When The Parenting Tips Don’t Work

Screaming, yelling, shouting. Fighting, quarrelling, whining. Clinginess, grumpiness, and repeated defiance. As parents, we may wonder why our children fight us when we’re trying to meet their needs. It seems like an uphill task to keep the kids safe, healthy, and on time for school, while juggling our countless other responsibilities and demands.  

Meanwhile, you continue to be bombarded by parenting tips online that tell you to empathise and be gentle with your children. You give this a try, but are met with mischief, meltdowns, and defiance at the worst moments. Desperate, you resort to old tactics: Threats, yelling, caning, or bribing with screen time to placate them. Unsurprisingly, these old methods work, and you’re able to get on with the day.  

While it may be tempting to abandon the expert tips as you struggle with the realities of life, many of us continue to resonate with the ideas presented, as they inspire us to build a warmer and more loving home. Here are some ways I’ve learnt to adapt these tips into my own family life: 

1. Avoid unhealthy comparison

With today’s gentle parenting approach gaining popularity, it is easy to make comparisons with other parents who seem to have it all under control. However, what you see on social media does not necessarily reflect reality. You may be surprised to learn that almost every parent struggles with getting their children in line at some point, even the ones you look up to most!  

Knowing this, it is important to avoid black-and-white thinking when we encounter our failures. Instead of dwelling on thoughts like, “I lost my cool today; I must be a failure as a father,” it helps to reframe them more constructively: “I lost my cool today, but it was understandable as I was dealing with too much. I can have compassion on myself, and apply what I have learnt from this episode, tomorrow.”  

 

It takes time for new parenting strategies to prove its effectiveness, and for new habits to be cultivated in the family. 

2. Aim for improvement, not perfection 

As adults, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle keeping it all together each day. In many ways, our children struggle just like us as they navigate the challenges of growing up. Hence, we cannot expect perfect days and perfectly obedient children. It is not possible to correct every single mistake, as this can lead to resentment in both parent and child. We should, instead, identify red lines for discipline and keep to those.   

For example, my wife and I are stricter with maintaining discipline when our children are about to endanger themselves or others. We are less uptight if no harm is caused – such as if they scream, shout, or accidentally spill something – or if we know that the children are feeling overwhelmed.  

It is also important to note that improvement takes time, before any positive change can be observed. We may fail spectacularly when we first try something new – this includes new approaches to parenting. However, as we persist, our children will notice the new habits and language that are being cultivated, and eventually internalise them.  

One of my proudest moments as a father was seeing my 5-year-old son calm his younger sister down with one of the tactics I have previously used with him, instead of yelling back at her!  

“Be particularly mindful when our children are Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, or Tired (HALT).” 

3. Learn how to prevent and defuse emotional triggers  

Is your heart beating faster and harder? Do you feel tension in your forehead or chest? Do you feel blood rushing to your eyes? These are some physiological signs that an emotional outburst is about to occur – a trigger. Leaving our triggers unchecked can cause us to act impulsively. Sometimes, this leads to doing or saying things to our children that we regret for years to come. It is thus important to learn to detect and prevent our triggers, which would help us be more intentional in our parenting.  

The same goes for our children. Just as adults are likely to lose control when they have unmet needs, younger children are as, if not more, likely to act up if they are Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, or Tired (HALT). By mentally reviewing our children’s HALT levels throughout the day, we are better able to keep behavioural challenges at bay.  

However, no one can completely avoid emotional outbursts throughout life. As such, I’ve found it helpful to learn the best strategies for defusing one another’s triggers. For example, I usually count to 3 before I act on my anger, and I try to envision the consequences of losing my temper before I act or speak. For my children, slow counting or play have been the best means for regulating their strong emotions. (Here are more tips on dealing with big emotions.) 

At the end of the day, parental discipline may involve being firm with our children. To keep myself in check, my guiding principle for managing meltdowns or misbehaviour is to always exhaust all “softer” approaches before moving on to “harder” ones.

 Live to love another day 

One morning, I yelled harshly at my son while getting him ready for school, leaving the family shaken and myself feeling guilty for the rest of the day. That same night, however, we went about our bedtime routine as normal. I read both children a bedtime story and the kids scrambled to sit on my lap. The night ended with giggles and smiles as I tucked them into bed.  

