Why Grandparenting Still Matters

Being a grandparent isn’t as easy as “enjoy them, spoil them and send them home”. 

Eugene Seow became a grandfather of two in 2020 and in 2022, received a double promotion to become a grandfather of four! As in parenting, there is no school you can learn from and you cannot apply the same rules as you did in your parenting days. But it’s an exciting journey for Eugene and his wife Julie as they embraced this new role wholeheartedly in this season of their lives.   

Eugene was the former CEO of a social service agency (SSA) and continues to actively serve in the community as a coach, mentor and consultant in different organisations.  Despite his busy schedule, he still prioritises grandparenting duties and would plan ahead with his children and accommodate each other for the occasional clashes of time and exigencies that require last minute help for child-minding.  

Over the past few years, Eugene has been a strong advocate for the active role grandparents can play in the lives of families, both natural and spiritual.  He piloted the “60 over 60” programme at Living Sanctuary Brethren Church, an initiative to encourage the seniors to stay active and healthy and to connect them to the younger generation in the church family as well.  

This initiative aims to address the struggles the seniors have transiting from a long career, into the sudden and seeming ‘emptiness’ of retirement.  

He said, “Very often, the issues that seniors face in their retirement years may be generational, but the solutions are found intergenerationally.”  

This is why grandparents are still an important part of today’s families. 

With more time on their hands, grandparents can give children the attention they need to grow and thrive. 

Why grandparenting still matters

With more resources available to parents today, such as the government’s efforts to make preschool more accessible by increasing capacity and subsidising costs, it can sometimes seem selfish to trouble your parents to take care of your child.  

In a society that values early education and giving children a headstart in life, we may also worry that the grandparents will not be able to keep up with the little one’s boundless energy and constant need for stimulation or engagement.    

It is worth reminding ourselves that the grandparents often have something we lack – Time.  

With more time on their hands, grandparents can give grandchildren the focussed attention they need to grow and thrive. Eugene and his wife, Julie would usually plan the time spent with their grandchildren, and loves bringing them out for walks, discovering the many different playgrounds around Singapore. Most days are spent at home where grandmother will read and share stories, sing or just play. 

The benefits of grandparenting  

Having the grandparents chip in is not simply about having free childcare services. Enlisting their help also benefits them, in staving off loneliness. 

Children can bring a fresh breath of life to the homes of the elderly, with their constant activity, movement, and excitement for life.  

As Ong Ye Kung, the Minister of Health recently warned at the White Paper Debate for Healthier SG, “We want to protect [the elderly], but we unintentionally expose them to an even greater risk of isolation and loneliness.  

“That is when the spirit wears out, and the body gives way. If that mindset becomes entrenched, then over time, seniors become a problem to be contained and put aside, such as in nursing homes – out-of-sight, out-of-mind. One day, that room will burst. 

“We must support as many seniors as possible to continue to live in the community, independently or with some help, contributing to the best of their ability, able to choose their own activities, and having a full social life with friends and family.” 

When we see our parents getting old, we may sometimes feel that we should spare them the ‘burden’ of caring for our own children. But in doing so, we may deprive them of the joy and purpose in bringing up the next generation.  

Research from Holt-Lunstad and Smith at Brigham Young University put the heightened risk of mortality from loneliness as akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic.  

Entrusting your children to your parents, may not just benefit you, but them too.  

As much as I’m learning to value my children, and my grandchildren, I think it also works two-way. 

What if there are differences in parenting styles?

As a parent, one of your concerns may be around how the grandparent will ‘parent’ your child. You may worry that they may end up spoiling your child by being soft and permissive.  

Clarity helps – so don’t be afraid to share with the grandparents about your preferred approach and ground rules.  

For example, if you prefer that your child does not play with the phone unattended, make sure this is communicated well in advance.   

A bit of thoughtful planning can help ease tensions and foster stronger inter-generational ties. 

Ultimately, it’s what we value

As he reflected on his journey, Eugene concluded, “We need to first recognise each other’s value. Today, as much as I’m learning to value my children, and my grandchildren, I think it also works two-way.  

“Children can also learn to value their parents and see that they still have something to give, and contribute, even at an older age. 

“For example, even with my own mother, my siblings and I value her presence with us at meals and family gatherings even though at 90, she is not as active and mobile as before. She may not be able to spend time in the kitchen now but still feels so good when her children ask for her recipes and advice on various matters.  

“At the recent Christmas gathering, she walked us down memory lane when she reminded the adult grandchildren now how she used to cane and discipline them in their younger days. And it was agreed, no bad memories and no damage done! 

“We must all learn to continue valuing each other.”  

Eugene’s story reminds me of what my grandmother did for me, when I was under her care as a young boy. Daily, she would cook a big pot of pork porridge, followed by another steaming pot of soup. She would rock me gently to sleep, and then wake me when my parents came to pick me up.  

As I grew up, and those daily stays became weekly visits, she would press a $10 note into my hand, so that I could have more pocket money to spend.  

Looking back, I never truly appreciated those times, until my grandmother passed.  

Maybe the biggest lesson I learnt from her is that love knows no bounds and is not limited by age.  

So the next time grandma or grandpa makes a mistake or bends a rule in your book, let’s remember that the main thing isn’t about them becoming better at grandparenting, but the gift of love they freely lavish on our children – and also hopefully receive in return.  

