Monday 27 June 2016

Sonshine and Doll

My children, oh my children. They are as different as night and day not just in their genitals but also in their personalities right down to the food they eat. 

Everyday it is like a psychotic warfare for me, swinging my mental self from point to point. Each child has his or her unique make up and I've to adjust myself accordingly. 

When disciplining,  it's no use talking sense to my son. All that talking will fly over his head, the moment he hears my normal tone, he shuts out and will drift off in his head. The way to go with him is to raise my voice up to a high notch, as high as I can possibly master. This way it will shake him out of his system. Sometimes, I've even have to get physical with him and use harsh words to get my point across. Otherwise, he will simply wait for the session to be over while sending his thoughts far away but with me. Despite receiving that many verbal abuse from me, he somehow has the full confidence, beyond any shadow of doubt that I still love him. He doesn't need me to remind or assure him.

Using that same tyrant methodology on my daughter would be like smashing a set of china. Her heart and soul will break into a million pieces if I ever raise my voice at her. For her, I've to talk sense to her, reason with her and assure her I love her still. Yes talking works well with her, my words will stab right through her heart and immediately I will get the corrected behaviour that I want. I rarely have to scream at her.

Their personalities are each at the extreme ends. My son is severely introverted. He prefers to zone out into his own world and space. Asking him to share his thoughts is like asking a miser to treat you to a meal. It actually pains me to have a chat with him. I've to be mentally charged and arm myself with a mental spade to dig out his thoughts. It's exhausting just having a 10 minutes chat with him. And his train of thoughts- oh man. It takes me to nowhere. Every thought brings me to another thought which brings me to another. 

Unlike my son, my doll loves to share with me about anything and everything. She tells me about school, what she sees, what she thinks, what she likes, what she is curious about and yada yada yada. She's systematic, I know where her thoughts bring me to. It's structured and logical. While my son irritates me with his bare minimum conversation, my daughter irritates me with her non stop yakking. So you see what I mean by being in a psychotic warfare all the time? 

And oh the food that they like- are from different continents. Sonshine is a true blue Asian man who prefers rice and sushi. While my daughter is a European girl preferring spaghetti and pizza. At times, the family have to split up for our meals just so to satisfy their individual cravings. 

And their developmental abilities differ. My son is a mathematician, he is like a fish in the water when it comes to numbers. My daughter needs repetitive practise. But when it comes to language ability, the opposite is true. 

My son is clearly an introvert who prefers to stay home, bury himself in his books & toys or simply lie on the bed and go on a whimsical journey in his head. He rejects anything that requires him to get out of shell and anything that demands his time away from home. That explains why I, unlike all the other parents out there, have not send my son for any enrichment classes like music, sports and what-nots. If you must know, that is not my choice.
My daughter on the other hand, is the social butterfly who wants to try everything and anything. Unlike my son, she has plenty of classes- all non academic, from piano to dance to art and she enjoys them all. I would rarely find her lying quietly on her bed. Even when she's playing by herself, her voice can be heard. She wants to try and experience new things. She always enjoys herself in any social situation she is in. Throw her in the playground and she will find a friend or friends in seconds. 

Their differences tear me apart on a daily basis. I basically feel that I've to  literally switch my personality when dealing with them. One moment I'm yelling and the next I'm using a calm voice, one moment I'm demanding a child to share more and on the other I'm telling the other to quieten down. I have no doubt they are confused by me- ironically. 

Yet I sometimes seek refuge in their differences. When I need someone to perk me up, I spend girly time win my daughter. She's like my lamp who lights me up. But when I need to have some quiet company, my son is the way to go. 

The other night, splitting up for dinner as usual, I had dinner with my son whilst the hub had dinner with my doll. That night, I wanted a downtime where I can find refuge in my book. I appreciated that my son was comfortable with the total silence at our table. I believe he was relieved himself that I didn't demand him to chat as he also wanted to withdraw into his own thoughts and make quiet observations. I am certain that if I had paired up with my daughter that night, she would have pierced the silence with her incessant chatting throughout the entire meal and I would have to forgo my downtime.

I suppose I can't blame anyone else except myself. I've a bit of a split personality myself. My personality test results showed that I am both an introvert AND extrovert with only one point difference between the two. This is why I can understand both introverts and extroverts. I completely understand my son's need to have his downtime, his preference for home rather than social outings. I can also understand my daughter's need to get out and let her social skills let loose. My extrovert side gets annoyed with my introvert son and my introvert side gets annoyed with my daughter's extrovert side. But at the same time the introvert in me appreciates the introvert in the boy and the loud me appreciates my bubbly daughter. 

It's psychotic in my house, I tell you. 

Wednesday 8 June 2016

What our kids need to be successful


Book cover
I just completed reading the above book. Actually, it's my second time reading this book. But it's so good that it warrants a post about it. 

I think all Singaporean parents should be handed a copy of this book or at least made to read the first chapter of the book. Straight away it shoots down what we typically believe - good grades is key to our children's success. 

In the first chapter, it shared about an experiment known as the Perry preschool experiment. A group of preschoolers from the lower income/IQ families were selected and randomly divided into two groups. One was given quality education while the other ran on it's own. They wanted to help increase the intelligence of these children. As we all expected the treated group fared better in their academic grades BUT hold your horses. This gap was not for long. By third grade (roughy our primary 3), their grades leveled up. Which means, whether the kids were given good education earlier on or not has no effect on their intelligence level. 

