Through the months, I saw him grow in his skills. I mentioned to my husband more than once that whenever he was in this learning environment, where it’s fun and non-judgmental and safe, he seemed to thrive like any other child.

But as the lessons grew more technical, we hit some road bumps. I couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t able to read the notes as fluently as the rest.

It started to get to me and it showed in my attitude. I grew impatient. I started to doubt and question myself — was it too early? Maybe he isn’t ready?

During this period, his interest waned and he kept saying that he didn’t want to learn music anymore. I think my comparing spirit and negative attitude did not help.

Finally, I told myself that if he wasn’t keen, we would quit. I honestly didn’t want to quit, especially as we weren’t even a year into it. But I also hated the feeling of forcing him to continue.

This happened around the last quarter of 2015, which was also the time when he started to show some improvement in his behaviour and emotional control. (Little progress in music, but progress in behaviour – win some, lose some.)

Since I made that internal decision to let go, I’ve relaxed a lot more. The funny thing is, he started to enjoy playing music a lot more.

It was like a 360 degree turn. So much so I was shocked at first, and kept asking him, “Do you want to stop music classes?” But the answer was always “No.”

Now, instead of grumbling when it’s practice time, he goes to the piano by himself almost every day.

In class, he now loves to be the first to go up to the teacher’s piano and play solo. Instead of shying away from the hot seat.

It’s been 15 months down the road from where we started, and he’s definitely better and much improved.

He isn’t the best student in his class, but that doesn’t matter to me.

He falters in his note-reading whenever he plays solo, but I never berate him.

I know he’s trying, and that’s all I need.

He’s showing interest, is self-motivated to learn, and has grown more confident in playing and “performing.”

And here comes the best part…I find this enthusiasm spilling over to many other areas of his life.

He enjoys school so much more now, and he loves playing rough with his best pals. Like so many other young ones his age, he struggles with Chinese. However, I notice that these days he would initiate reading a Chinese book together, or “show off” some new Chinese words he’s learnt. (We still have lots to do in this department, and I’ll have to reserve it for another post.)

At home, he shows up as a keen learner too and responds actively when I suggest playing our word card games — he recently started showing a keen interest in learning words.

I know we started out talking about music, but as I typed out this story, I realise that it’s about so much more.

His attitude…. His love for learning….His growing confidence? Priceless.

Just last week, we chanced upon a street piano at Fusionopolis; I asked him to play one of his key songs “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” and he did. It wasn’t perfect and at some points he needed some reminders, but he did play it to the best of his ability, in front of a small audience.

Through all these, I’ve learnt something.

At the end of the day, we’re not after a quick fix or an A on the report card. We’re after an attitude that our children can carry for the rest of their lives. An attitude that will help them show up well.

An attitude that says “I can do it.”

An attitude that says “I will keep trying until I succeed.”

An attitude that says “I am doing this for myself, not for anyone’s approval or acceptance.”

Attitude first, aptitude later.


When you celebrate your child’s progress, instead of comparing him to his peers, he starts to see himself as a child who is capable of learning, capable of making mistakes, and most importantly, deeply worthy of love.

When you celebrate his progress, a new courage and motivation wells up inside, and overflows out in the form of perseverance.


Dear JJ,

We saw, and we celebrated your little steps made in music. We stopped comparing, and you began to soar. Your music lesson became a life lesson for us.

I pray that you will continue to love learning, in every sense of the word, in all spheres of life.

Learning something new is often uncomfortable. And we often experience failure before success. But I hope we’ll be able to comfort and support you when you fall. It’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to be afraid, and it’s okay to fail — that’s all part of the process.

As long as you’ve tried, the rest is in God’s hands. No matter what happens, know that God loves you and we do too.

Love, mama


Little Lessons: Never underestimate a child’s ability to love

Occasionally, my little girl astounds me.

This is one incident where I’m left deeply humbled.

There are tantrums, and there are tantrums. JJ was having one of the latter and I was at the end of my rope. I felt like screaming. Instead, I walked away, feeling helpless and exasperated. I looked at Vera, and thought she might be able to help her little brother, so I asked her to go and talk to him.

She went. She sat. She said some words. She gave him his water bottle and asked him to stop crying.

The words she spoke probably echoed some of mine, uttered over the past two years.

Her actions, like handing him his bottle, reminded me of my own.

