Four Things Our Preschoolers Need from Us


Four Things Our Preschoolers Need from Us

Making our everyday moments count

By Jerrold Hong | 21 September 2022

In the past few months, I’ve been working on a mid-career switch. As the move involved big changes, including leaving a stable job, I spent some time counting the costs and wondered if I was short-changing the kids. Was I depriving them of a good life by pursuing a different career path?

During this period, I had the chance to bring my three-year-old son on a daddy-son date to Serangoon Gardens. It was a simple trip and the goal was just to eat at the hawker centre, take a short walk around and return home. Initially, I thought he would be bored as we were not heading to an exciting destination like the zoo or aquarium. However, my son still recalls it fondly today, to the extent that he still remembers the bus number we took to get there.

Why was my son as excited about this trip as the times we splurged on more expensive outings? Four things stood out for me:

  1. Undivided attention
  2. During the trip, I did my best to keep my phone in my pocket, only taking it out to check for messages from my wife. We talked about what we saw, what he was doing, imaginary stories he was making up, where we were going and so on.

    Keeping our devices away can be challenging as they help us stay productive or even give us some relief from the stresses of life. The following are some tips that have helped me stay focused during device-free sessions with my children:

    • Schedule uninterrupted time with the kids. The length of time could depend on your current tempo of work, e.g. one hour at a time for less intense seasons, or 15 minutes at a time throughout a day for busier periods. It could also be during specific times of the day, such as mealtimes.
    • If possible, avoid scheduling uninterrupted time close to periods where attention at work is needed, e.g. one hour before meetings.
    • Before starting uninterrupted time, give yourself sufficient time to attend to your responsibilities so you can enjoy peace of mind later on, e.g. devote the entire morning to attend to work and/or household matters before spending time with the kids.
    • Devote some time to meet your own needs throughout the day or week, e.g. give yourself 15 to 20 minutes to decompress after work before meeting the family for dinner.

    Admittedly, it is tough to disconnect in today’s technologically advanced world. However, giving undivided attention helps our children feel valued and strengthens our relationship with them.

    Giving undivided attention helps our children feel valued and strengthens our relationship with them.

  3. Constructive affirmation
  4. Throughout the trip, I intentionally highlighted the positive behaviour my son showed, using short and simple language to help him understand what he was doing well.

    Some of the statements I used were:

    • “I saw that you looked left and right before you crossed the road. That was good, keep it up!”
    • “It was good that you used your words to tell me what drink you wanted during lunch.”
    • “I saw you waited patiently for our food. Well done!”

    As a young child, my son is still learning foundational skills. As I observed him, I made sure to affirm him when he showed good behaviour or had taken Papa and Mama’s words to heart. To each of these affirming statements, he would beam proudly because he knew he was doing well.

    Affirmation is an essential ingredient to building a young child’s confidence and encouraging them to learn and grow.

    Affirmation is an essential ingredient to building a young child’s confidence and encouraging them to learn and grow.

  5. Moments of play and spontaneity
  6. As parents, we should pay attention to the “harder” aspects of parenting such as instilling discipline and setting healthy boundaries. While these are essential, it is equally important to make time for the “softer” aspects – that of engaging young children in playful and spontaneous moments as it helps us connect and build strong bonds with them.

    I immerse myself in my children’s pretend play as often as I can. During the trip, my son used the bus window as a “road” for his toy. I would build on his imaginary world by asking questions like: “Is that Optimus Prime’s robot base?” It also helps that I pay attention to the stories and characters that he likes, so that I can better engage in his pretend play.

    Every now and then, my wife and I allow him to enjoy some sweet treats, in moderation of course! So that day, when we decided to share a chiffon cake after lunch, which was a moment he cherished very much. Till today, my son’s face still lights up at the mention of chiffon cake.

    Make time to engage young children in playful and spontaneous moments as it helps us connect and build strong bonds with them.

  7. Explore their strengths
  8. A friend of mine, Sarah (of Sarah X. Miracle), discovered that preschool is the best time to discover your child’s strengths. Her 7-year-old, Leon, started using chopsticks to play drumbeats when he was around 2. At 3, he started creating his own “drum set” with pots and containers. It was clear he had a strong interest in drums even at such a tender age!

    As he was too young for formal drum lessons, Sarah decided to let him have a pair of wooden chopsticks he could play along to music in the car. Till today, he has fond memories of playing “drums” in their old car.

    Today, after a few years of drum lessons, he has outgrown the toddler size drum kit and can play on a full-sized drum set, and the family occasionally holds family jam sessions at a studio to give him the opportunity to learn how to play with others in a band setting!

    “It has been beautiful to watch this gift of his unfold and we continue to build him up in this area,” she shared.

A commitment to be fully present

In order to meet these three needs, we have to adopt the mindset of being fully present with our children. This means giving them our focused attention and taking a genuine interest in them, such as their likes and dislikes, their feelings, or even their ambitions.

For those who may struggle to carve out a morning or afternoon with their children on a regular basis, start small.

In my son’s first year, both my wife and I were working full time and often had to leave our son in the care of others. However, we made a commitment to be fully present in those moments we had together even if only for a few minutes at a time.

Small pockets of quality time have helped us build strong bonds with our children. By giving your undivided attention, affirmation, and being playful, you can do the same too!

Join the Miracle Familie at their talk on ‘Family is Identity’ on 24 September, 10-11am, as they share building blocks of family life that started more than 16 years ago and how it has paid off in their relationships with their three children. Get your tickets here!

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

Jerrold is passionate about family life. He is happily married to Rachel and is a father of two young children.

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