Category Archives: discipline

A Thanksgiving reflection

Hooray! B has finally joined the rest of his classmates who’ve turned four. As his last week of nursery approaches, I’m looking forward to our Thanksgiving break together before he gets promoted to kindergarten. Here’s some reflections on his first full year in childcare.

Dear B,

You’ve shown social maturity and adaptability with the many changes this year. There were farewells to old playmates and adjustments to new friends and teachers at school. You didn’t like spending less time with mama as I not only returned to full time corporate work, but travelled away on business quite often – at one point for almost 3 weeks straight. Yet your teachers remarked on your “very positive self identify and sense of belonging”, 他会告诉老师:“妈妈不在新加坡”“我的爷爷来接我” as you figured things out and embraced the village of caregivers around you.

You’re growing in knowledge and imagination (and negotiation skills)! Being constantly surrounded by books has motivated you to learn how to read, first reciting from memory, then through sight words, and now as you blend and decipher more and more each day. “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”  We try to read together every night when I’m at home, borrow or buy new readers (like the Timmy and Tammy series below), and write down “new” words together.

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Flipping through our notebook with all the new or tough words

You are learning to persevere and not give up. You were frustrated that you couldn’t draw or write as well as some of your friends but I’m glad we encouraged you to keep on doodling and scribbling. Since you like mixed medium, illustrated stories and numbers, we incorporated math and sensory play, gave titles to your art and made collages of our holidays. Mama too has learned to be patient and not compare! Remember Leo, the late bloomer.

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Colouring isn’t my favourite, but completing a number puzzle is!

Speaking of perseverance, you completed your first sport events this year. Mama crazily signed us up for an 800m Cold Storage kids run (which I thought was only 100m – oops), and I am so proud that you finished it even if we held hands and walked part of the way. You also biked solo in the OCBC Cycle event and grew confident enough that you cycled with us around Maldives. You didn’t even realise that those training wheels never touched the ground! We’ll upgrade you soon to a 16″ big boy pedal bike once you’re tall enough 🙂

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You’re starting to apply yourself in things that interest you, like violin. Though some days I bribe you to practice with car stickers, you surprise me with your progress and willingness to continue each term. Your teachers even invited you to perform as one of the musicians this year, and you did wonderfully! I’m glad you’re learning that “what separates the talented individual from a successful one is a lot of hard work.” While we’ll still explore many things and may drop others as you grow up, I’ll always support you in your pursuits as long as I can and you want to 🙂

Perhaps mommy and daddy could also work on two areas this coming year while your fantastic four is “under construction.” One is to more intentionally live out our faith as individuals and as a family. B may not like sitting still to pray, but he loves the bible stories and has made more friends at church. How can we help you grow into a godly man?  How can we serve our church community together?

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Same, same, but different! B likes to compare between the kids bibles

The other area of course, is Chinese. Although we found a good programme at Sparkanauts, I still wish for more time with you since no one else speaks Chinese at home. Your teacher suggested that we use videos, games or apps – 在家中可以观看有教育意义的卡通短片或者儿歌 。或者通过 ⼀些华文的电脑游戏来学习华文。家人可以使用华语和他进行沟通,增强他的日常生活⼝ 语。老师可以在和他的沟通中纠正他的句型错误并完整他的句子 –  beyond continuing to speak in Chinese. Mama has been quite strict about screen time, but perhaps we could try this in the coming year? That way, maybe ama and 公公 could get immersed too 🙂

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Some of the things we’ve tried for Chinese, if only I had more time!

My darling B, you melt my heart when you say, “I love you more than all the numbers, mama” and you make us laugh with “Now I like daddy, but I really like mama … when I’m old and I like mama, I’ll really like daddy.” I thank God every day for you and how blessed we are as your parents.

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Our first sticker ch(art)

We introduced B’s first sticker reward chart last month and it’s become an ongoing work of art and lesson in self-control for all of us.  The sticker chart tackled two areas that I felt were within B’s reach but he wasn’t consistent and/or disciplined enough about:

1) Self feeding and sitting down for meals (snacks not included) – I was so excited when B would use his spoon or fork to eat porridge, yogurt, oats/cereal, fruits around 16 months.  He’d eat pretty much everything in his first 2 years.  Alas, that didn’t last 😦  Now there are times when a mealtime battle looms, sometimes for a reason (sick), sometimes for no reason (aka #terrific2s). Besides stickers, I’ve tried reducing  snacks, reasoning with him, even a “join us, eat what you can.” When B eats slowly and gets picky, he still needs prompting and bite-sized food to make it easier (and faster), but all this has helped without  needing a rotan!  Yet.