Family life is not meant to be perfect. It is unrealistic to expect ourselves or our children to handle all of life’s challenges, while maintaining perfect composure 24/7. What I’ve found to be most important is not building the perfect family, but a loving one: An environment where we are always loved, accepted, and learning to love one another better. It is on this foundation that each family member can work on themselves and make each difficult moment a little better, one day at a time.   

How do I Teach my Child about Safety around Strangers?

Preschool years (4-6 years)

Young children are mostly accompanied by a trusted adult such as their parent, caregiver, or teachers in school. The only scenarios where children may potentially encounter a stranger with ill intentions without the knowledge of a trusted adult, is if they get lost, or unintentionally separated from their trusted adult (e.g. while in a crowded shopping mall, or when a stranger approaches the child while the parent is on a phone call).

Sometimes, the person with ill intentions is someone they are familiar with, such as an older friend, family member, or relative. Beyond teaching your child to identify strangers, it’s important to help them identify and respond to threatening situations and behaviours from people they know.

 

The most effective way to teach your child how to identify threatening situations and behaviours is through role-playing many different scenarios that they may potentially find themselves in. 

Preschool-aged children do not yet have the cognitive or emotional skills to accurately identify the intentions of others, and they can be a lot more trusting of people, even strangers. At this age, children acquire knowledge and make sense of the world through pretend play. The most effective way to teach your child how to identify threatening situations and behaviours is through role-playing many different scenarios that they may potentially find themselves in.  

You can teach your child about safe/unsafe behaviours of older children and adults, through games and play, such as: 

  • Identifying good and bad touch
  • Being told to keep a secret
  • Being offered candy/money/an animal/soft toy/car ride
  • Being asked to follow someone away from their trusted adult  

It’s also important to teach your child simple rules about personal safety, such as their full name and address, and how to convey this information to a safe adult should they get lost. This can be done by pointing out places where they can receive help from a safe adult, such as a teacher in school, a policeman at a neighbourhood police station, or an information counter at a shopping mall.

 

Repetition of rules and role-playing different scenarios in several different contexts is often necessary.

The cognitive thinking skills of young children vary, and hence repetition of rules and role-playing different scenarios in several different contexts is often necessary before children can remember what you’re teaching them. Since younger children may not have the ability to distinguish the intentions of others, teach them to say “no” or to shout for help when they are alone in an unfamiliar situation, and are unsure how to respond. 

It’s good to have regular conversations with your child in a calm and honest manner, without frightening your child unnecessarily. We want to strike a balance between precaution and over-protectiveness. 

While there is no guaranteed method in helping young children ascertain all threatening behaviours and situations, an effective strategy is to teach them  to trust their instincts, and to immediately inform you if someone is making them feel uncomfortable. The best precaution to take is to be alert and attentive of your child’s whereabouts at all times, and to have a secure, trusting relationship with your child where they are comfortable to share everything with you.

Primary years (7-9 years)

Children in their primary years may have honed their ability to identify threatening behaviours and situations, and to discern the intentions of others. They are likely to be in more situations without adult supervision too, such as when they’re at the playground, or having a sleepover at a friend’s house. They are also better able to remember and practise the rules for personal safety, and are much better equipped to recount an unsafe situation they have found themselves in to a trusted adult, or to get the attention of others by shouting for help. They may also begin to have much more exposure to online content and will need to know the potential risks and dangers associated with it. 

When put in a tricky situation where they experience a tension of different needs and emotions, your child may be unsure of how to respond in an appropriate manner.

For example, when your child is playing unsupervised at a public playground where older children are present, one of these older children may approach your child to show him an image or video on their mobile device. The content makes your child feel uncomfortable, and it goes against his family values, but due to the strong need to fit in, your child may not walk away or inform you about the inappropriate content he was exposed to.

Another common scenario is where your child gets touched inappropriately by a trusted friend or relative, and they may feel shame, but also pleasure. The conflicting emotions they experience may leave them feeling confused and uncertain, and if they desire strongly to please or protect the adult who molested them, they may choose to remain silent.  

As parents, you should address and validate your child’s developmental needs for peer acceptance, friendship, and altruism, while creating a safe, non-judgmental space for them to share their views or experiences at home. The key is to cultivate an environment in your home where children feel safe to freely share their thoughts with you, without a fear of punishment or a sense that certain topics are off-limits.  