My own thoughts here at this point: if that's the case, shouldn't we let our preschoolers enjoy their childhood rather than focusing on hothousing them during their early years? Afterall, all that early childhood comes to a naught by third grade. And I think it's true. Sonshine was way ahead (academically) his peers during his preschool years, at least 2-3 years ahead. But as he got older, I found that the gap got closer and closer.

So what about all that jaz about early childhood education? We all thought that early childhood education meant that the earlier we start the smarter our kids will become. Apparently it started with a study done to show that more and more parents were neglecting their children due to other commitments that the children lack of the nurture they need at home and as a result the children are using less vocabulary ie less smarter. That sparked off all the Mozart music, education DVDs and what nots. As a side note, I read in another book about the theory of exposing babies to classical music will make them smarter. What the marketers didn't tell the mainstream is that listening to the music will make them smarter but for mere minutes and it doesn't last a lifetime. So go figure. They just want our money. The original point of that research was to encourage more parents to spend more time with their kids, talk to them more, play with them more not so much to educate them more. 

So back to the Perry school experiment, the researchers thought they failed because they didn't help those kids raise their intelligence. 

But wait.

Despite all that, it was the treated group who ultimately got on to be graduates and have successful careers. Why so? It's clearly not because they are any smarter (remember their grades leveled up by grade 3). They concluded that during the treatment period these kids picked up characteristic traits like resilience, hard work, grit etc. And so what is to be said of this experiment? It's not our smarts that will get us far, it's the traits that we posses. 

Let me say that again: It's not our smarts that will get us far, it's the traits that we posses. 

Throughout the book, it bust the idea that our kids need good grades to suceed in life. It is not about the good grades that our kids get, it is the process of working hard which inevitably produce good grades that bring our children far. One may say then good grades is thus still an indicator of success. But don't forget, there are kids who have natural smarts without much effort on their part. These may produce excellent results (because of their natural smarts) but it doesn't mean that they have the right traits to make them successful.  

Take my son for instance, he scored exceptionally well for his Math exam. It's easy to assume that it's because he studied very hard for it and his efforts paid off. Truth is, he scarcely did any revision, not enough to boast about 'hard work'. He did well due to his naturally flair for Math. I won't be surprise if come one day he's peers will do better if they work harder, preserved more than my son. So back to the point, grades are not great indicators of success.
This probably also explains why there are students who do poorly in PSLE but soar sky high at their 'O's or 'A's. It was likely their determination, drive, grit, perseverance that got them their results. Like yours truly (ahem). Which means, even if you don't have the nautural smarts it is not impossible to do well academically. All you really need are the right attributes. 
The other elements of success are not surprising. They are the environment the children grow up in. Obviously, the less stressful and the less traumatic their environment is the better. One other key to sucess is the care they get from their primary care giver, could be their mom, dad, both or grandparents. The more nurturing the care givers are the more they are able to withstand the external stress and pressure they may face. 

As I type this, I am wincing at myself for falling short in my parenting. For one, like most Singaporean parents, I've been too focus on academic results, where my kids rank among their peers, what I must do so that they won't lag behind etc. As it is, the school is giving them enough stress and stifling their creativity. Still, I created a stressful environment for them instead of a more nurturing and creative one. I wonder how many parents out there are like me? Numerous, I dare say. 

All these are not to say that we should become relax parents and let the kids rule on their own. I think rather than focusing on the results, we should focus on sharpening their characteristics. Their school years are the best years to do this. We should make use of their schooling years to teach them values like respondsibility ie as a student they are expected to do their homework and hand them in on time. Teach them the beauty of hard work ie the more practise the better results (even if it's one mark improvement). Teach them the value of resilience ie even if the results are poor this term, it's ok, rise up and work harder for next term. Teach them persistence ie never give up, keep trying until you get the result you want. And when the good results come in, rejoice with them. Not because of the excellent results but that they have proven to themselves that they have it in them to do well in anything they set their mind to. And hopefully they will continue to sharpen these traits well into their adult lives.

But far too often we push them to work hard for a shallow reason. We want excellent grades to be printed on the certificate, perhaps for our own glory or perhaps we mistakenly think that is the key to their success. Instead we should be focusing on having them pick up the right skills as they study. We should focus more on the process rather than the results.

In short, the key for our children to succeed is not their grades. It lies in the traits that they posses. What are those trait? The book identified some of them as persistence, self control (interestingly the preschool teachers indicate that it is not the less academically inclined kids who give them the most problem, its the kids who have no self control), curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. How many of those do your kids have?

I know it seems obvious to say that. I know its been said from parent to parent that character is more important. But that to me are weightless words, I needed evidence to back it up. This is what the book did for me is, it gave me the supporting cold hard research and not just by hear-says. It also confirms what I wrote here some time back.

I enjoyed this book because it puts things in perspective for me. The challenge will come when the school gates reopen and we are made to plunge right back in to the rat race. Every holiday, I change my mind set, shift my perspectives only to be pulled back again whenever a new term starts. It's hard, it's really hard not to  get hook by the academic progress of the kids especially when all day and week long we receive subtle or direct messages on how our kids are faring against their peers. I think as parents we owe it to our children to make a conscious effort to renew our minds and keep ourselves and our kids on the right track. I doubt I'll be able to change my mind set over night but I think keeping myself exposed to the right articles, constantly bombarding my brain with such wisdom may help, not now perhaps in the long run. Hopefully by then it won't be too late.