Positive discipline and gentle guidance are concepts which are not given enough recognition. In comparison to corporal punishments and other forms of authoritarian parenting, positive discipline aims to teach by first creating a safe relationship with children, putting connection before correction. According to recent neuroscience research, people learn best when they feel safe and connected to others, in the context of safe relationships. This helps to instil discipline with maximum efficacy in the long run.
What does positive discipline bring to the table? Apart from building trust and strengthening parent-child relationships, it teaches children responsibility, self-discipline, problem-solving skills and cooperation. By ensuring that learning isn’t fear-based – such as in the context of authoritarian parenting – it also helps children build on their self-esteem, develop their sense of significance, as well as manage their emotions effectively. However, it is key to note that gentle guidance may not always yield immediate results. Consistency plays a crucial role, and over time, parents will notice their children actively apply what they have learnt.
Positive Discipline Techniques
This technique involves diverting your child’s attention to other activities when they are acting out, or when you’re trying to guide a child’s behaviour from inappropriate to appropriate. For example, if your child is running around in the kitchen while someone is cooking, stop them and introduce another item or toy that would be of interest to them. Rather than simply saying, “Don’t run in the house,” say, “ “It is not safe to run in the house. Please go outside if you want to run.”
In addition, follow up with questions to confirm that he/she understands the boundaries (i.e what is and isn’t acceptable). Questions can include:
“Is it safe to play in the kitchen while it is in use?”
“Where else could you play instead if you feel like running?”
Such open-ended questions confirming boundaries can also initiate child-led problem-solving.
With positive discipline, it is important that you describe the behaviour you want to see without lecturing, and whenever possible, let your child know what they can do, as opposed to what they cannot do.
Emphasise the positive things your child does. If you only pay attention to negative behaviour, you will end up reinforcing that behaviour. When your child does something worthy of praise, be sure to acknowledge it and give him/her recognition for it. Positive reinforcement is not limited to words of praise for good behaviour. In fact, rewarding your child with natural rewards can be an extremely effective method for encouraging similar behaviour in the future. For instance, if a child asks politely for a cup of juice instead of throwing a full-blown tantrum, consider giving a little more juice or even a nice topping to motivate similar polite requests in the future. Remember to point out what they did right and emphasise how you appreciate their polite behaviour. This kind of praise helps your child maintain a positive self-identity that they will want to live up to as well.
Punishing your child often can turn you into the enemy, fostering an unhealthy parent-child relationship. Many parents tend to punish their children in ways that are unrelated to the offence too, and this can be confusing or simply encourage their children to act in defiance. Where possible, allow the natural consequences of their actions to unfold. For instance, if your child throws a tantrum and refuses to put on a raincoat while it is raining, the natural consequence is that they would get wet. They will be far more likely to acquiesce the next time than if you respond with a time-out when a similar situation arises.
Time-in and Time-out
You may be familiar with the time-out consequence, a common disciplinary technique when a child has done something wrong. Solitary, boring time-outs can be effective when well-executed. However, research has shown that such disciplinary methods are best when occasional time-outs are paired with time-ins. Time-ins encourage good behaviour, and are carried out by having the parent spend quality time with the child after a bout of bad behaviour. Instead of lashing out at the child and sending them away, spend time with them and help them calm down if they are emotionally agitated. Once they’ve calmed down, it would be much easier to discuss better choices for the future, and encourage them to apologise for their bad behaviour.
Paying attention to language use
Language is very important when it comes to disciplining a child. When anger strikes, it’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment. Be mindful not to use derogatory language or words of insult, as this can be hurtful and harm the child’s self-esteem. Moreover, try rephrasing your sentences. Instead of saying, “you messed up”, begin sentences with “I” statements. Convey how you felt about their behaviour rather than solely focusing on what the child did. This makes the approach to discussing the situation less critical, and allows the child to calm down and feel less defensive especially if their actions were unintentional.