The best precaution for children at this age from the harmful intentions of both strangers and known relatives or friends, is the active involvement of their parents in their child’s social circles and online activity. Children can be taught to be assertive about their boundaries to both their peers and to strangers, and to walk away when these boundaries are crossed. Teach your child to recognise possible scenarios where another’s actions go against your family’s values, and how to respond appropriately in those instances.  

For children’s online safety, guide your children on how to change their privacy settings to disallow strangers from communicating with them. Be sure to install apps to monitor their online activity, and block potentially harmful content and people. Do remember that these measures are temporary measures and safeguards. As your child’s cognitive abilities develop, you can wean them off these apps and teach them to practise discernment when befriending strangers online.

Tween years (10-12 years)

Tweens are much more capable than younger children in their cognitive abilities to judge and evaluate a potentially dangerous situation. They are also gaining more independence and are spending more time unsupervised by their parents, especially online. The need for peer acceptance is much greater, and tweens may find themselves saying “yes” to tricky situations out of their need for acceptance. 

At this age, if you allow your child to play multiplayer games online such as Roblox or Minecraft, or use social messaging apps like WhatsApp, it’s inevitable for them to encounter strangers. These apps usually allow for direct messaging, even between strangers. It’s vital to teach your child to filter the personal information they share with strangers online, such as their address and handphone number, or even their full name. 

Besides the disclosure of personal information, cyberbullying is also common. Teach your child to spot signs of cyberbullying, and the features that an app or game provides to protect us from such people, for example, the option to report and to block someone. 

If your tween has his own mobile device, you can install the free app ScamShield, designed by Open Government Products in collaboration with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), to protect against scam calls and SMSes from strangers. These filters may not work 100% of the time, but they do help in blocking most strangers from contacting your child. Regularly check in with your tween, to ensure they are interacting responsibly with technology. You may wish to check their social media account privacy settings, and ensure that they have accurately declared their age on these platforms, as safeguards have been put in place to protect minors.

Lastly, parents of tweens can set and enforce rules in the home and when interacting with others online or over a call. For example, if parents are leaving their tweens alone at home with no adult supervision, teach them to lock the doors and not to open it for anybody, no matter who they claim to be. If anyone were to message them through an online platform, teach them not to reveal any personal details such as who their parents are, where they live, or if there is anyone else at home.  

Your child will benefit from ongoing discussions of risks, different scenarios they may find themselves in, and the healthy modelling of online and personal safety. As much as we try our best as parents to protect our children from the dangers both online and in the real world, there are many new forms of harm and danger that we can’t possibly prepare for. The best form of protection for our children is to develop a healthy, trusting relationship with us, so that they feel comfortable coming to us at any point in their lives when they feel uncertain about anything. 

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!

Overcoming My Body Image Issues

Battling negative body image can often feel like a futile fight. But take heart, it is possible to overcome them.   

John Lim, now a writer who also speaks on youth and young adult issues, shares his own struggles with body image issues.  

“I remember when I was in primary school, I was in the trim and fit club, or the ‘tough club’. Despite exercising, my weight never went down. And my friends would tease me, ‘Eh, John, why you exercise so much still so fat.’” 

“I would try to laugh it off, but inside, I felt discontent with my weight and body image,” he said.  

From that early exposure to body shaming, John found that he would binge eat at major events in his life, such as when he was deciding what course to study at university.   

“I tried to quell the anxieties, and things got better because I saw a therapist. But the issue resurfaced when job hunting,” he adds. 

The desire to control is actually a coping mechanism.

Comparison and Control

When eating disorders emerge in children, parents often ask, “Why?” John wondered the same. “Dealing with the disorder was hard. I kept asking, ‘Why am I so weak? Why can’t I stop?’ It wasn’t just about the food,” he reflects.

“In Singapore’s competitive environment, it can be common to feel that one is not good enough. Comparisons in academics from parents and peers weigh heavily. This spills over into other areas like body image. You start thinking something’s wrong and try to control it through dieting or an eating disorder,” he explains.

Comparison can be unwittingly encouraged by social media and peer comments about weight and appearance, but the desire to control is actually a coping mechanism. There are many things our children can’t control like their peers’ behaviour or their academic grades but they can control their food intake.

John puts it this way – “It’s like the things that you do externally to gain a sense of control over your circumstances.”

Even though it seems more fun to be elsewhere, being with them matters. 

