Holding my newborn son in my arms for the first time was the most wonderful experience. I felt so proud, so blessed to be a part of such a miracle and overwhelmed with an enormous wave of love for him.
Since then I have given birth to an equally wonderful daughter, they are now 12 and 8 and they are, without a doubt, my best teachers. Motherhood has been quite a steep learning curve and an exhilarating adventure, one that has enriched my life in so many ways.
This is what I now know:
At Chiltern house forum, children are taught to express themselves through drama and speech in order to build their confidence and become their own teachers in learning.
Our children are our greatest teachers. They let us see the world, once again, through the eyes of a child, they help us look at things from another point of view, but most of all they enable us look at ourselves honestly. Nothing has taught me more about myself and life than my journey as a mother.
As life becomes more fast paced, with less time to relax, less space to run and explore in, less sleep and less day dreaming it is no surprise that there has been an alarming increase in the stress levels of our children. This is true in most developed countries but in an environment like Singapore where space is limited, the population keeps increasing and the pressure to succeed is immense, it is even worse.
From 1990 to 1998 there was an increase of 250% in the number of children who received treatment from psychiatrists for stress-related disorders. This has steadily increased since then. Most of the children were in primary or secondary school with the anxiety disorder related to the pressure to perform well in school. These stress related disorders can be in the form of depression, self-harm, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or other behavioural issues.
At Chiltern house Mountbatten, students are treated like family in this warm environment in order to let them feel at home and welcome.
In the past 20 years mental health problems have become much worse in Singapore with more than double the number of young people being treated for stress related problems. Doctors are seeing a rise in younger children being treated and more complex disorders. There is now a major concern that this could lead to a major health problem in the future unless steps are taken to reduce stress in our young children.
Childhood is indeed a precious time and one where children should be able to delight in the wonder and amazement of new and exciting experiences. Some of these experiences will cause some anxiety and that is perfectly normal. For some children starting primary school, joining a new enrichment class, learning to swim without armbands, being left at preschool without mum are all events which will cause a great deal of anxiety. In most cases, with lots of encouragement and support the fear will vanish and confidence will grow.
For some children the anxiety may not go away and parents should be aware of any changes in behavior and temperament which are common signs that the child is experiencing stress. Other signs could be:
As parents we cannot guarantee our children are having the time of their lives every day but we can be aware of what is likely to cause them stress and take steps to minimize that for them.
The most likely causes of stress during childhood are:
Family disruptions – this could be in the form of divorce, death in the family, moving or even the arrival of a new sibling.
Overscheduling – children that are rushing form one activity to another with no downtime are very likely to experience stress. If this routine goes on for a prolonged time that stress can become chronic.
Media trauma - being exposed to an inappropriate movie or book at a young age can cause distress or anxiety. I saw the Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds” at birthday party when I was 7 and I was terrified for months after. Even news events can cause anxiety. During the Tsunami in 2004 I banned the TV being on in the daytime in case my 3 year old son was caught watching the news coverage.
Social pressure – pressure to be part of the ‘right’ clique, being teased or bullied at school can cause immense pressure to some students. Often they won’t want to talk about this for fear of looking weak or being teased further.
Self-inflicted stress – some children have a certain temperament that may mean they are perfectionists and want very badly to fit in, do well and please others. These children are more susceptible to experiencing anxiety and will need much support from parents so they can roll with the punches life can throw.
Stress is a natural part of life and what we want is for our children to be able to manage stress and remain resilient in the face of adversity. The pressure cooker that the Singapore education system can be means as parents we have to work even harder to ensure our children remain happy and confident. If there was one thing we need to remember it is that the most important thing a child needs is confidence. This is far more important that good grades, ability to play the piano or speak another language. Often in our pursuit of these goals we dent our child’s confidence and that is tragic.
Maureen Healy wrote a book called “Growing Happy Kids” ; in it she looks at how we can help our children develop the habits that will be the building blocks of confidence.
Eat well: Look for ways to improve your child’s diet. Reduce sugar and processed foods and increase fresh fruit and vegetables.
Exercise: Look at how much fresh air and physical exercise your child gets.
Sleep well: Ensure your child gets enough sleep. Make sure no PSP or Itouch is smuggled under the covers! Sleep is needed for optimal brain development.
Connect to wisdom: Make an effort to expose your child to a way of thinking that empowers him or her. This could be empowering quotes and affirmations or sharing a spiritual tradition.
Think confident thoughts: Be a role model of inwardly confident thoughts and teach your child how to think these thoughts too.
Feel confidence: Give your child opportunities to feel confident and help him or her remember that feeling of being able to to do anything!
Remember that when you think confident thoughts, the feelings follow: Teach your child that his or her thoughts will directly create his or her feelings.
Positive self-talk: Create a fun, regular practice of reciting positive sayings hat an plant a seed of self-confidence in your child.
Create an uplifting community: Appreciate the uplifting people in your child’s life. Recognise the draining influences and minimize contact with them.
Design an uplifting space: Make your child’s bedroom a place to celebrate their successes and happy times through photos, art work,certificates and trophies.
Believe in something greater: Introduce your child to God, Spirit, Source Nature or whatever you believe in an infinite power in the universe. Let your child understand that this infinite power or greatness is within him or her.