While gentle parenting is a brilliant method as a whole, it is still important that we do what we need to do if there is danger involved. For instance, if your child is running straight for a busy road, yelling or grabbing at them is completely valid and reasonable.
All in all, remember to focus on encouragement and redirection of bad behaviour to appropriate alternatives. Positive discipline can go a long way, and it will certainly benefit both parent and child.
Raising a child is demanding – their emotions and personality trait can change frequently. As a parent, how can you tell if your child’s behaviour is part of growing up or a cause for concern?
Child psychologists at Promises, Tan Su-Lynn and SC Anbarasu speak to the editorial team at ANZA about psychological tests for children and adolescents which help parents better understand the strengths and challenges their child has in areas of cognitive, behavioural, learning and socio-emotional functioning.
Learn more about the types of tests and what goes into one.
As parents, we all want the best for our children. We naturally see the good in them and marvel at their every new development and discovery. However, raising a child can be demanding. Even under the greatest circumstances, their emotions and personality traits can change frequently, and it can be difficult to pinpoint when certain behaviours are typical or might need special attention.
Just like us, children experience a huge range of emotions (some more adorable than others!). They can be sad, anxious, aggressive or irritable. They can be restless, reclusive or downright grumpy. In most cases, these feelings are perfectly healthy, but how can you tell if your child’s mannerisms are a part of growing up or a cause for concern?
Promises Healthcare, Psychiatric & Psychological clinic can help to put your mind at ease with their psychological tests for children and adolescents. Carried out by their expert team of senior child and educational psychologists, these evaluations can help parents to better understand the strengths and challenges their child may have in areas of cognitive, behavioural, learning and socio-emotional functioning.
Tan Su-Lynn, Senior Educational Psychologist at Promises
Why take a psychological test?
While the idea of psychological tests for children might sound daunting, they can be essential in helping parents to make educated choices and implement strategies to ensure a child is getting the right support. “Intelligence – sometimes referred to as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) – includes cognitive functioning, intellectual ability, aptitude, thinking skills, and general ability,” explains Senior Clinical Psychologist at Promises, S C Anbarasu. “Based on the type of assessments used, trained psychologists can obtain a more in-depth understanding of a child’s challenges. Some potential issues that can be detected include emotional or behavioural problems, or delayed learning with writing, spelling, maths or reading. Testing also helps to identify the presence of autism, ADHD or dyslexia.”
Says Tan Su-Lynn, Senior Educational Psychologist at Promises, “When a child is observed to have difficulties with their learning or behaviour in school or at home, this may suggest the possibility of a learning or behavioural disorder. Severity of the difficulties should also be taken into consideration, such as whether they impact their social, home and/or school functioning. Psychological testing can obtain a profile of a child’s strengths and areas that require support.
Reasons for a psychological test can include:
Learning difficulties or delays (for example, difficulties with spelling, writing, reading)
Emotional or behavioural problems in the classroom or home
Admission to special educational programmes
Increased understanding of a child’s learning style
Concerns regarding possible attentional difficulties
What are the tests and how do they work?
Depending on your concerns and your child’s needs, there are two types of psychological tests for children available at Promises to ascertain a child’s profile. “The IQ test measures a range of cognitive abilities and provides a score that is intended to serve as a measure of the child’s intellectual abilities, overall thinking, reasoning skills and potential,” explains Su-Lynn. “Our Academic Testing assesses areas in language, reading, writing, mathematical skills, comprehension and fluency.”
After an initial consultation period, both assessments take place in stages. As each one lasts approximately 6-12 hours, sessions are spaced out to reduce fatigue and distraction. There are no scary school exam style set-ups here: each test involves fun problems, puzzles and questions. “Generally, most children enjoy the testing sessions as it’s an engaging process,” says Anba. “To make sessions as stress-free as possible, we have regular breaks so they can play with their favourite toys. Tasks that involve using hands to construct or fingers to point at pictures appear to appeal the most. Parents are welcome to join their child throughout for support.”
