Let Them Play and… Be There

I’ve been a parent for a little over 4 years… not much hands-on experience… but I’ve been observing parenting styles and their outcomes since I started having long-term memory.

I’ve adopted the “love them fiercely, play with them and be the parent” style. (Sorry, I have not yet come up with a cooler phrase). This was recently affirmed as an effective style when I met an old friend with teenage kids – gentle, loving, kind, good-spirited, God-fearing kids. For her, she said “Never pass your authority as a parent to another person” and “give them LOTS and LOTS of love”.

What I mean to “love them fiercely” is to tell them daily that I love them, give lots of hugs and kisses, give my time, my listening ear (and heart) and if we could afford it, a gift here and there once in a while.

When I say I “play with them’… it’s just that… play with them. Play doll together; play pretend together; play catch together; play hide and seek together; play wrestling, etc. Through playing with them, many things will happen, including undesirable behaviours. I will then correct them on the spot. Even when nothing negative seems to be happening, lots of positive things are happening. For example, I demonstrate how to be gentle and safe even when apparently playing rough (e.g. wrestling or sword fighting). I use my Ps and Qs. Etcetera.

“Be the parent” means that even though I seemed to have gone bonkus, I am still the adult with responsibilities and the parental authority over their lives. When it is time to bathe, they have to bathe. When it is time to eat, they have to eat. When it is time to sleep, they sleep. When they are ill-mannered, they have to be corrected.

My eldest has been mingling with older kids here and there (she is usually the youngest no matter where we go because we had our children late in life). Kids who were parented with theories found in parenting books usually bullied her, were mean-spirited, and did not exhibit behaviour that I would like her to imitate. These kids usually could read at an early age and seemed to have “discipline” such as keeping still to feed themselves or colour or write. For older ones who were in school, they seemed to be academically “up there”. They have become book-smart but lacked age-appropriate maturity and love.

Whereas kids of parents who let them PLAY and PLAY and PLAY all day through their preschool days (and even into primary school) were, while rowdier, nicer, kinder, gentler and friendlier to younger children like my daughter. Of course, kids being kids, there will be moments when they get rough and dangerous. But I did not have to be put on the spot because for this group – their parents were always present to catch teaching moments. And such parents are more often not, very others-centred and disciplined their kids a lot stricter to be nice to others and to share. I did not have to discipline their children for them or feel the need to protect/defend my own.

Before you think that these kids are out of control and ill-disciplined… be informed that their parents set physical, emotional and behavioral boundaries – all age-appropriate. And when caught outside these boundaries, the kids are immediately disciplined according their their age and personality.

In other words, these parents are building character over academic achievements. They contextualise and treat each child uniquely, yet fairly. They teach them to put others above themselves. This is the group of parents I belong to. With character, academic achievements can follow (with humility). But with academic achievements, character seldom follows (pride tends to set in instead).

It’s so true that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1)

But I must admit that the parenting style I adopt is getting harder and harder to do as I notice more and more self-centred parents teaching their kids to be self-centred. Around such people, I have trouble teaching my kids to be others-centred because they are only going to be bullied (both by the other parent and child) and keep losing out and she will keeping commenting that it is unfair. In such situations, I normally have to think on the fly on how to handle each unique situation such that my child is not unfairly treated yet the other party is still respected. When in doubt, I walk away with my child.

Fortunately, such kids also usually have absent parents. I usually take the opportunity to teach that child to be kind and gentle.

There are schools of thoughts which think that the child should be left alone to struggle through experiences. Too much parental intervention would cause the child to be over-reliant on adults and not develop self defenses. I also believe that – but I believe in applying age-appropriateness for everything. A pre-schooler is too vulnerable and malleable to allow natural forces to take over. She needs to feel love and security amidst life’s challenges.

Sometimes, recently when my child is older, I watch her hurt herself or get bullied… but I just watch to see her reactions and not intervene. If she can manage, I let her work it through with her playmates. That’s when she tests out the values and skills that she already has and reaps the consequences accordingly.

Everyday, I pray for wisdom as a parent – to do what suits my family and child.


When It Is More Than A Coincidence…

My big baby brought home the first homework of her life – 3 pages of Chinese, English and Math homework – Kindergarten 1 standard (Primary 1 for my time).

She was very excited about it. Although I told her to play, then nap, then do her homework, she decided to do her homework before her nap.

She studiously put her file under her armpit and with an unrelated artwork in her hand, headed for the bedroom. She looked ultra cute.

Both my delight and her excitement were quite short-lived.

After practicing writing a Chinese character about 3 times, she decided that the homework was way too difficult for her.

When I told her there were 3 pages and she could choose which to do next, she happily selected the Math one which she said was easy. True enough, she finished it under a minute all by herself.