Relational Risk

Everyone needs people willing to connect with them, even when they’re not receptive.  
For John, a friend from volunteering was a turning point in his recovery.  
 
I was bingeing heavily and was not in good shape. But my friend kept asking me, and never gave up on me. He also kept trying to joke and lighten the mood, even when I wasn’t fun to be around,” John shares.  
 
He urges parents and friends to take the relational risk and reach out to those who are struggling. “Even though it seems more fun to be elsewhere, being with them matters. You can pick up warning signs of eating disorders, like changes in eating habits, excessive bathroom time, or social withdrawal, he advises.  
 
Some common signs could be the intake and output of food. Are there extreme changes to eating habits, are they spending excessive time in the toilet, or withdrawn from social circles?  
 
Investing in our children’s internal health is crucial. “In social work and psychology, we often talk about psychological safety. As a parent, providing a safe space is essential. It’s about showing  empathy and compassion, and being there for your child,” he says. Instead of questioning why they act a certain way, assume they’re doing their best. “This changes how we support our children,” John concludes. 
 
With support, overcoming eating disorders, like John’s, is possible.

 

What to do if you or your child has eating struggles

1 – Acknowledge the struggle  
It can be daunting to have to face the issue but the start to recovery is recognising there is a problem. Instead of pretending things are okay or that the problem will resolve by itself, we have to accept that something serious is happening and it needs our attention.  

2 – Ask for help 
Often, guilt and shame prevent us from asking for help. We may even justify this by believing no one can help us or even blame ourselves for having a problem. Can you identify with what John shared about using unhealthy eating habits as an attempt to gain control over your life? If so, please be honest about the care you need. Asking for help is you choosing a better life for yourself and breaking this vicious circle.  
 

3 – Isolate your triggers 
Eating disorders don’t appear overnight. They are the fruit of seeds that have been sown in your life for a while. For some, it could be repetitive judgmental words from people about weight. For others, it could even be from coming from a household where being a certain size or looking a certain way was obviously important. Isolating your triggers can help you work at the core issue that caused the symptom of poor self-image or eating habits. 
 
4 Be kind to yourself  
Now that you isolated your triggers, you must have clear-cut action points on what to do when you are triggered. When the familiar pull towards harmful thoughts and actions gets strong, these are a few simple things you can do Get up from where you are, put on music that takes your attention away from self-defeating thoughts, call a trusted friend or family member, or go out for a walk. Be kind to yourself. There may be times you don’t manage to do these. Instead of sliding back into self-blame, choose to try again.  
 
5 – Establish truth reminders  
As you rebuild your life, having building blocks of truth is important for you to sustain your healing and growth. What do you need to remind yourself? Is it “I am loved” or “I can do this”? Is it hopeful thoughts about the future like “One day, this will not be a struggle anymore”? Try to find people and things in your life you can be thankful for. Gratitude helps to prevent us from slipping into comparison. 

How do I Teach my Child to Dress Modestly?

Tween years (10-12 years)

In the early tween years, your child is formulating their sense of identity. They may do this through experimenting with their personal choices and decisions, such as dressing.  

If you’re taking your tween shopping, this is the best time to impart the value of modesty! Set clear guidelines for appropriate dressing right at the start and pick out apparel that makes them feel presentable and confident.  

Pay attention to your child’s role models, whether they are singers, celebrities or admired figures whom your child looks up to, and observe their fashion choices. Recognise the influence these figures can have on your child’s dressing.  

Discuss how clothing that reveals too much skin will get them unwanted attention and put them at risk of being objectified. Keep an eye out for subtle messages on clothing that may carry suggestive undertones. Frame your concerns as a way to teach your child to respect and honour their body, fostering in them a sense of self-worth that goes beyond how others view their appearance.  

If your child thinks you are old-fashioned, stay calm in the moment and explain how dressing modestly can still be stylish. Listen to your child’s viewpoints and stay curious instead of making judgmental remarks, which may push them away from you.  

In this phase of discovery and self-expression, having a supportive and open environment makes all the difference for your child to know you are on their side!  

 

Teen years (13-15 years)

Late teen years (16-18 years) 

The societal pressure to dress like their peers and famous personalities will be more apparent in the teenage years. This is also the time when teens may develop romantic interests. 

If you have not talked about modesty with your child, it is not too late. In family meetings, have conversations on why modesty still matters in today’s day and age, and what is an acceptable standard for your family. Emphasise on values like modesty and inner beauty while expressing understanding for your child’s need to fit in.  

