Raising Kids to be Wise About Sex and Relationships

How to begin talking to kids about sex 

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

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

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

Start young  

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

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

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

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

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

Boundaries, good touch, bad touch  

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

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

Use resources 

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

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

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

Ask me anything 

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

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

Seize opportunities  

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

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

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

Speak plainly and simply 

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

On sex 

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

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

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

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

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

On marriage  

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

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

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

Communicate not only the dangers, but the wonder of sex 

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

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

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

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

Live in community

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

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

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

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

Conversations About Sex Need Not Be So Tough

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

When Your Little One Is Afraid

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

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

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

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

1. Prepare them ahead of time  

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

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

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

2. Use healthy distractions 

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

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

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

3. Change their environment 

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

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

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

4. Affirm and celebrate small wins  

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

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

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

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

Having faith in our children 

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

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

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

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

Three Emotional Skills to Cultivate As A Parent

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

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

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

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

1. Listen well and think before we speak 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Manage our own emotions  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Give grace to all 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 CALM Strategies to Support Your Anxious Child

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

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

Change negative self-talk to an empowering one  

Emotions such as anxiety do not exist in a vacuum.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledge and validate, but do not reinforce  

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

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

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

Learn to cope by thinking things through  

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

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

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

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

Model healthy ways of managing anxiety 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Embrace Fatherhood with Gusto

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

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

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

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

‘I’m first a husband’ 

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no one-size-fits-all 

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

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

Learn from others 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan your time well 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Day Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

Additionally, a free mini activity book, What a Wonder! is also available for parents to deepen connections with their child (recommended for 5-9 year olds). It includes:
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

Campaign Objectives:

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

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

Secure your free resource!

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

Limited copies are available so secure them now!

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

Supported By

Is It Normal for Me to be So Angry with My Kids?

“Why am I constantly yelling at the kids?”

“Is it okay for me to be this angry?”

“What can I do about all these negative emotions?”

If you’re a parent of young children, you may have asked yourself these questions at some point of your parenthood career.

While we often turn to parenting books or blogs to help us get a grip on our angry outbursts, theory is often hard to translate into practice. For me, it takes some self-reflection to first identify the common triggers (or anger buttons), and then making a deliberate effort to practice calming strategies on myself.

Why is it so difficult to control our emotions?

Theresa Pong, former Principal Counsellor at Focus on the Family Singapore, explains, “Emotions play an important part in our lives. They help us to survive and avoid danger. More importantly, they help us to allow others to understand us and for us to understand others. Thus, it is normal for us to experience a range of emotions including anger.”

She identified four broad areas that can cause anger to arise:

  1. Personal issues – such as having conflicts with other family members or issues at work
  2. Issues caused by others – such as when a family member accidentally breaks a glass at home or your boss tasks you to complete a task within short notice
  3. External events – such as when an electrical appliance or family car breaks down
  4. Unhappy memories – such as being pickpocketed during an overseas family trip

Questions to check if our anger is well managed

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you are managing your angry or upset feelings well:

  • Is your anger or negative feelings affecting your relationship with others?
  • Do you often entertain extreme negative thoughts, for example, “My kids are ALWAYS making trouble” or “My spouse is NEVER there for me”?
  • Are you constantly shouting, yelling or being hostile to your spouse/children?
  • Do you get physical often when you are experiencing anger?
  • Do you frequently act impulsively in anger, such as using harsh words on your family members, throwing things in anger, or using dangerous objects to threaten them?

As parents who have to juggle multiple roles such as caring for the kids, caring for elderly parents and work, we may find it difficult to get sufficient rest.

Being in a constant state of unhappiness and tiredness may leave us ill-prepared to deal with the multiple stressors of the day.

As such, we may find ourselves frequently in a fight-or-flight mode: At the slightest provocation, we will tend to react negatively.

The 5 steps to anger management

Fortunately for us, there are ways that can help. Theresa shared this 5-step solution to managing our anger well:

1. Be mindful of self

It is important for parents to notice how they feel when angry. For example, if you know you are about to lose your temper, your breathing gets shallow and quick, and there is tension in a particular part of your body, tell yourself these are signs you are in the “zone”.