But her heart, was different.

Where I had been harsh, she was gentle.

Where I had been frustrated, she was calm.

She told her little brother, “It’s okay, stop crying. Listen to mummy huh…” In a sweet, sing-song voice.

I was stooping beside her, facing him. Him in his orange calm-down chair. Him with the red face, the heaving shoulders, the loud sobs.

I could see, all of a sudden. The frustration with dealing with a temperamental child often cripples my ability to love, despite my best attempts to do so.

But Vera carries no such frustration. She is free from baggage. I simply asked her to help. And she did, in a way that she knows how.

My girl (who’s really an angel in disguise) humbles me. She teaches me how to love, better, purer, with each ordinary day.

She shows me how kind-hearted love ought to be.

My friend once told me that God gave us children so we can grow to become better people. I see that clearly now…
children teach us what life is about

This is Little Lessons #28. Grab our badge and link up your little lessons / reflections / learning activities below!

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October stock-take

October is turning out to be a month of stock-taking and lessons for me, and I’m not just referring to Little Lessons.

I’ve somehow found myself enrolled in 3 different parenting seminars, spread across 3 weekends. No I didn’t suddenly decide I needed a crash course. Let’s just say it so happened that some very credible parenting experts are here in town.

At the same time due to my “happening” belly – happening in the sense of growth and size, as well as the rhythm and beat of a very active baby boy within my womb – I’ve been feeling a real need to slow down, and draw down my activities and commitments to a minimum.

We’ve had some good adventures and fun recently with the kids. I think it’s a good time for me to unwind from the grind and hustle and bustle, and refocus on my needs and the kids’.

I have some projects in mind to engage them at home.

I’m also making a conscious choice to nourish my soul a little more. Lotsa rest, good books, great company… 😉

Come November we’ll be busy getting down to real prep work for baby’s homecoming. I will need to start on some essentials like planning my confinement menu (since we won’t be getting a confinement lady this time round), taking stock of some of the things we still need to buy, etc. (I confess. Because this is our third one, I’ve been really lax in the prepwork. I don’t even have a clear idea of whether I have sufficient newborn clothing! I guess we’ll somehow wing it and survive…)

At the same time we have been very blessed by friends who have passed our stuff back, along with lotsa new things that their babies have grown out of.

Back to my point on learning, I also need to relearn the basics of baby-ing! (And where oh where did I put my trusty Gina Ford bible for baby routines?)

I hope amidst all the workshops and learning that my brain won’t go into overdrive, that the knowledge will be applied in daily life, and prove useful as we usher our third one into this world.

Here in a nutshell are my goals for October:
– nourish my soul with good books
– engage the kids with meaningful fun projects at home
– plan confinement menu, buy cot protector (and other necessary things)
– pick up new tips from parenting workshops and  apply them to daily life
– plan some quality couple time and take stock of what we’ve done this year

Bite-sized goals. That’s my theme for the month…

It’s a privilege to have access to good information and truths. But sometimes the best lessons come through real experiences. Do you agree?

What does October have in store for you?


Counting our twosome moments

I’ve reached a stage where I’m truly thankful for our twosome.

The siblings are enjoying more of each other, although there are still many fighting and toy-snatching moments that we’ve had to smooth over and help them with coping / negotiation skills.

Despite my growing belly, I actually prefer to go out with two, mainly because big sister has developed a sense of responsibility and care for little brother. For instance, if he’s up to mischief, she will come shouting for me and that is like a warning signal for me to go check on what he’s doing. Somehow, it comes to her naturally to look out for him, and protect him. And she does. (Well, as much as a little girl can anyway.)

Plus, with Vera playing with him or just doing whatever beside him, JJ’s usually happy enough to give me some breathing space of my own. Most days, I can read a few pages of a book or enjoy a cuppa. (More recently, I’ve been able to hop on a short bus-ride and take them swimming, and even do some mini-laps of my own while they play in the shallow water.)

two makes good company

Big sister also makes quite a good teacher, and would teach him to read the letters of the alphabet, simple Chinese words, or help him in some craft work. I must say, JJ’s language abilities have really advanced in the past 3-6 months, and much of it is due to Vera’s chatty-ness and good work in helping him along!

learning ABCs

However, when it comes to food – JJ’s first love – he still finds some trouble sharing with his sister. The photo below was taken some months back, and you can glimpse from JJ’s frown that he really dislikes having to share his food. Even today, his first reaction would be to frown and say “No!”

two yummy

It’s funny seeing the both of them “interact” with baby J (yes, that’s what we’re calling him for the moment) in my belly. Because JJ likes to mimick Vera, he has caught some of her love and curiosity for baby. If she starts to pat my belly (a gesture of “sayang” or love) or talk to him, he will quickly run over and do the same.