Share candid stories of fashion disasters when you yourself may have blindly followed trends in your youth. Your willingness to share your life experiences with them can go a long way in building connection. Offer to go shopping with your child and give practical guidance and suggestions on what is acceptable to both of you.  

Encourage your child to think critically about the reasons behind your family’s guidelines rather than simply imposing them. Have them consider questions such as,  

      • “Why do you think I have concerns about this outfit you picked?”  
      • “How does your choice of clothing reflect who you are and the way you want to be perceived by others?” 
      • “What do you think the messages and graphics on your clothing could convey to others?” 

Fathers, do not underestimate your role in your growing teen daughter’s sense of identity. You play a significant role in building your child’s self-esteem when you affirm how important she is to you. Pay genuine compliments when your daughter dresses appropriately to reinforce her self-worth so she does not have to look elsewhere for approval.  

Besides her character and inner beauty, complimenting specific physical traits such as her hair, eyes or even a specific (modest) outfit can do wonders to boost your daughter’s confidence in her growing years.  

Maintaining modesty may be an uphill challenge for teenagers in an increasing hyper-sexualised world, but by showing our teens we are on their side, we can instil hope that modesty is achievable without compromising their personal style, tastes, and sense of belonging. 

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!

Should I Allow my Child Privacy on Devices?

“I’m really worried about my daughter. I don’t know who she’s talking to, and now she’s even bringing her boyfriend into our house when I’m not at home. I didn’t know giving her privacy on her phone would result in this.”

I could see how distraught Amy was at her 16-year-old daughter Betty’s behaviour over the past few months.

Wanting to offer her sound advice, I turned to Chong Ee Jay, a Family Life Educator with Focus on the Family Singapore.

Balancing a child’s autonomy and his privacy can be a challenge, but here are some helpful guidelines.

If your child is 12 and under 

“The device should be seen as a loan instead of belonging completely to your child. And you should have full view of your child’s usage on the device.”

Ee Jay shares that it is typically not recommended to give kids aged 12 and under a device.

Of course, you might argue that schools these days require the use of technology for education. But your child needs to understand that the device is for the purpose of communication and studies, and not entertainment.

For example, one helpful way is to set up parental controls on the device you give to them, especially for entertainment apps such as games, YouTube, and the Internet browser.

This way, if the child wants to access these apps, they will need to ask you for access.

Ee Jay elaborates, “Access to entertainment apps should be given only with your permission. The device given to your child should be seen as a loan instead of belonging completely to your child. And you should have full view of your child’s usage on the device.”

With your child’s mind still developing, it is critical that we take active efforts to curb device use. “The online space is filled with a mix of good and bad content, and your child does not yet have the maturity and knowledge to keep themselves safe.”

This is reinforced through global guidelines. We see that almost all online activities and platforms do not allow users below 13 to set up an account.

Another way is to learn from the technology entrepreneurs who invented these devices.

In late 2010, Steve Jobs revealed to New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children had never used the iPad.

Jobs explained, “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.”

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, and refused to allow his children to use screens in their bedrooms.

But what happens when the child grows older? Are such limits still necessary?

If your child is above 13

Ee Jay explains that in an ideal world, we would hope that a child’s maturity linearly equates to their age and we can therefore give them more autonomy as they grow. But reality is often not as neat and tidy.

“Greater autonomy on devices is given upon considering child’s age and maturity and when they have demonstrated responsible behaviour.”

He encourages parents to consider the first ownership of a device as a rite of passage.

For example, when a child turns 13, a device is often needed for the purpose of communication on school-related matters, especially on WhatsApp. Class chat groups, CCA chat groups, and social connection with peers on social media platforms are typical examples. Personal learning devices are also purchased for use in most schools during Secondary 1.

Treating it as a rite of passage means there needs to be conversations on rules, expectations, and consequences of flouting the rules.

It may be helpful to draft a contract containing these elements:

  1. Rules around phone usage
  2. How often, and when the phone can be used
  3. When the phone cannot be used
  4. Consequences if these rules are broken
  5. Why these rules are set
  6. Privacy

 

“Explaining why is important. We can say, ‘If we wish to access your phone, we will let you know. We do this because we want to ensure your safety.’”

It is not recommended for the child to be given full privacy at the beginning.

