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 Nurture Your Youth to be a Confident Young Adult

We all want our children to grow to become responsible, competent, and confident adults. 

But what exactly does that look like, and how do we get there? 

Adulting is a term that’s been bantered around rather frequently now and is used by young adults to describe their new roles and experiences. Often, this is done with humour and tagged onto chores you have to pick up, new financial commitments and so on.  

But more than these things, young adulthood is also about stepping up – stepping into bigger responsibilities, wider social circles and navigating what the big (and sometimes scary) world means for you as an individual.  

Focus on the Family Singapore spoke with two young adults, Nicole Soh, 20, and Jakin Tan, 21, recently on IG Live, on this topic. Here, they share from a young adult’s perspective what adulting looks like, and some tips on how you can set your teen up for success in navigating this life transition and beyond. 

Tip #1: Create a safe space for conversations 

As Nicole is graduating very soon from polytechnic, for her, adulting for her means making a lot of big decisions about school and career. 

She recalled the time when she had to help her dad see the merits of a polytechnic education. Prior to this decision, she felt that conversations with her dad revolved mostly around grades. But as she became more intentional about engaging him in other matters, she found him gradually becoming more open about her pursuing a polytechnic education. Today, she appreciates that she has a safe space to discuss with her parents about the things she learns in school and other happenings around them. 

As for mum, Nicole is most appreciative of how she would ask probing questions as she was growing up, questions that would help her to form her own opinions on things, and to have greater clarity on why she wants to make certain choices. 

She said, “Dad and mum played different roles in my growing up years. I appreciate that they are able to bring very unique approaches to the table. And that they are willing to discuss things, and go back and forth with me.” 

Tip #2: Give them opportunities to make decisions 

Jakin is currently waiting to start his university studies in linguistics. But he still remembers vividly how his parents empowered him from young to make his own choices and weighing the pros and cons of each option. (He even kept the notebook he wrote in when deciding on whether to opt for homeschooling or formal schooling!) 

He credits his parents for instilling in him a strong sense of independence, and thinks it has helped him to be able to make his own choices, including understanding the “whys” that go into each decision. 

Tip #3: Let go, gradually 

Jakin described the process of letting go he witnessed in his parents when his elder brother started university, “Because my elder brother is living in a university hall and only comes back on weekends, so a lot of the time he’s living his own life. So I’ve seen my parents be able to chill, and recognise that they have no control over the choices he makes in school. All they can do is just trust that their parenting has been good enough.” 

“Now it’s my turn. When I make my own choices, I will have certain reasons, and if I explain it to them, they will let me do what I think is best for myself.” 

Nicole chimed in, “If you have younger teens aged 13-14, like just starting secondary school, not only do they have the world to explore, but there are also the dangers of the world. So, it’s totally valid and understandable to be a helicopter parent, to make sure the child is safe.” 

“So, on one hand, there are some things parents cannot be there 24/7. On the other hand, there are also instances where the kid wants to hang on for a little bit longer. I think when we have the foundation, we won’t be easily swayed and we know we can always come home to our family, where it’s a safe space.” 

“As parents, it’s natural to worry,” Jakin added, “but instead of telling your child not to do this or that, just educate them on what’s good and bad. Your kid will find out anyway, whether it’s about porn or sex, so it’s better to guide them as it will teach them how to make logical decisions.”  

Very often, parents may feel guilty for not doing enough. But very often, we already feel very loved when you’re just sitting there beside us, listening to us share about our day.

Tip #4: Sit beside them and listen     

It doesn’t mean that parents always have to do the hard work of education or encouraging our teens. Most of the time, our quiet presence is enough. 

As Nicole said, “Very often, parents may feel guilty for not doing enough. But very often, we already feel very loved when you’re just sitting there beside us, listening to us share about our day.”  

As parents, it can be hard to restrain ourselves from jumping in and making big decisions for our children, so we can “save” them from making mistakes. But if we look at the longer term, we may begin to see the benefit of allowing them some leeway as they grow to make certain choices and to raise their own viewpoints. 

By providing a safe space for conversations and heartfelt sharing to take place in the home, we are actually helping them gain a strong sense of self and identity, promoting confidence and responsibility, while also building a healthy parent-child relationship.  