Once completed, a feedback session is arranged to discuss the outcome and provide parents with the opportunity to ask questions. Parents also receive a comprehensive written report with recommendations for home and school settings. Continues Anba, “With psychological tests for children, we can address potential issues early and hopefully prevent the child from feeling demoralised, stressed and anxious in the future.”
When parents and teachers work holistically with Promises, everyone receives a better understanding of the child’s behaviour and game-changing solutions to bring them a brighter and happier future.
While most of us may be familiar with the term ADHD or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, we may be unfamiliar with the challenges and struggles a child diagnosed with ADHD goes through.
Our senior psychologists from the Child and Adolescent team, S. C. Anbarasu and Tan Su-Lynn, spoke to the editorial team at HoneyKids Asia to shed more light on ADHD, how it affects kids, what are the early symptoms, and how parents can support a child with a diagnosis.
Bullying can be manifested in many forms, and children and youth can be involved in many ways in it. However, with 1 in 4 children in Singapore reporting that they have experienced bullying a few times a month, bullying might be closer to home than you think.
Bullying is done with the intent to hurt and is repeated or persistent. Often, the target of bullying finds it difficult to stop it or stand up for himself / herself. This is different from peer conflicts or quarrels which typically involve incidents where children mutually hurt each other. As parents and caregivers, how do we support our children as they navigate the complexities of relationship-building, and what are some warning signs that indicate that they are involved in bullying?
Broadly, there are three different types of bullying
Relational: When hurtful actions are made with the intention to shame a person and damage the forming of healthy relationships and friendships. This can take the form of leaving someone out of a group, teasing, name-calling, expressing negative thoughts or feelings about a person, and even intimidating them to do things against their will.
Physical: When harm has been inflicted on a person or their belongings. This can take the form of hitting, punching, kicking, inappropriate touching and persistent damaging or stealing of belongings.
Cyber-bullying: Occurs on the internet, through mobile phones, computers, video-game systems and other forms of technology. Both relational and physical bullying can occur on this platform. For example, digital technology can be used to gossip and spread rumours or hostile messages, or game accounts can be hacked and items stolen.
How do I identify if my child is involved in bullying?
Recognising these warning signs is the first step in stemming bullying.
Warning signs of being a target of bullying:
has unexplainable cuts, bruises, scratches or other injuries
comes home with lost, torn, damaged, or destroyed clothing, books, stationeries or other belongings
is unusually hungry after returning from school
seems fearful of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers, and often finds or makes up excuses (e.g. faking illness) as to why he/she cannot go to school
has declining grades, lost interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
experiences a loss of appetite, or has changes in eating habits like skipping meals or binge eating
reports sleeping difficulty (e.g. trouble falling and staying asleep, frequent bad dreams, etc)
complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
suddenly stops talking about friends and has few, if any, friends, with whom he or she spends time with during recess or after school
is withdrawn and stammers
continually ‘loses’ money or starts stealing
appears anxious, sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he or she comes home and suffers from low self-esteem
self-harms or talks about suicide
becomes aggressive and unreasonable
refuses to talk about what is wrong
begins to target siblings
Emotional and Behavioural signs
Warning signs of engaging in bullying:
gets into verbal or physical fights
suddenly possesses unexplained extra money or new belongings
often reacts aggressively towards others
has friends who bully others
may be excessively worried about their popularity and reputation
can be competitive
has received many disciplinary warnings and actions
refuses to accept responsibility for their actions
What should I do if I think my child is involved in bullying?
It is important to talk with children who show signs of being bullied or bullying others. The safety and mental health of our children should remain an utmost concern. It’s painful to think of your child receiving or inflicting harm on other kids, but bullying is a serious issue for both the targeted and the aggressor. According to research, a vast majority of bullies have also been the targets of bullying, and less than 1% of primary school children are “true bullies” – those who were not bullied by their peers.
