How do I teach my toddler to share?

Getting your toddler to share is not impossible!

By Sarah Chua | 17 May, 2017

Before I became a mum, I used to look disapprovingly at children who fought over toys. I’ve even wondered why parents are not teaching their children to share, and unilaterally decided that my children would learn to share; only to realise the sobering fact that teaching young children to share was such a battle!

After many battles with Chris*, my older son, and trying to get him to share with Josh*, his younger brother, I found myself repeatedly wondering why Chris fought with a vengeance the need to share with Josh although it seemed so natural for him to share with an older cousin. There was one particular incident where Chris was extremely upset about sharing a special toy with Josh, and bawled, “But this is my favourite green car!”

That epiphany hit me like a brick, as I imagined how devastating it must be for him, as a 3-year-old, to suddenly have to share everything he had with his younger brother — from toys to parental time and attention — when he previously had everything to himself!

Telling Chris things like “sharing is caring” meant nothing to him and most certainly did not help him desire to share. Instead, I learnt to empathise with him and acknowledged how difficult it must be for him to have to share with Josh, especially his favourite things.

As he began to feel that my husband and I understood his feelings, his willingness to listen to why I wanted him to share with his younger brother also grew; I managed to encourage him to see the fun in playing together with Josh, which naturally included aspects of sharing.

Telling Chris things like “sharing is caring” meant nothing to him and most certainly did not help him desire to share.

While our journey is still a work-in-progress, there are some tips I would like to share if you are also struggling to get your toddler to share.

Encourage turn-taking

Help our children understand the rules of taking turns, whether it is having a go on the swing at a playground or playing a toy. As parents who love our children dearly, we often have the natural tendency to give in to our children’s demands quickly, which may lead to our children growing up feeling entitled. However, we should teach our children to learn to wait for their turn and also let others have a go after they had their turn. Learning to wait will help develop the value of deferred gratification in our children, also improving their EQ and social skills as they learn to relate with others.

Do not force them to share

Forcing our children to share does not work in the long-term, even if it does bring about short-term compliance. While they may grudgingly agree to share, they may bury hurt feelings within. You wouldn’t like it if you were forced to share your lunch with someone as well! When we force our children to share, we are also not helping them learn to establish healthy boundaries.

Instead of forcing them to share, our children learn empathy when we model the behaviour we want to see in them. Sharing is ultimately an act of kindness and generosity; when we are kind and generous to others, the tendency for our children to develop these attributes will be high.

Forcing our children to share does not work in the long-term, even if it does bring about short-term compliance.

Teach them good manners

Besides teaching our children the time-honoured practices of politeness, we should also teach them how to decline without offending, if someone asks to share and they feel uncomfortable or are unwilling to share. Also, be mindful of the temptation to simply give in to the child who is screaming the loudest just to get some peace and quiet, and regain your sanity! When we do that, we are sending out the wrong signals to our children that screaming loudly will help them get their way.

When our children are young, they naturally act upon their feelings. As they mature, we want to help them develop the ability to recognise their emotions, think about the situation and consider possible solutions and consequences, before solving a problem they’re facing. As parents, we should empower our children to make wise choices rather than make choices for them!

* The names of the children were changed to protect their privacy.

©2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved

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Putting Your Relationships to the Test

Can revising for exams together improve the relationship with your child?

By Elvira Tan | 5 May, 2017

Children can sniff out parental anxiety in a heartbeat and it repels them the way insecticide does to cockroaches. Kids run helter-skelter from us when we anxiously yell, nag, cajole or beg them to work harder, to do well in school. Many often completely shut down and refuse to comply, no matter what.

Having taught in a secondary school and junior college, I saw how estranged many youth were from their parents. One major complaint I often heard from my students was, “My parents NEVER listen!” Many felt that their parents never really tried to understand their thoughts, feelings and motivations.

Most adults instinctively reason with their teens that our nagging is necessary because all parents are naturally anxious for their children. We might say that anxiety can impede a parent’s ability to empathise, but many teenagers and even pre-teens are not going to buy into such a rationale. I was married but childless during those years of teaching, and I remember telling myself that when I had children of my own, I would seek to truly listen to what my children had to say to me and learn to cope with all my anxieties.

We might say that anxiety can cloud a parent’s ability to empathise, but many teenagers and even pre-teens are not going to buy into such a rationale.

Funnily enough, I very quickly forgot all about this pact I made with myself. Over the years, I began to have my fair share of struggling with my 12-year-old son to buckle down and get serious about his work. Many a time, my anxieties have gotten the better of me and I confess I haven’t been that great a listener or observer of my son.

Around the time he turned 10, as he started to have stronger opinions and wider interests, I grew concerned that I wasn’t able to really get through to him about having a greater sense of urgency about his work, accountability and grit in seeing things through. I’m grateful that, with a mix of trial and error and by intentionally discovering what would keep him motivated about school and completing his work, I realised these things about him:

Adapt to Your Child's Needs

When I’m needed to help him with revision, I’ve learnt that keeping things light-hearted really helps. For example, just the other day, his form teacher sent a text message, reminding us to prepare for the coming English language oral examinations together. The exam preparation booklet given to him to plough through was daunting. Halfway through the booklet, it was clear that my son was losing his ability to focus fast. His love for mimicking accents from around the world came to mind, so we started taking turns to read the passages in the most ridiculously accented English for a bit. Not only did it bring plenty of laughs, it eased the tension of prepping for the exams too.

When he was younger, I used to reword Math problem sums for him to attempt. For a period of time, he was into loo humour, and so his Math problem sums were written by me to include all things related to poop. Undeniably gross, but it certainly made him want to attempt to solve the equations a whole lot more!