Explaining why is important; we can say something as simple as, “We respect your privacy and will not invade your privacy without your knowledge. For example, if we wish to access your phone, we will let you know. We do this because we want to ensure your safety.”

The degree of privacy given is dependent on your child’s maturity and track record of responsible usage.

We should also emphasise that the device is a privilege that can be removed if rules are flouted. 

Engage in regular conversations

When Amy began imposing limits on Betty’s phone usage, such as by refusing to pay for her data plan, Betty struck back with a vengeance. She refused to talk to her mother for days. When Amy asked Betty something, Betty would just stare at her.

Imposing limits didn’t seem to work that easily.

Ee Jay recommends a different approach. He says, “We need to engage in ongoing conversations with them to better understand what is driving their needs for devices and for privacy.

“Do they experience a strong need to connect with their peers online? Are there things that the child is trying to hide from his parents due to its inappropriate nature? Reprimanding or giving a straight “No!” response tends to shut the door for future conversations.”

He recommends 4 simple steps:

  1. Be curious to hear from them
  2. Probe deeper into the issue through asking more questions
  3. Take an empathetic approach to demonstrate that you care for your child’s wellbeing
  4. Seize the opportunity to share with them your concerns too.

Keep building trust

We’ve all heard how important it is to connect with our children. But as parents, it’s often hard to do because we have different commitments to juggle.

Remember that trust is a bank that needs to be deposited slowly through quality time, conversation, and love.

So even as we push our children out to spread their wings, there are times when we need to pull them close by setting limits on how much privacy they can have.

Balancing supervision and autonomy when it comes to devices is tricky. But ultimately, remembering why you do it will make the tension easier to navigate.

For privacy reasons, pseudonyms have been used in this article. 

What Does it Take for a Successful Transition to Secondary School?

Every December, parents and children await in anticipation for the release of the results of their secondary school posting exercise.  

Many would hope to gain entry into their first school of choice and hold firm to the perception that a “good” Secondary School, which most equate to a brand-name school, would be the ticket to a successful life in the future. But what if success in life is not measured by the academic grades you get in school or the school you go to?  

The Business Insider reproduced a postcard that one CEO sent to another CEO, and this postcard listed out 16 major differences between successful and unsuccessful people. Essentially, successful people tend to be happy, confident and secure; they know what they want in life and know how to relate with people; and they do not necessarily have a good academic degree. 

How then can we help our kids grow to become happy, confident and secure individuals? How do we empower them to discover what they want in life? And how do they build the confidence needed to effectively relate with others? 

The solution is to build a healthy sense of self; what in psychology is described as a healthy “self-concept”. Psychologist Carl Rogers describes the “ideal self” as the person you want to be, while “self-image” refers to how you see yourself at a particular moment in time. Both these ideas are important in understanding how to build a healthy sense of self, which constitutes our self-concept. 

Counsellor Maurice Wagner, in his book The Sensation of Being Somebody, describes a functional approach in understanding self-concept, which comprises the aspects of appearance, performance and status. I will first elaborate on how each of these three areas define who we are, and how it affects our perception of who we are. Thereafter, I will also share some practical skills our children need for a successful secondary school experience. 

Appearance – How do I look?

This refers to how we believe we are perceived by others. How we appear to others affects their view of us, which either reinforces or erodes our self-concept. 

Some of my clients have issues with communication. One of them, then 19 years old, had major problems whenever he was involved in project work. His group mates often told him that they couldn’t understand why he was always insisting on doing things his own way. As a result, they often left him out of meetings and he developed a poor image of himself. 

Performance – How am I doing?

This relates to our abilities, skills, knowledge and sense of responsibility. The quality of our performance is always on our minds, even if we are unaware of it.   I often teach my clients about negative automatic thoughts, and how many people are caught in the performance trap. They have the mindset that if they do not get an “A” grade for their studies, they are a failure in life. This translates to a low sense of self.  

Practical Skills for A Successful Transition

As we examine the aspects that make up self-concept, it is evident that grades alone are not an effective measure of success. We need to build our children’s self-concept by helping them gain a more accurate understanding of who they are, and what they’re good at.   We also need to equip them with practical skills for the new chapter ahead. 

Encourage your child to be patient with themselves and to share their struggles with you. 