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

5 Practical Ways for Mums to Overcome Discouragement

The dishes from lunch are still occupying the sink.  The toddler has been screaming ad nauseam for the past five minutes to eternity, having woken up from an unsatisfying nap and not finding you there. The kids are rolling into their fourth hour of television- while you are hacking your way through conference call after conference call. The house looks an epic mess, with toys strewn all over like a disaster zone. You have no clue what you’re going to put together for dinner, and you don’t care. You can’t care. Your boss is awaiting impatiently for your monthly sales report.  

I guess it’s not hard to imagine ourselves in the story above. We’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we?  

Days where we felt physically ill, mentally stressed, and simply overwhelmed as a mum, defeated and discouraged from the frontlines of motherhood.  

It’s easy to fall into that rut of despair and self-doubt when:  

  • The opinions of those in (or outside of) our circle nag at us  
  • We experience physical limitations, lack of time, lack of money, lack of space, sleep deprivation  
  • Our children’s and spouse’s attitudes, health concerns, or behavioural shortcomings wear us down 

Before we know it, we are at rock bottom.  

How do we dig ourselves out from the trenches of guilt and failure? Having to juggle work and kids can be tiresome enough, and even more so in this pandemic.  

It’s so easy to feel overworked and under-appreciated. Apart from fishing for gratitude or affirmation from the husband and kids, what can we do to help ourselves ride out the tough days? 

Rather than focus on the negative moments, look instead at how far you’ve travelled

Here some practical tips that can help turn our day around and get us off the ground and up on our feet again:   

1. “Life is a video, and not a photograph”

In other words, our bad moments do not define who we are in one freeze-frame. Our journey is made up of changing snapshots in time that could and often do get better, even if they occasionally dip and get worse. It is normal to feel discouraged today, but find hope and motivation tomorrow. We can get unstuck from a single frame! 

When a few days don’t work well and we hit some kinks along the road, have faith that it will all even out. We may lack the skills in the present for some things, but we can surely make up for it in other areas. Your kids can’t have a mum who whips up nutritious meals daily – but they usually have nourishing food on the table, save for some junk meals once in a while! Also, no mum never yells -ever!    

Rather than focus on the negative moments, look instead at how far you’ve travelled. And focus on growing a little every day. 

With the 90-second rule, it is important to acknowledge and accept that strong emotion, and to breathe through it. Otherwise, we may remain stuck in that feeling. 

2. The “90-second rule” 

In her study of the brain, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor discovered the “90-second rule of emotions,” which illustrates how transient feelings are. 

According to Bolte Taylor, “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.” 

With the 90-second rule, it is important to acknowledge and accept that strong emotion, and to breathe through it. Otherwise, we may remain stuck in that feeling. 

For example you might say out loud or think to yourself: “I am feeling very tired and grumpy right now,” and then find a way to move on: “But I will look into this after my bath.” 

Another way is to pause, and to visualise a wave washing over you. Name that wave of emotion, and allow it to subside. 

3. Accept where you are at

We don’t have to make excuses when things don’t turn out right. But we need to be honest and kind to ourselves to accept where we are and start making little steps to improve.  

“The house is a mess, it bothers me, but it won’t be like this forever. I can cope for a time and make small changes to the way I do things.” 

Don’t be tempted to start a pity party but take time to have a good cry and recentre your priorities. Avoid minimising the failure or frustration you’re feeling, but take the healthy step towards forgiving yourself and making progress forward.  

4. Have a long-term growth mindset 

Acknowledge that the parenting journey is for the long haul and some seasons are going to be tougher than others – New job transitions, getting pregnant, relationship issues with teens, health and personal losses.  

In the grander scheme of things, all these experiences can help to stretch us to become better, stronger and wiser than we already are. The growth mindset isn’t just for academic or athletic pursuits: it can be applied to parenting too! Don’t waste these difficult periods – even if they can be such a pain in the butt! These times will pass.   

5. Reposition your heart with gratitude

Positioning our parenting with a vantage point of gratitude is an important pick-me-up for how we see things on a bad day  

Tweak our words. Resist saying “I have to,” and replace it with “I get to.” It really makes a significant difference.    