Affirm and Apologise

Sometimes I forget to be careful with my words, and rattle off a whole list of things that he's not doing right. I quickly notice his downcast face and I’m reminded to assess if I have done more criticising and correcting than affirming. I’ve learnt that if I am going through work with him and have spotted a whole bunch of unnecessary mistakes, I would balance calling out his mistakes with recognising his effort in his work, like circling keywords in the questions for example.

Take a Step Back

I am going to be honest. Not all of my attempts to get my son to be focused for his exam revision are pleasant or easy. I often slip up by ranting and raving, getting into drama mode as my son describes it. One day, I realised that the drama wasn’t doing us any good and I asked my son to come up with a safe word for an experiment in communication. He chose the word "Ouch"; anytime he says that word now, it means I have gone crazy overboard with my nagging or chiding and it's a signal for me to take a deep breath and speak more calmly.

I’ve realised that our kids need to know we’ve got their back. They need to trust that we are not out to catch them failing but we’re really there for them—to affirm and correct them in love. Undoubtedly, anxiety can get the better of us at times, but making up for it with humour, words of affirmation and coming up with coping mechanisms can enhance the bond we share with our kids, getting them to be more enthusiastic about their academic responsibilities simultaneously.

©2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved

School-going children will face many challenges, and as their parents, we need the right skills to help them overcome these challenges and nurture our children to be resilient and confident individuals. Join us at our Parenting with Confidence (7-12) course to learn more!

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Image: Stock photo

Dear Fellow Mum of an Extra-Special Kid

Beyond Surviving As a Mother of a Special Needs Child

By Kate | 2 May, 2017

Mother’s Day holds special significance for you and me. Prior to becoming a mum, I had many expectations of what motherhood would entail, the kind of parent I would be and what my child would be like. Needless to say, life didn’t work out as I had planned. While our diagnosis only came when our son turned 3, mothering was a wild rollercoaster ride from Day One – which you can probably identify with! Personally, Mother’s Day has its highs and lows for me. There is a tinge of sadness, as I remember the personal dreams for my child that I have had to let go. But there is also joy that I have my special child with me, as I can’t imagine life without him. Over the years, these are lessons I’ve learnt.

It’s ok to grieve. Grief is a tricky thing.  I expected to experience it, and then move on leaving it behind completely. In a life filled with therapy appointments and special diets, dealing with grief seemed like an inefficient use of time! It was a liberating moment when I finally accepted that I will carry this grief with me, probably to my last breath. Rather than push it aside, I have learnt to acknowledge it and allow myself to feel it; and I encourage you, my fellow-mums-in-the-trenches, to do it too.

Our sense of loss also makes us acutely aware of what we do have, and the blessings in life that we would have otherwise taken for granted. I doubt anyone feels as thankful as we do when our children have a peaceful night’s sleep, or even a meltdown-free day. And if our children hit a much-desired milestone—we’d bring out the fireworks if we could!

Find your tribe. Parenting a special needs child can be a lonely journey. But the truth is, you do not have to go on this passage alone. I remember falling into a state of complete despair when we received the news that our child had autism. I could not even find the words or summon the energy to explain it to friends. But I am glad that I stepped out of that self-imposed isolation. One of the best gifts of our special needs journey has been my tribe of committed, loving and courageous mums who will weep with me, pray for me and encourage me through every setback and rejoice at every victory—no matter how big or small. 

Make time for yourself. Perhaps, the greatest challenge in this journey is finding time for ourselves. When our days are busy with urgent and important matters, it can seem counter-intuitive to spend time in solitude, away from the demands of the day. However, I have found this is an important part of my day, and directly contributes to the quality of care I can give my child. Taking time to relax and recalibrate helps clear my mind when I need to make big decisions, or get through a tiring season of parenting. It also enables me to keep a healthy perspective by focusing on matters other than my child. Take 15-20 minutes for yourself each day—take a walk, read a good book or even recharge by chatting with a friend.

You are enough. Every mother struggles with some form of mum guilt. And for us mums of special kids, the guilt can be especially acute. Some of us may blame ourselves for our child’s condition (really, it isn’t your fault!), or worry that we aren’t doing enough to help our children. I’ve had many sleepless nights fretting over not being able to afford more therapy, or not having enough energy to do all the recommended activities, and the list goes on. Dear mums, please don’t give in to this fear and self-doubt. The greatest gift we can give our children is ourselves—our love, acceptance and unwavering support. No one can mother your child like you can.

In fact, you are braver and stronger than you realise. While it may seem like it takes herculean effort to get through each day, the simple fact that you are doing it is already impressive. With every feeding tube you clear, every meltdown you walk through with your child, and every loving word you speak, you are nurturing your child, and being the best mum you can possibly be, on a daily basis.

Value your marriage. From personal experience, one of the earliest things to fall by the wayside, as a mum with a special kid, is the relationship with our husbands. Often, at the end of a long and tiring day, initiating a kid-free conversation with our other half is the last thing on our minds. But I try to keep in mind that my husband is my partner on this special needs journey, and the only other person who loves our child as dearly as I do, even if we have different ways of expressing it. There are unique stressors that having a special needs child can place on a marriage, and we need to invest time and energy in our relationship to ensure this relationship endures. For us, date night now means watching a movie at home together while tucking into our favourite hawker food, or catching a quick jog and meal together at the end of a hectic week. Connecting emotionally with your spouse does not have to be elaborate, and simply taking the time to do so can strengthen your marriage immensely.

Dear mums, this Mother’s Day, I plan to count the blessings in my life—both big and small, and I encourage you to as well. Remember, we are the best mothers for our precious, extra-special children, and with every passing day, we are helping them find their place in the world.

The author’s name has been changed to protect her identity. Kate is a Singaporean mum-of-two and enjoys taking her children out for walks in the park.

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