These articles are notes from a workshop organised by the young adults in Jurong Christian Church to explore the relationship between child and parents especially in the early formulative years. The outline for the three sessions is:
Part 1: What you need to know about children
Part 2: What children really need
Part 3: Purposeful Parenting
The keys area that we will be addressing would be the role of parents in imparting key life values which are in accordance with God’s directions/words. For busy modern parents in Singapore with many demands, the challenges are plentiful. What are the roles for many members of the family, working parents and stay-at-home parent, caregiver, grandparents, school, mass/social media and societal demands?
The workshop uses 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 also in Singapore. Her guide is based on her belief as a Christian and observations from her many cases from her practices.
Children’s Love – Attachment and Developmental Needs
The first need is for acceptance, especially by the child's biological parents. How they think their parents feel about them has great impact on how they feel about themselves. Your child loves you and needs you. How you love him back will let him know how he is valued as a human being. Many a time, we hear an exasperated parent exclaimed, “If my children love me, why is it that they give me such a hard time? Why don’t they just listen to what I say?” Misbehaviour is because your child may not know how to communicate his need. A young child may hit you but what he is saying is that he needs you to hold him. An older child may just want your undivided attention.
Children need a secure and consistent environment to develop both physically and emotionally. Every child is born with the natural desire for emotional connection with their parents. Their great desire for love makes them incredibly vulnerable. The challenge for parents is to nurture strong bonds in order to influence them in a direction that is good for them and the world. We want them to be guided by godly wisdom whether we are physically with them or not.
Nonetheless, children need your physical presence. Understandably, there can be one or both parents who may be separated from their child for extended periods due to work or other reasons. This may even happen without being out of the country, from long working hours - leaving home before the child wakes and returning only after the child has long slept. Often the child is lavished with expensive gifts to make up for their absence. However, this is unnecessary. What is needed is undivided attention during those precious moments when they are physically together, or even one-to-one calls with the child. There is only a limited window where a child treasures physical closeness... once they reach adolescence, they prefer to explore their own identity and values.
Every child needs someone they can constantly relate to, someone they can trust, feel comfortable and secure with. This is the caregiver. Sadly, this may not be his parents, but could be a grandparent or babysitter or even their domestic helper. Some parents are aware of this and change their helper every 2 years. Some may feel the need to assume responsibility only when the child starts formal education i.e. from 7 years. As such, the foundational years for relationship building is lost.
Parents eventually have little leverage because the child does not feel emotionally connected. Ideally, one parent should be at home, however, in most Singapore homes, both parents work. My wife Auntie Iris and I were working when our three kids were young. Timothy was baby-sat by a friend, and she only had Timothy to look after since her 2 children who were already in school. We took him back every evening. Despite hiring a domestic helper, and having Auntie Iris’ parents who at times stayed with us, once we were back home, we took over responsibility of caring for the kids.
Every child needs to know his identity. Who am I? What am I worth? Only a parent can say, “You belong to me.” This gives a sense of worth, a direction in life and a secure base for growing well.
Children form strong attachments in their early years. Babies as young as 6 weeks can recognise their mother’s voice. Parents should develop strong bonds from their early years so as to give them a secure base to develop. These early years should not be replaced by another caregiver. Each child has the capacity to form significant relationships with different people across life stages. What makes the first five years so critical is the formation of a foundation for life. One common danger especially when the child reaches formal education, or even before that, is the drive to move the kid from one activity to the next without pause. There is no time for reflection, for thoughtful conversation nor exchanges. We are seeing this phenomenon starting earlier and earlier, which is sad. We live like there is no time to waste.
With the well-connected lives that we live, information is fed to children even from a young age. They are exposed to so much media and friends. Parents need to listen and interpret the information and what is happening in the world to their young children. Parents not only have to understand what is happening but also help the child to determine what things ought to be. To do this, parents must seek God's unique purpose for their lives or godly counsel to ensure that they are on the right path themselves.