Compare this:  

“I have to drive my kid to gym class” versus “ I get to drive my kid to gym class today!”  

“I have to put the baby to bed” versus “I get to put the baby to bed!” 

This isn’t about bluffing ourselves or sugar-coating, but the words we use can make a huge difference to nudge us about the little things we’ve taken for granted that others can no longer turn back time to enjoy.   

A few bad days are just hiccups compared to the privilege of raising our little ones – and we all know we won’t trade it for the world!  

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

Letting Go of My Emerging Teen

The adolescent years can be such a trying stage – not just for teens, but also for us parents. During these sensitive and awkward years, our teens experience tumultuous changes on all fronts, their bodies often eager to charge forward like a new Ferrari, but their pre-frontal cortex (in charge of most of their reasoning, planning and impulse control behaviours) is playing catch-up.  

For every teen revving through this exciting wave of development, there is a parent clutching on to the roof handle and hanging on for dear life. Excited as we are watching our child growing to become their own person, and figuring out who they are as an individual, we are also holding our breath and questioning: Have we done enough? Will they sink or will they soar?  

Coupled with the rising tensions at home as parent and teen wrestle to be in the driver’s seat, it is not surprising to see why teenhood is often deemed the most difficult years since the terrible twos. 

Letting go of my emerging teen has been one of the hardest lesson for me as a mum – particularly since she entered Secondary One this year. I find myself often caught off guard by the inner conflict between my heart and my mind. Every so often, I ding-dong between wanting to keep my daughter close to me and releasing her to fly.  

But I tell myself that I am not alone with such feelings.    

Even parents with the best intentions have wrestled with letting go of their teens.   

Stepping back for our child to step up 

Author Gary Chapman in his book, Things I wish I’d Known Before My child Became A Teenager, writes, “I wish I’d known that the urge for independence is a good thing, not a bad thing, and that as a parent I needed to cooperate with and guide the process.” 

While we may know in our heads that a teen’s quest for autonomy and independence is a good thing, it doesn’t make it an easy thing to accept, in our hearts. After all, we have always been the ones shielding and protecting our children from harm, and making decisions that are in their best interest.  

In the midst of navigating this transition, two things have been helpful: One, recognising that letting go is a gradual process. Two, adjusting the way I parent and learning to be a coach to my growing teen.  

In moments when they fail, allow them to bear the consequences of their mistakes and use them as teachable moments. 

1. Letting go is a gradual process

By reframing letting go to letting (him/her) grow, parents can shift their perspective from, “I am losing my child to ”I am getting my tween ready to be a mature and independent young person.  

Letting go doesn’t mean we hand over the reins of control to our child and relinquish our parental role immediately. Instead, it involves a gradual, intentional process of giving them opportunities to take on increasing responsibilities.  

We can start our teen by allowing them to make small decisions like meals, wardrobe choices, room decoration, or weekend activities. As they show their responsibility and gain your trust, allow them to take on bigger decisions and be prepared to negotiate and make compromises when they offer their views.  

Resist the urge to say no to all their choices and support them as much as possible. Have faith that they will exercise good judgement for themselves. In moments when they fail, allow them to bear the consequences of their mistakes and use them as teachable moments.  

We need to learn step back and allow our teens to make the final decision. 

2. Changing role of parents  

When our children are younger, they need more boundaries, discipline and rules to ensure their safety and well-being. But as they develop into teens, parents need to adjust from being a cop to being a coach.  

As coaches, we are less directive and more consultative. We can ask questions, offer our views, share our experiences and give options. Even though we can be part of the decision-making process to offer possible solutions or evaluate choices, ultimately we must step back and allow our teens to make the final decision.  

Initially, stepping back can be scary. We cannot help but worry that our teens might make mistakes, and hurt themselves.  

Yet, we cannot deny the power of learning through the natural consequences of a poor choice or behaviour. As a coach, there’s only so much we can do and it’s up to our teens to own the process and eventual results.  

Making every life decision on their behalf is to rob them of the opportunity to learn accountability and critical thinking. And if things don’t turn out well, we may even end up being blamed if we had made the decision on their behalf. 