One of the largest pediatric health services in the USA states that, “social and emotional skills developed in early childhood are fundamental to academic and life success, and in fact may be more important than specific academic skills”. We know that children are highly sensitive and develop rapidly in the first 6 years of life. Making those years as positive as possible will impact how they view themselves and the world they live in.
Helping your child develop the skills needed to manage stress, to see the world as positive place and to bounce back from a blow will carry them far further than a high grade and at the same time ensure they have a childhood to look back on fondly.
At Chiltern house Mountbatten, students are treated as family in this warm environment in order to let them feel welcome and at home.
Ways to help your child cope with anxiety and stress:
1. Provide Security
Young children gain a huge amount of self-confidence when they can predict what is going to happen next. By sticking to a predictable routine of bedtimes, dinnertimes, breakfast time and TV times children feel confident and not anxious about what might happen next.
2. Protect Playtime
Children can so easily be overwhelmed by an exhausting schedule. Remember how precious childhood is and make sure there is time set aside every week for your child to freely play and explore.
3. Put Away the Gadgets.
It is easy to find that you always have one eye on your phone, computer or Ipad. Stop that! Give your child your undivided attention everyday. Either at dinner or bedtime, whatever works for you but make sure you are present in the moment with your child.
4. Celebrate Success
Be sure to focus on what your child does well and not only what you think they could do better. Make sure enrichment classes are not only to improve their performance in subjects they may find challenging but that they also get to do what they love, like dance, music or martial arts.
5. Take time to Talk
Spend time listening to your child. Discover what may be a cause of concern for them and look at how you can support them. Don’t tell them they are being silly or overreacting, remember the stress or fear they feel is real to them. Sharing their worries maybe all it takes to feel better. It also encourages them to be open about their feelings, this is a valuable life-skill when dealing with stress.
Q. My preschooler has suddenly started biting and kicking his little brother of late. How do I manage this behavior?
A. Be very clear with you preschooler that this is unacceptable behavior. Remove him from the little brother and try to find out what is triggering such a reaction. Often a conflict can come when the younger sibling is old enough to want what the older sibling has and is doing. However if these attacks are completely unprovoked it may be that the older child is taking out frustrations or anxieties on his younger sibling. Try to find out the reason behind the attacks so you can avoid or remove such a trigger.
Q. My older daughter has been complaining of recurring tummy aches when we start preparing her for kindergarten. The doctor says there’s nothing wrong with her. Help!!
A. If you have reassurance that there is no medical reason for the stomach pain from the doctor then you can bet it is nerves. Let your daughter know that it can be exciting and a little scary to start a new school. Share with her your fears at starting school, or even a new job, and how it all worked out well. Let her know how happy you are about her going to kindergarten and how you know how much she will enjoy it. By letting your child know you understand her anxiety but at the same time letting her see how sure you are that this is an exciting and positive move her fears will diminish and so will her tummy aches.
Q. My daughter was very upset that she got the lowest mark in the class in a recent Maths test, even though she got 85% which was wonderful for her!. How can I keep her spirits up when the class teacher focuses only on results and not effort?
A. By doing the opposite! Unfortunately many elements of the school system today rewards results over effort but as parents your role is to inculcate the value of trying your best in all you do. Your child’s pride may have been knocked and she is likely to feel really disappointed that all her effort lead to the lowest marks in class. Be understanding but don’t allow her to dwell on feeling bad. Point out what she is good at and explain we all have areas we need to work harder at.
Q. My 8 year old son has been to visit his grandfather in the hospital and he now is very worried about death. He is constantly asking when will Grandad die and when will my husband and I die. Is he developing a phobia?
A. It is very normal for children to have certain worries or fears at different times in their childhood. Being aware of aging and death around 8 and 9 years old is very common. Your son may well be anxious about his loved ones passing on but that does not mean he is developing a phobia. Fears or worries only become a concern when they interfere with the child’s ability to manage daily life in the way their peers do. Be sensitive to your son’s concerns but at the same time answer honestly. For example tell your son, ‘Statistics show that ladies live to 78 years old that means you will be 40 years old when I might die. You will have your own family and I might be a grandmother!”.
“Keys to Parenting Your Anxious Child” by Katharina Manassis MD, 2008.
“The Enneagram of Parenting – The 9 Types of Children and How to Raise Them Successfully” by Elizabeth Wagele, 1997.
“Growing Happy Kids” – How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness” By Maureen Healy, 2012.
Language Immersion refers to the practice of immersing the child where the target language is the main language, the language of instruction if referring to a class. There is a strong belief that this is the best way for people to learn a language. By immersion in a second language children learn naturally. They are able to listen, absorb and speak without relying on translation or flashcards, which tend to not interest or engage young children.
Language immersion provides a real life experience, bringing the language alive and giving children a reason for using it. I believe this is the best way to foster bilingualism and for that reason we do annual language immersion trips to China for the whole family. This enables children to be surrounded by the language as well as the culture therefore making the language meaningful and giving it a context. For our preschool children we see a marked improvement in their spoken language as well as their comprehension after just a week of full immersion.
