SINGAPORE: In the name of giving our children the best start in life and helping them “check boxes”, many parents have been signing their young ones up for a wide array of classes.
Piano grade 8 exams by the age of nine for instance, or the recent trend in China of parents sending children to “CEO school” to learn manners and social skills and golf classes said to be part of critical emotional quotient training - all at the tender age of three.
Is it really beneficial to pack our kids’ schedules with classes, or to cram their young minds with as many lessons and experiences as possible?
Or is there such a thing as too much?
Before jumping onto the latest enrichment fads, perhaps parents should stop and think: Does my child really need to take another course, and will it add real value to their lives?
Or are these (often expensive) lessons really a means for us parents to live vicariously through our children, giving them opportunities that we ourselves never had in our growing years but perhaps wished we had?
HOW EQ IS PICKED UP
At the age of three, my own kids were still deep in the throes of the terrible twos. Tantrums and battles were practically a daily occurrence.
We took pains to help them understand that we all experience big emotions, and that we can use our words or work together to solve the problem.
Still, it required much time and patience before the storm clouds eventually parted. But when they did, out emerged slightly more socialised and eager-to-please pre-schoolers.
EQ can be understood as the ability to recognise our feelings, and express them in ways that are socially acceptable and emotionally healthy. Seen to be as important as IQ in predicting future success, it includes the ability to regulate one’s own negative emotions and show empathy towards others.
Acceptance has a big role to play – acceptance of ourselves, and our emotions and thoughts, while appreciating that others often have different needs and feelings.
Even for the most patient and emotionally available parents among us, there are days that go haywire. What we do as parents when things don’t go our way is a key factor in predicting child behaviour.
Children look up to parents not just as authority figures, but also models to teach them how to respond to the world around them.
When things go wrong, do we stay calm? Do we address issues constructively or back away from dealing with conflict altogether?
Do we model timeless values such as kindness, honesty and self-control? If your child sees you saying one thing, and doing another, they are going to do what you did, and not what you said.
Back to the frenzy about packing our kids’ lives with classes. Since much of the responsibility of raising well-socialised and dependable children falls squarely on parents’ shoulders, why bother entrusting this crucial task to a vendor?
Are we paying for a quick fix, instead of getting our hands dirty in actively guiding and teaching our young?
Wouldn’t it be ironic if by signing them up for such classes, you actually send them the message that climbing to the top is of paramount importance, regardless of the cost (and I’m not just referring to the monetary aspect here).
DO CHILDREN REALLY NEED TO BE 'CHARMING CEOS'?
Impeccable manners and charm seem like excellent qualities to inculcate in a child, so it can be tempting to dish out some money to achieve this outcome, but is there a flipside to emphasising these qualities at an early age?
In his book The Hurried Child, David Elkind expounds on the importance of spontaneous play for children in fostering interpersonal and social smarts. He advises parents to allow their children to be children, and not leapfrog the childhood phase altogether.
By around three years of age, children begin to take turns during play, mimic adult behaviour, and may even show concern for a friend in distress. Most of the time, they will pick these social skills up naturally through everyday interactions with other children at the playground and at school.
Play dates are an excellent and low-cost way to develop these skills; kids learn to converse with their friends, share, negotiate, manage conflict, and make decisions both independently and as a group.
So is reading a book and using it to facilitate discussions about the storybook characters, exploring what each feels, and asking the child what they would have done in the protagonist’s shoes. Such discussions help to open a child’s mind to the perspectives of others, and connect the dots between feelings and actions.
A child who is taught how to act like an adult may not truly feel like an adult. Just because they can imitate behaviour doesn’t mean they have internalised how to process stress or strife.
Emotional maturation is a gradual process that begins in childhood and continues through early adulthood, and requires frequent practice in handling difficult emotions and situations.
Overzealous parents seeking to accelerate this process through external coaching may have to contend with something more sinister in the long run.
Placing pressures on a pre-schooler to perform may lead children to learn to suppress their own child-like desires, instead of understanding how to express them in constructive ways.
Far from feeling accepted for who they are, the child may instead feel anxious about falling short, especially when they are placed in novel situations where they have not learned the “script”.
Their minds may get distracted from truly learning and enjoying a subject, as they are focused on their own performance and reaching an invisible bar.
Such unnecessary pressures may hinder a child’s sense of identity, sense of agency, and willingness to try new things.
EVERYDAY PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT STILL THE KEY
Achievement in itself is not a bad thing. But we need to constantly examine our choices and ask ourselves: Is this truly for my child, or is it to fulfil my own dreams?
The things that children really need don’t come at a hefty price tag; they include having a strong parent-child bond based on unconditional love and acceptance, and open and active communication as well as adequate nutrition, sleep and unstructured playtime.
If these foundational needs are not met, everything else will be built on sand. The external graces and adult-ish mannerisms become temporary frills at best.
If you truly want to raise a future CEO or high flyer, recognise that the everyday things you do in the home matter.
Giving your child small responsibilities, connecting with them, affirming them when they do well, confronting conflict with courage, and modeling the right values – all of these contribute to building a strong identity, self-esteem and resilience.
More than what external classes can ever achieve, these are the true essentials that will support your child in achieving their fullest potential.
June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.