Keeping the end in mind 

As parents, it’s easy to feel like we’re losing our sweet and innocent child as they go through the challenging teenage years. But if we keep the long-term goal in mind – that is preparing them to be a mature and responsible young person – we will see why letting go is necessary.  

Let go to let them grow.  

Even flowers take time to grow and bloom, so what more our teens. Let’s keep them rooted with good values and the security of a loving family as their home base. At the same time, take a step back and allow them space to test out their “wings” so they can soar as high as they can.  

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

A Father’s Role in His Daughter’s Worth

As a young child, Charis enjoyed the praises of her mother’s friends when they saw her doing her homework. “What an obedient and hardworking child,” they would comment while observing their own children running around and playing.  

Somehow, those praises motivated Charis to continue living up to her reputation of being obedient and hardworking. She began to set high expectations of herself, and would always want to do her best. 

But when she went to secondary school and her peers began to outdo her in exams, her sense of self-worth started to plummet.  

How can we support our children’s self-worth without getting them to lower their standards totally?  

What is self-worth? 

With mental health issues coming to the fore, there is an urgent need to help children build a strong sense of self-worth, and to understand they are more than their achievements.  

Although Charis struggled in the beginning with peer and societal pressure, she realised in her later teen years that she “didn’t need to care so much about other people or the labels that they put on me, but rather to just focus on myself, on my own, knowing my own abilities, my own strength, my own beliefs and to feel secure in that.”  

She credits this self-worth as a by-product of the way her parents raised her. What did her parents do right? 

She can always be herself with us and have nothing to prove. 

Create a safe space  

Charis’ father, Wen Wei, has managed to build a safe space for her, largely by being a safe person. However, this doesn’t mean there were no mistakes made. 

Growing up, Charis was particularly sensitive to the word “stupid” being used on her. Somebody had done that once to her and Wen Wei made a mental note never to do the same. However, one day when Wen Wei was helping Charis through her homework, he got frustrated at Charis and snapped in exasperation, “Don’t tell me you’re really so stupid.” 

That sent Charis over the edge, and triggered a crying fit. 

Immediately after, Wen Wei had to send his other daughter to a swimming class but during the drive to the pool, he was so worried that Charis would do something foolish.  

That incident made Wen Wei realise the importance of being Charis’ safe place. He said, “She may feel like she has something to prove to other people, but she can always be herself with us and have nothing to prove.”  

Charis laughed upon hearing her father recount that incident. Having happened when Charis was still in primary school, she does not remember it. But it’s clear it had a lasting impact on Wen Wei.

Offer physical hugs and comfort 

During Charis’ frequent meltdowns, Wen Wei and his wife tried different methods every week to comfort her. But nothing seemed to work.  

One time, during a meltdown, Wen Wei decided to just hug her. Miraculously, it worked. Coupled with honest and open talks with her parents, Charis gradually managed to find her feet and step out of the shadows of self-doubt 

Today, you might overhear Charis telling her friends, “Whatever tough situation you are in, hugs can solve everything.” 

Listen well and help them feel understood 

Now 22, Charis is moving into a new phase of life – from the safety of school to the world of work. Even as she sends out job applications, she often worries about the outcomes. However, she’s learnt to self-soothe by telling herself, “It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get an offer.” 

She attributes her growth in security to her father’s willingness to sit and have long conversations with her. “He has always given me that space to talk. He is a really good listener, and he has never imposed his decision or opinion on me.”  

“Sometimes I get annoyed,” Charis joked, “because I think it would be easier if he decides and then I follow, but I also appreciate that he helps lead me to a decision that I make, instead of telling me what he thinks first.” 

Genuinely enjoy them. Express that pleasure in them. Then delight in them, any time, every time. 

Genuinely enjoy your children 

Whenever Wen Wei’s children would disturb him when he was in the middle of something, he would try to stop and shift his attention to them.   

“My children are really the joy of my life. I try to communicate that with them as often as I can. Genuinely enjoy them. Express that pleasure in them. Then delight in them, any time, every time.”  

We all want the best for our children. But in the midst of pushing them to their maximum potential, we should not forget to hold them close. And to tell them, “I love you, whatever you do, however you do.” 

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

Why is it So Stressful Talking to My Kids About Sex?