The “zone” is when you are close to reaching your boiling point, and when you are more prone to over-react or lash out at others in such a way that you may hurt those around you.

2. Do not reject the feelings

Once you are aware that you are in the zone, do not reject the feelings. Some people perceive that it is wrong to feel sad or angry as it means they are weak. Tell yourself that it is normal to feel this way as all are us are made or wired to experience emotions.

3. Take a break

When you are in the zone or close to it, it is good to take a break. It may be just 5 minutes for you to retreat to a quiet space in your home or take a short walk around your housing estate, but this will help you to regulate your emotions and be more in control.

4. Attend to your thoughts and feelings

When you are ready, ask yourself these questions:

  • What emotions am I experiencing?
  • When was the last time I felt this way?
  • Where did these emotions come from?
  • Are there any voices in my mind that is making me even angrier (or intensify other emotions)?
  • What do I really want?

5. Act calmly

After going through the first 4 steps, you are likely to be able to deal with the situation in a calm manner.

For example, if your kids messed up the room after you have spent hours cleaning up, you can tell them firmly that you feel upset about their actions. Then administer a natural consequence such as having them clean up the room.

We can use angry moments as teaching moments for ourselves and our children.

Sometimes, our angry emotions are a cue for us to relook at the situation and see if there are areas we can improve. For example, maybe our kids are acting up more frequently because they’re feeling uncomfortable with certain changes or are feeling distant from us.

While practising the 5 steps shared above, do be patient with yourself and others as it may take time to see the results. However, acknowledge the effort you are making each day and celebrate the small successes. With each step you make, know that you are sowing the seeds of love and kindness in your family!

What Scolding Really Does to Your Child

Chris* will always remember his childhood experience with broccoli. Since he was young, he had always had a distinct dislike for that green vegetable. Perhaps it was the softness of the florets or the peculiar shade of green. Whatever the reason, he had never liked the vegetable, and had always avoided it when his parents gave it to him. When he was three, his parents divorced and his father remarried, and Chris went to live with his stepmother. That change in his life all but sealed his experience with broccoli.

Twenty years later, in the comfort of the counselling room, Chris shared with me that his stepmother took it upon herself to “cure” his disdain for broccoli and all things green. Whenever Chris refused to eat his vegetables, she would scold him in a loud voice, and if he still persisted, she would carry his high chair (with him in it), and place him outside the main door. There he would sit until he either finished his vegetables, or if he got so tired that he fell asleep in his high chair without finishing his food.

“It was the worst period of my life,” he recounted.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, many working parents are now working from home. With students doing home-based learning, our school-going kids are home at the very same time we are figuring out this new work arrangement. Distractions and interruptions can come more easily, potentially impacting our productiveness.

As you work towards a new norm with work and family life, consider how these 6 Rs could help you create a more successful and less stressful environment for everyone in the family!

Over time, he began to move from a sense of guilt, which told him that “I did something wrong”, to a sense of shame, which insisted that “I am something wrong”.

According to American educator and author John Bradshaw, every child has feelings, needs and desires, and that if a parent cannot affirm these aspects of a child, he or she rejects the child’s “authentic self”. In his seminal book, “Healing the Shame that Binds You”, he talks about the impact of a parent’s rejection on a child, especially if this leads to shame. According to Bradshaw, shaming makes the child believe that he or she is wrong for feeling, desiring or needing something.

In Chris’ case, the stepmother was rejecting his feelings of disdain for broccoli. By first scolding him, and then carrying the high chair outside the house, his stepmother was entrenching the notion that it is wrong to feel disdain.

This was buttressed by the deeper feelings of rejection that Chris might have felt by other onlookers who passed by the house. Over time, he began to move from a sense of guilt, which told him that “I did something wrong”, to a sense of shame, which insisted that “I am something wrong”.

Bradshaw calls this the shame identity; according to him, individuals who have been shamed on numerous occasions take on a persona of worthlessness and defectiveness.

Does this mean that we should stop scolding our children entirely? Especially since it would seem that scolding our children could lead to the development of a shame identity?