Bear these three C’s in mind when relating with your child: Communicate, Consult and Connect
Communicate If you hear from a teacher or another parent that your child involved in a bullying situation, the first thing you should do is talk to your child about the situation. Be direct about the issue, but make it clear that you are open to hearing your child’s side of the story. Stay calm and say something like, “Your teacher called to tell me that you were involved in some bullying. I’m really concerned about this, and we need to talk about it. Please tell me what happened.”Avoid prejudging the situation and reacting based on emotions. It can be tempting to immediately blame the other party, criticise parenting, or condemn the school system, but it is also worth taking time to look inward and reflect on whether your own actions may be influencing your child’s. Some children may be modelling their interpersonal style based on the behaviour they have observed. If so, it is important to start fostering a positive home environment, where members of the family treat one another with kindness and respect, creating a safe space for children to share their worries and failures.
Consult Talking through the situation with your child can help you understand why the bullying is happening, and what steps need to be taken in order to stop it. For example, you may find that your child has incredibly low self-esteem and bullying helped him/her feel powerful and able to control something. He/she might prefer being known as ‘the worst kid in school’ and interacting with other children in the process, rather than not being noticed at all and having no friends. Or perhaps your child might accept being the target of bullying with the mistaken belief that such behaviours are acceptable between friends. Some children may not be able to articulate their feelings. This is especially true of children who are struggling with anxiety, trauma, or another mental health issue. If you are having trouble, consider consulting a child psychologist or psychiatrist who has a lot of experience evaluating kids’ behaviours. Your child might need a therapist’s help to work through underlying issues, investigate the root of the problem and guide you and your child in tackling the specific challenges that your child faces in his/her social interactions.
Connect Ultimately, it is about building a close and lasting connection with your child. Connecting with your child about his/her day-to-day life will put you in a better position to recognise signs of bullying and trouble. Start with asking your child a few open-ended questions on a daily basis. For example, ask him/her to share about one really great thing that happened that day, and one not-so-great thing. It can be tough to get started, but children who are regularly encouraged to share details of their lives with their parents tend to be more comfortable with continuing to do so when they are in their adolescence. Listening to your child in a supportive, non-judgmental way helps them feel connected to your presence and love in their lives, and makes them more receptive to opening up to you about their problems as well as accepting the advice that you give to them. It is always better to handle challenging issues like bullying together so that your child will be able to walk out of the shadow of the bullying with confidence and courage.
In the midst of this current COVID-19 crisis, there is so much uncertainty for parents and children, which translates to overwhelming stress about family members’ health and safety, as well as an upheaval of school and work routines.
With no external help from grandparents, or the essential childcare centres to mind the kids of dual- income parents, no part-time helper to clean the house, and with the panic that ensues with each announcement from the government about the tightening of circuit breaker measures, it can feel like the end of the world. Foreboding desire to tear your hair out and scream in exasperation. And to top it off, parents now find themselves playing the role of “teacher” in supporting and facilitating their child’s Home Based Learning endeavours.
Yes, I hear you.
Singapore has just heard from its Prime Minister, who has decreed that current circuit-breaker measures will extend beyond the initial 4th May deadline, which is now 1st June, which adds the novelty (if you are so inclined to be a paragon of good cheer) of an additional month of government sanctioned acronyms that must be helping ministers and bureaucrats find their feet too!
Families in Singapore and the rest of the world are experiencing increased stress and anxiety right now. So, amidst this chaos, here are some tips for you to help your child cope with HBL, which will hopefully help in restoring some order in this otherwise chaotic household atmosphere..
As we all practice social distancing, it also provides an opportunity to slow down and pause, and to find our own footing in learning new ways to live. Children continue to grow and develop as they encounter new life experiences, including coping with this inescapable global pandemic, so it is important to continue fostering positive relationships and strengthening emotional connections with our children.
Work out a daily routine with reward system
Research suggests that children benefit from schedules and engaging in productive activities, so plan activities that will create structure and fun memories. Set aside specific times for doing online lessons, doing homework, and reading or visiting virtual museums. To keep your child engaged and motivated, consider breaking up the day into smaller manageable blocks, taking care to cater to the short attention spans of your kids.