My husband and I had picked our precociously energetic six year old from kindergarten one day following our usual routine. All of a sudden, she blurted out unbridledly from the backseat of our car, “Mommy, what’s an orgasm?”  

My ears did a backflip, while I sat stunned for a moment in disbelief at what I had just heard. My eyes met my husband’s while we exchanged raised eyebrows in what we felt was uncomfortable wriggle room. Fortunately, I recovered just in time to return a question in a quick serve.  

“What do you think it is, dear? And why do you ask?”  

“Today my teacher drew a picture of it on our white board…. 

“And it looks like something from under the water – from KorKor’s science encyclopedia!”  

Realisation came in a wave of relief and suppressed giggles. “Do you mean organism?”  

“Yes mummy, what’s an organism?”  

I laughed. We all did – having narrowly escaped being put in a spot in the most potentially  awkward conversation ever. While we are usually ready to teach our children anything they want to learn, (think reading, math, good manners), we aren’t AS ready to launch into graphic discussions about sex and how babies are made – despite knowing that it is an important conversation to address in their lives!  

Culturally, being raised in a largely conservative Asian society doesn’t help. Most of us may have never had such a conversation with our own parents. It is probably not wrong to say that parents in that era simply evaded this topic altogether, leaving their children to piece together the nuances of their sexual understanding through a collective smattering of euphemisms for sexual acts and body parts.  

Their only question after the talk was, ‘Can we go and play Lego now?’ 

A friend, a parent of four, recounted her experience (or lack of) bringing up the sex topic to her kids:  

“Their only question after was, ‘Can we go and play Lego now?’ I was self-conscious because it was not a topic someone spoke to me about. (I discovered the meaning of sexual intercourse from the dictionary, and it shocked me when I found out.) But I was determined to not pass such stigma down to my kids. I want them to see the gift and miracle of sex.” 

Psychologists like Joye Swan, chair of the department of psychology and social sciences at Woodbury University, California, reckons it “can be weird to think of our family members as sexual beings for the same reason it was weird to see our teachers outside of school.” 

Our kids may also find it difficult to accept parents giving advice on sex as it feels uncomfortable and awkward to visualise them in these roles as lovers or sexual beings, which disconnects from their primary roles and image as caregivers.  

Parents too, may find it unnatural to accept their child’s progressive coming of age – preferring to assume their child stays in a perpetual state of innocence.  

When the kids were about 10 years old, they would start to talk through the physical changes in their bodies, and even prepare a gift pack for them as they hit puberty, as a gesture of celebration. 

Ming, a 16-year-old, said she’d much rather google all her queries on sex than ask any graphic or awkward questions to her parents.  

Another teen commented that he would prefer to disassociate the topic where possible; preferring to have a teacher explain it as a subject in class.  

If we feel unsettled talking to our kids about sex, the kids, especially older teens, definitely feel it too. Nevertheless, how can we make this important topic more approachable?  

A fellow mum of three adolescents shared that she speaks with her girls separately while her husband tackles this subject with their son. As a family, they prefer to approach the topic as an ongoing conversation rather than a one-off talk 

Starting as young as four or five, they would introduce concepts such as “good touch, bad touch” and parameters for physical touch and affection, such as when to give or receive hugs, within different social contexts.  

When the kids were about 10 years old, they would start to talk through the physical changes in their bodies, and even prepare a gift pack for them as they hit puberty, as a gesture of celebration.  

Some parents use books to lead them into conversations on sexuality, such as The Ultimate Girls’ Body Book: Not-So-Silly Questions About Your Body by By  Walt Larimore, MD , and Amaryllis Sanchez Wohlever, MD. (There is an equivalent guide for boys.)  

Most would agree that communication about sex ought to start when a child is very young and continue through his life stages and eventually when he or she forms relationships. No matter which stage your child is at, let’s start this conversation somewhere!  

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

When Results Aren’t The Only Thing

Growing up, exam season was a big thing. In my family, at least. 

Growing up in a neighbourhood school, I was constantly fed with the idea that working hard was the only way to a better life. 

In the lead-up to the PSLE, I would regularly wake up at 4am to study before I went to school. Even at the tender age of 12, my mum would buy me coffee so that I could stay awake. 