Here are 5 practical skills that will help them build a healthy sense of self and adjust well to a new school environment: 

  • Patience and perseverance 

Adjusting to a new school environment – with unfamiliar faces, increased academic load, and a different teaching style, can be challenging for many students. Encourage your child to be patient with themselves and to share their struggles with you. 

  • Good time management skills 

Secondary school often requires kids to juggle multiple commitments, such as homework, co-curricular activities, and social life. Help your child prioritise important tasks and to be track of their progress, so that they can avoid feeling overwhelmed. 

  • Organisation skills 

Secondary school classes may move at a faster pace than primary school classes. Students will need to be able to stay organised by taking good notes, keeping track of assignments, and using their time effectively.  

  • Effective study habits 

Studying for longer periods of time doesn’t necessarily mean studying more effectively. Students will need to develop good study habits, such as minimising distractions, creating a dedicated study space, and breaking down large projects into smaller tasks. 

  • A growth mindset  

Instil in your child the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and learning. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, see mistakes as opportunities to learn, and persist in the face of setbacks. 

Even the wrong turns and side roads have meaning and purpose, if only to teach us which way the path to oneself does not lie.  

– Trauma Specialist, Gabor Mate 

While the leap from primary to secondary school can feel like scaling a mountain, remember, you and your child are not alone. With your support and continued sowing into your child’s sense of self, your child will embrace the journey with a growth mindset, and learn to tackle challenges head-on 

 © 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. 

What a Mum Wants

Introduction

In conjunction with Mother’s Day last year, Focus on the Family Singapore conducted a survey from April 5 to April 24, 2022, to allow mothers to reflect on their motherhood journey. The survey received a total of 311 responses, with more than half of the participating mothers being employed full-time.   

Research Findings

Father’s Day Campaign

Stay tuned for Father’s Day Campaign 2024!

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:
1.
Identifying old school technology gadgets and learning fun facts about them
2.
Conversation Starters for parent-child to engage in meaningful conversations
3.
Stickers for interactive learning

Secure your free resource!

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

How to Foster Healthy Body Image in Your Child

Primary years (7-9)

Instill Healthy Habits 

For younger children, we serve as the primary influencers through our actions and attitudes.  

At this stage, it’s all about integrating healthy eating and regular physical activity into our family life. This not only helps our children establish beneficial habits but also sends a powerful message about the value placed on our overall well-being.  

We should also steer clear of fad diets and crash programmes, while keeping open conversations about the uniqueness of our body, no matter what size and shape we are.

Tween years (10-12)

Use Language Mindfully 

As we parent our young teens, we must be vigilant about the language we use. Simple comments can have a profound impact on a budding teenager’s self-perception.  

Rather than focusing on appearance, we can shift the emphasis towards character traits and qualities such as resilience, kindness and helpfulness.   

Avoid Sibling or Relative Comparisons  

Each child is unique, and comparisons among siblings or relatives can be detrimental to their self-esteem.  

We should acknowledge and celebrate our children’s individual strengths and qualities. Wherever possible, emphasise that differences in appearance are natural and do not determine a person’s worth.  

By focusing on each child’s unique strengths and gifts, we foster an environment where siblings can support and uplift each other rather than compete based on physical or intellectual attributes.  

Refrain from Weight-Related Comments 

Negative comments about weight, even if well-intentioned, can contribute to low self-esteem and body image issues. Instead of focusing on appearance, keep family discussions around health, balanced lifestyles, and well-being.  

You can encourage healthy eating habits without associating food with weight, by emphasising the importance of nourishing the body through balanced nutrition and regular exercise.  

Teen years (13-15) 

Navigating the journey of teenhood — a period marked by a whirlwind of physical changes and external pressures — can be a complex maze of self-discovery, where a young person’s sense of self is under constant construction.  

Instil Positive Food Habits  

Parents, you play a pivotal role in shaping your child’s relationship with food. Create a positive atmosphere around meals, emphasising the enjoyment of a variety of foods for their taste and nutritional value. Avoid labelling foods as “good” or “bad”, fostering a healthy and balanced approach to eating.  

Introduce your teen to the joy of cooking and involve them in meal planning! This can help cultivate a positive relationship with food that extends well into adulthood. Also, encourage physical activity as a fun and enjoyable aspect of daily life, rather than a means of weight control.  

If you notice red flags like frequent skipping of meals, severe dieting or over-exercising, you may wish to ask your child if he or she has concerns about their weight, or consider seeking professional help. 