Over the years we have done trips to Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai. These are extremely popular and some families have been with us to each destination. The children spend half a day in a local school, where our Julia Gabriel Education Mandarin teachers accompany them. Here they join the local students and take part in all aspects of their school day. I attended one of these trips with my daughter Ruby who was four years old at the time. She joined the Kindergarten One class at Chong Wen Kindergarten in Beijing and thoroughly loved it. She still tells everyone about the toilets in the school and how different they were and how good the children were at gymnastics during PE!
Even though we live in Singapore, both my children and myself were born here, we rarely find ourselves in a Mandarin speaking environment. By attending an immersion language trip to China we gave the language a cultural context which was vital for maintaining an interest in both the language and the culture.
If you think about it, children learn their first language effortlessly through immersion where they pick up the language that is spoken around them. This is done without any extra help in most cases. If we can provide a situation that immerses young children in another language they will learn it.
During the China Learning Adventure trip I was able to watch as my daughter used the language in real-life situations with peers, parents, teachers and strangers. She was extremely proud of being to tell me what the taxi driver was saying when were stuck in a traffic jam. She would have listened to and spoken more Mandarin in that one week than in whole year of once a week classes! This was evident when she came home and was so much more confident with the language in her childcare class.
At Chiltern House preschool, emphasis is placed on the learning of languages through Edudrama where students would get to act out certain roles in a play . That way, they are able to quickly learn the language.
We know there are multiple benefits to bilingualism. Children who are learning a second or third language are at an advantage as the cognitive process that underlie the ability to learn a foreign language transfers from language to another. Research has shown that children who are affectively bilingual are more successful at:
As the world becomes more and more global the advantage to being able to speak more than one language is huge. If you can create a dual language immersion at home that is fantastic. This is when one parent, or generation speaks only one language from the very beginning. For example one parent speaks English and one speaks Mandarin, or parents speak English, grandparents speak Mandarin. This is extremely affective but can be extremely challenging as well. Both parents will need to make a conscious effort to maintain this environment. By doing this your children will soon be able to switch effortlessly from one language to the other, being fluent in both.
However if this is really impossible for you, as it would be for me, then a Language Immersion Adventure is the answer for you and your children. The other advantage of the Language Immersion Adventure is the opportunity to take time out of very busy schedules for families to share the wonder and excitement of doing something new together. The memories created will last just as long as the language learning.
Empathy is the ability to understand what another person is feeling, to understand how you would feel if you were in that situation and the motivation to treat people kindly based on that understanding.
Empathy is an extension of self-concept, but it is far more complex. It does require awareness that others have emotions and thoughts that are both similar and different from our own.
Empathy is the foundation of the ability to love and it is at the core of good character. Unlike intelligence and looks, which depend a great deal on genetics, empathy is a skill children learn. More than any other skill it leads to success in school, in social situations and in careers. Empathy has ben recognized as one of the most important qualities of a leader in any field and in any culture. The very best teachers of empathy are parents.
When do children begin to develop empathy?
From birth, children are aware of the emotions of those around them and can become distressed if they hear crying, smile if they hear laughter; they can copy the emotions they see on their caregiver's face from a few months of age. Although this isn’t necessarily empathy, it is the precursor in that the baby is aware of how another’s emotions and reacts accordingly.
By the time a baby is around one you will generally see the first signs of empathy emerging. After their first birthday you may find your child will attempt to comfort a distressed or hurt child or parent with a pat, a cuddle or by handing them something to comfort them like a toy. So here you are seeing what is called ‘pro-social behaviour’. This is when the child not only responds to the emotion of the other person but they take some action to try to make that person feel better.
By around 18 months children will often ask, “Are you OK?” and will be more consistent in offering comfort. This increases from then on.
How can I help my child develop empathy?
Some children are naturally more empathetic than others at a younger age and studies have shown that girls tend to demonstrate empathy earlier than boys. What we must remember is that in young children empathy is not usually shown consistently and while your child may seem like a little angel offering help and cuddles one day, the next day he may not be in the least bit bothered by someone’s misfortune. This is perfectly normal.
When your young child shows empathy praise that behavior. Say how pleased you are to see her being kind to others. The more you praise the behavior the more likely your child is to repeat it.
For your child to be comfortable expressing their own feelings and to be able to understand the feeling of others it is helpful if you talk about feelings openly at home. Expressing how you are feeling or how you think someone else might be feeling will help your child be aware of the impact behavior can have on someone’s mood. By communicating clearly about how your child’s behavior is making you feel and asking about how they feel you are helping your child develop an awareness of, and the vocabulary to, express their feelings and begin to understand the feelings of others.
This openness in communication develops emotional fluency. Someone who is emotionally fluent is also capable of picking up the cues in another person's response to conversation. Knowing what the other person is feeling allows you to adjust your own emotional state and your language to bring it into harmony with that of the other person. I believe if more emphasis was put on developing this skill we would see a lot less bullying, both cyber bullying and in the school yards.
What can hinder the development of empathy?
The Internet has enabled us to explore different ways of life across the globe, it has brought the faces of undernourished children into our homes and has helped us understand the plight of millions of animals whose habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate. This helps us to understand the fear, hunger and pain so many people are suffering. Through the Internet we are able to reach out and help people or animals in far off places. Unfortunately, the increased access to computers and Internet means we are able to play games where the violence seems to have no consequence and we can communicate with people we are unlikely to ever meet. This can deaden the development of empathy.