By all accounts, it worked, as I landed in one of the most elite schools in Singapore. 

Yet, the competition didn’t end there. It was only the beginning. For the rest of high school and college, I was given the narrative that we were the “cream of the crop”. Achievements were aplenty in my school. Each day, during assembly, we would see people winning Math Olympiads, international sports competitions, and being awarded book prizes.

I was struggling to even pass my exams at this point. Seeing these achievements around me fuelled my internal narrative that I was not enough. 

Finally in 2016, I won that overseas scholarship, but that only set me on a drive for more. 

It was worse now. I had a price tag to my value, with the $208,000 bond now quantifying my worth. I felt I had to work to justify what others had invested in me. 

In 2019, I thought I got all I wanted. 

The first-class honours, awards, and even a board directorship. 

But when I finally returned to Singapore, I was filled with a strange emptiness. I stuffed myself with cakes, chocolates and cookies to fill the emptiness within me. Within a month, I grew by 8kg. I realised I needed help. In October 2019, I saw a psychiatrist, and took antidepressants. 

It was an irony to imagine how far I’d fallen from grace  from a board director, to being put on antidepressants. 

I share this story because I want parents to know one thing: That what you might be pushing your child to  more accolades, better results, may not be the thing that satisfies them, nor you. 

There is a caveat though.

Communicating to your child why it is in his interests to do well academically may make more sense than force-feeding him tuition.

Results are still important

As a social worker, I’ve seen some parents fling to the other extreme of declaring, “Results are not important! It’s okay if you fail.”

Striving for excellence in school is a good and healthy trait. Simply letting your child play is not ideal. 

We often say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” But we forget the converse is also true. “All play and no work makes Jack a poor boy.”

Communicating to your child why it is in his interests to do well academically may make more sense than force-feeding him tuition. 

My parents regularly communicated with me why academic excellence was important. It was made more real because of the multiple retrenchments my dad experienced during my growing up years. 

One night, after my father had been retrenched, my mum explained to me that academic excellence wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a more secure future, but it would provide a firmer foundation. 

It helped me understand why she was pushing me so hard.

My parents exposed me to different hobbies from an early age, encouraging me to build excellence in hobbies that weren’t tied to academic performance. It encouraged me to do well in something because I liked it.

Nurturing excellence outside of school

Inculcating your child with a healthy desire for excellence is necessary and important. 

I appreciated how my parents exposed me to different hobbies from an early age, encouraging me to build excellence in hobbies that weren’t tied to academic performance. 

It encouraged me to do well in something because I liked it, and not because the school required it. 

For example, from the age of 4, they sent me for swim and art classes to inculcate a healthy lifestyle. 

For your child, you too can encourage hobbies outside of school. It can teach your child in nurturing a natural drive for excellence in what they want to do, rather than what they need to do. 

The key though is having a balance, rather than over-scheduling your child. We often apply an adult perspective of full-time work to a child’s schedule, without realising that some unhurried time may be beneficial to them.

Healthy boundaries around screen-based play

A healthy desire for excellence is also nurtured within well-structured boundaries, particularly around device usage. 

As a social worker, one of the most common parenting complaints I’ve seen is around a lack of control of screen usage. 

We may not realise the dangers of device use at an early age, when the brains of children are not fully developed. They may lack the maturity to self-manage their device usage. 

What’s interesting is also how tech titans have dealt with device usage in their own families. 

In the aftermath of the release of the iPad, Nick Bilton, a New York Times reporter, asked Steve Jobs, “Your kids must love the iPad, right?”

Jobs replied, “They haven’t used it. We limit the amount of technology our children use at home.”

Walter Isaacson, the biographer of Steve Jobs went on to report:

“Every night Steve insisted on dining at the big kitchen table, talking about books, history and a variety of other things. Nobody ever took out an iPad or a computer. The kids didn’t seem addicted to the devices. “

Balancing push and pull 

In the push for excellence, perhaps what is needed is to remember to pull our children towards us for nurturing. 

How? 

Whatever mark your child gets for their exams, take time to let them know that you appreciate the effort they’ve put in. Communicate the unconditional love you have, regardless of the mark they’ve achieved. 