Family Hacks for a New Year that are Low on Tech and High on Love

Have you been feeling harried and hassled even before the new year began? 

Has looking at your family schedule been giving you a splitting headache? 

If this describes you, you’re not alone. 

This year, our middle child will be taking his PSLE. Our goal is to make this a relatively fuss-free affair and not let this major exam dampen our family’s love for balance, spending time with friends and exploring the outdoors. 

Here are some strategies we are adopting to stay sane this year: 

1. Limit screen time on weekdays  

Previously we allowed screen time on most days, thinking it would give our kids some breather from homework.  

But we found that it sometimes increased the tension at home as they would try to rush through their homework just to get started on their screens. 

This year, we are limiting screen time to weekends in anticipation of the greater workload from school in preparation for the PSLE.  

Of course, if on some days we have less school work to contend with, we may enjoy the occasional game time as a family.  

When I rush around to more than two to three activities per day, I get exhausted and cranky by the end of it. 

2. Limit enrichment classes to 3 per week 

My child needs more downtime than typical kids. I can relate because I’m also wired like that. When I rush around to more than two to three activities per day, I get exhausted and cranky by the end of it.  

Knowing that he will already have to tackle extra lessons on some days at school, it’s just sensible for us to keep tuition or sports classes to a maximum of three.  

He already is receiving some help with his two weakest subjects, so I am hoping that we will not need to pile on more.  

Having fewer classes also means we need not ferry him around as much. Juggling three children, a full-time job PLUS part-time studies, I find this to be the best thing I can do for myself.

PS. We also have a Chinese tutor who comes to our home on weekends, so this means we rush around even less!

To free up my time, I’ve popped all of my social media apps into a folder on my phone labelled “distractions”. So I think twice before clicking into any of the apps. 

3. Identify your biggest time-wasters 

While Isaac has picked up invaluable lessons on fathering from his own growing-up experience, he also sees the importance of having a community of support around him.  

However, amongst his peers, he was one of the first to get married and have a child. This meant that his peers couldn’t necessarily understand his situation.  

So he talked to older couples who had “gone a few steps ahead of us.” He shared vulnerably with them about his struggles and listened to their advice.  

This experience of gleaning from the wisdom of others has inspired him to take the initiative to reach out to other soon-to-be parents around him – starting from his colleagues at SGAG. 

He feels that these parents may not necessarily know what they don’t know, and thus may not even know what to ask.  

Questions such as “What do I bring when my wife is delivering the baby?” may not even come to mind. Thus, actively reaching out and sharing his insights has helped Isaac find joy in his role as a father.  

He mused, “Having someone looking out for (new parents) can help them feel less alone in their journey.”

It is worth teaching our young that tech, games and apps are all carefully designed to steal your attention. And the more “engaged” you are on a particular platform, the more money they make. 

4. Teach kids that apps are designed to steal your attention  

We are living in an increasingly noisy and complicated world, and our collective attention spans are also shrinking at an incredible rate.  

The net result is that instead of having the space and mental resources to think deeply about the challenges of the modern world and to engage in problem-solving, we end up feeling more anxious and less in control. 

In such a context, it is worth teaching our young that tech, games and apps are all carefully designed to steal your attention. And the more “engaged” you are on a particular platform, and the more time you dish out there, the more money they make.  

Only when they become aware of the problem and what it means when they give up a portion of their time, energy and mental resources, are they more open to hearing about and implementing solutions (i.e., to manage our time on tech wisely). 

While you are at it, teach them to disable notifications on their leisure apps. They should decide when to check their messages or social media, not the app. 

5. Have intentional one-on-one time 

Something I’m trying to do this year is to spend more one-on-time with each child. I find that the occasional walk to run an errand, or even just 15 minutes of chat time just before bed helps me tune into my child’s inner world, and for them to feel close enough to share deeper thoughts and concerns with me. 

It could look like: When big sister is having her tuition class, bringing little brother for a snack break or to his favourite book store.  

Sometimes the simple things done often give the biggest returns. 

I’m not trying to promote a dystopian view of technology, nor am I saying that all apps are inherently evil or time-wasters. There are many instances of people finding productive use of their time and building meaningful relationships online. (But even then, you do hear of many who say they need to take a step back from social media once in a while to appreciate and explore other things in life.) 

As with every new habit, it takes time, intentionality, and learning from mistakes, to really become disciplined at it.  

But by talking it through as a family and setting some goals (and sticking it up so everyone can see it), you are well on your way to becoming a closer-knit family than ever before – one who enjoys conversations (and not just gaming) together. 

Raising Kids to be Wise About Sex and Relationships

How to begin talking to kids about sex 

“My son came home today with the words ‘sex’ and ‘kiss’ scribbled on pieces of paper. He’s been picking up bad words from the kids on the bus,” my friend shared. 

Parents are the first teachers of their children. When it comes to the topic of sex, however, it’s likely that kids have already been given an introduction by their friends, the media or the Internet.  

If you’re unsure of how to approach talking to your kids about the birds and the bees, know that you’re not alone. Here is some advice that I’ve gleaned over the years from others and from my own experience.  

Start young  

In my home, we usually start the conversations as soon as the child is verbal, around the toddler ages of 2-3. 

It’s never too young to start by teaching our kids the proper names of private body parts. Doing so allows them to feel confident and unashamed of their body. 