2) Going to the potty – B started gradual potty training around 18 months. We first introduced potty books and a standalone potty, then wore trainers at home, moved to a kids potty seat (on the big seat) by 2 years as he was tall enough then. We’re now seeing increasingly diaper-free days and he’s comfortable standing up or sitting down to pee, when the boy urinals are too high (or there are none). The sticker chart is helping to minimise accidents outside, transition to diaper free in school, and when he needs to do his big business coz for some reason, he doesn’t like to sit and poo!

For both areas, I try not to make a big deal out of it and affirm the positive, though I admit, I’m not a patient mom…. As he’s young, I didn’t want us to be too fixated on any “final big reward” so I kept the design fun and open, with him having the freedom to choose and add stickers to celebrate his accomplishments. It’s nice to hear him say “Mama, I pee, so now get sticker!” or “I am big and strong!” (after eating) as he enjoys and understands what this sticker chart means.

Hmm ... where shall I put my sticker?
Hmm … where shall I put my sticker?

Here’s how we did it: For my vehicle loving boy, I chose a design that would appeal to him – hand drawn, copied and adapted from here. I explained what, why and how – even got B to help paint the background while I wrote out how the system would work (with tiny images for our non-reader to see). We stuck it at height level along the corridor between his bathroom and our dining area. As he adds his stickers, he’s also adding to his work of art aka the sticker chart!

B squirting out watercolours for the background
B squirting out watercolours for the background
Our first sticker chart art (as of today)
Our first sticker chart art (as of today)

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Special Review and Giveway: Six Karen Katz Lift The Flap Books (Bilingual)

Your boy is playing with his favourite bus/water gun/thingy.  His friend eagerly comes over and tries to snatch it away.  “B, please share?” “No!  Don’t want!” Tantrum ensues. Sound familiar?

Toddler hitting, screaming, biting and throwing are common behaviours that they’ll need to (un)learn – but that process can be challenging! Karen Katz offers some help with a series of delightful little books filled with adorable, true-to-life illustrations, and clear, simple and repetitive text. Thanks to Read With Me Mommy, this series is available in a compact set of six bilingual books in English and Chinese: I Can Share (我可以分享), No Hitting (不打人), No Biting (不咬人), Excuse Me (对不起), Best Ever Big Brother (最好的大哥哥), Best Ever Big Sister (最好的大姐姐).

Complete set of 6 bilingual books
Complete set of 6 bilingual books

What we like: It’s bilingual!  So you get a double 2-in-1 deal – reinforce behaviours AND learn key phrases in English AND Chinese as you enjoy reading it over and over together 🙂 As with other Karen Katz books, the text is separated from the pictures, each in their own page, making it easier for kids who are learning to read. Many tots actually memorise the story or conversation based on pictures, which is a great start to language development, but books like these take it one step further by helping them to focus on and recognise words, letters and characters. The whole page flaps cleverly reveal the right response, which usually involves “magic words” for proper manners or positive redirection for sticky situations like sharing and self-control. Note: This is best for 18 months to 4 years as it’s not in a board book format, so turning the pages and lifting flaps require a bit more control (and care).

As a bonus, the set also includes two books on growing up from the perspective of a 哥哥 or 姐姐, ideal for older siblings who are adjusting to a new baby at home. But even if you don’t have a sibling (yet – like us), it’s still relevant for your tot to read about big boys or girls who eat, sleep, read and go to the potty on their own 🙂

I'm a big sister
I’m a big sister

Read With Me Mommy is a user-friendly online bookstore which is conveniently organised by age (0-3 years, 3-6 years, 6-10 years, 10+ years) and book type (sets, board books, cloth books, etc.). There is currently a 5% discount promo for all DBS/POSB cardholders and free local mail delivery for ALL purchases.

As a special giveaway, Finally Mama readers stand a chance to win a brand new complete set of 6 bilingual lift the flap books worth SGD$24.90 with FREE local delivery.  Giveaway closed!  Just CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway and follow these steps:

1) Like Finally Mama on Facebook
2) Like Read With Me Mommy on Facebook
3) Comment below on who you’d like to get this for and why!

Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

This week, B turned 2 while mommy took a step closer to 40 😉  We had a terrific two party at Happy Willow – which daddy flew back from overseas to attend before flying back out again to work!  As we opened up the birthday gifts from friends and family, I reflected on the precious two years B and I have had together.  Despite the ups-and-downs with tantrums, self-feeding, potty training, language and math, the best gift we shared was simply the ability and freedom to IMAGINE together.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited while imagination embraces the entire world.”  So I controlled my tiger mom urges, withdrew him from the childcare we’d initially signed up for when I was going back to work last year, limited his exposure to commercial toys and enrichment programs (after a few eye-opening trials) – no matter how kid-friendly, educational and/or successful these claimed to be.  Instead, we focused on simple early years ABCs i.e. Art, Books, Craft with as much music, drama, library and outdoor time as possible. B learnt to observe and appreciate our environment – nature, everyday things at home and about, picking up a wider vocabulary and interests along the way, including an obsession with transportation, animals and space; and a love for music and rhythm – though he can’t sing on pitch, he recites plenty of songs in a quirky monotone… and yeah, speaks Chinese like his banana-mama 😉  

Sure, all of this involved additional time and effort and we never did as much as I’d like, but it was worth it!  Moving forward, we intentionally chose a school that builds on this approach too when he starts N1 next year and plan to maximise the remaining time on learning through play.  Let’s not “educate our kids out of their creative capacity” as was mentioned in this thought-provoking TED video on How Schools Kill Creativity:

On a lighter note, we recently dabbled in some eco-friendly cardboard craft. We added a ball ramp (works best with ping pong balls) behind the previous road ramp.


And built a multi-purpose, open-ended play house which his friends helped to paint:


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Growing up sage

Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé was a rather different read from the usual parenting books so far.  I was quite surprised that French parenting (in the early years at least) resonated with my own East meets West blend so far.  I don’t agree with it all, esp. the non-attachment-friendly actions and a rather socialist approach to do what others do with minimal individual affirmation.  

YET I do appreciate some elements, mainly:

  • Help him grow up sage (wise and calm) as well as éveillé (awakened, alert, stimulated). A child in control of himself, absorbed in activities with doucement (gently, carefully), mindful of himself with no n’importe quoi acts without regard or consideration for others 
  • Have a cadre (framework) where firm limits are set within which tremendous freedom is given
  • Focus on the right éducation (upbringing) rather than discipline
  • Teach him to attend (wait… stop!) by self entertainment/distraction and not be an enfant roi  who is constantly at the center of attention. Building patience and delayed gratification will help with the caprices during the tantrum-throwing frustrations
  • Reinforce FOUR magic words: “Hello, “Bye,” “Please” and “Thank You” 
  • Small acts of foolishness (bêtise) call for moderate responses but major acts require a firm non, les gros yeux (that LOOK of admonishment) and punishment with serious consequences
  • Equilibre (balance) includes not letting being a parent overwhelm your life. Don’t become a daily maman-taxi (tough one, that) 
  • Goûter (afternoon snack) is the ONLY snack of the day beyond the three square meals, ideally together with family
  • Allow autonomie, a blend of independence and self-reliance early on, including separation from parents such as école maternelle (free public pre-school) from the year the child turns 3 and colonie de vacances (kids’ summer camps) from four years on
  • Practice complicité, the mutual understanding that parents and caregivers try to develop with children from birth.  Small babies are perceived as rational beings, with whom adults can have reciprocal, respectful relationships. Note: several baby experts would disagree…
  • … which leads to French “sleep teaching” aka the PAUSE, typically by 4 months. My take on this is not that every newborn parent must sleep train by letting their baby cry.  Rather, consider waiting a little before responding to let baby learn to sleep on his own in between cycles, and then enter to determine if it truly is hunger, a dirty diaper, anxiety, et al.  This gradual “wait” approach worked for us even though we never liked or resorted to full cry-it-out
Caveat: The lowest grade I got in college was in French, so pardon any errors

Secrets of the toddler whisperer

Tracy Hogg’s book was full of gentle yet sound parenting advice. I liked her approach, fun acronyms and practical examples on how to manage those tricky toddler years. She’s not an advocate of spanking – I’m not sure where I stand on this yet as it’s quite a change for those who were raised with Asian parents/homes.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers

Everyday H.E.L.P with tots:
Hold Back.  For the purposes of observation, which is not the same as being detached, rejecting or ignoring your toddler
Encourage to Explore.  Ensure there are many opportunities a day for exploration, including let him play quietly with another child, try to solve puzzles or stack blocks on his own.  Don’t constantly direct, monitor and instruct.
Live with Limits. Too much of anything is usually not good. Don’t give too many choices, allow too much stimulation or participation in non-age appropriate activities.  Don’t wait too long before reining in tantrums, aggressiveness or other high emotions.  Curtail activities that aren’t good in big doses e.g. sweets, TV.
Praise Appropriately. Praise to reinforce specific acts of cooperation, kindness or behaviour

Routines and Rituals (R&R) continue to be important, perhaps even more so at this age. It provides security, cuts down on struggles, helps tots deal with separation, supports all kinds of learning – physical, emotional control, social behaviour, avoids problems by helping parents set clear consistent boundaries, allows everyone to slow down and connect.  Tailor R&R to your family — starting with waking, eating, bathing, exits and entrances, clean up, nap and bedtimes.  Everytime you repeat and reinforce an act, you are doing R&R — for better or worse!

H.E.L.P also applies to potty training which should begin between 18 mos – 2 years.
Hold back until you see signs he’s ready. E.g. Some stop dead in their tracks, stand still, focus and suddenly move on.
Encourage him to connect bodily function with words and actions. Narrate what’s going on when you change the diaper, invest in a freestanding potty and his fave toy “go to the bathroom”
Limit his time on the potty. No more than 2-3 minutes
Praise widely when something is deposited!

4Ps aren’t limited to Marketing either 😉  They’re also critical to potty training success:
Potty – one that fits his size and pants/panties once they go on the potty at least 3x/ day
Patience – never rush the process or look disappointed when he doesn’t pee or poop or causes an accident. All kids progress at their own speed
Practice – as much as he can
Presence – sit with him and cheer him own

The rate of language development is determined by exposure to language and interaction with talkers (constant conversation, eye contact), gender (girls tend to talk earlier), other developmental gains taking precedence (esp. walking, manual/social growth, etc.), birth order (younger tends to talk later) and genetic disposition. Also setbacks may occur if there’s a sudden change in the home (new baby, mom goes back to work, relocation, etc.). A different sort of TLC also applies during these critical years: Talk, Listen, Clarify. Pay attention to non-verbal and verbal signals. Look him in the eye when you talk/listen. Talk in short, simple sentences. Ask simple, direct questions to allow him to express himself.  Play word games to foster interaction, practice and learning. Exercise restrain and patience.

Common speech milestones and red flags by age below.
8-12 mos: Can speak and associate mama and dada.  Respond to 1-step commands (“Please give the car to mama”).  Watch if: child doesn’t respond to her name, babble (long/short groups of sounds), doesn’t look when people talk to her, doesn’t point or makes sounds to get what he wants

12-18 mos: Says first words: simple nouns (“dog,” “baby”), names of special people, action words/phrases (“up,” “go”). May follow 1 or 2-step commands (“Go into your room and get the towel”). Watch if: child doesn’t say a word or two, even unclearly

18-24 mos: Says up to 10 different words, understands 30 or more. Speaks lots of gibberish 🙂 Watch if: Child can’t say more than a few words clearly, follow simple requests (“come here”) or respond to simple questions with a “yes” or “no”

2-3 years: Has a word for everything! Combines words into sentences to express thoughts and feelings. Extensive vocab even though grammar isn’t perfect. Can converse with adult. Watch if: Child uses fewer than 50 words and has no word combinations. Can’t understand opposities/different meanings (“up/down”) or follow 2-step commands. Doesn’t notice or overacts to environmental sounds, e.g. horn

Last but not least, it’s important to teach your tot self control. I thought Hogg’s approach here was a little wishful thinking so one possible application would be to first try Karp’s prehistoric parenting where parents speak (not act) like the little Neanderthal to get their attention and show empathy, and THEN try Hogg’s suggestion of conscious discipline and offering choices through statements and questions. Rather than resort to demands/threats which (admit it!) come immediately to our minds, do/say if he’s:
– Overstimulated and/or running inappropriately/too much.  Stop/restrain him, pick him up and remove from the activity if needed. “I see…. Let’s take a walk outside. You can’t keep running here. We’ll leave once you’ve put your socks/shoes on.”
– Throwing a tantrum in public for something he wants but can’t/shouldn’t have. Ignore it. “Wow, that’s impressive. But you still can’t have it.  Do you want to come over here by yourself or shall I get you?”
If that doesn’t work, remove him. “You can’t behave like this here.”
– Refuses to cooperate while dressing or diaper changing. Stop, wait a while/calm him down, try again. “When you’re ready, we’ll dress up. Shall we change your diaper now or after you finish this snack?”
– Shouts, lower your own voice. “Let’s use our quiet voice”
– Whines, look him in the eye and imitate a best (non-whiny) noise. “I can’t hear you unless you use your best voice”
– Kicks/hits when you pick him up, put him down immediately.  “Do not hit/kick. It hurts.”
– Grabs another toy from a kid. Stand up, go near and encourage him to give it back. “If you can’t let go of M’s toy, I can help you… M was playing with that. You should give it back to him. Thank you — what good cooperation. Now would you like to hold/play with this?”
– Throws food.  Take him down from the chair.  “We don’t throw food at the table.” If he doesn’t want to finish/wants to go out.  “When you’ve finished eating, then we can go to the playground.”
– Pulls another child’s hair/hits another child. Put your hand on his hand, stroke gently. Restrain him or take him outside if agitated.  “Be gentle. No pulling, no hitting. That hurts!” Worse case: Go home.