There are many studies being done on the impact these violent video games. The findings of these studies is generally that:
Therefore as parents it is an important part of our role to monitor what our children are being exposed to. Make sure your children do not watch too much violence, either on YouTube, in games or movies. It really is damaging for their healthy development. As children get older make sure you are able to monitor the relationships and communication they have with others on the Internet, whether it is Facebook or other social networks. These are forums where children can often be very unkind to one another and without face-to-face communication there seems to be little consequence to that behavior.
More than anything we want our children to grow up happy and succeed in what they put their mind to. Above all, including all academic skills, the development of empathy is the skill that is most likely to enable that. So try to make sure that your child has the time and opportunity to talk to you about feelings; how they are feeling, how you are feeling and how others may be feeling. Think about it, that is likely to be far more valuable in the long run than any other structured activity or tuition lesson. Keep talking!
At Chiltern house Singapore, students are taught to be empathetic to their peers whether during learning or during playing.
Five fun ways to expand your child’s world view
Be a good role model. If you are interested in different people and places and enjoy the diversity of this planet your children are very likely too as well! .
Q: My elder son taunts his little brother by calling him “gay”, despite repeated reminders that it is mean. How do I handle this?
A: I think it is very difficult to get children to stop teasing their younger siblings. I am not aware of how old your children are but I think, unless your children are aware of the meaning of the word “gay”, then I would try to ignore it. Speak to the younger son about ignoring the older brother when he is teasing him. The more the little one reacts the more the big one will do it. If your younger son does become distressed by this name calling then have a serious chat with the elder boy alone, explaining how unkind it is to say things that are hurtful. Ask him to please think of how this is making his brother feel, even if he thinks that the younger boy is being silly.
Q: I always try to model behavior by giving money to the one-armed tissue seller near my house. When I encouraged my son to share his pocket money, he declined.
Where did I go wrong?
A: You haven’t gone wrong! You are completely on the right track. By both modeling giving to those less fortunate and by encouraging your son to actively do the same you are helping develop both empathy and charity. Almost all children find to hard to give up their own belongings, including money. Rather than suggest your son gives up his pocket money you could talk to him about a specific charity, what they do and how it benefits the group they work with. You will then find that your son will come up with his own suggestions of how he could help. Find a charity that is something that will appeal to your child. My son is very interested in an orangutan rehabilitation centre in Sarawak. He hasn’t yet suggested giving up any of his pocket money but I am confident he will one day.
Q: How do I teach my child to not judge others and to be accepting?
A: The answer is very simple: by being so yourself. If you respect differences in cultures, languages, abilities, backgrounds, viewpoints, priorities, races and religions your children will too.
Q: If my child develops too much empathy does that mean they will be too soft and unable to stand up for themselves?
A: Not at all! Remember that empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is described in the Oxford Dictionary as “sharing another person’s emotions; to have compassion for.” Empathy is not about agreeing or even sharing emotions. It is about sensing another’s emotions and understanding their perspective.
Empathy enables us to connect with others and the better we can do that the more successfully we can communicate with others and the more trusting relationships we can have. Empathy has been identified as the key ingredient of competence in leadership styles. So encourage your child to be in tune with the feelings and emotions of others as well as their own.
Here are some examples of books for young children that focus on empathy:
1. Priscilla McDoodlenutDoodleMcMae Asks Why? by Janet Mary Sinke
2. The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jennifer Wojtowicz
3. We're All In the Same Boat by Zachary Shapiro
4. Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
5. Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic Leodhas
6. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
7. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
8. It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
Books for adults:
There is a popular myth that creativity is a quality that we either have or don’t have, like freckles or brown eyes. It is often being linked with being artistic, uninhibited, somewhat wild and expressive, but both ideas are just that: pure myth.
In reality, creativity is not a separate part of the brain that functions only in certain people. It is just as possible to be creative in science, technology, business and in the kitchen as it is in music, art dance and writing or indeed, in any activity that engages human intelligence real creativity comes from finding your passion. When we find a medium we love, and in which we thrive, we discover creative strength.
Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Children seem to lose their powers of imagination and creativity as they grow up. What happens? Unfortunately what happens all too often is children being to experience failure, this causes them to feel self conscious and begin to question themselves. Once this begins to happen the windows to the imagination begin to close. If children feel anxious about the outcome they are unlikely to employ the creative thinking skills, such as logic and reasoning, which will enable them to learn from the process.
The main purpose of education is to develop people who can cope with and contribute to the rate of change in this century, people who are flexible and have found their creative talents. Unfortunately most schools teach to pass tests and focus on academic ability. Academic ability essentially a capacity for certain verbal and mathematical reasoning. This is obviously important, however it does not represent variety of human intelligences and it certainly is not guaranteed to lead to the development of creativity.
In today’s pressured society children often grow out of their creativity! As Carl Jung puts it, the creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect alone but by the play instinct, when the creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Is a lack of play the reason children grow out of their creativity? I believe the answer to this is yes! In order to help our children retain and further develop their creativity we need to develop their motivation, interest, effort and opportunities in which creativity thrive.
