You may be curious about how 1502 kids spoke to us about what they really need. The number represents more than 1500 kids we have spoken to, taught, counselled and cared for in our previous careers as professional school teachers. The other two kids are our own little munchkins who are the world to us.
In our years as school teachers, we have taught children from 4 to 17 and they don't differ much in what they need from parents to be really happy. It breaks our heart to see so many children growing up really unhappy because their parents don't realise their unfulfilled needs. It breaks our hearts even more when these kids get into trouble, neglect their studies and become really jaded and bitter with life.
So what do kids really want?
1. Kids want undivided attention from their parents.
School teachers do speak one-on-one with individual students regularly to connect with them. In these sessions, we ask about their personal lives and academic journey. We try to guide them along and be a listening ear to their problems. The CHIEF COMPLAINT when we ask them or talk about family is "my parents don't have time for me". Kids tell us that they don't have anyone to talk to at home. There is a disconnection between parent and child.
It is paramount that we make time for our kids DAILY. It can be as simple as finding half an hour to sit together and enjoy a snack together. TALK to your kids. This is a time to feel emotionally connected between a human to another. Put your phones away! Talk about life. Talk about a tv show. Talk about anything interesting and laugh a lot. You'll be surprised how much kids thrive on just a little undivided attention from their parents.
Asking about their homework or nagging at them to do chores do not count as connecting/talking!
This undivided attention will help your child feel grounded, loved, secure and happy!
2. Kids want encouragement/praise
"What is the point of studying so hard?"....
"Cher, (our short-form name every kid calls us by)....nobody cares..."
I often ask myself, why do kids say these things? Why are they so unmotivated and jaded with life? They are only kids!
The reason came pretty clear to me when I praised a child for his effort and he teared. (He had been failing and managed to get 60% for that assignment). This is a little boy in elementary/primary school. He worked so much harder and felt a lot more motivated for the rest of the year. It was like magic.
Growing up in an asian society, praise and encouragement are hard to come by. Children are taught to face their tasks with discipline and responsibility because it is their duty. They feel discouraged when they don't do well. The sense of duty doesn't make much sense to them at a tender age.
Parents must see the power of encouraging words and praises. Words of affirmation is a love language and an emotional need. Praise your children for their effort. Thank them for trying. Encourage them when they struggle.
Say: "I'm proud of you for packing your bag on your own!", "You did a good job clearing the table after dinner!", "I like that you tried so hard to complete the math homework even though you didn't like it!", "If you keep going, you will succeed, don't give up!". It makes a world of a difference to them!
3. Kids want unconditional love
Kids should never be made to feel that they need to merit their parents' love. Being a parent of two, I realise that kids get bored with their toys and things very quickly. They never get sick of feeling wanted and loved.
Kids want to feel loved even if they have failed an exam. They want to feel loved and wanted even after they have made a mistake or done something to anger their parents. Parents can be upset. Parents can admonish and punish their children. However, the care, concern, attention and encouragement should never come with a condition. It should always be given freely and unconditionally.
"We work so hard so that we can afford to
Different people will tell you a million different ways of how you SHOULD raise your child. When Debra and I first had Matthias our first born, we were often upset by how many conflicting "facts" everyone was throwing at us.
We decided it was too confusing and at times too illogical to listen to these "facts".
We went head with these CONTROVERSIAL parenting choices (and got a lot of stick for it)
#1 We chose to stop breastfeeding the child
Both our little ones were formula fed by the 5th day. We stopped entirely after one month of VERY VERY difficult breastfeeding. Insufficient supply and a very hungry baby meant that we had almost no sleep. Debra was at times in tears and visibly stressed. Don't let people make you feel less of a mom because you are unable to breastfeed for any reason. Both our children are neither sickly nor unintelligent despite being formula fed. They will be fine!
#2 We chose baby led weaning and toilet training
It is very common to hear people go on about how early they managed to get their children off diapers or start eating solids. Let us be reminded that every child is DIFFERENT. Every child grows differently. We allowed our boy to be on diapers through the night until he was close to 4 years old. We took our time and looked out for his readiness. There is no need to rush or feel inferior for nothing getting your child to achieve a milestone.
#3 We chose to let our kids watch tv at 8 months
Yes, we put our kids in front of the TV at 8 months old. We did our due diligence and only allowed them to watch Baby TV and other programmes that are AGE APPROPRIATE. TV time is controlled and determined by us. Our children have no issues with learning or focus. They do get a daily dose of TV but they are NOT given a phone or an iPad to watch whatever they want. You will have to determine what you are comfortable with giving your child. You will have to observe their behaviour and ensure they form healthy habits and relationships around screens/media.