As I’ve been mentally prepping myself for the arrival of baby #3, seeing their love for him gives me the feeling of comfort. When baby arrives, I think big sister and newly-minted “big brother” will be really happy to see him! (I just hope that we’ll still be able to give the two older ones the attention and love that they need…)

holding hands

I just adore seeing them help each other out at times.

It reminds me of what family and raising children are all about.

What a privilege it is to see these flower blooms grow and unfold day-by-day, overcoming challenges together, soaking up the sun…

I’m excited, a little jittery, but looking forward to the day two becomes three (or five, depending on how you look at it).

What are you thankful for today?

Linking up with Mum in the Making’s Grateful Gatherings.

Cultivating a growth mindset in our children

“Sometimes the problem with a child isn’t too little effort. It’s too much. And for the wrong cause. We’ve all heard about schoolchildren who stay up past midnight every night studying. Or children who are sent to tutors so they can outstrip their classmates. These children are working hard, they’re typically not in a growth mindset. They’re not focused on love of learning. They’re usually trying to prove themselves to their parents.”

I’ve been reading and enjoying Mindset by Carol Dweck (affiliate link). In her years of research as a world-renowned psychologist, Carol has found that there exists two different mindsets in people. They either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

The growth mindset says: Go for it. Make it happen. Develop your skills. Learn from your mistakes.

The fixed mindset says: Don’t do it. Don’t take the risk. Others may see that you’re not as talented as you ought to be.

People with fixed mindsets are constantly judging (themselves and well as others). The underlying assumption is that character traits are fixed and unchangeable.

People with growth mindsets are observing but not judging. They’re always asking: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do better?

Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset entails “changing the internal monologue from a judging one to a growth-oriented one.”

Some tips from her book:

  • Encourage to enjoy – help remind your children to enjoy the things they are learning, be it piano, dance or speech and drama.
  • Study to understand – encourage them to study for understanding, not for cramming and regurgitating it on exam papers, and not merely for grades
  • Focus on process – talk to them about the learning process rather than the outcome
  • Praise them for effort and for trying something new or challenging. Try not to focus on results alone.

We can also help our kids along by asking the right questions:

  • What did you learn today?
  • What mistake did you make that taught you something?
  • What did you try hard at today?

Perhaps the most difficult thing for us as parents is actually living the growth mindset out. Modelling how it should be is always a lot harder, especially since most of us have some degree of fixedness in certain areas.

It’s about believing that you can grow, and that you still have much to learn. (The same goes for our kids.)

It’s about giving voice to courage, being willing to try new things and facing up to the risk of  failure, or at least not letting fear make you run in the other direction.

I used to run the other direction. When I was in school, I didn’t like failing, so I made sure I didn’t try so hard. (It just ain’t cool to be trying hard and then failing, you know?)

When stuff like A Maths got too difficult in Secondary Four, I remember going through a mental debate. My fixed-oriented self said “Drop it, you’re not good at maths, just forget it, it’s not worth the effort to struggle without knowing what you’re going to get.” My growth-oriented self said “Give it a shot. You never know…You might surprise yourself.”

I went for it in the end, despite my teacher pushing me in the other direction. I can’t take much credit for going ahead, because I probably wouldn’t have done so if not for a friend who was in the same boat and who encouraged me to go through with it.

I didn’t top the class, but I was happy with the result, and boy did I mug for it.

Now, as a working adult, it’s a constant drive to achieve good results for my clients. From my recent work experiences, I’ve learnt that you can really grow and stretch beyond your means by stepping out of your comfort zone, and not by sticking to what you’re comfortable with.

As I continue to grow in various aspects and in different roles, I hope to be able to model this growth mindset to my children, that they may catch it and run their own race.

May this be a little reminder to us:

“You may have needed a daughter who was number one in everything, but your daughter needed something else: Acceptance from her parents and freedom to grow.”

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