Should they encounter unfortunate situations of inappropriate touch, they are also more able to accurately describe these incidents to teachers and caregivers.  

As kids observe the world around them, they begin to understand and perhaps point out differences between the sexes. I often use these opportunities to explain the differences between men and women’s bodies, such as only women being able to breastfeed and carry a baby in the womb. 

It’s never too young to start by teaching our kids the proper names of private body parts. Doing so allows them to feel confident and unashamed of their body. 

Boundaries, good touch, bad touch  

From there, we talk about what is a good touch or bad touch, and set appropriate boundaries such as “no one is allowed to touch your swimsuit area”, and while changing my child, “mummy is only touching your privates to wash away the poo”.  

Kids are allowed to reject requests from family members for hugs and kisses if they aren’t comfortable. At the same time, we teach them that hugging is an appropriate way to show our love to family and are liberal with our affection towards them.  

Use resources 

If you do not know where or how to start talking about sex and reproduction, look for age-appropriate books and resources on the topic. Cuddling up with a child to read a book provides a safe space for them to pause, ponder and ask questions if needed. We typically introduce these around age five to six and move on to books the child can read alone or together with us as they grow older.  

It is also important to constantly learn, read and educate ourselves as parents on how to speak to kids on sex and relationships, to gain the appropriate language to communicate with our children.  

Our Talk About Sex video series is child-friendly and designed to help you handle tricky topics like sex and relationships. It’s free and you can easily access each episode via a weekly link sent to your email inbox, accompanied by tips and convo guides. Find out more here. 

Ask me anything 

Keep an open mind and open ear. A friend of mine tells her kid to “ask her anything” — she has a no holds barred policy to questions on sex and sexuality. As a result, her teenage daughter had a reputation as a source of proper answers to curious questions and has received requests such as: “Please ask your mother what masturbation is.”  

By providing clear answers and not being afraid to broach difficult subjects, she gained the trust of her kids (and others). It is far better that kids gain credible answers from parents or trusted adults, rather than getting patchy or inaccurate information from peers or the World Wide Web. 

Seize opportunities  

Look for chances to address the topic of sex when it comes up in a natural context. For example, encountering two bugs mating can be an opportunity to talk about reproduction.  

Kids are naturally curious and it’s likely they themselves will come to you with questions as long as we are ready and unashamed with the answers to: “Where do babies come from?”  

It is far better that kids gain credible answers from parents or trusted adults, rather than getting patchy or inaccurate information from peers or the World Wide Web. 

Speak plainly and simply 

Use language that children as young as toddlers can understand. You can use phrases such as: 

On sex 

“When a man and a woman love each other very much, they want to get as close to each other as possible.” 

“Men and women are like puzzle pieces that fit together. Their bodies fit together too.”  

“When they connect together, they can create a baby.” 

“Half of you is from mummy and the other half is from daddy.” 

“The father provides the sperm and it joins with the mother’s egg.” 

On marriage  

“When a man and woman get married, they make a very important promise that they will never leave each other no matter what happens.  

“If they aren’t married, have sex and have a baby, what do you think will happen? Maybe one party will say they don’t want the baby and go away forever.”  

“Children thrive best when they grow up in a loving home with both their mummy and daddy.”  

Communicate not only the dangers, but the wonder of sex 

Besides talking to my kids about the consequences of sex outside of marriage, I also show them scientific YouTube videos to communicate the wonder of birth and conception. “Every person is a miracle,” I say. They watch as on screen, millions of sperm make their way through the vaginal canal, with most dying along the way, until one penetrates the egg. “Do you know how amazing and difficult it is for a person to be conceived?” I ask. 

I also show them pregnancy videos of a baby’s growth in the womb and talk to them about when I first heard their heartbeat, show them pictures of their ultrasound scans and talk about how I felt their kicks in the womb.  

Through such conversations, I hope for them to walk away with a clear idea of how precious life is and that life begins in the womb.  

At the same time, I try to make children aware of different kinds of families by drawing their family tree, discuss examples of unconventional family structures around us and talk about what would happen if a baby grows up without a father or mother.  

Live in community

It is important to allow kids to grow up with families that share likeminded values. 

Growing up with other wholesome adults as well as older peers whom they can emulate teaches children how to relate to others. As they observe interactions within families, spouses and parents and children, these help to shape their understanding of the world and broaden their experience.  

It is never too early to start talking to your kids about sex. 

In the example of the bus notes, my friend was advised to ask her child if he knew the meaning of those words and that became a starting point to talk about sex. Your kid heard about sex first from his friends? No worries. Even negative examples can be turned into a positive learning opportunity and open the conversation on the birds and the bees.  

Conversations About Sex Need Not Be So Tough

Research shows that when parents engage their children in topics on sexuality, their children grow to make wiser choices in relationships and sex. To help you overcome your fears in broaching the topic, we have designed a Talk About Sex video series specially for parent and child (aged 7-12) to enjoy, engage with and learn together!

When Your Little One Is Afraid

The world can be an intimidating place for young children. It doesn’t take long before they are exposed to unpleasant and even painful situations; visits to the clinic, starting school (without daddy and mummy!) and getting hurt from falls are just three examples.  

If some of us continue to feel apprehensive in such scenarios, one can only imagine how overwhelming it is for our little ones!  