We tried so hard to help him remember the letters and sounds using books and flashcards to no avail. Matthias learnt his phonics entirely from a song played on Baby TV. Good content and monitored usage of screens/media can lead to good outcomes!
#4 We chose to give our kids McDonald's
You can read our full article on giving your child McDonald's HERE
We got quite a bit of stick for giving our children "trash" and "unhealthy" food. We enjoy McDonalds together regularly and we hit the football field to work out the calories as well! It ultimately boils down to a balanced diet and personal choice. ALL of us enjoy a trip to McDonald's and it is an awesome bonding time for us!
#5 We chose to spank our children
Yes you read it right. We SPANK them with a cane. It isn't something we do on a daily basis but we felt that there are times when a child has to be spanked. A child has to learn that a time-out, a lecture, having things taken away, losing a privilege are all part of the discipline package. Spanking is reserved for extraordinarily rebellious "crimes".
Abuse happens when we lose control and want to "get back" at them. Spank responsibly out of love and not out of anger. We believe that spanking for a children between 2 and 6 is effective when used properly. The pain registers the message better than a lecture at that intellectual age. Any older, they should be able to understand a good lecture and learn from other forms of punishment.
We found that the best way to parent your child is to do your own research, trust your gut, experiment and learn from your mistakes!
At the end of the day, all parents want their children to be happy, safe and have a good attitude. As long as our choices are guiding our children towards that, we shouldn't be worried nor guilty!
Wake up, send the kids to school, go to work, come home tired, repeat.
It does sound like the dream is dead the moment you have kids. Perhaps that is the reason why so many people in Singapore choose not to have children. The total fertility rate in Singapore is only at 1.16 births per woman in 2017.
People who have kids often lament....
Why can't I travel widely with my family?
I wish I had more time with my kids!
There is no work-life balance...
Is there really a way out of this rut? Can parents dream of the life they want to live with their family? Are there viable options to get out of the rat race? The answer is YES!
Here are 3 keys to unlock the life you dream of!
Reduce all financial commitments to the lowest possible level.
Many people start of wanting to buy the biggest house and get biggest mortgage loan possible. Others commit to a shiny new car with a loan. Far too many chalk up credit card debts for branded goods and luxury treats. These are the biggest mistakes you can make! Once you are tied down to these commitments, you NEED your job. It restricts your choices even if you want to make a career switch. In worse cases, you have no other choice but to stick with a job that works you round the clock.
Ever heard of minimalist/tiny living? There are many out there in the US, Canada, Britain and across Europe who live in the back of their van or caravan. These are families who value the experience of adventures, travelling and learning together more than a nice house or large storage filled with clothes they might not wear. The whole point is to shed the things we don't need and save up the resources for our dreams and desired lifestyle.
Although people in Singapore (laws forbid such living arrangements) and in Asia (safety concerns) may not get this option, it is still possible to live on a smaller property and buy less things we don't need.
A luxury watch or handbag could buy you an entire month of backpacking in Europe. 3 additional pair of shoes can get you the air-tickets to your next weekend getaway. A smaller house may mean being closer together and getting out there for more adventures/playtime together.
Alternative career choices
You don't need to quit immediately so that you can dream again. There are many ways to source income these days. With the growing E-commerce industry, you can start selling goods on Amazon, start your own Instagram shop, blog or even self-publish books. You need very little start-up costs for such businesses. It takes a lot of research, reading and trying to get it right. Once you are able to build an online income big enough to replace your salary, that gives you a choice on how you want to spend your time.
Working from home is a great option. You can choose from providing tuition or piano lessons, providing pedicure and manicure services etc...This will also allow you to care for your kids and save on childcare costs!
Do your research! Start small and build it up while you still have a job.
Uproot and go
People who migrate are not quitters. People who migrate are those who dream of a better life and have the courage as well as grit to achieve it. A society exists on consensus. It is wiser to find somewhere else you can live better than to change the collective decisions of an entire society. You can be moving to another state or country that gives you the work-life balance, the natural landscapes for adventures, the open spaces your children can grow up in. Moving can yield positive effects on your children if they fit into a school system that helps them grow and learn better.
The inertia is always the worst part. You will be surprised at how resilient the family is when you move with an open mind in search of that dream life.
You can achieve your dream life!
"You are taking paternity leave?! Wow, that is a week of watching TV and relaxing eh!"
Have you heard this at work? I have! A superior of mine said that to me when I was an excited young dad preparing for the birth of his first child. How do you think I felt?