In the lead-up to their exams, don’t gloss over the emotions of anxiety and fear that the child might experience. Take time to speak about it during dinners. Ask questions like: “How do you feel about your upcoming exams?”

Share your own experiences of exam anxiety when growing up. It models to your child that feelings are a valid aspect of who they are, and not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

What our children long for

Often, our child’s studying habits can leave us feeling frustrated and angry. We wish they would study harder, spend less time on phone games, and be better behaved. 

We may unwittingly convey the message that our child can only be loved if they achieve better grades, stop playing so much, or be better behaved. 

In 2015, after receiving my A-Level results, I felt lost and anxious. I wanted to become a doctor, but I couldn’t, because of my results. 

I started actively thinking about suicide. In my mind, I rationalised it as, “Since I can’t become a doctor, there’s not much point in living.” 

Eventually I saw a doctor, who referred me to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). In the wee hours of the morning, when I was finally allowed to go home, my father wrapped his arms around me, squeezed my shoulder, and said:

“John, straight A-s or no A-s, you’re still my son.”

Children long to be validated and loved for who they are, and not just who they will become. 

Today, perhaps it’s worth asking, “What if your child was doing the very best they could?”

How would that change your approach to them? 

It’s worth reflecting on.

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

Bullying – Is Punishment The Way To Go?

Bullying refers to the use of strength or power to frighten or hurt weaker people. (Dictionaries, 2023)

I recently came across an account on bullying that took me by surprise. It wasn’t the act of bullying but the way the parents handled it that caught me off-guard. It was the first time I had ever heard of such an approach.

James is a quiet and reserved boy who loves helping those who are in need. When he entered primary school, his friends took advantage of his kindness and started bullying him. He had a classmate who was bigger in size compared to him, and bullied him often. He pushed James around and caused him hurt by pinching him. He also poured water on James out of his own bottle. Fearing that he would be bullied further, James did not dare to raise this to his teacher. Fortunately, because of the close relationship he has with his parents, he shared with them these incidents as soon as he got home every single time.

One would have expected his parents to fly into a rage and even lodge a police report because of the physical harm that was caused, but they did not.

I know that I can approach the school anytime

James’s father had a close relationship with the school because he was part of the parent support group. It gave him the confidence that he could go to the school to ask for assistance on this matter and it would be a better solution than to take matters into his own hands.

James also highlighted to his father that this boy was his classmate after all, and he did not wish to escalate the matter. His father took his advice.

There is wisdom in this approach. Escalating the matter could make things awkward for James to continue to be in the same classroom, because he would not know how to face this friend that his father had lodged a formal complaint against. And it would probably create more stress for James eventually.

Communication and education are better solutions to bullying, rather than punishment.

By punishing we will not learn

Rather than to get the form teacher to punish the boy harshly, James’s father requested for the bully to be counselled and educated on the detrimental effects of bullying. He also reiterated to the teacher that he does not wish for the bully to be punished. He believes that communication and education are better solutions in the long term. He was right.

This father’s story was a breath of fresh air. I realised that he was not only concerned about what his son had gone through, but he was also concerned about what the other boy would learn. He wanted to protect his child, and he also wanted the boy to learn what is right.

Often as parents, we tend to jump into the situation to defend our child. This is the parental instinct to protect our young in times of danger. But James’s father taught me to go one step further, to not only protect my child but also to champion what is right.

Punishing the child will only reiterate that what he did was wrong. It does not solve the root issue that he is going through. It does not equip the child with the right handles to relate to a classmate, to express his emotions in a safe manner. Communicating and educating does. It helps the child process why he acts in a certain manner, and it trains the child to think of how his actions impact others. This will result in real and lasting change.

This sharing has given me a fresh perspective on bullying, and a good one.

Bullying occurs anywhere, but children are a more vulnerable group. Especially younger children in the preschool and lower primary range, who may be unable to defend themselves.

Educating a child about bullying helps them process why they may act in a certain manner, and trains them to think of how his actions impact others.

While discussing this topic with some of my friends who are teachers in a preschool and primary school, they shared with me some very practical handles.

Tacking bullying in young children:

1. Safety first

Get away to a safe place. Do not engage or retaliate because it might result in more injuries. Go to a place where there are adults.