Creative ideas don't grow in a vacuum. Individual creativity is motivated by encouragement and stimulated by the ideas and achievements of other people, so children need parents, teachers, friends and mentors to support them.
Creative insights occur when risk-taking and experimentation are encouraged, rather than stifled. When children are free from pressure to perform they make connections between ideas or experiences that were previously unconnected, so conditions at home and at school can kindle or kill creativity.
People who have achieved great things in their field are often driven by a love of their subject, a real passion for the nature of the processes involved. To inspire curiosity about a wide range of activities, encourage your child's original ideas and interests, however quirky they may seem. We can raise children's levels of sensory perception by increasing experiences:
Going for walks outside, listening to music, going to the theatre, playing on the beach, mixing finger paints, cooking and encouraging physical activity.
Creativity takes mental discipline so set children a framework of positive discipline to guide them. Great works of art often come from working within formal constraints. Some of the finest English poetry is written in the sonnet form which has a fixed 14 line, rhyming structure which the poet must follow. Rather than inhibiting the writer's creativity, this sets a framework for it to achieve unique effects and original insights.
Creativity involves making judgments about ideas. There may be failures and changes before the best outcome is reached. Children will benefit from supportive, constructive conversations that enable them to evaluate which ideas work and which don't, make judgments and think critically about their efforts.
Creativity is enriched by a mix of knowledge, interest, feelings, intuition and imagination. Provide a wide range of experiences to enable children to find the right medium for their personal strengths, those that release their creative capacities. Allow them time, space and independence to develop their expertise and learn to control the media they choose. That means freedom to play, to experiment and take risks, opportunities for conversation to understanding their feelings, and parents who are prepared to say "yes" to mess!
It is through play that children are given the opportunity to explore, discover, experiment and make mistakes. These processes are vital in developing the creative thinking skills which a child can carry with him or her through life. Make time for all different kinds of play.
This is where children interact with others in play settings. During dramatic or pretend play children often substitute a real object with a pretend one, for example, using a block for a mobile phone. This indicates the ability for abstract thinking, which is a higher level of thinking. Children learn social rules such as give and take, co-operation and sharing. To function effectively in the adult world, children need to participate in play, like pretending to talk on the telephone, driving a car or cooking a meal; activities that the adults in their lives are often engaged in. The language used during pretend play is more imaginative, vocabulary is used at a higher level and language structure is more complex than a child would use during daily, routine activities.
Children learn a lot about the importance of social contracts and rules when they play games like “What is the time Mr. Wolf?”, “Simon Says”, or “Musical Statues”. They learn that the game will only be fun if they work together and follow the rules of the game. Creativity does require logical thinking and games can be a great way to develop that.
Building with blocks and other construction toys gives children the opportunity to discover different properties of materials, their sizes, shapes and weights. They learn about spatial concepts, sorting, patterning, comparing and classifying which are all very important for learning more complex mathematics as well as literacy concepts. As there is no single correct way of using these open ended, manipulative toys, they help to develop children’s diverse thinking and problem solving skills. All of this leads to the development of creative thinking.
A variety of containers and other objects made available to children along with a tub full of water provide an enjoyable way for them to experiment with pouring, floating and sinking. Filling up different containers, pouring water from one container to another gives them the opportunity to discover how much different containers hold, which two hold the same amount etc. thus, learning about comparing and estimating.
The interesting texture of sand, how it runs or flows when dry and can be sculpted when wet fascinates children. It provides endless possibilities for learning about measuring, digging, burying ‘treasure’, drawing maps, and hunting for objects. The amount of science and mathematical concepts which can be experienced and therefore fully understood during sand play are numerous.
Both sand and water play develop not only scientific and mathematical thinking skills but also enable children to explore and be creative at the same time.
Helpful hints to help develop creative skills at home
At Chiltern House review, students are taught to use their imagination and creativity in order to facilitate learning.
Q. My Preschooler seems to have an imaginary playmate. How do I handle this?
A. Imaginary friends are really quite common in young children and toddlers and are generally no cause for concern. They can be wonderful and trusted confidants and can make the best companions for imaginary and creative play. Accept the imaginary friend and do not openly disagree with his or her existence. This will mean your child may talk quite openly about his imaginary playmate and this will in turn give you unique insight into his thoughts and feelings which you might not have access to otherwise.
Be careful the imaginary friend is not the only friend and ensure your preschooler has lots of opportunities to mix with his or her more real friends and peers. Usually the imaginary friend slowly vanishes, or in some cases takes a sudden trip when your child is around 5 or 6 years old. Unless the relationship with the imaginary friend continues beyond this age and is getting in the way of other friendships I would not be anxious about this.
Q. I have absolutely no imagination and have no idea what to do with dolls. How can I best play with my little one to foster her imagination and creative skills?
A. Firstly, I am quite sure you do have an imagination you just need to unearth it! Your daughter will be able to help you there. If you are unsure on how to lead the play, one idea would be to start with a very familiar story, Little Red Riding Hood, or take Dora on an adventure. Your daughter will very likely be able to give you lots of ideas and storylines to follow. Just remember there is no right or wrong, Little Red Riding Hood can wear a rainbow coloured cape and be going to visit her best friend! Have fun!