I have never felt this as keenly as when we were still in the grips of COVID-19. Over the past two years, we’ve had to bring my son for many uncomfortable nose swabs and at every swab test, my son would run away or scream in anticipation of the discomfort. 

It can be daunting for us to guide our little ones through these challenges. While we cannot bubble wrap our kids from experiencing fear and anxiety, here are some strategies that have helped my family through such situations: 

1. Prepare them ahead of time  

We would usually talk to our son about upcoming challenges in advance to help him mentally prepare for them. For major transitions such as starting a new class, we would bring up the topic about a month before and engage him regularly about two to three times a week. For self-contained events like doctor visits or gatherings with unfamiliar faces, we would prepare him about a week in advance.  

We would also read relevant children’s books to familiarise him with the experience; e.g. about starting school, toilet training, or visiting the doctor or dentist.  

Being transparent with our children about upcoming challenges prevents them from getting caught off guard and helps them prepare for big changes. It also builds trust, which gives them confidence to approach us for help and guidance in future.  

2. Use healthy distractions 

Where appropriate, we would allow our children to engage in something that takes their mind off their fear. For example, we would let them watch a short video to help them down unpleasant medicines. Or pack their favourite toys and snacks to the doctor to keep them occupied while waiting at the clinic. 

Another useful approach is to engage in play. For example, my son once refused to approach the bathroom after he scraped his knee badly, as he was afraid of the pain from wetting his wound. I coaxed him to enter the shower by getting him to “feed” his toy animal some water while bathing. While he still cried from the pain, it helped him overcome his initial fear and enabled him to take the first step of entering the bathroom.  

Being transparent with our children about upcoming challenges prevents them from getting caught off guard and helps them prepare for big changes. It also builds trust. 

3. Change their environment 

In some cases, we found that a change in environment was helpful to ease our son’s anxiety.  

For instance, to help my son overcome his fear of toilet training, we got him to use the toilet in our room instead of the kitchen toilet which he normally used. This relieved his anxiety by removing him from the environment he associated with his fear (i.e. the kitchen toilet) and shifting him to one he likely perceived as safer (i.e. our room).  

A similar example would be if my son had a bad fall. I would usually bring him to a quieter place some distance away from where he fell. This usually helps him feel safer as the place of injury is out of sight, and he has more space to calm down. 

4. Affirm and celebrate small wins  

Whenever our son shows improvement towards a challenging situation, we would verbally affirm him by highlighting his achievements or areas of growth. Some statements we use are: 

  • “I noticed you did not cry this time after falling down. That was brave of you!” 
  • “You remained calm today at the party, even though there were many people you didn’t know. Well done!” 
  • “I’m glad you enjoyed your time at school, even though you missed Mama and Papa!” 

We would also often celebrate bigger milestones (e.g. starting school in a new class or finishing his graduation concert performance) by treating him to his favourite dishes.  

Affirmation and celebration help our little ones to associate their growth with positive memories, and motivate them to face other big challenges in life. 

Having faith in our children 

In the weeks leading up to my son’s first day at school, my wife and I were nervous about how he would respond to the change. We worried that he would not adjust to his new routine as he had never been in the care of others. 

Sure enough, he burst into tears when we dropped him off at school. I remember feeling guilty hearing his wails as I left for work – a feeling I’m sure many parents identify with. To my surprise, my son adapted quickly. Though he would get pre-school jitters every now and then, it wasn’t long before he started making friends and recounting his school activities fondly to us.  

Our children can surprise us with their tenacity, resilience and adaptability. So let’s not be too hard on ourselves, especially when we are unable to shield them from their fears.  

With us as their constant strength and support, they will rise above and overcome their challenges – both big and small – in their own time. 

Three Emotional Skills to Cultivate As A Parent

Even though I’ve had a wonderful mother and father who taught me how to parent, the hardest thing I’ve found since becoming a mother has been learning to parent myself. 

It’s always much easier to let my personality out in full force, sometimes unleashing harmful anger, toxic barbs and biting criticism. I have a tendency to be unafraid to show my true self when with my nearest and dearest, especially to my kids.  

Perhaps, like me, you struggle to have a good relationship with your kids and wish to cultivate better emotional skills. Staying humble and being willing to learn and grow is a good starting point. 

We should listen with our hearts and minds to hear the emotions and thoughts beyond the words our child is saying. 

1. Listen well and think before we speak 

So many times have I been tempted to shoot my mouth off before my child is done asking a question or telling me a story on their day in school. Sometimes I’m only half listening as they regale their tales when I’m in the middle of a bath, cooking lunch or (tsk!) texting on my phone. I find myself completing their sentences or assuming facts before I’ve even heard them. 

The book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk promotes using affirming language to show active and supportive listening. When a child returns home and says he got into trouble with the teacher for hitting a child, for example, we can approach from a point of curiosity.  

Instead of shouting, “What did you do? How can you hit someone else?” perhaps we could say, “What did your classmate do before you hit him?” and then respond, “That must have made you so mad!” Children want to know they have their parents on their side advocating for them, even in moments when they mess up.  

When listening, we should put away all other distractions. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something, I would inform my child to give me a moment to complete the task so I can give them my undivided attention.  

Although listening is performed mainly by the ears, we should listen with our whole being. Maintaining eye contact helps us take in the body language of the other person. Our own posture, when we face the other person and mirror their body language, also speaks volumes.  

In addition, we should listen with our hearts and minds to hear the emotions and thoughts beyond the words our child is saying. Is my child seeking advice or comfort? What does he or she really want from me?  

There are times, however, when listening and conversing is better when done side by side or without eye contact. A car ride, a fishing trip or a walk in the park may be a good opportunity to have difficult or awkward conversations.  

Reading parenting books and knowing the theories makes me none the wiser as I am still learning daily to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”. 

I’ve found it helpful to walk away from a situation that is getting tense and come back again when I’ve calmed down. 

2. Manage our own emotions  

An important thing for parents is to understand their own triggers in their relationship with their kids. For myself, a person who likes things to be neat and tidy, huge messes are a big no and the youngest always manages to pull out all the stops, literally.  

I find myself uncontrollably playing the blame game, ordering everyone around and going into a cleaning rage. Other times, what triggers me is my child’s insistence and blatant defiance 

After knowing what makes you mad, the next step is to manage yourself. I’ve found it helpful to walk away from a situation that is getting tense, or when I myself am getting worked up, and come back again when I’ve calmed down. This is especially when my child gets sassy, sarcastic and stubborn. No point getting into a heated argument over that math question when both sides think they are correct. Better to return later.  

It’s only when we learn to manage our own emotions that we can model emotional regulation to our children. We should “respond” and not “react”. If a glass has been shattered into smithereens on the floor, for example, focus on getting it cleaned up and keeping everyone safe, instead of yelling at the person at fault for being so careless. In a state of calm, we are better able to process, and consequently, our children are better able to learn from the experience. 

This year, my daughter lost three items in a single week. The first was her wallet, which I helped her retrieve by driving her back to school, followed by her water bottle. When she told me she had lost her homework file (again?!), I was tempted to rage. However, the other part of me was concerned. Is it a lack of sleep that’s making her become absent-minded? Is this a symptom of a bigger problem? 

Thankfully, I managed to set aside my own frustration and slowly processed with her the steps for search and recovery. That night, my daughter was weepy and distressed. I had to repeatedly reassure her that the world would not end if she had lost her homework. She would have to bear the consequence by waking earlier to find the item in school, but this was not serious. Had I been harsh, it would have worsened the situation. 

I remind myself: I am not a perfect parent, but I am growing and learning each day. 

3. Give grace to all 

Oftentimes, it is hard for those who have grown up in environments with high expectations to learn to let go.  

One of the things I’ve found myself having to set aside is the expectation that my children have to obey me every single time and be perfect. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I don’t have to look very far to understand where their strong wills and deviance came from.  

It is helpful to understand that we sometimes adopt our own parents’ style of parenting. Recently, there has been a number of memes on “breaking the generational trauma”. While parents may inflict wounds on their children, I believe most families also pass down love and affirmation. We should be more intentional in deciphering the good parts to keep versus those to abandon.  

Many articles prescribe methods to parent better and I find myself getting all introspective and badgering myself over it. “I’m not a good enough parent, I could always do better,” is often my takeaway. This is probably a symptom of growing up with critical parenting and I struggle daily not to channel it down to my children.  

I’ve learnt over the years to love and accept myself, and give myself room for failure. I remind myself: I am not a perfect parent, but I am growing and learning each day.  

When we give ourselves grace, we are more able to give our children that same grace – My children are not expected to be perfect, they are growing and learning each day.  

Children must be given room to make mistakes and misbehave in order for them to mature into teenagers, young adults and then adults. We are all works-in-progress.  

Becoming a parent is one of the fastest routes to maturity as we are forced to put someone else’s needs before our own, to be bigger-hearted, wiser and kinder than our kids, leading not by our words, but by example. And it makes us all the better for it.  

Our kids mould us as much as we mould them. We, too, are growing and learning along with our children. And that’s okay.  

4 CALM Strategies to Support Your Anxious Child

All children feel anxious or worried from time to time. It is a normal part of growing up. As parents, we cannot shield our children from feelings of anxiety. How we can support them is to help them cope with their worries or anxieties. 

In a recent podcast, I shared four strategies using the acronym C.A.L.M to help parents support their anxious children. Here they are:  

Change negative self-talk to an empowering one  

Emotions such as anxiety do not exist in a vacuum.  

Our thinking often influences our emotions, which in turn guide our behaviour.  

To go deeper and truly understand our children’s concerns, let’s listen out for their self-talk. Some examples of negative self-talk are: “I am not good enough” “I am never going to make it” “No matter how hard I try; I will never measure up.” 

I remember when my younger child was in her secondary school years, whenever she was sitting for a school exam, she would say out loud, “I will surely fail this exam.”  

It became her automatic response every time an exam was around the corner.

Our thinking often influences our emotions, which in turn guide our behaviour. 

I found it baffling that she would articulate such a statements when I or other family members did not engage in such a “fortune-telling” thinking trap with her. 

When I noticed the pattern, I asked her, “How do you know you will fail if you have not seen the exam paper or taken the exam.” And she would reply, “I will surely do very badly even if I don’t fail.” 

Eventually, I found out that several of her classmates often made such statements in class whenever the school or national exams drew near.  

She eventually flipped “I will surely fail” into an empowering belief and went on to do well in the national exams. 