2. Seek help

Find a reliable adult, whether it is a teacher or parent, and seek help. Get them involved so that they can handle the situation. Adults are equipped with the knowledge and ability to deal with these matters in a safe manner.

3. Look out for changes in child’s behaviour

More often than not, young children are not able to articulate the stresses that they are undergoing. However, it shows up in their behaviors such as: Loss of appetite, isolation, emotional instability, overwhelming fear etc. These are major signs that your child may be going through something in school.

4. Get the full picture

Children do not have an accurate concept of time, and they also are not able to remember entirely what had happened. It is best to speak with their teachers to find out what exactly happened before deciding the best course of action. Relying on their words alone may not be helpful.

5. Work towards a win-win situation

Work together with the teacher for a win-win situation. It is not only important to protect the child, but also to ensure that there is a real and lasting change.

Bullying has to be corrected, not just prevented.

For privacy reasons, pseudonyms were used in this article.

Why Did My Parents Separate?

Primary years (7-9 years)

The separation or dissolution of a parent’s marriage can be devastating for children of any age. As children at this young age may not fully understand the complexities of human relationships and why their parents cannot stay married, keep your explanations simple. Focus on providing as much security, stability and assurance that they will continue to be loved and cared for by both parents, where possible.

Younger children may find it hard to process and describe their feelings at the onset of the news. But as they adjust to the changes or when they start seeing less of one parent, a mixture of sadness, fear, or anxiety may set in.

They may ask questions about how their parents’ separation will impact them and their daily routines. These include, “Who will I be staying with?”, “Will I still see my other parent regularly?”, “Will my parents get back together?”.

Some children may even wonder if they did something wrong or were the cause of the separation. Assure them that they are not the cause.

Reiterate that while there are going to be changes to the family and living arrangements, nothing will change your love for them, and they will continue to be loved and cared for. It is important not to badmouth your partner in front of your child, as this may add to the feelings of conflict and confusion.

Tween years (10-12 years)

Older children may experience a sense of loss with their parents separating and have a negative view of themselves compared to their peers. They may also feel anger, sadness or even resentment toward their parents for the breakdown in their marriage and family life.

Look out for any unusual behavioural changes as tweens may act out due to their difficult emotions, particularly if they find it hard to express their feelings with their parents. They may become withdrawn or develop attention-seeking behaviours due to the fear of being abandoned or neglected.

Some preteens may even vent the anger they feel on their siblings; bullying them, shouting at them or directing their frustration at them.

Instead of trying to make them accept the change and move on, take time to listen to check in on how they’re doing. Ask them to share their feelings, even if these are negative and you instinctively want to shut them down. Validate their feelings by saying, “I can see that you are upset/scared/angry. Can you tell me more?” This helps your child feel seen and heard and let’s them know that they can come to you with any of their difficult feelings.

Teen years (13-15 years)

Parents may assume that teenagers have greater mental capacity to deal with the adjustments now that they are older. However, this depends on the maturity of your child. If teens have heard their parents argue or seen one parent staying out a lot more, chances are they’ve picked up on what is happening.

Even when a separation or divorce is amicable, it’s natural for your teenagers to grieve the loss of their family. Give them space for their reactions or non-reactions, and time to process their feelings.

The pain from their parents’ separation can sometimes impact their identity, self-esteem, and future relationships. Remember that in this teenage stage, there are many changes taking place in their life, emotionally and mentally as well. This makes open and honest communication even more crucial in the time surrounding a divorce. Make sure your teen understands that they can come to you to talk about anything.

To maintain stability in their lives, it’s crucial to surround your teens with other nurturing relationships. Be intentional about building a supportive community around them, such as with their grandparents, extended family members like uncles and aunties, cousins or others trusted adults in their life, like a teacher, counsellor or coach.

Be patient even if your child seems like they are pushing you away. Open and honest communication reduces the chance of deep emotional problems festering beneath the surface.

Coping with divorce is hard at any age and children especially can have a more challenging time. If you are considering divorce, do consider how it can potentially impact your children and take time to help your children navigate the complex emotions surrounding divorce. If you are seeking counselling help, look no further.

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!

Parent Coaching

Be supported as you parent in a digital world

Parent Coaching

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