Q. Can toys foster creativity in my child? How do I know which ones are worth buying?
A. Yes, certain toys do enable children to extend their creative play. The toys that do this allow for open-ended and unstructured play. Toys that do not allow for creative exploration are toys which have a very limited range, for example many toys which are tied to movies or TV shows have only one way in which they can be used. This restricts any possible creativity. Toys such as play-dough, all art materials, musical instruments, dress-up, wooden blocks and animal for people figures all allow for a great deal of flexibility in how they are used. In my house Lego is a huge hit and my 7 year old son has spent many, many hours engrossed in creating spaceship and time travel machine of increasing complexity.
Q. My son shows no interest in art, music or drama. Should I bother trying to get him to be creative or accept him for who he is?
A. Creative people have been identified as having several factors in common: a delight in deep thinking, tolerance for mistakes and finding different approaches, a passion for their work, a clear sense of mission or purpose, an acceptance of being different and a level of comfort in being a minority of one. Creative thinkers are needed in every area of life, not only the arts. Encourage your son to follow his passions, motivate him to try and try again and celebrate all his effort and lesson learnt. He can be as creative as any other person!
Once a baby joins your family life is changed forever! From day one and even before we need to make decisions, what kind of birth do we want, do we will we feed on demand or only every three hours, will we let the baby cry herself to sleep or comfort her when she cries? These decisions don’t end and become more complex over time. When should he no longer be drinking from a bottle? When can he take the bus by himself, should I pack lunch or let him choose from the canteen?
We often have a plan and make many of these decisions without considering the temperament of the child we will be bringing home form the hospital We also have a vision of what kind of parent we will be, sharing the wonder of discovery, imparting our values and developing in them a positive attitude, sense of humour and robust sense of self-worth.
Generally by the time your child has turned one this vision may seem a little fuzzier! After a particularly fraught clash of wills over meals, bedtime or outright defiance by looking right at you and doing just what said not to do, you may have asked yourself – ‘Wait a minute, who is this child?’ Or even - ‘Who is this frustrated, screaming parent? Things are not going according to my parenting plan!’
What you have to remember is every child is unique. Each comes with their very own personality and temperament. You will react to certain behaviours in your child in a certain way and it is vital to understand that. By understanding their stage of development and temperament you will be able to parent them in a way that is realistic and leads to success, as well as meaning time spent together is positive and enjoyable.
There are nine temperament traits and by understanding what temperament your child has you can help them face challenges and feel valued for who they are.
Is your child always on the go, or is she relaxed and enjoys taking her own sweet time?
Does your child stick with an activity until completed or is she easily distracted and happy to give up if a task seems challenging?Is it easy for your child to block out distractions and remain focused on a task or can external stimuli make it hard for him to concentrate?
Is she sometimes bothered by loud noises, bright lights, food textures, or the feeling of fabric or labels in clothing?
By respecting their personality and encouraging them to discover their talents, you can work together to set challenges they will enjoy and goals that are achievable. Children will quickly understand the difference between savouring success and the shame that comes from failure. This is true of even very young children. When we set expectations that are unrealistic given our child’s ability, temperament and personality we are leading them to a failure cycle which can be difficult to break as they will almost always become less likely to enjoy challenges and to work towards goals. They will develop avoidance skills so that they are not in a position that may lead to yet more failure. However a child who attempts to avoid all new challenges will also not enjoy successes.
As important as it is to understand your child, it is equally important to be honest with yourself about your parenting style and your behaviour patterns.
The four important dimensions of parents have been indentified as:
Authoritarian Parenting – children are expected to follow strict rules set by parents. Parents will often respond to queries with ‘because I said so” and may believe children should be seen and not heard. They are very focused on obedience and the training of their children. IMPACT: children can be obedient and proficient but often with low self-esteem, poorly developed social skills and rank lower in happiness indexes.
Authoritative Parenting – these parents also establish clear rules and guidelines but are much more responsive to children’s questioning authority. They are more nurturing than Authoritarian Parents when children fail to meet expectations and are assertive but not intrusive or restrictive. IMPACT: children generally are happy, capable and successful.
Permissive Parenting – these parents are more non-traditional and lenient. They generally have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often seeming more like a friend than a parent. IMPACT: children generally rank lower in happiness, and self-control. They are also more likely to have difficulty with authority and this can affect performance in school.
Uninvolved Parenting – this style of parenting is characterized by very little communication and low expectations. Parents are generally detached from their child’s life. IMPACT: these children unfortunately rank lower in all areas – happiness, self control, self-esteem, social awareness and academic competence.
How we parent our children will have a huge impact on their overall development. How we communicate our expectations and guidelines and how we react when they meet or fail to meet these expectations is vital.
We need to understand our children and their character in order to set realistic expectations in order for them to achieve success as often as possible. Some children may require a longer and deeper explanation while others may be happy to just dash off with minimal discussion and negotiation.
However, regardless how different each child may be, each and every one of them deserves a parent who shows care and compassion, takes the time to explain their expectations and is able to share their values and ideals. Most importantly a parent is there to share their child’s successes and encourage them when faced with disappointment or failure.
Parenting is a journey, there will be good days and bad days, ups, downs and sharp turns but if we are honest about knowing our children and ourselves, and most importantly invest the time in positive communication, it will be the journey of a lifetime and one we will cherish for the rest of our days.