Visuals are especially great for reminding younger children what to do and how to do it, and these visuals can be simply hand-drawn and paired with keywords and then stuck on the wall. For some children who have completed their online lessons and are getting restless and fidgety, you may want to give them a to-do list of activities that they can complete independently, empowering them.
Guiding your child in setting goals and scheduling tasks are part of valuable life skills of time management and task organisation. Once their tasks are completed satisfactorily, they can be rewarded. Hence, if you would like your child to be more independent, polite, helpful, then rewarding them for their good behaviour in which these traits are displayed will be a good starting place for you.
For example, you can explore the effectiveness of “if/then” statements such as, “if you finish this piece of homework, then you can play 15 minutes of computer games with your brother”, or the use of a token system like “each time you can stay seated for 15 minutes, you get a token, and after you get 5 tokens, you can exchange them for something of your choice”. Tokens are reinforcers that the child earns which are exchanged for a larger reward based on their achievements. This system also helps in gaining instructional control, as well as acquiring self-monitoring skills and delayed gratification. Just as with any behavioural reinforcement strategies, the token system can be adjusted over time as your child’s skills develop and can be utilised less frequently. It is up to your parenting style and the temperament of your children to devise token systems that keep them engaged.
Recognise and praise efforts
Change is difficult for everyone, including for your child. If they are able to conduct themselves in an appreciable manner in certain scenarios in which they were previously unable to, this in itself is an accomplishment worth celebrating! Remember to give credit for their displays of maturity – praise them, show affection, or give a little treat. Children and adolescents learn very quickly by receiving direct feedback from adults. By reinforcing appropriate and desirable behaviour, the more likely your children will repeat this behaviour and overtime will coalesce into a good habit.
While it is part of being a parent to have to say “NO” to some of your children’s inappropriate requests or behaviours, it is important to ensure that you mindfully maintain a balance of more positive than negative interactions with your children. Try to focus as much as you can on the good things that your child is doing. After all, having more positives throughout the day helps in those moments when you have to say “NO”. Be deliberate and consistent in praising and rewarding them, and to follow through with providing the reward as soon as your child demonstrates the desired behaviour. In working out the goals with your child, it will be reasonable to start by picking 1 to 3 behaviours or skills to focus on for reward and praise throughout the day. Items used as rewards have to be of value to the child and should not be easily accessible unless earned – this would keep your child motivated in completing the tasks and meeting the goals.
Manage screen time
In this circuit breaker period, having extra screen time will not hurt, especially to reach out and to stay socially connected with friends. However, do set expectations with your child that the change in rules is a time-limited exception and regular limits will be put back in place when this circuit breaker is lifted.
While flexibility is important during this period, by no means should you allow unlimited screen time. Work out with your child on managing screen time. In the local mainstream schools, your child can be expected to be using technology to support HBL consisting of about 2-3 hours of online learning every day. With your child already spending time on online learning, work out with them on an agreement to take short breaks in between their online lessons and reduce their recreational screen time. This can be replaced by partaking in creative projects such as painting or baking, or using recycled materials to make toys or playing board games with the entire family. This also means that parents should also monitor their own digital device usage. Make use of this time to nurture new healthy habits for yourself and your children.
Now that the government mandated circuit breaker has been extended, you shouldn’t worry about having to keep the children entertained. Yes, it is inevitable that they will whine and complain about boredom, but remember that boredom can be harnessed. It is through boredom that allows them to create their own meaning and purpose, to be resourceful and to get to know themselves better. When young minds are free from distraction and constant torrents of information, they discover ways to create and find their own fun, or to further explore something that they are already interested in. This could be writing a book, staging a performance, drawing and painting, and the list goes on with endless possibilities!
