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5 Sure-Fire Ways to Power Your Kids’ Potential

Thursday, 20.10.2016

This story is about ‘A’s—but not in the way you might think (that is, acing school grades). Our kids have Aspirations, and parents would naturally like to get Acquainted with what these are. Then we get down to helping them take Aim in their quest to Achieve their best. Here’s the Ammunition that’s needed!

As parents who want the best for our children, there are many things that we are likely already doing to ensure they will thrive under our love and care. Beyond providing them with the basic necessities in their lives, however, what more can we do to bolster their sense of belonging and identity in the family? What are some simple measures that we can take to ensure that they grow into well-adjusted, well-rounded individuals who are secure in their sense of self-worth, capabilities and talents? And how else can we help them achieve that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

The following suggestions are by no means revolutionary or ground-breaking—but they can definitely be life-changing. In fact, they are solid reminders of logical approaches to parenting that we may have taken for granted or—gasp!—slipped our minds during the grind of everyday living. Sometimes, the simplest suggestions are also the ones to hold closest to our hearts for safekeeping.

#1 Take an active interest in your kids’ school life

Every Singaporean parent will no doubt be familiar with the terms CA and SA (that’s continual assessment and semester assessment respectively, which also represent test and exam scores!). Sadly, some parents only take notice of those specific grades in their children’s report books, but passively sign off on the rest of their schoolwork.

Although you may feel exhausted at the end of a long day and it may be tempting to just take a cursory look at their routine assignments and projects, try your utmost best to allocate time with them to bring yourself up to speed with their progress in school.

Also encourage them to regularly update you about their school day. It’s important for your kids to feel that you genuinely care about what and how they’re doing in school, without feeling as if they are being unnecessarily or excessively monitored, judged, or worse, pressurised.

Ensure your feedback is always backed up with plenty of support, encouragement and praise. However, to avoid appearing patronising, include details whenever you can to indicate that you have paid attention and taken notice of their efforts (e.g., “Oops, I see you misspelt ‘fascination’—but that’s a pretty big word and you missed out the letter ‘c’ because it still sounds right, doesn’t it? Anyway, good try!”).

Taking interest in their school activities doesn’t mean overstepping your boundaries either. I know of some parents who can’t resist doing major parts of take-home arts & craft projects on behalf of their children (admittedly, I was once guilty as charged!). And then there are other overly concerned parents who unwittingly go into “auto-correct” mode whenever they spot errors in their kids’ completed homework. Although they mean well, these parents may not realise that the learning process is more important than handing in all the right answers.

Another important aspect that is sometimes overlooked in our own busy schedules is simply turning up, or just being there. If you and your spouse are absolutely hard-pressed for time, you can take turns to take time off to attend the various happenings at your child’s school, such as parent-teacher meetings. Whether your child is performing at a concert, taking part in an event or receiving an award, you can imagine how much it would mean to know mummy and daddy are in the audience, cheering them on.

Ultimately, being more involved reassures your kids that what matters to them in school also matters to you. Your presence speaks volumes in demonstrating your love and support, and this kind of regular positive reinforcement will help your kids grow their self-confidence and self-esteem.

#2 Encourage their pursuit of non-academic interests

Your children will benefit tremendously when they regard learning as a fun and creative process that can happen beyond the classroom. Parents can help their kids discover their own unique aptitudes and talents while stimulating their natural intellectual curiosity and sparking their innate desire to question and learn more, especially in their younger formative years.

Sometimes, this means sacrificing time away from intellectual pursuits and exposing your kids to as many different skills, sports and pastimes as possible, so that they can discover which ones they might feel drawn towards or even have a natural aptitude for.

Take Singapore’s national pride-and-joy, 21-year-old Joseph Isaac Schooling, who literally made waves at Rio 2016, sweeping to international stardom when he clinched the Olympic gold medal in the 100m butterfly race, trumping his childhood idol and Olympian golden boy himself, Michael Phelps. Schooling recalls being only about two to three years old when his parents first introduced him to the pool by treading water, and at age five, he was already winning his first medals in swimming.