A major transition in the life of every child is when they progress to primary school. They go from being a big fish in a small pond to becoming a small fish in a big pond. No matter how well prepared they might be, primary school, at various stages, can seem daunting. What we want is for our child to settle into primary school as easily as they can, to make friends and begin to enjoy the experience. It is only when they feel less anxious and more settled that they will begin to learn. Too often we focus on ensuring our children are prepared academically but neglect the social skills they will need.
Every child is unique and as such will approach certain situations and experiences differently. And though many children may have similar worries, their level of concern and how long it takes them to overcome a fear may differ. As you know your child best you will know what is likely to be the bigger challenge for her. It may be speaking up when in a larger group, or it may be the organization skills needed to not lose money, books, bags and other items they will need to responsible for.
Here are some of the most common fears children experience, along with tips for overcoming them.
Will I make new friends?
One of the biggest concerns that children have when they move from kindergarten school to primary school is about making new friends. There are many more children in the class to get to know. They have to start making friends all over again. As adults, we know this will happen time and time again through life, but for your child it is a major hurdle to overcome when it does. They can feel isolated and vulnerable.
•Talk to your child honestly about how you felt when you started school, or a new job, and how you made new friends. Maybe you met your best friend who is still your friend today at school! Your enthusiasm can help your child to feel excited about the prospect of new friendships.
•Explain to your child that every other child in class is probably feeling the same.
•Think of a few phrases with your child they could use to help them communicate with their classmates. Perhaps to the student sitting next to them in class: “Hello, my name is…” “Can we go to lunch together?” The fact is, most children instinctively know what to say to each other and will work out these situations by themselves.
•If you know of other children in your neighbourhood or condo who will be attending the same school you could arrange a playdate beforehand so they meet at least one familiar face when they arrive.
How do I manage money?
Children have to be much more responsible for themselves, in many different ways, once they get to primary school. Managing money: knowing when to use it and what to spend it on, is often something they feel anxious about.
•Talk to your child about the priorities they need to spend their money on at school and the items that they do not need to purchase daily. (My friend’s daughter used to think that the book shop was a great place to shop initially!)
•Explain to your child how to keep their money safe.
•Allow your child opportunities to count out money when you are shopping, or to ask for the bill if you are eating in a restaurant. This will help build up their confidence to manage their money at school.
Who is my teacher?
Wondering about the new teacher is a common fear for many children. Will he/she be stern? Will he/she get cross with me if I forget something? Will I like the teacher?
•Reassure your child that your teacher understands how they are likely to be feeling. They may even be a mummy or daddy too with a child in the same boat!
•Arrange a visit to your school so that your child can meet their prospective teacher.
What if I get lost?
Everything in primary school seems so big! The assembly hall; the playground; endless corridors; the size of the canteen, not to mention the noise! And groups of older students. It is easy to get lost physically and feel lost emotionally.
•Be sure to attend any orientation days with your child so they gain a sense of the school buildings and its geography.
•Prompt your child to ask questions of older students or teachers if they need to.
•Local schools provide a mentor student for P1 children who serve as invaluable guides and role models. Reassure your child they will always have someone to ask if they need help.
•Eat out from time to time in a local food court and explain to your child that the school canteen will be quite similar - bustling with people, a variety of food stalls to choose from and noisy with chatter.
•If there are older siblings or cousins in the family, ask them to talk to your child about their own experiences and how they coped.
I need the toilet!
This can be quite an ordeal for many children. They have to get used to different rules about being able to leave the classroom, who to ask and where to go.
•Encourage your child not to leave asking to go to the toilet until the last minute, so they have plenty of time to get to the washrooms!
I don’t understand the schedule!
The weekly schedule can seem very complicated initially and many children worry how they will remember everything.
•Keep a copy of the school schedule on your fridge door so your child can refer to it at all times AND in their school bag.
•Encourage your child to check the schedule regularly so they know what comes next and become responsible for packing their school bag with appropriate items each day.
What if I miss the bus?
At the end of the school day, the hustle and bustle of the school environment can seem very frightening to young primary students, especially when it comes to making their way to the waiting buses.
•Advise your child to follow their teacher’s or supervising adult’s guidance at all times.
•Encourage your child to ask questions when in doubt.
•Make sure your child knows your telephone number(s) or the number of a trusted caregiver in case they miss their transport home.
•Advise your child never to leave the school premises and always to wait inside the school gates.
•Discuss your own pick-up plan with your child, just in case!
Ideally, the prospect of primary school for most children is exciting and something to look forward to, though inevitably they are bound to demonstrate some fears. Through care and patience however, we can encourage our children to put worries aside and help them gain the most from this important stage in their school life.
There was a time when educators believed that a second language should be introduced in secondary school. Learning a second, or third language was considered a thing for grown-ups to do. That time is long gone! Today there is increasing pressure on children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin from as young an age as possible. Parents now understand that exposing children to a second language from as early as they can will make the acquisition of that language easier on everyone. But there still remains some concerns about how children will cope when faced with two languages.
Most recent research in the United States suggests children can become equally effective in a second language. Further, balanced bilinguals who are equally strong in two languages tend to do better in I.Q. tests. They are thought to benefit from having their thinking stretched, and awareness expanded, early.