So, I used the FIND IT, FIX IT, and FLIP IT techniques to help my child.

Find itDiscover the negative thought that triggers anxious feelings. In her case, it is, “I will surely fail.Identify this as an unhealthy thought pattern 

Fix it – Challenge these negative thoughts. What is the evidence to support such beliefs? Did she always fail the school exams? What about the times she did not fail? Were there times she did well?  

Flip it – Once the self-defeating thought has been identified and scrutinised, change it to a healthy one. For example, we can replace it with, “I will give my best during the exams, and I will be very happy if I do well. Even if I don’t get the results I expect, I can handle it.” 

Was it an overnight change? Of course not. But practice makes progress. It is heartening that she eventually flipped “I will surely fail” into an empowering belief and went on to do well in the national exams.  

Acknowledge and validate, but do not reinforce  

If your child tells you she is afraid her friends would make fun of her because she got a new hairdo, do not dismiss her feelings by saying, “Don’t worry,” or “Just ignore them.”  

Also don’t amplify her anxiety by saying, “They may laugh at you, but so what.”  

Try this instead, “You are afraid they will laugh at you and make you feel embarrassed. It is okay to be scared. Let us think of ways to help you get through this.”  

Learn to cope by thinking things through  

Talk with your child about what would happen if her fear came true – how would she handle it? 

Brainstorm with your child on what she can say to her classmates in response.  

Your child may come up with the idea to ignore her classmates’ teasing until they stop on their own. Or she may say to them “I still like my new hairdo. My parents like it and my dad thinks it is cool.” 

For some children or teenagers, having a plan to respond to anxiety-provoking scenarios can reduce the uncertainty they feel.  

Model healthy ways of managing anxiety 

We can help ourchildren cope with anxious feelings by letting them see how we cope with ours.  

Children are very perceptive. If you keep complaining about meeting work deadlines to your spouse or telling friends you are avoiding certain situations because you are worried, they are going to internalise your coping strategies. 

I am not suggesting you always present a stoic or unruffled posture and pretend you have it all under control. 

But you can intentionally allow your children to hear or watch you manage your fears or worries managing these unpleasant feelings as best you can, and then feeling good about getting through them. 

And even if you do vent in front of your kids, not all is lost. Also let them see how you recover your composure, whether it’s by taking time out or going for a walk. 

There you have it – four practical ways to calm your child’s nerves.  

Which strategy will you start implementing to support your anxious child? 

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

How To Embrace Fatherhood with Gusto

Isaac Tan laughed when he recounted how everything changed the first time his 18-month-old daughter, Julia, cried. He had to drop everything and attend to her.  

Nothing could have ever prepared the Creative Director of SGAG for that special moment. There was no time to warm up. It was drop and go.  

But he also reminisced, “That moment of holding Julia, my firstborn, in the hospital room, was nothing short of magical.”  

But those magical moments of first-time parenthood came sprinkled with a myriad of challenges. How did this young father cope? 

‘I’m first a husband’ 

Isaac acknowledged that the most difficult thing initially was the fatigue of being a new father. Having to tend to Julia through the night, support his wife, and handle the other household chores was not easy. But that’s where he gained an insight, “I’m not just a father…I’m also a husband.”  

Isaac recounted that he had made his marriage vows to his wife, and not to his child. That helped him to realise that one of the most important things in transiting to fatherhood was also to focus on his spouse as wife, and not simply as a mother to Julia.  

This focus on their marital relationship helped them to build a strong base to navigate the challenges of parenting, particularly in aligning their parenting practices as each had different experiences growing up 

He thus made it a point to talk about their day before going to bed. “As we navigated parenthood together, we took time through communicating to align what we favoured more, in terms of a way of parenting, or what we didn’t like about a certain method or logic. We were also open to making adjustments along the way.” 

One of the most important things in transiting to fatherhood was also to focus on his spouse as wife, and not simply as a mother to Julia. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all 

Isaac recalls how his father took a different approach with Isaac and his brothers. His father spent one-on-one time with each of them, taking time to build trust and understand them as unique individuals.  

This experience has helped him realise that his next child could be quite different from Julia, and that he needs to learn how to be a father to each child.   

Learn from others 

While Isaac has picked up invaluable lessons on fathering from his own growing-up experience, he also sees the importance of having a community of support around him.  

However, amongst his peers, he was one of the first to get married and have a child. This meant that his peers couldn’t necessarily understand his situation.  

So he talked to older couples who had “gone a few steps ahead of us.” He shared vulnerably with them about his struggles and listened to their advice.  

This experience of gleaning from the wisdom of others has inspired him to take the initiative to reach out to other soon-to-be parents around him – starting from his colleagues at SGAG. 

He feels that these parents may not necessarily know what they don’t know, and thus may not even know what to ask.  

Questions such as “What do I bring when my wife is delivering the baby?” may not even come to mind. Thus, actively reaching out and sharing his insights has helped Isaac find joy in his role as a father.  

He mused, “Having someone looking out for (new parents) can help them feel less alone in their journey.”

Having someone looking out for (new parents) can help them feel less alone in their journey. 

Plan your time well 

Leading a team of creatives at SGAG on top of managing fatherhood duties has meant that Isaac needs to use routines and scheduling to his advantage.  

He shared candidly, “I want to take the guesswork out of things because you are just tired all the time.”  