As a parent, a number of principles have guided the way I discipline my children:

1. Establishing Loving Boundaries

A friend once shared with me the concept that children are “persons-in-training”. I like this perspective very much and have adopted this paradigm when I guide my kids. Based on this view that my children are still-developing and ever-learning individuals, I work hard to establish clear and loving boundaries regarding is allowed or not allowed in my household.

For instance, screen-time is kept constant each day, and my 10 and 8-year-old sons are allowed no more than half an hour each in the afternoons after they finish their homework.

The boys are aware of this rule and while they may ask for more screen-time, they know that our stance on this is clear; they will not get any additional time, even if they beg, persuade or cajole us.

Through this process, the children learn the importance of boundaries; that they are there to keep the bad out and keep the good in.

2. Seeking to Understand

Children act up for a reason, and oftentimes it stems from their basic needs – they could be hungry, thirsty, tired, or emotionally overwhelmed. When we understand the reason why they throw a tantrum, we can anticipate and manage the situation better. For instance, large party gatherings could be a sensorial nightmare for the kids, and while they may enjoy the excitement of being in a crowd of friends, the environment might cause them to get emotionally overwhelmed.

As such, leaving the gathering just a little earlier (or later) could help to reduce the likelihood of any potential tantrum. Understanding leads to empathy, and we are then less likely to get upset with our children when we know that they are not misbehaving on purpose, but are instead communicating a physical or emotional need.

3. Removing and Replacing

We often share in our workshops that one way of managing our children’s emotions is to remove the negative behaviour and replace it with an action that is more socially acceptable. For instance, if the child is likely to hit another person when he or she is feeling anxious or stressed, it might be helpful to provide a tactile fidget that serves as a replacement object for the child to express his or her emotions.

Using such a replacement strategy, we can change our children’s negative behaviours to more acceptable ones.

It has taken many months of counselling to help Chris deal with the numerous issues associated with scolding and toxic shame. Over time he has learnt to deal with the years of pain that he had experienced through his difficult family situation.

But till today, he still refuses to eat broccoli.

*The names and identities in this article have been changed to protect their confidentiality.

 

Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 10 and 8.

Raising A Responsible Child Does Not Need Harsh Methods

The 7-year-old hurriedly deposited the bag of goods at the kitchen table. He then dashed off to his room to play with his brother. But not before he heard a shout from the kitchen.

“E! What happened to the eggs! Why are half of them broken!”

As the 7-year-old returned to the kitchen, he was met with a frown on his father’s face. The bag of eggs was open, and it was not a pretty picture.

“Why are the eggs broken?” asked the father in an upset yet calm tone.

“Er…. I don’t know,” came the reply.

“Well, I saw how you had thrown them on the kitchen table. You were too eager to go to your room and play.”

The boy did not reply. His eyes turned to the ground and he attempted to avoid his father’s stern glare.

“Who is responsible for the broken eggs?” asked the father.

“Sorry Daddy. It’s my fault.”

“I accept your apology. But E, do you know who is ultimately responsible for the eggs?”

The little boy looked at his father, expecting him to yell at him for not properly handling the eggs.

“I am ultimately responsible. You are still a young boy, and I chose to let you carry the eggs. So although you are partly to blame for breaking the eggs, but at the end of the day, as your father, I am the one who is ultimately responsible for the eggs.”

The little boy was surprised at the response, his eyes taking in the weight of all that had just been said; and all at once there seemed to appear a gleam of gratitude on his face.

“I understand, Daddy. If you don’t love us you wouldn’t spend so much time training us and teaching us to be responsible….”

Our philosophy is that children should be treated as “persons-in-training,” individuals to be groomed as early an age as possible.

Building Healthy Habits

Since our children were young we have been teaching them the importance of being responsible for their actions. For instance, since the age of 5 or 6, our kids have been carrying their own plates to the table after we place our orders at the food centre. We are aware that they could possibly drop the plates, but we have decided that even if they did that, it’s still okay. And at home, we have used regular crockery and other utensils from an early age, instead of the plastic cups and plates which are usually used by many other kids. Our philosophy is that children should be treated as “persons-in-training,” individuals to be groomed as early an age as possible.

Many of these ideas have come from 19th century educationalist Charlotte Mason, whose writings on classical education have shaped the minds of many. A prominent teacher and writer, Mason believed that a parent’s chief duty was to “form in his child right habits of thinking and behaving.” To that end, habit formation was one of the key principles that she advocated.