Cultivate an Overall Healthy Lifestyle 

Promoting a healthy lifestyle encompasses more than just physical well-being.  

As parents and caregivers, we can set the tone by celebrating achievements that are unrelated to appearance and fostering an environment at home that values self-care and a balanced life! 

Written by Nicole Hong, a Sociology and Psychology Undergraduate 

What Is Sexual Grooming?

Preschool (4-6 years), Primary (7-9 years), Tween (10-12 years) 

Sexual grooming can happen to both boys and girls, online or offline. Most perpetuators are known to the victims, so children might be reluctant to “tell on” someone they are familiar with, especially if it is a person they like or respect.  

This is why it is important to teach them that not everyone they meet or know is a safe person, and it is best to always come to mum or dad whenever they feel confused or have questions. 

We also need to teach them that the covered areas of their bodies are private and should not be shared with anyone, even in the form of a photo or video. Teach them that they have the power to speak up when they feel uncomfortable with any form of physical/virtual contact.    

Statistics on sexual abuse show that shock and surprise often keep victims quiet. To avoid this, role-play possible scenarios, for example, “Let’s say someone chats with you while playing a game, and he asks you to send him a picture of yourself naked, what do you do?”  

You can also equip them with easy-to-remember handles to use, for example using SWAT as a mnemonic device: 

1. Shut Down 

2. Walk Away  

3. Talk to A Safe Adult 

Groomers often use social media, gaming platforms, and other online chat rooms to target young people. Sexual grooming can begin in very subtle ways or disguised as a game. The perpetuator might ask the victim to keep what happened as a secret, because it is part of the game or even use threats to scare the child.  

Groomers may start by simply talking to the child, but they will quickly try to build a closer relationship. They may offer compliments, gifts, or other favours. They may also listen to the child’s problems and offer support. 

To pre-empt this, talk to your child about these common tactics and teach them to raise the red flag if they notice any of these things. On your part, be on the lookout for anyone who is giving special attention to your child.   
 
It is important that you and your child build an open and trusting relationship, grounded in your unconditional love and in your ability to handle whatever is shared with you, for example, by not panicking or becoming upset with them.  

Reinforce that they have done the right thing whenever they come to you with questions or doubts. Your child needs the assurance that you will not fault them or dismiss what they share, but that they can depend on you to support them emotionally and help resolve the situation.   

Teen (13-15 years), Late teens (16-18 years) 

Continue to make yourself a safe place for your children to come to even as they grow into the teenage years 

Even older teens can go into a state of shock when sexual abuse happens. They may passively go along with what’s going on because they do not know what to do, or because of the internal confusion they’re facing. 

If you suspect your teen is going through something because they are suddenly withdrawn, depressed, or fearful of certain places or people, reach out to find out how your child is doing. Let your teen share at their own pace. It may take more than one conversation to get the full story.  

At this stage, some teens may have started romantic relationships, so it is a good time to talk about boundaries within relationships and respectful and consensual physical touch.   
 
Help your teen see that sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual touch or sharing of explicit/naked photographs. Possessing and/or distributing sexual images is considered a crime in Singapore.   

Any sexual activity that happens when one party is unable to give consent—for example, being incapacitated, asleep or drunk—is also sexual abuse.  

Talk about various grooming methods like buying things and paying for your teen over a period of time so that eventually, your teen feels like he or she “owes” the person and has to repay them.  

Coercion can take many forms. It can range from “If you do not do this, I will…” statements to “But everyone is doing this”, or “I really like it if you do this. Can you do it for me?”  

Empower your children to develop and believe in the power of their own voice. Emphasise that they can say “Stop” or “No” at any time and that it is okay to realise they have gone too far or made a mistake and still demand the person to step.  

Help them avoid the trap of thinking that they are in the wrong for being in a situation and thus, have no right to stop. “You can always stop” can be a very powerful belief to instil in them.  

Do approach these conversations holistically, for instance, as you explain upskirt photos and why they are wrong, teach your daughters to be observant when wearing skirts, and your sons to avert their eyes when noticing something inappropriate.  

Part of our children’s growth into adulthood also include experiencing sexual desires. Acknowledge that this is a normal and healthy part of growing up!  
 
Sexual grooming/abuse is a huge topic and one we hope our children will never experience. To safeguard our children, regularly have sex education talks at home and remember to be a calm and loving presence in their lives.   

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!