Encourage emotional expression and validate your child’s feelings
Children need to be secure about accessing their emotions rather than fearing them. To do this, they need to cultivate essential skills of being aware of their emotions and dealing with their experiences and concerns in manageable doses.
Being able to express our emotions allows others to understand how we feel, helps us to manage our own stress, worries, disappointments and sadness, and prevents us from spiralling into negative and maladaptive ways of coping. Holding in or denying our emotions sometimes unconsciously results in angry outbursts or aggressive behaviour. One way to teach children about expressing and managing their emotions is by using books or through videos, and even modelling for them in the sense that adults are role models for their children, who ‘model’ the behaviour of their parents through observing and imitating.
For older children and adolescents, perhaps the most painful part of this COVID-19 crisis and HBL is the loss of important school experiences such as school or national competitions which they have trained very hard for, or performances which they have put in hours of rehearsals into, and the daily interactions with friends. Give them a safe space to share their feelings and listen without judgement and without giving advice or reassurance. Some will be worried about missing out on activities expected to help them with school admissions, and these feelings of worry and stress are indeed valid. So again, allow them to acknowledge and share their feelings, and then express confidence in their ability to rebound.
With all the changes happening around us, it is indeed a challenging time for yourself and for your children. Start by having empathy for yourself as you navigate through uncharted waters in this battle against COVID-19 and its impact on routines and lifestyles. Yes, it is messy and chaotic, and it is OK to be not OK with any of this.
Children learn by watching the behaviours and reactions of the adults around them, so use this as a critical opportunity to prepare them to deal with uncertainties in life. Other than using books or TV shows to help children learn about empathy, you could also talk about how doctors and nurses are working to care for others with COVID-19 and to elicit their thoughts and feelings as they imagine what the healthcare workers are experiencing. Another example would be imagining what their teachers are experiencing with WFH (working from home) and HBL. By teaching and practicing empathy, your children will grow up being more compassionate and altruistic with the genuine intention to help others without expecting anything in return.
For children with special needs, it is likely that they would have had access to regular therapy services or remediation support either provided by external agencies or are school-based. It would be beneficial to maintain collaboration with the therapists to see if there are workable options that can be carried out at home so that your child’s learning is not impeded. It’s indeed a challenging time for everyone, and more so for children with special needs and their parents/caregivers. With big changes happening, it can get really overwhelming especially for a child with special needs. Remember that these behaviours are not personal but are the manifestation of a skill deficit which occur to meet a need. Professionals can help to support you through this. Reach out to a professional here. You are not alone.
For children with anxiety or mood-related concerns, this circuit breaker period will likely exacerbate their mood swings, emotion dysregulation, and problems with attention and focus. This is the time to be even more patient and supportive of your child. For younger children, you may notice some behaviours or physical complaints, for example, having tummy aches, headaches or nausea, which are somatic manifestations of underlying anxiety or worry. If you or your child feels overwhelmed, do reach out to a professional here that is in tune with your needs.
If you’re a parent who believes in taking a proactive approach to your child’s education, then you’ve probably realised by now that comparing your young one to the school’s resident whiz kid(s) is ill-advised. There is truth then, in this kernel of wisdom: “Every child is a unique gift from God”.
Understanding how your child takes in information, assimilates it, learns, is perhaps the first step to making their education a better experience for them. When parents start getting a grasp of what their child’s preferred way of learning is, they can start taking steps to work with that style of learning, instead of foisting the next flavour of the month upon their child. Individual learning styles don’t necessarily dovetail with the school’s pedagogy – but that’s OK. This just means that you’re blessed with more opportunities to help your child grow up with the values and convictions you hold dear.
Conventional wisdom tells us that people generally fall into one of three categories – visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning. But before you pigeonhole your child into one of those convenient boxes, it is worth noting that while a child may have a dominant learning style, a combination of all the styles is required to learn about the wonderful, wider world that they’re growing up in. Once you have figured out their style, you can then begin to take steps to ensure that they have ample opportunities in the classroom and at home to take advantage of that particular style.