I remember one of her analogies about habit formation. She noted that the train goes around a fixed railway track each day. Would it then be possible one day for the train to suddenly decide to go off track? Likely not; the railway tracks have been established from the start, and the train would not travel in a route that was not there before. Likewise, when we lay the rails of a child’s life, we establish set patterns and habits that the child will follow from the beginning of his or her life. Consequently, we need to help our children develop healthy habits as early as possible.

When we lay the rails of a child’s life, we establish set patterns and habits that the child will follow throughout life.

No Need for Harsh Consequences

What then about responsibility? Many parents have chosen an approach known as classical conditioning. If the child does something right, they are rewarded. But if they do something wrong, they are punished. This model of teaching responsibility is borrowed from psychology, and many parents today practise this method.

However, if we were to draw from Mason’s principles to teach responsibility, we would see responsibility as an extension of habit formation. So if we teach our children how to be responsible from an early age, they will start practicing good habits and take ownership of their day-to-day responsibilities.

As such, there is no need for an external stimulus like a reward or a punishment to drive our kids. Instead, our children are motivated by an internal desire to be responsible for their actions.

They can begin by learning to be responsible in small ways such as watering the plants and clearing the dinner table daily. As your kids get older, you can scaffold their responsibilities and entrust them with chores such as washing or hanging of laundry, or vacuuming and mopping the house.

However, as parents, we should bear the ultimate responsibility for what happens under our care. As such, we need to monitor whether the plants are being watered or if the dishes are being cleaned properly, continually guiding and reminding our kids if the leaves turn yellow or if there is leftover soap on the dishes. There is therefore no need for harsh punishment. We instead replace this with regular training.

What if the child refuses or forgets to do his chores? Chore refusal is a behavioural issue and needs to be resolved accordingly, with an appropriate punishment such as a “time in” or a withdrawal of privileges. As for forgetfulness, we all forget things from time to time; we can simply remind the child to do the chore, regardless of how inconvenient it may be for them.

“Daddy,” said the 9-year-old, “It’s already evening and I have yet to water the plants. I’m very tired and I really want to go to bed.”

“Yes, Z. I know it has been a long day for you.”

“But Daddy, I know I must water the plants. It’s my responsibility.”

“Yes, Z. You are absolutely right. Why don’t you ask your younger brother to help with the lights?”

And so the younger child reached out and switched on the balcony lights, while the older child proceeded to water the plants. The younger brother then completed the task by switching off the lights.

“You know Z and E, you have both done very well. Daddy is very proud of both of you!”

And the boys beamed a brilliant smile, even as they headed to bed.

Think about:

  • What is one way your child can help out in the home this week?

Working From Home with Kids

What first comes to your mind when you think about working from home? Do you imagine it will be more difficult to get work done or do you think it will be a less pressurising way of working? While telecommuting has its perks, like time saved from travelling, it definitely has its own set of challenges as well.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, many working parents are now working from home. With students doing home-based learning, our school-going kids are home at the very same time we are figuring out this new work arrangement. Distractions and interruptions can come more easily, potentially impacting our productiveness.

As you work towards a new norm with work and family life, consider how these 6 Rs could help you create a more successful and less stressful environment for everyone in the family!

1. Ritual

Before the new measure of working from home was implemented, the “ritual” of getting ready for the day and commuting helps us to shift to “work mode” by the time we get to our workplaces. It would be helpful to create something similar even when we work from home—stick to a standard waking up time for everyone, continue to do the usual morning rituals of showering and breakfast with the kids.

Some people find it helpful to change into clothing that’s slightly more like their usual work wear. Pro-tip: wearing pajamas won’t help you feel productive!

Others mentally prepare themselves for work while doing some exercises or having a cup of coffee before they start the work day. Continue these morning rituals, set a time for work or school to start and keep to it every day as well as you can.

2. Room

There are those who can get productive work done when propped up in bed, but for most of us, that may not be conducive—especially when the kids or work kept us up late the night before!

