This is the 2nd article condensed from a workshop conducted for young parents over three Saturday afternoons. You may read the 1st article here - Purposeful Parenting - "What We Need to Know about Children" (Part 1 of 3) (davidgoliath.sg)
Part 1: What you need to know about children
Part 2: What children really need
Part 3: Purposeful Parenting
The workshop is based on the book, “A Guide to Purposeful Parenting: harnessing your children’s love for you” written by Dr. Lian-Ding Eliza. She is a child psychologist and had practiced in the West and in Singapore.
Love & Limits
Every child needs to know his place in the world. When he knows his place, he will then know the purpose for which he is created. We want to teach our children that growing up well means that they must learn to abide by universal laws that govern humankind and what the Bible teaches.
Grounding in Truth
Love must be grounded in truth. Is this so? "But because the truth hurts, maybe we should not be too hard on kids since they are still young and it may scar them." What do you think? Well, I think that lots of love and affection with no honesty will create insecurity. Children desperately need boundaries based on truth for their own protection and for a sense of security.
Love and limits are necessary in parenting children of character. "Aiyah, my kid is still a baby, setting limits will only makes him unhappy and cranky." Maybe limits need not be so strict nor should it be enforced too harshly. Children just need to know that they are accepted and they belong. Limits/boundaries allow them to grow up safely, securely and with direction. Parental authority aims to give children freedom. This is almost an oxymoron, or seen to be contradictory. Parental guidance - or more correctly, parental discipline - shows a child that there are consequences to his behaviour and choices.
In Asian societies, it is said a child is to be seen only when summoned and not heard unless spoken to. What do you think? Too old school? However, the modern family has more affluence and is smaller, hence children and grandchildren are precious and given a lot more attention. With grandparents, the ratio of adults to child can be 5:1. Nonetheless, it is not healthy for a household to revolve around the child’s preference as this would damage the child. He needs to know his limits and respect authority.
Discipline at Home
This is especially difficult when both parents are not consistently at home. Grandparents have the tendency to be “soft”, however grandparents must accept that discipline is the responsibility of parents and they should reinforce what the parents decided. What about domestic helpers? Some kids may have them as the only adult interaction for most of the day. Unless you have great trust in your domestic helper, most would not allow them to discipline their child. I am sure sooner or later, most of you will hire a domestic helper. However, domestic helpers are adults and children must still respect them and not “lord” over them.
External Locus of Control
Generally, young children do not know what is potentially harmful to themselves and need to learn this through external control. He needs to know boundaries - the line between right and wrong. They need firm limits and swift consequences in order to develop internal control. Now, how firm? What time to sleep? Misbehave in the mall, what and how swift are the consequences?
It is a sad fact that in every culture, there are adults who abuse their position of authority and exploit or abuse children. How do we teach our children what is appropriate in an adult-and-child relationship? At home, they are taught that the words of mum and dad are the law. How do they question those outside of home? How do we raise children not to be blind followers but at the same time to show respect for others?
How to inculcate a child's internal locus of control? This will protect him from other harmful choices or even his own. Can he discern what is right or wrong in every situation and control his actions based on wisdom that comes from his internal standards? One way is to have a firm authoritative voice in his early years, gradually moving towards instruction with reason, then to a more persuasive tone and finally to just provide advice if he seeks it.
Pursuit of Good
The ability to discern what is right is paramount, and parents can demonstrate best through their actions and choices. If I want my children to embody goodness and excellence, then I must direct them towards that. We want to teach them by our lives, and that we are stewards of God’s bountiful blessings.
In this next part, we look at the social and character development of young children. One key skill is valuing people.
I wonder if we are born with racial prejudices in our genes. How many of us have friends of different ethnicities, and who do we usually makan with? How then do we teach our kids to be colour blind? Firstly, parents must set the example, making intentional effort to befriend other races amongst our neighbours and colleagues. We can participate in and appreciate the festive occasions. How about greeting foreign workers in our midst? We can give small gifts to celebrate special seasons.
"Look mummy, that lady is so small, I am almost as tall as her. She is carrying so many heavy cardboard boxes and can hardly push the cart." What is your reaction? How might this be a teachable moment for your child to acknowledge someone from a vastly different occupation and background? Singapore is a melting pot of races and religions and cultures from all around Asia, how can we embrace each person and the heritage they bring?