Next, she chose to do the English one – which is basically practicing writing her name. Like the Chinese character, after 3 repeats, she decided that it was way too hard.

She looked like she was really struggling so I told her to complete the one she was at now and go take her nap. All of a sudden, she could write her name fluidly and quickly… like suddenly no more crookedness – all smooth strokes… and like … REALLY REALLY QUICKLY. From there, I guess she just finds it boring rather than tough.

Throughout the whole homework exercise, I was harping at her on the value of completing what one has started and not always stop halfway.

I also gave the example of how she used to not be able to recognise her name, then she could; from not knowing how to spell her name, now she knew. Her next step was to be able to write her name. And I told her that she would be able to do it – just like reading then spelling her name, she had to learn things bit by bit.

But I thought it was her first homework and I didn’t want her to remember homework as a terrible thing. So we kept everything and prepared for her nap.

Then she asked to watch a Youtube video. So I obliged.

Lo and behold… the video taught kids to “finish what you started” and then they sang the song of “I’m climbing my mountain step by step… One step at a time…”. She was attentive throughout the 5-minute segment on finishing what you started and overcoming your mountains.

Fyi, I did not deliberately search for it. It was a video that we watched partially few nights ago. It contains a series of biblical songs and I had no idea what song would be next.

It was overly coincidental that I doubt it was coincidental. I suppose she really needed that lesson and I thank God for it.

Found the video clip (just the song alone) for your viewing pleasure…


I am no sportsman… almost not quite.

Today, I had a taste of sportsmanship again. It was a really teeny tiny experience but it brought back a love for sports (and competition).

Today, my little girl in Nursery had Sports Day in school and there was a parent-child segment. We were at separate ends of the tele-match track. She was to run to me with a ball without dropping it and I was to piggy back her back to the starting point without dropping the ball for the next pair. It was over in a few seconds but it was great fun!!! Neither she nor I cared about who was watching or even who was winning. We just cared about doing our best and having fun.

I came home and tried to recall how it was like playing competitive games/sports during my younger days. Did I try to impress my crush? Did I care about “earning new suitors” because of it? Did I even care if my family was present and watching? Did I even care if my friends, classmates, coursemates, schoolmates, strangers were watching and liked or disliked my performance? I traced through my primary, secondary and and tertiary education days and realised that all the experiences were the same… I was just having fun by doing my best. Of course, I / the team always wanted to win. But I realised that even when we didn’t, it didn’t matter. We were just happy.

When I read news about our Yip Pin Xiu or Schooling, or any medalist for that matter, saying that they compete not for gold, fame or money, I’m usually skeptical. I could not wrap my head around why someone would train so hard to compete and really not care about winning… until my reflection time today. It IS possible. It is possible that there are people doing it just because they love to do their best to be first but at the end it didn’t really matter.

I was selected for the athletic / track & field team when I was in Primary School. Quite often, I ran the fastest, jumped the highest and leaped furthest. But because I was such a “blur queen” back then, I eventually stopped turning up for training. I always found competitions fun but never took them seriously. If I had, my life could have become quite different, I think.

Then I became over-zealous in secondary school. I played every game that I had time for with whoever was willing to play with me. Tennis, Basketball, badminton, squash, netball, volleyball, bowling. I was all over the shop that I didn’t even get a PASS grade for sports… and also earned myself shoulder, wrist and knee injuries from getting the skills mixed up.

It was also a time when we played with people we hardly knew. We played with people who simply appeared at our court. We played with fellow school mates from other classes or levels. Our common interest? The sport.

Then during my tertiary education days, I decided to focus and chose Basketball. That’s when I collected my foot injury. It was unfortunate that I did not clique warmly with my chinese-speaking team mates. Nonetheless, we played together for 3 years as a pretty good team and had good fun at inter-varsity games.

Somehow, your 1st language does define your culture. Even when using the same language to communicate, we felt rather different from each other. Language & Culture – that’s another topic for another day. So to this day, other than remembering certain features of certain team mates (e.g. super long hair gal, super tall girl, super small girl), I cannot remember anyone’s name or anything else about them.

Being very much an introvert who likes team games, I eventually stopped sports when I entered the workforce. I prefer being alone. Yet, I will only be very enticed to get active provided it’s a team game like basketball. It’s a paradoxical situation, I know. An introvert who prefers team games?

Well… that’s the power of sportsmanship. And I think that’s the meaning of sportsmanship… at least to me.

Sportsmanship is about being unbiased and humble. It is about doing your best not for glory or fame. It knows no human boundaries. It doesn’t matter if you are Asian or Caucasian, small or tall, English or Chinese-speaking, shy or thick-skinned. No one views another as superior or inferior. We are competing for the fun of it and do not have to feel sore about not winning.

Conclusion… if you have true sportsmanship playing with the like-minded, every competition is nothing but only fun.