He plans his day with Google Calendar, knowing his obligations at each moment of the day. That has also helped him to schedule time for self-care.  

“Scheduling is my number one pro-tip,” he added, “Early on in my journey of being a dad, everything was uncertain. I found that when you could make something certain, you would be a lot more certain about everything else.” 

Fatherhood may feel like a great responsibility, but it doesn’t need to be a lonely journey. Isaac advised, “We can cut ourselves some slack, every now and then. We’re all still learning, we’re all still a work-in-progress. Also, remember that it’s no shame to ask the rest.”  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

5 Practical Ways for Mums to Overcome Discouragement

The dishes from lunch are still occupying the sink.  The toddler has been screaming ad nauseam for the past five minutes to eternity, having woken up from an unsatisfying nap and not finding you there. The kids are rolling into their fourth hour of television- while you are hacking your way through conference call after conference call. The house looks an epic mess, with toys strewn all over like a disaster zone. You have no clue what you’re going to put together for dinner, and you don’t care. You can’t care. Your boss is awaiting impatiently for your monthly sales report.  

I guess it’s not hard to imagine ourselves in the story above. We’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we?  

Days where we felt physically ill, mentally stressed, and simply overwhelmed as a mum, defeated and discouraged from the frontlines of motherhood.  

It’s easy to fall into that rut of despair and self-doubt when:  

  • The opinions of those in (or outside of) our circle nag at us  
  • We experience physical limitations, lack of time, lack of money, lack of space, sleep deprivation  
  • Our children’s and spouse’s attitudes, health concerns, or behavioural shortcomings wear us down 

Before we know it, we are at rock bottom.  

How do we dig ourselves out from the trenches of guilt and failure? Having to juggle work and kids can be tiresome enough, and even more so in this pandemic.  

It’s so easy to feel overworked and under-appreciated. Apart from fishing for gratitude or affirmation from the husband and kids, what can we do to help ourselves ride out the tough days? 

Rather than focus on the negative moments, look instead at how far you’ve travelled

Here some practical tips that can help turn our day around and get us off the ground and up on our feet again:   

1. “Life is a video, and not a photograph”

In other words, our bad moments do not define who we are in one freeze-frame. Our journey is made up of changing snapshots in time that could and often do get better, even if they occasionally dip and get worse. It is normal to feel discouraged today, but find hope and motivation tomorrow. We can get unstuck from a single frame! 

When a few days don’t work well and we hit some kinks along the road, have faith that it will all even out. We may lack the skills in the present for some things, but we can surely make up for it in other areas. Your kids can’t have a mum who whips up nutritious meals daily – but they usually have nourishing food on the table, save for some junk meals once in a while! Also, no mum never yells -ever!    

Rather than focus on the negative moments, look instead at how far you’ve travelled. And focus on growing a little every day. 

With the 90-second rule, it is important to acknowledge and accept that strong emotion, and to breathe through it. Otherwise, we may remain stuck in that feeling. 

2. The “90-second rule” 

In her study of the brain, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor discovered the “90-second rule of emotions,” which illustrates how transient feelings are. 

According to Bolte Taylor, “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.” 

With the 90-second rule, it is important to acknowledge and accept that strong emotion, and to breathe through it. Otherwise, we may remain stuck in that feeling. 

For example you might say out loud or think to yourself: “I am feeling very tired and grumpy right now,” and then find a way to move on: “But I will look into this after my bath.” 

Another way is to pause, and to visualise a wave washing over you. Name that wave of emotion, and allow it to subside. 

3. Accept where you are at

We don’t have to make excuses when things don’t turn out right. But we need to be honest and kind to ourselves to accept where we are and start making little steps to improve.  

“The house is a mess, it bothers me, but it won’t be like this forever. I can cope for a time and make small changes to the way I do things.” 

Don’t be tempted to start a pity party but take time to have a good cry and recentre your priorities. Avoid minimising the failure or frustration you’re feeling, but take the healthy step towards forgiving yourself and making progress forward.  

4. Have a long-term growth mindset 

Acknowledge that the parenting journey is for the long haul and some seasons are going to be tougher than others – New job transitions, getting pregnant, relationship issues with teens, health and personal losses.  

In the grander scheme of things, all these experiences can help to stretch us to become better, stronger and wiser than we already are. The growth mindset isn’t just for academic or athletic pursuits: it can be applied to parenting too! Don’t waste these difficult periods – even if they can be such a pain in the butt! These times will pass.   

5. Reposition your heart with gratitude

Positioning our parenting with a vantage point of gratitude is an important pick-me-up for how we see things on a bad day  

Tweak our words. Resist saying “I have to,” and replace it with “I get to.” It really makes a significant difference.    

Compare this:  

“I have to drive my kid to gym class” versus “ I get to drive my kid to gym class today!”  

“I have to put the baby to bed” versus “I get to put the baby to bed!” 

This isn’t about bluffing ourselves or sugar-coating, but the words we use can make a huge difference to nudge us about the little things we’ve taken for granted that others can no longer turn back time to enjoy.   

A few bad days are just hiccups compared to the privilege of raising our little ones – and we all know we won’t trade it for the world!  

© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

Bullying – Is Punishment The Way To Go?

Bullying refers to the use of strength or power to frighten or hurt weaker people. (Dictionaries, 2023)

I recently came across an account on bullying that took me by surprise. It wasn’t the act of bullying but the way the parents handled it that caught me off-guard. It was the first time I had ever heard of such an approach.