However, there are some children who constantly struggle when they are subject to the traditional classroom setting. Despite your efforts to supervise and coach them, they might continue to face persistent difficulties with reading and writing skills, as well as attention and behavioural regulation in terms of their academic performance.
A child with learning difficulties is affected in different ways, with the impact ranging from mild to moderate or even severe, with symptoms surfacing when the time comes for them to learn literacy and numeracy skills in the classroom. Children with learning difficulties are at risk of developing low self-esteem, which in particular is a consequence of the condition going undiagnosed and/or untreated. Imagine a dewy-eyed child who, with all the innocence of youth, proudly strives and strains to do well at school – yet never reaping a jot of acknowledgement. Imagine (or remember) what it feels like to have the purity of childlike endeavour constantly rebuffed by the shame of underperformance. To have effort always met with negativity is tough for even the most motivated child, which may lead to the development of a poor self-concept that ends up causing further social-emotional issues in future.
All children, learning difficulties or not, need love and support for them to cultivate a strong sense of self-worth, build confidence and develop resilience. In seeking ways to help your child who has a learning difficulty, bear in mind that your role as a parent is not to “cure” the difficulty, but to arm your child with the social and emotional tools they will need to work through challenges and develop strategies for compensating with their difficulties. In the long run, your child will emerge stronger and more resilient.
Even though everyone’s been a kid before, I know that the new and bewildering responsibilities of parenthood can sometimes make us forget what we, as children, wanted to have for ourselves. I’ve outlined some tips which can be invaluable to our efforts to support a child with a learning difficulty.
Knowledge is power – learn everything you possibly can about your child’s learning difficulties and needs.
Doing your own research and keeping abreast of the new developments in evidence-based learning and behavioural interventions not only helps your child, it helps to foster a sense of solidarity with your child. The more you know about your child’s needs, the better you are equipped to help your child. Start with your child’s teachers and consult with professionals (e.g. educational psychologists, school psychologists, or child clinical psychologists) who are best positioned to work together with you and your child in this journey. Collaborating with your child’s school teachers and fostering a good relationship with them helps in the overall understanding of your child’s needs – this facilitates consistency between home and school, which is particularly essential for children with challenging behaviour.
Be an advocate for your child by raising awareness.
While society has made great strides towards the goal of inclusivity, awareness of special education needs and learning disabilities is still limited (but growing). Embrace your role as a proactive parent, taking responsibility not only for your child’s welfare but also contributing to the child who does not have a dedicated guardian in their life. Yes, your journey will be fraught with challenges and frustrations, but always remember to remain calm and to persevere. We often don’t realise just how much children internalise behaviour and views that they perceive in their parents. As a parent, you are entrusted with the very delicate task of moulding a young mind. Your healthy optimism, perseverance, and sense of humour doesn’t just benefit you – it positively influences your child to be a self-advocate, which is a very important goal for a parent in these circumstances.
Some parents choose to hide their children’s learning difficulties in secrecy, for fear of stigma or unjust treatment by others. They might honestly feel that they’re serving the best interests of their child. On the contrary – it is this very lack of understanding and awareness from family and friends that causes the misattribution of a child’s developmental needs to ‘laziness’ or ‘poor parenting’ or ‘mischief’. By shining a light on the condition, you help others develop empathy and come to be more supportive of your child. Within the family, siblings might feel that there is more attention and preferential treatment towards the brother/sister with learning difficulties, despite being aware of their condition. Hence, it is also important for parents to reassure all their children equally that they are loved, to provide support to their work, and to include them all in routines for the child with learning difficulties.
Focus on your child’s strengths, not just weaknesses.
No one is defined by disability or need. And no one is perfect either. As you embrace your child’s flaws, celebrate their strengths in the same breath. As with all other human beings, a child with learning difficulties too will come into their own personality, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Focus on the gifts and talents which your child is blessed with, and help them to nurture their areas of strengths such as in activities they excel in.