Children should begin learning a second language as early as possible. So says Colin Baker, professor of bilingual education at the University of Wales and author of An Encyclopaedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. We learn language best before the age of six so parents should take advantage of these key language learning years, from 0-6 years old. From birth a child’s senses are absorbing the sounds around him. His brain is storing the complex patterns that make up language and his windows of language are open wide to absorb it most easily. After the age of six our ability to learn language decreases as we get older, as anyone who has struggled to learn a language as an adult will attest to!
One common worry parents may have about exposing their child to two languages is whether or not this will confuse a child and may even result in a delay in language development.
Prof Baker believes that a child will not be confused by two languages as long as the two are separated initially, suggesting that parents and teachers use only one language at a time. Recent research at Antwerp University shows that two and three year-olds are able to understand that they are using two distinct languages. What can lead to disruptions in language development are radical changes in the language environment. This can happen when parents suddenly panic that their child is not getting enough exposure to Mandarin and suddenly start speaking in only Mandarin at home, this may sound extreme, but I have know this to happen! It is therefore important that parents provide systematic exposure to both languages.
Language is Caught not Taught
The fact that language is caught not taught is especially true in our early years when we still have the amazing ability to absorb the language or languages that surround us. We need to be exposed to a language to be effective in using it.
Parents often ask whether or not their child will be effectively bilingual based on the Mandarin programme in their preschool and the answer is very simple, children will be effectively bilingual if their exposure to both languages is more or less equal. If your child is only exposed to 5 – 10 hours of Mandarin a week and the rest of their lives are conducted in English, then they will be more effective and confident communicating in English. If you want to improve their ability to communicate in Mandarin you need increase their exposure to it. This is true not only with speaking and understanding the spoken language but also reading and writing. Children will need exposure to the print and opportunities to write.
My 4 year old daughter, who delights in the fact that she is the only member of the household who can speak Mandarin loves to write on the whiteboard in her room and ‘teach’ us Chinese words. Although my Mandarin is dismal (due to a severe lack of exposure during my formative years!) I can still tell that the swishes on the board and the strange vowel sounds she is making would be understood by no-one. However I do have faith that one day they will both take on a recognizable form.
For this reason I still make it a point to sit and ‘read’ through the Chinese reader she borrows from school. Based on the pictures I tell the story as I understand it, in English. I cannot provide her with exposure to the language but I can help her understand that the words and meaning can be recorded using different characters and they tell the story in writing. A few months ago she surprised me by knowing instantly the difference between Japanese and Chinese. That is because she is familiar with Chinese characters from the storybooks we ‘read’ together.
Use It or Lose It
Anyone who learnt a language in school and after the final test never went near it again knows how true this is!
Two factors have been identified as being vital in creating the ideal learning environment. First of all we need motivation to learn. The best motivation is the need to communicate in a language, for example the desire to make needs known at home or to fit in at school. Then we need interest. An interested child will learn sub-consciously, without realising that he’s learning. Children learn to speak and read characters through enjoyable activities and games that capture interest as long as the content and form hold attention.
It is very easy for overenthusiastic parents to damage a child’s motivation and interest through unrealistic expectations. If a child feels he has failed or let you down he is naturally unlikely to want to repeat that experience and before you know it a resistance to the language can develop. It is important to remember young children have short attention spans: An average of five minutes for two to three year-olds, extending to ten minutes for three to four year-olds.
So what do I do, as a parent, to help my child on the path to bilingualism - to enable him to become equally comfortable and effective with two languages?
Huang Ying, my good friend and colleague, is a Mandarin Teacher from Beijing, the wife of a wonderful Englishman and mother to Jim, a lovely boy who is effectively Bilingual and has been since he started speaking. From when Jim was born Huang Ying has spoken to him in Mandarin and it still amazes me to see him effortlessly switch from Mandarin with his Mum to English with his Dad or friends, even in mid-conversation. When asked what her advice is in creating a Bilingual home she shared the following tips:
From Speaking and Listening to Reading and Writing
Every language, regardless of how it is structure, is made up of four basic principles, speaking, listening, reading and writing. These principles are intrinsically linked but are also very different. While you can be good at one and poor at another all must be mastered to be fluent in a language. Reading and writing are natural extensions of spoken language and if a child is exposed to a literacy rich environment they will more readily pick up reading and writing. This is true of any language.
Exposing children to Chinese storybooks and characters through subtitles and games will increase their awareness of the written language. If you do not read Chinese and therefore cannot model reading at home then look for fun ways in which to expose your child to the written language. Chinese cultural arts programmes which involve calligraphy, Chinese brush painting, Chinese traditional stories and idioms are a wonderful way to bring not only the spoken but also the written language alive.
When children are excited and happy they learn most easily. So it follows that a relaxed, fun-filled environment is key. The final ingredient and the most important link in the process of learning a language is the person who models that language: The parent, the teacher, the guide. The more creative the model, the more the child will become imaginatively involved and learn subconsciously, through play. There is no room for destructive criticism or negative comments. What the child needs is praise for effort, celebration of success, joy and laughter. If the learning process itself is a joy, it will lead to a lifetime of enjoyable communication.
In summary to create effective bilingual environment children need to be: