Isnin, 14 Oktober 2013

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Praising kids right


Focus on behaviour or effort when motivating children to build good character and self-esteem.

NOORAZLINA Noraswad recalls that she was hardly praised as a child.

"My parents didn't want me to think too highly of myself," says the 40-year-old staff nurse and a mother of three.

When she became a parent, she was determined to be more encouraging.

She has read about how praising children can make them more confident and motivate them to behave better - and believes it.

Every opportunity she finds to praise her three daughters, aged three to eight, she does it: doing well in school, sharing things with one another and even looking pretty in a nice dress.

She says: "I don't think it gives them an inflated sense of self."

Her mother, housewife Mariyahma Zainal, 60, says she was stingy with praises for her five children because that was how her own parents brought her up.

She says: "Their thinking was, if you praise too much, the children will think they are very clever and won't want to listen to their parents."

Compared to previous generations, many Singaporeans today tend to be more generous when it comes to praising their children.

But they have to be careful not to overdo it.

While the merits of praise in improving children's confidence and motivation have long been recognised, in recent years, the dangers of overpraising has come under scrutiny in the West.

Studies show that frequent and often empty praise could undermine a child's self-esteem.

Overpraising children — especially those with lower self-esteem — for their personal qualities ("You're such a great person") rather than their efforts ("You must have worked hard for this") may cause them to feel more ashamed if they fail and further lower their self-esteem.

But this is not a problem Singaporean parents need to worry about at the moment.

Brian Poh, a psychologist from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health, says: "Anecdotal evidence in our clinic tells us that Singaporean parents are not too lavish with their praise."

Praise motivates children to be more brave in trying out new things.- file pic

Praise motivates children to be more brave in trying out new things. – Filepic

In fact, parents interviewed feel that they should be prudent with their praises, otherwise they would not be effective.

Human resource manager Achaibar Gupta, 35, says he praises his two elder boys, aged seven and five, only when they do "exceptionally well" in school. He also praises his youngest son, aged two, if he completes a task, such as putting away his toys after playing with them.

But he says he will not praise his children if they need prompting to do things such as completing their homework, packing their schoolbags or sharing things with one another.

"I will praise them when they are able to do these things independently."

But experts say parents do not have to wait until a child has done something perfectly to dish out a compliment.

In fact, they do not have to worry about overpraising their children or praise losing its effect, if it is being doled out in the right way, says senior psychologist Lois Teo from KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Praise will not lose its impact if it focuses on a specific behaviour or effort ("It was great when you shared your colour pencils with your sister") and not on the person or his general attributes ("I love you, you are so great and I'm proud of you").

Specific praises are more effective than vague praises. They boost self-esteem and build good behaviour.

Says Dr Teo: "Parents are showing their children how to think and talk positively about themselves."

When praises are dished out in the right way, it may even be possible to compliment a child for looking good, which is an area some parents here tend to shun away from, for fear of grooming little vainpots.

Communications manager and mother of three Isabelle Lee, 38, praises her three children, aged nine, seven and one, for various things but generally avoids praising them on their physical appearance because she feels "there's no need to".

When her children ask her if they look good in a particular outfit or accessory, she would usually reply according to whether she thinks it is appropriate for their age. For instance, she would tell her nine-year-old daughter she does not look nice in heels because she thinks her daughter should not be wearing heels at that age.

Jessie Ooh, a lead psychologist from the department of paediatrics at the National University Hospital, however, feels that parents should praise their children in all aspects of their development, including their looks.

"As they are growing up, children have needs in all domains - physical, emotional, social and intellectual.

"Leaving out any domain may affect the child's bonding with their parents and over-emphasis on any specific domain is not ideal for his holistic development."

When children seek affirmation from their parents ("Do I look good in this shirt?", "Am I the best dancer in class?"), it is usually because they feel safe to pose the question to their most loved ones.

Hence, it is best to reply in the affirmative, she says, without diverting from the truth. For instance: "You look better in the other shirt" or "I love that you followed the rhythm well in that dance routine".

If wearing pants is the latest trend, and your child asks if he looks good in one and gets a reply in the affirmative, it gives him more confidence to join his friends in wearing the pants and feeling socially accepted.

To ensure the praise is sincere, Ooh says parents can also focus on the efforts that their children have made in looking good ("I like the way you coordinate the colours of your clothes"), rather than the results ("You look so pretty/handsome").

Praises can also focus on the child's strengths ("I like the way you perform this dance step").

If you think certain things, such as heels, may not be suitable for your child's age, tell him or her about its potential dangers and suggest alternatives.

Knowing how to do it is one thing. Practising it in real life is another, as Bundle Goh, a polytechnic lecturer in her 30s, has realised.