Valuing Human Beings
How do you view someone you just met? What small talk do you initiate? Sometimes we may be quick to mentally file him/her into our catalogue of useful people whom we can call when the need arises. Instead, who are your treasured friends whom you have cultivated meaningful long-term relationships with? In what way can your child also learn to treasure friends and keep them?
What are the magic words?
"Please", "thank you", "excuse me" and "I’m sorry". They are either one or two words. How do we inculcate them into our kids?
How is your relationship with the difficult sibling in the family? How about that colleague of yours whom everyone shuns? "Huh, barely tolerable, best to keep away." Our children need to develop social tolerance and to accept others, especially the “difficult” people in their life. Human beings are social creatures - we cannot live alone or in a small, isolated group. We strive to build relationships and we can do so even with those socially, cultural or racially difference. Can our children learn this from us?
Valuing the Elderly
This seems to be a non-issue given that our Asian society demands that we respect our elders. But is this so? We exemplify and nurture in our kids a respect for the elders, especially in Singapore where most young families live as nucleus unit, ie. on their own.
Nurturing Mutual Care and Respect
Nowadays families are smaller, and children grow up with lesser or no siblings to care for. How do we make a concerted effort to allow our children to interact with and care for their peers or those weaker than them? We can seek out other young children their age from amongst neighbours, relatives like cousins, the elderly and even those physically challenged.
Teaching from Life
We live in an interdependent world; everyone needs everybody. How can we be deliberate about the kind of values we want to impart to our children? They can learn from the rich experiences of seniors too, and the wisdom they can dish out.
As Christians, we know that everything we have are not ours; they are gifts from God. Even our life is a gift. We are only stewards entrusted with God’s gift. Our children need to value and be good stewards of the resources given to them.
Stewardship of a Life
I think the most exciting role of parents is helping to shape a child’s dream. Our life that is lived purposefully would be the best model. Which begs the question, what is most important to you as a parent? Career, material security, relationship, or even church work? If we are solely acquiring one or more of the above, we risk losing our children in the long run.
I recall the case of a parent I know. The father ran a successful wet market stall, supplying frozen foods to zichar stalls and restaurants while the mother ran a popular braised duck stall. Both worked long hours and have a big semi-D, but were often not home. I remembered when their 3 children were in school, the mother planned for a holiday in Japan with them (a considerably expensive family holiday at that time). Sadly, her children all refused to go because they did not want the company of their parents and preferred to hang out with their friends. The father passed away quite a few years ago and the mother lives alone. It’s very unfortunate indeed.
Purpose of Education
Do we view education as a means to a personal end? If so, our kids will cease to know when ends are met. To what extent can we guide their academic choices? Be aware that there is a danger of imposing your “lost” opportunities upon your child. On the other hand, if they study because their curious minds want to discover new things, then there is no end to learning. How do we encourage this lifelong learning attitude instead?
Opportunity for Enrichment
Young parents are bombarded with a myriad of extra-curricular activities. Even preschools are crammed with optional enrichment classes. How might you choose or how many should you enroll your child in? Carefully consider the overstimulation you might be exposing your child to.
Managing Material Wealth
Where our treasures are, there our heart will be. How much do you trust God to provide? While it is better to have contingency savings, in case of emergencies, parents should strike the balance between being thrifty and extravagant. How can our kids learn to save and spend appropriately too?
Not just your tummies but clamping down on one's appetite for quality or branded stuff. How do we moderate our natural tendency to show off and not become a "crazy rich Asian" flaunting our excesses?
Can our children value resources especially in modern affluent Singapore? We are too easy going with our possessions - things are thrown once used, even when they're still in good condition. What might be a better way to re-use or repurpose our household items? Selling at a low cost on Carousell or giving it away at charity drives could bless someone else who has better use for our stuff.
Train the child to deliberate and plan more before spending on expensive items. How can they discern between their needs and wants and learn to be self-controlled at a young age? They require patience in order to see their long-term investments and savings grow too.
We are only stewards of the wealth that God bestows upon us. In being generous, the Bible says the right hand must not know what the left hand is giving, figuratively meaning that we should not make a show of it or proclaim what we're donating/giving. Generosity also comes in different forms - money, resources, time and attention as well. Through what platforms can your child give freely and cheerfully today?
To watch the full Part 2 lecture, you may also view it here:
About the author:
Young Kwang and his wife Iris, both 62, have been married 36 years. They have 3 grown children and 1 grandson. Though they grew up in typical Taoist families, they accepted Christ while overseas, and met each other when studying in Canberra, Australia. They have been members of Jurong Christian Church for almost 30 years and serve in various ministries.