James is a quiet and reserved boy who loves helping those who are in need. When he entered primary school, his friends took advantage of his kindness and started bullying him. He had a classmate who was bigger in size compared to him, and bullied him often. He pushed James around and caused him hurt by pinching him. He also poured water on James out of his own bottle. Fearing that he would be bullied further, James did not dare to raise this to his teacher. Fortunately, because of the close relationship he has with his parents, he shared with them these incidents as soon as he got home every single time.

One would have expected his parents to fly into a rage and even lodge a police report because of the physical harm that was caused, but they did not.

I know that I can approach the school anytime

James’s father had a close relationship with the school because he was part of the parent support group. It gave him the confidence that he could go to the school to ask for assistance on this matter and it would be a better solution than to take matters into his own hands.

James also highlighted to his father that this boy was his classmate after all, and he did not wish to escalate the matter. His father took his advice.

There is wisdom in this approach. Escalating the matter could make things awkward for James to continue to be in the same classroom, because he would not know how to face this friend that his father had lodged a formal complaint against. And it would probably create more stress for James eventually.

Communication and education are better solutions to bullying, rather than punishment.

By punishing we will not learn

Rather than to get the form teacher to punish the boy harshly, James’s father requested for the bully to be counselled and educated on the detrimental effects of bullying. He also reiterated to the teacher that he does not wish for the bully to be punished. He believes that communication and education are better solutions in the long term. He was right.

This father’s story was a breath of fresh air. I realised that he was not only concerned about what his son had gone through, but he was also concerned about what the other boy would learn. He wanted to protect his child, and he also wanted the boy to learn what is right.

Often as parents, we tend to jump into the situation to defend our child. This is the parental instinct to protect our young in times of danger. But James’s father taught me to go one step further, to not only protect my child but also to champion what is right.

Punishing the child will only reiterate that what he did was wrong. It does not solve the root issue that he is going through. It does not equip the child with the right handles to relate to a classmate, to express his emotions in a safe manner. Communicating and educating does. It helps the child process why he acts in a certain manner, and it trains the child to think of how his actions impact others. This will result in real and lasting change.

This sharing has given me a fresh perspective on bullying, and a good one.

Bullying occurs anywhere, but children are a more vulnerable group. Especially younger children in the preschool and lower primary range, who may be unable to defend themselves.

Educating a child about bullying helps them process why they may act in a certain manner, and trains them to think of how his actions impact others.

While discussing this topic with some of my friends who are teachers in a preschool and primary school, they shared with me some very practical handles.

Tacking bullying in young children:

1. Safety first

Get away to a safe place. Do not engage or retaliate because it might result in more injuries. Go to a place where there are adults.

2. Seek help

Find a reliable adult, whether it is a teacher or parent, and seek help. Get them involved so that they can handle the situation. Adults are equipped with the knowledge and ability to deal with these matters in a safe manner.

3. Look out for changes in child’s behaviour

More often than not, young children are not able to articulate the stresses that they are undergoing. However, it shows up in their behaviors such as: Loss of appetite, isolation, emotional instability, overwhelming fear etc. These are major signs that your child may be going through something in school.

4. Get the full picture

Children do not have an accurate concept of time, and they also are not able to remember entirely what had happened. It is best to speak with their teachers to find out what exactly happened before deciding the best course of action. Relying on their words alone may not be helpful.

5. Work towards a win-win situation

Work together with the teacher for a win-win situation. It is not only important to protect the child, but also to ensure that there is a real and lasting change.

Bullying has to be corrected, not just prevented.

For privacy reasons, pseudonyms were used in this article.

Children’s Day Campaign

The digital realm has become an integral part of our lives, including our children’s — offering opportunities for learning, interacting, and entertainment. However, just as digital media use is escalating, so are mental health issues in our youth.  

Research has recently shown that youths are increasingly turning to digital media for self-therapy. In light of this, experts are advising parents to be empathetic towards their children’s use of electronic devices and platforms (Channel News Asia, 2023).

Thus, before children are exposed to various devices, apps, platforms at a young age, it is critical to have healthy conversations surrounding digital literacy and for parents to both bond with and guide their children in the digital age.  

This Children’s Day, Focus on the Family Singapore aims to encourage the fostering of meaningful parent-child relationships and equip parents to raise digital literate children all while having fun! 

A free digital resource, The Wonder Guide, will be available for download, with tips for parents to nurture their parent-child relationship while navigating the digital playground. Download your Wonder Guide at www.family.org.sg/CaptureTheWonder

Additionally, a free mini activity book, What a Wonder! is also available for parents to deepen connections with their child (recommended for 5-9 year olds). It includes:
Identifying old school technology gadgets and learning fun facts about them
Conversation Starters for parent-child to engage in meaningful conversations
Stickers for interactive learning

Campaign Objectives:

  1. Strengthen parent-child relationships through healthy conversations and practices surrounding digital literacy

  2. Encourage families to embrace technology as means for meaningful connection 

Secure your free resource!

If you or your organisation is keen to distribute the What a Wonder! resource (minimum of 50 copies), please get in touch with us.

Limited copies are available so secure them now!

ParentEd is a parent education initiative from Focus on the Family Singapore.

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