She has been consciously trying to praise her three boys, aged four to nine, for their behaviour and efforts, instead of for their personal attributes, after she read the book, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success by Carol Dweck, three years ago.

The book is among those that emphasise the importance of effort over personal attributes.

Yet to this day, Goh still has to remind herself to put into practice the tips she had read in the book.

"It's so much easier to just say 'clever boy'." – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network.

Proud of their Chindian heritage


Three Chindians share their stories on straddling two distinct cultures.

MOLLYNA Goh's father, Roland, is the only son in a Peranakan family, and his parents had expected him to marry a Nyonya. But he was in love with his colleague Pandari Devi, whose father was just as opposed to her marrying outside the race. But Roland and Pandari were steadfast in their love for each other, and eventually won their family's blessings to marry.

"My maternal grandfather speaks fluent Hokkien, Bahasa Malaysia and English. When Dad started to communicate with him in Hokkien, it broke the barrier and bridged the gap between them. They eventually became best friends," recounted Mollyna.

One big happy family: (clockwise from top) Roland Goh, Kelvin Goh, Mollyna Goh, Pandari Devi and Rita Goh.

One big happy family: (Clockwise from top) Roland Goh, Kelvin Goh, Mollyna Goh, Pandari Devi and Rita Goh.

Mixed marriages are now accepted in her family. Her elder brother Kelvin is married to a Peranakan while her older sister Rita has tied the knot with an Indian.

"People are more open when it comes to making new friends or getting to know someone. They do not limit themselves when it comes to mixing around with certain groups," she said.

Mollyna feels blessed being of mixed parentage, as it has enabled her to soak in the best of both worlds. "I'm living in-between and I enjoy being in-between. I can spruce-up colourful cultures and practices in the spaces in-between. I'm not Chinese, I'm not Indian. I'm Chindian," said Mollyna, adding her family practises Chinese and Indian traditions, but with more emphasis on Peranakan culture and traditions.

Language barriers 

Johor Baru-based couple Steve Yoon Chee Wai, 31, and Hema Tan Sui Lan, 25, are both Chindians. The couple first met when Yoon accompanied his foster father Murugayah Ulagappan to visit Tan's family.

While it is a blessing to marry a fellow Chindian, the couple have had their fair share of problems adapting to the culture and traditions of each family.

Tan's family practises the Hindu way of life whereas Yoon's family veers towards Chinese culture and traditions.

"Steve is more familiar with Chinese culture, having attended Chinese schools and grown up in the Chinese community. I can't speak Mandarin and initially had problems mingling with Steve's relatives, who speak mainly Mandarin and Malay. It got worse when some of his relatives started making negative remarks about my inability to communicate in Chinese."

"But we accept our imperfections and learn to make it better for ourselves and our child," said Tan, who is the proud mother of 13-month-old Dashan Yoon Tang En.

Tan said she has always been criticised for her inability to speak Tamil and Mandarin. She was often teased and found it hard to mingle with her peers in school.

"People tend to assume that having a Chinese and Hindu name meant I could speak both languages. I was initially sad and embarrassed, but luckily I got over it fast. One the best advice came from my father, who said: 'All the people who look down on you are the people who are losing out on the best of you. You are not living out of their earnings, so there is no reason why you should be affected by their comments'," said Tan who, since marrying Yoon, is slowly picking up Mandarin.

A little bit different

Nick Tay, 37, didn't have an easy childhood growing up, especially after his mother Primrose Reena Mary Machado's death in 1982.

Precious memories: Dr James Tay Tee Kiong with Primrose Reena Mary Machado.

Precious memories: Tay's parents, Dr James Tay Tee Kiong with Primrose Reena Mary Machado.

After that, the Chinese side of the family brought us up. They were not happy my father had married my mum, an Indian woman. I was darker than my siblings," recalled Tay, who felt his aunts favoured his siblings who looked more Chinese or Eurasian.

"My older brother loved seafood. My aunts would cook prawns, fish and all sorts of seafood, even though they knew I was allergic to seafood. I remember being able to only eat rice and vegetables then. It was awhile before my father found out about it, and reprimanded my aunts for it.

"But they obviously didn't like me, because after my dad scolded them, they cooked me something else to eat ... but it was liver!" recalled the consultant.

Tay takes his childhood challenges in his stride. Now a father of two sons, Tay said parents and family members play an important role in fostering self-esteem and confidence in children.

"Parents' role is crucial in ensuring our kids understand and respect all people regardless of the colour of their skin. I teach my sons everyday to respect everybody."

> The writer (centre, featured with her older sisters, Joyce (left) and Esther) was literally 'arm twisted' to write the story as she too is of mixed parentage. Although she continues to get remarks about her 'rojak' and 'chap chye' features, she feels blessed being able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Related story:

Celebrating the Chindian community


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