How to teach your child the right values? Unfortunately, values are often caught rather that taught. Parents must set the example and be role models. How we react to everyday situations, especially in their presence, will greatly shape our children's values. Many of us who had parents in the early years of Singapore’s independence, and have lived in kampungs, can relate to the sacrifices and hardships that our parents went through. I am sure our values would have been influenced by our parents. Times are now “easier”, and so such values can only be passed on only if we consciously live them out. We may have an idea about the family we aspire to raise but demands from everyday life may cause us to compromise, resulting in deviation from our intended course. There is a need for conscious parenting.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. - Proverbs 22:6
Parental Guidance Needed
We are now at the second half of Dr. Eliza’s Part 1, on “What you Need to Know About Children”, Chapter 2 – Parental Guidance Needed.
Parents need to help children in regulating their behaviour. By God’s design, a child is completely helpless and needs the constant physical presence of an attentive caregiver. This prolonged dependency give the parents time to impart vital information and training. When young, they are taught what is danger e.g. not to touch something. They need clear boundaries. A child derives great security from knowing that he would be protected from his own harmful choices. I am sure mothers have plenty of practices preventing their kids from putting something harmful into their mouth or touching something painful. Ultimately, all parents hope to train their child to have internal locus of control for correct behaviour, especially in the internet age where parental presence is difficult.
Only parents will know the emotion of their child because they train him. A pre-verbal infant is not yet aware of his feelings, but he knows sensations like hunger, pain and tiredness. An observant parent will be able to help the child to label his emotions by verbalising them. The child learns that his feelings are acceptable and appropriate. As he grows older, he needs to know what to do with his feelings like anger and frustration. In addition, a child needs to learn how to respond to other people's emotions. Parents need to be on a constant lookout for teaching moments during such situations.
Children need a firm foundation in familial relationships through their parents' affirmation, of good behaviour that is. Any small effort should be applauded and encouraged. This will build his confidence and help him stand up to negative peer pressure. The bottom line is that children really care a great deal about how their parents feel about them.
We are constantly bombarded by news of terrorist acts, mass destruction, senseless killings, famine and LGBT etc. Our children are increasing confronted by moral and ethical decisions/judgements that challenge their character, especially in grey areas. What kind of ground are we building for them to stand firm in? What values are they developing, especially in how they view or treat others? Are they seeing the world as utilitarian (which exists to serve them) or with empathy and want to contribute to a better world? Do we guide them to live according to God’s Word and His Love?
Another closely related guidance needed is to go beyond self-actualisation i.e. promoting your own self-centred potential and desire. We must not lose sight of the Maker’s direction.
Children need a role model to aspire to - values that their model represents and which the child will aspire to. Sadly, in this age of mass media and celebrities, many of them have questionable values. It is therefore even more important for parents to be their role model. Mankind would be lost if not for those values we aspire towards - virtues that make up the character and substance of a person. Thankfully values can be demonstrated and easily seen through our lives. Your small act of kindness will be observed by your child. Use every opportunity as teaching moments in your daily life, or when positive acts are reported in the media or shared by others. Your child is watching you; any inconsistency would be exposed. Your behaviour at home, at work and on the road must be consistent. Do what you say.
Yes, children are sometimes beyond our comprehension ("Why can't they follow instructions?"). Values and character are foundational and need to be constantly re-enforced. Parent need perseverance in guiding their child.
I have stressed the importance of consistency as our children are watching us in all situations. Another consistency sorely required is between father and mother. Kids are expert in exploiting this... If mummy does not give permission, then go to daddy; you’ll definitely get your way especially if it’s accompanied by tears. Sometimes, it’s the parents’ fault when they divide child rearing tasks among themselves. For example, discipline is papa’s job. The child knows not to misbehave in front of papa, but mummy is ok. Speaking from personal experience, fathers are often more easily swayed by a child’s demands (especially by their daughters) while mummy is trying to enforce discipline.
In the early years of immigrants in US, Christian families are well known for their industry and doing well in their goals. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Such values can only be imparted to our children if we practice these same things consistently.
To watch the full Part 1 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.