Now that’s aptitude—defined as an “inherent ability”—which sometimes requires observation, fate, serendipity and happenstance to uncover and coax out, then nurtured to its potential. Almost always, aptitude is a natural gift or talent, but that doesn’t mean a skill can’t be deliberately learned and mastered through practise, as long as the interest is there in the first place.

#3 Manage our own expectations

Tackling challenges and learning to manage stress are helpful for children to grow their problem-solving skills, maturity and independence.

Cracks start to appear, however, when children become pressurised to perform and the mission at hand begins to feel like an obligatory duty, or worse, as a means to earn their parents’ love and approval.

It’s heart-breaking to see a child lose steam and his original enthusiasm for his aspirations because of an over-ambitious parent.

Although parents should champion their kids’ interests, some of them are unaware that they may come across as being overenthusiastic in their support. The more passionate ones may even be subconsciously trying to live out their own dreams through the current generation.

A top-down approach where children are given commands and expected to obey may no longer work as well in the modern scheme of things.

When we consider how hard our children need to slog in order to perform at least satisfactorily, it becomes even more imperative for parents to be mindful and refrain from pushing them even harder with criticism, discipline, or other forms of punishment. Parents should thus establish an open and honest two-way channel of communication between themselves and their children.

#4 Be their emotional anchors of support

At 13, Schooling met hero Phelps during the latter’s visit to Singapore, and at age 14, it was Schooling himself—and not his parents—who begged for the chance to be sent abroad to study and train as a competitive swimmer. Initially, his parents were the apprehensive ones, but once they made that leap of faith to fulfil their son’s dreams by sending him to the Bolles School in Florida, they gave their all, in terms of love, support, time and money.

In turn, their only son didn’t disappoint: for the past seven years, Schooling has endured a highly disciplined and rigid schedule of school and training that starts as early as 6am, six days a week, and a bedtime that never exceeds midnight.

And look how far he’s come. He could’ve thrown in the towel at any point of his gruelling journey, but he never did.

Whether it’s academic or extracurricular pursuits, or a mix of both, it’s natural for some parents to harbour fears that they might be burning out their kids at both ends. While those fears of exhausting our kids are absolutely valid, it’s just as vital to remember that it’s human nature—and not just children’s in particular—to feel overwhelmed only if we feel pressured into doing something that we don’t enjoy, or once expectations become unrealistic and exceed our limitations.

Indeed, the elder Schooling insists that through the years, he never placed any expectations on his son’s young shoulders. Instead, he ensured that Joseph was secure in the knowledge that his parents would be behind him every step of the way. “There is no time for self-doubt,” Mr Schooling said. “I always tell him: ‘You must believe in yourself, because we believe in you.’”

#5 Go that extra mile

Among the most precious gifts that you can give to your children is your time.

Put them first and make time for them. Be there for them, no matter how busy your professional life is or how many other commitments you have. By building a happy, stable home environment, filled with love and security, you’ve already gone a long way towards helping your children thrive and succeed both in school and in life. Be involved in the big and the small events that make up their daily lives. Wholeheartedly and unconditionally offer your support, encouragement, resources, and love.

Make the most of their childhood and in the process, you’ll find your own personal family life deeply rewarding and fulfilling to match. The blood, sweat and tears shed along the way will hardly feel like a sacrifice when it’s finally time to pause, look back and reflect on our lives, and all the memories that have made everything worthwhile.

Parents can also take a leaf from the book of 68-year-old Colin Schooling, now also the proud parent of Singapore’s very first Olympic gold medallist: “Joseph is very driven and focused in what he wants to achieve, and we just help him reinforce that,” Mr. Schooling said. “We work to give him all the help and love that he needs.

“For youngsters, I would urge them to follow in Joseph’s motto: ‘Dare to dream’. For parents, whatever your children do, just have confidence in them, and just love them.”

How much more lies ahead for our own young ones who have yet to chase their dreams. Carpe diem—seize the day!

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