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Raising Thriving Children Who Become Thriving Adults

A couple of weeks ago, a parent questioned our timetables. She was concerned over the slots we had labeled as ‘free play’. I explained free play could be either one of the following activities – running in the playground, reading or playing in our creative play corner. It is a great chance to establish friendship too. ‘I organize play-dates so she has a chance to make friends. Which one of the three would my child be doing each play period?’ she needed a definitive answer. I explained the child would have a choice. What would her child choose, she asked anxiously. I couldn’t answer her. After a decade of managing people and half of that running schools, I can’t help but make the following observations of qualities that mark a thriving child and adult. 1. Simplicity is Key to Clarity and Being Happy The need of the parent to fill up every slot of her child’s life and to know what the child is doing at every moment sounds compulsive but it is not unique to her. Our world has become more sophisticated with options of entertainment and edutainment. Unlike the previous generation, the modern parents aren’t struggling to provide enough. They have trouble resisting providing too much. In doing so, we unwittingly create children who require constant external stimulation and struggle to realize their full potential. Kim John Payne cited his observation of a refugee camp in his book, Simplicity Parenting, where children were ‘jumpy, nervous, and hyper-vigilant, wary of anything novel or new.’ Years later, he observed the same behavior from his private practice of affluent children in England. ‘Modern day children are exposed to a constant flood of information which they can't process or rationalize.’ I frequently meet young adults who tell me they are lost. Their lives have been scripted from every period during school and after school, to subjects they take, the major they read at university to the job they take. They understand the notion of doing what they love and success will follow, but they have problem finding what they love. There is hardly a quiet moment to hear their own thoughts and listen to their instinct. 2. Creativity to Exceed Potential I know how to teach a child math and language. There are defined learning outcomes they should master at the end of an academic year. How do we teach the child to think creatively beyond the learning outcomes and come up with interesting solutions or a different perspective? In fact, how does one teach creativity? There is no formula to teaching creativity. To nurture creativity, we need to provide children with the space to express themselves and a conducive environment to immerse themselves in. Creative activities can include art lessons, culinary, sensory activities, music classes and simply playing. My favourite games to play with the children while on gym duty are good old ‘Hide & Seek’ and ‘Simon Says’. The students have surprised me time and again with the modifications they come up with. 3. Resilience is Key for Achievement A friend who heads up a department in a bank lamented to me over lunch that her analyst just resigned. He was assigned a small task to complete by end of the day, but left the moment the clock struck 6 pm for his ‘work life balance’. When he was told off the next day for a late submission and for handing in a sloppy piece of work, he took it hard and decided the job wasn’t for him. My friend’s example is becoming a common occurrence in the workplace. Why can’t our younger millennials take pressure or constructive criticism? They are unable to do so because they are Trophy kids who are rewarded frequently. I have had a toddler who successfully returned a ball to the toy box and the entire extended family stopped to clap for him. I have parents rewarding their children before a task to tempt them, to plead with them to complete something as simple as wearing the school uniform or finishing their meal. The same child who needs an affirmation every few minutes into an activity grows up into an adult who requires constant validation to fend off self-doubt. Grandiose birthday parties now mark every year, followed by lavish party packs. ‘What’s the rationale of a party pack for attendees of a birthday party?’ I was puzzled when I first learnt of it. ‘Oh, it’s a great way to teach a child that it’s important to give on a day she receives so many presents.’ Really. Whatever happens to a simple handwritten thank-you card? Rewards should be earned. Disproportionate celebration dilutes the exuberance of meeting a milestone. A person who doesn’t appreciate the value of success will never achieve success. 4. Say sorry and mean it On a similar note, why did the analyst not feel remorseful when told off by his boss? Let me cite you two related real-life examples but of my preschoolers. Child A’s parent was late to pick him up from school. When the parent arrived, the child pouted and stomped his foot. I corrected the child, but the father told me I have no right to correct his child. He said sorry to his child, but the child pouted and refused to look at him. So the father kneeled down and bowed to the child, ‘Daddy is really sorry. Can you please forgive me and we go home?’ Child B had been biting his classmates. When we talked to his parent, the parent wanted proof that he did indeed bite someone else, brought in big guns such as his psychologist/dentist/paediatrician defending the child that it was normal for a toddler to go through biting. Over-defensive much? What's more worrying is the lack of concern over the classmates or apology. How would our children learn to empathise or sincerely apologise? I see frequently parents praising a child after they correct a child. It sends mixed signals and confuses a child. A child growing up in such environment does not respect boundaries nor authority. Neither does the child develop empathy for others and society. When a child is corrected for an error such as vandalizing a wall, he should be corrected and asked to apologise. Don’t confuse the child by praising him for apologizing or his correction. 5. Child-led & Parent-led This leads me to my last point of child-led versus parent-led parenting. Growing up in Asia, our modern millennial parents are familiar of a parent-led environment. Then we read current parenting literature citing the importance of child-led parenting. Here’s where the confusion arises. I have millennial parents asking me which approach should they take to produce a better outcome. Child-led parenting is one whereby the parents are sensitive to the cues of the child. You value the individuality and personality quirks of your child. Instead of choosing the piano class you never had, you allow your child to establish her own preference and passion. However, parenting is a privilege and responsibility that we must uphold. No one else has a bigger duty to parent a child other than his parent. Parents have to know their family core values and create boundaries. A child who grows up with a firm sense of values is one who thrives. This is parent-led parenting. Raising a thriving child who becomes a thriving adult starts with positive yet firm parenting and raising them in an environment that strikes a balance between child-led and parent-led. We have to get it Right From The Start. #TrinityKidsMalaysia #TrinityKidsParentingSeries#RaisingThrivingChildren #RightFromTheStart

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