Set up a well-lit designated workspace in your home that allows you to have good sitting posture and minimal distractions. Try to avoid spaces that might draw you toward doing something else, like the bedroom or kitchen. Parents of younger children may need to work near their children, so as to keep an eye on them as they play or nap, while parents of older kids can use a separate room as their “office”.

In the same way, we can set up a space for home-based learning for our kids. Make sure they understand that it’s a space for them to focus on online classes and homework, and not for playing or other activities.

As you consistently utilise these designated spaces every day, you will be drawing “boundaries” for your kids and they will understand that’s Daddy’s or Mummy’s work room or this is where I sit for school time. This adds a sense of our third “R” to their lives.

3. Routine

Just as it is useful to us to know what’s ahead in our work day by planning a schedule that includes time for work, breaks, and meals, our kids would also benefit from having such a routine.

For older children, plan each day’s schedule with or for them. Tell them that just as they have a set of school tasks to finish, Daddy and Mummy also have work tasks to complete, so everyone will have to work together as a family to get our work done. Think of ways you can increase your kids’ ownership over this schedule, say, by letting them write/type or decorate it. Then put it up where it can be easily seen, and follow it as closely as possible.

For toddlers, printing out visual cue cards can be a great way to communicate schedule. You can print out photos of what you want to fill their day with—whether playing, reading, eating, sleeping—and stick it somewhere prominently. Every time you move on to the next slot, remove the former card and make a big deal about the new card. You can even put a timer on if you like and every time the timer goes off, it signals the time for the next activity.

If you have children who are too young to keep themselves engaged while you’re working, you may need to plan your schedule around their routine, say, naps, meals, playtimes, and baths. This may mean starting work earlier before they wake, taking breaks during the moments when they need you most, and returning to work after they have gone to bed.

There’s no perfect routine—take time to experiment with different approaches before settling into a rhythm that works for your family.

4. Restraint

Self-discipline has been found to be key for those who work well from home. After we’ve planned our schedule, we need to stick to it to concentrate on our goals for the day. That means not doing lots of housework or heading out for a long trip in the middle of the work day!

When we practise self-discipline, we are also setting an example for our children on how to set limits on themselves. It’s important for parents to explain to their kids that when Daddy and Mummy are in their workspaces, they need to be able to focus, and so they cannot be interrupted frequently, unless it’s an emergency (and communicate what constitutes one)!

If you find that they are interrupting your work too often, you can give them a quota on the number of requests they can make when you are at work. Through this, they can learn some self-discipline by deciding which requests or questions they really need to ask and which ones can wait until later.

5. Rest

Let your children know that throughout the day, you’re going to take regular breaks and stick to them. During break times, engage with them—and be present! At the end of each break, remind them that you’ll be going back to work and will join them again at your next break.

Kids who are old enough to work independently can usually concentrate for about 30–45 minutes at a time, with 5–15 minute breaks in between. You may like to use a timer to help you and your kids keep track of time.

Give them permission to have more active indoor activities to release the energy that builds up when they’ve been sitting for long periods of time.

Remember that you need to get away from your desk from time to time, too—a good break does wonders for productivity!

6. Rewards

Finally, remember that this arrangement is new for your children. So be intentional in affirming your children when they have put in effort to stick to their schedule and the limits you’ve set.

Older children are able to understand the principle of delayed gratification: that doing their learning and homework first will have benefits later. Help them to understand the importance of sticking to a schedule to get a reward later on. Then, plan a surprise and spring it on them sometime during the week when they’re least expecting it. This will better reinforce their positive behaviour, which you will hopefully see more of with time.

You can also have a reward system where they get points for age-appropriate good behaviour and they get to redeem rewards (bubble tea, fast food meals, more TV time, etc.) with the points.

And don’t forget to affirm and reward yourself, too! This arrangement is a learning journey for you as well, and there would be tough spots along the way as you figure out what is best for you and your kids. When you hit upon something that works well for the whole family, that’s worth celebrating!

As we work on these aspects of Ritual, Room, Routine, Restraint, Rest, and Rewards, may we also discover the joy in connecting with our children in new ways!

Adapted from Staying Sane while Working from Home with Kids by Joannie Debrito ©️ 2020 All rights reserved. Used with permission from Focus on the Family.