Praise effort rather than outcome.
Children with learning difficulties may not always excel academically, and if they do, they likely have put in a lot more effort than their peers to have achieved a similar good grade. Acknowledge the effort made, which deserves recognition – no matter if the child has gotten the answer right or wrong. Your child is demonstrating courage when they try out new approaches to assignments and study strategies, and if you want them to learn from mistakes and be receptive to feedback, credit and praise must be given where due. It will take time for new practices and interventions to work and for new skills to be acquired, so bear in mind to focus on the long term goals, and to break larger tasks down into smaller, more manageable milestones which can be spaced out over time.
Everyone’s definition of success is different, but the aspirations you have for your child probably extend well beyond the fulfilment of good grades. Working with parents, it has been my experience that most, if not all, express the desire for their child to lead an independent life, in which they are capable of providing for themselves, and above all else, to be happy. This being the case, then success in life definitely isn’t based on just academic success, but rather on things like having a sense of self-worth, the willingness to ask for and accept help, the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity and the emotional depth to form healthy relationships – values and qualities that are not quantifiable like the metric of exam grades.
Keep your child motivated.
As school is most likely a source of frustration for your child who puts in much more effort than in proportion to the reward of good performance, it is important to find something in school that brings your child enjoyment, that they are motivated to pursue without much prompting. Sometimes, to taste the fruit of serendipity, one must eschew his comfort zone. This may involve having your child participate in a CCA of their choice, attend camps or other school-related activities, and encouraging your child to have good relationships with peers and teachers. It can be difficult to motivate your child to learn, and to invest time in subjects which already make them feel inferior and bad at. You will probably meet less resistance if you start from your child’s level of ability, carefully choosing lesson topics that already are of interest to them. Give them some measure of autonomy to choose how they study or complete homework – building in breaks and breaking down challenging tasks into smaller chunks gives them ownership in the crafting of their own timetable, helping to keep them motivated to follow through with their plan.
Finding a role model who has flourished in spite of their learning difficulties can show your child that success is attainable, and that it is their own choice not to allow their current difficulties to define them. Celebrity, athlete, friend, neighbour or pastor, the only requirement to those role model shoes is that your child feels comfortable talking to them.
Encourage healthy lifestyle habits.
Stress may manifest differently in children than in adults. While some signs may be more overt, such as trouble sleeping, agitation, acting out, or meltdowns, others may retreat inwards – shutting down, spacing out, withdrawing and isolating. Even as adults ourselves, we may lack the prescience to recognise that our internal systems are under stress, let alone children who have not yet matured into such skills. Hence, it is your responsibility to be vigilant of signs of stress in your precious one.
Your child’s eating, sleeping and exercise habits are also vital to their overall learning ability. With a healthy routine which incorporates a balanced diet, quality sleep and sufficient physical activity, children will be better able to focus and concentrate.
Other than the physical, paying attention to your child’s emotional needs is also important. When they are faced with the frustrating challenges presented by their learning difficulties, allow them to express their feelings in a safe space. Validate them by acknowledging that the cause of their gripe is an issue, but be careful not to coddle them into poor self-restraint. Be ready to listen when they are ready to talk, and be a grounding, reassuring presence which helps their mind integrate with their body, and re-orient into a sense of calm.
Above all, remember to take care of yourself! The uniquely sacrificial dint of parenthood sometimes diverts needed attention from our own needs. If you are to project an empathetic sense of warmth, you will first need to cultivate self-compassion, and allow yourself the space to tend to your own needs. The quality of support you are able to provide to your child is dramatically affected by your own levels of stress and exhaustion. Parenting is a full time job, but don’t let yourself burn out emotionally.
In order to do this, you need to be mindful of your own limitations. You are the best gauge of when to rouse the oarsmen to right your ship. If you have a supportive spouse, or friend, or family member, take heart. Lastly, there is great benefit in the solidarity of support groups, which serve as useful support and also reminders that you are not alone in your unfolding journey!