I wasn't even given a chance to prove myself. I was gutted.
"You are sharing your maternity leave with your husband?! Are you sure he won't just be bumming around at home?"
That was the first thing Debra shared with me when I picked her up from work that day. She felt angry that anyone would direct an insult at her husband. I was angry that such generalisations are allowed to be spoken so casually.
Then I realised, this is common!
I do need to qualify that there are lazy men and bad husbands who choose to neglect domestic and child-rearing duties. However, it is far more common than it has ever been for dads to be as involved as moms.
Why this is discrimination and should stop
1. It affects our jobs and appraisal
People perpetuate the idea that men are useless at home, useless with kids and useless as husbands. They perceive men to be slacking when they apply for paternity leave or childcare leave. This affects your superior's perception of you even if you are genuinely taking leave to care for your children. How would your appraisal look if you took a several days off? That is discrimination.
2. It affects our marriage
"Should I apply for childcare leave? How would my boss view me?"
How would your spouse view you if she is always the one who takes childcare leave? How would she feel about your level of commitment if she is always the only one caring for the children?
3. It is WRONG.
It is unjust and prejudicial. If people made unjust remarks and treated another person distinctly different because of their gender, sexual orientation or race, that constitutes a crime (in many developed and civilised nations). Why is it okay for people to perceive/judge men this way?
4. It is hurtful.
I felt hurt that my contributions towards my home are not valued. It was actually viewed with suspicion.
5. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy
If you make a generalisation long enough, it becomes a norm. If equal contribution between parents is something we all desire, speak life into that!
Give them advice if they ask. Just say "good job" if your colleague brought his baby to a company dinner because there was no care arrangement. Don't say "wow! You can care for the kid alone without your wife?!" It will appear condescending even if you didn't mean it.
Don't discourage men from being great dads and husbands by making irresponsible behaviour the expected norm of men.
Make feeding the baby, changing diapers, cooking for the family, baby carrying and household chores the new norm if it isn't. Encourage your colleague to be the greatest dad and mom they can be.
Kudos to all the loving dads for your labour of love! Don't lose heart!
Read the entire "The Odd Life" Series HERE!
Are you struggling with parental guilt?
#What is Parental guilt?
ALL parents feel guilty for a long list of reasons. Most often, we feel guilty for not providing enough. We feel the guilt of not giving our children enough time, enough tuition, enough endowment savings.
There are other times when we times we feel guilty because we may have been too giving. Have I given my child too much unhealthy food? Did he/she get too much screen time?
As compared to when I was having a full time job, I feel the guilt more acutely as a stay home dad. I feel as if I am home all the time and so I am compelled to give them more time. On the other hand, the house needs to be cleaned and work needs to be done. I feel that I may be shortchanging my children by investing in our blog and business instead of getting out there to earn the big bucks.
Regardless of your job, being a parent is tough! Juggling between cleaning up after your children, feeding them and nurturing them to fulfil their potential often seem to require some rocket science!
#How do we get rid of it?
The fact of the matter is, you will always feel that guilt again at some point. It is important to know that we can still get rid of it instead of piling up parenting guilt on ourselves.
Positive step 1: Talk about it
The thing about parental guilt, it doesn't always show on your face. It is usually a silent and powerful negative thought happening inside you. If you keep it inside, it will consume you. You need to talk about how you feel! Talk to someone you can trust to listen and help you achieve a positive outcome!
Positive step 2: Think objectively
This is one of the most underrated strategies! Don't let emotions get the better of you. Ask yourself simple questions like: "Is that humanly possible", "Is this in my control?", "Are my expectations reasonable?"
If you answers are NO, then it is clear you have allowed emotions to get the better of you.
Take a deep breath, get reflective. Take stock of what the situation really is and how you can realistically improve it.
Positive step 3: Set Achievable goals
Setting achievable goals can help you get rid of that guilt. Without vision, people perish. People perish because they have no direction, they lose hope and feel guilty. Parents need a vision of who they want to be and what they want to do.
If we set achievable goals within the confines of our limitations, we can have positive outcomes for both the entire family!
If You work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, it is natural for you to feel guilty for not spending enough time with your child because they are in bed by the time you get home. Don't beat yourself up for that!
Objective thinking = I am working hard to provide for the family, I will set the achievable an goal to spend X hours on my off day and give my children 100% attention during that time.
The next time you feel that crushing parental guilt, remember....
"You will always feel that guilt again at some point.
So....talk about it, think objectively and set achievable goals!
Read the entire "The Odd Life" Series HERE!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.