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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

First Steps

Our son took his first long walk last week. On that Friday afternoon, I received an SMS from my wife during the day that he had walked for a good distance along the canal where we lived. Jubilant on receiving the news, yet determined to see this for myself, I hurried home to take him again to the canal after work.

It was a lovely evening. The glowing sun had not yet bid farewell to the day. The leaves were rustling gently in the breeze. And the two of us were holding the hands of our son as we guided him to the canal to reprise his afternoon's performance. My wife held him steadily, before gently letting him go. Both of us proceeded a few steps in front of him, waving our hands madly and gesturing for him to come to us. "You can do it," we cried. "Come to Daddy and Mummy!"

Z stared blankly at us, his hands outstretched in a balancing position. Looking at us hesitantly as though we were strange creatures from a faraway galaxy, he gyrated awkwardly as though he was about to be blown over by the wind. Then he walked. One step at first. Then two. Then a few more. With every step he made, Z edged nearer and nearer to us. When he got within arms' length, we got up and moved slightly further away from him. We had expected him to protest; to make the familar complaining sounds that he was now accustomed to making. But he did not, and instead tottered onwards again towards us. We knew then there was then no more stopping our son; the child whose feet had awakened to the sensation of walking.

Z walked all the way to the bridge near our home, a good 300 metres away. When we carried him to allow him to rest, there was no indication of tiredness. Instead, he gestured that he again wanted to walk. And this he did so, for another 150 metres or so; pausing once in a while to step on an errant leaf or two that had escaped the broom of the hardworking cleaning crew. Z was clearly conscious of his accomplishments, putting his hands together at the end of the walk, in a sign that he wanted us to clap for him. This we did with enthusiasm.

There are two lessons that I have learnt from the entire process. The first relates to the education system in Singapore.

For two months now I had been anxious that Z had not yet begun walking. Yes, he had taken his first steps then, moving from the living room sofa to my wife, or from the dining room chair to me. However, all good parents know that normal children should begin walking by the age of 13 months. When Z took his first steps at 12 months, I was hopeful that our son might begin walking unaided at that age. This would have been one month before the normal age of walking, and it would have meant that Z would have been developmentally-advanced. But as the days went by, my hopes were dashed; and I was even gripped with the fear that my son could grow up as an developmentally-slow child. I know now that my fear was unfounded - not because Z finally walked, but because a child should not be judged by the developmental milestones in his life.

In today's world of super schools and super kids, many parents take on tuition for their children in order to provide them with the extra help needed to do well. Yet a significant number of children have tuition not because they are doing badly, but instead because their parents compare their grades with the children around them. Feeling that their children are not performing as well as their peers, these parents decide to spend the money on tuition so their kids would not be left out. Sue and I have decided we will not send our children for tuition. We will instead consider enrichment classes and other activities to help them develop holistically.

The second lesson relates to exploration and boundaries.

In the book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas, the authors talk about the different stages of boys and how to nurture them. One idea that I gleamed is that young children are like explorers. They need the freedom to explore the world around them; but children must be given loving boundaries so that they will not get into trouble.

We feel that our son learnt to walk because we surrendered control of him. If my wife had not first let go of Z, he would have continued to cling on to us as he walked. By giving up control of him, we had allowed him the space he needed to explore. Yet we were always a few steps in front of him; during the later parts of the walk, Sue and I stationed ourselves to his left and right in order to guard against cyclists and joggers who were whizzing by the canal track. We needed to keep him safe and provide him with loving boundaries - even as he explored the world on his own terms.

In my course of work I have seen many children who were either too tightly controlled by their parents or given too much freedom. Both extremes led to negative consequences - the children either grew up extremely resentful of their parents and snapped under the pressure, or they were so unattended by their parents that they ended up commiting crimes and learning the consequences of their actions. My wife and I have decided we want to allow our son to explore as much as he wants to; and we have promised to be there for him. We will however not hesistate to discipline him if the situation warrants it. What remains for us is to decide how much is too much, and I know this is something we will be learning all our lives.

2 comments:

  1. Ha.. Mark and Sue, my boy only started walking at 16 months. According to a parenting guide, kids walk between 9-16 months.
    Hmm, coincidentally, I was just thinking about the issue of enrichment classes. I noticed a trend of young kids these days attending enrichment classes on reading, Chinese, music, art, gym.. Some working parents pack their kids with classes after classes on weekends and that makes me wonder, firstly, the value of pre-schools (well, I believe most Singaporean kids attend pre-schools) and secondly, the amount of time these kids have with their parents. If so many kids take up reading and Chinese classes (which I believe are core curriculums in most pre-schools) outside of school, seriously, what's the value of school.
    Again, I guess balance and moderation is the key and an understanding of the interests of our children. I personally was very tempted to send my boy for this class and that class, especially on days when I felt inadequate to teach him. But I made up my mind that I should minimise his enrichment classes at this age and there should be no classes on weekends, with the exception of swimming since it's one class that I can't handle both kids together, because the family needs to spend time together.

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  2. Elaine - We share your view on enrichment classes. Quite a number of the so-called "enrichment classes" are actually more like preparatory classes e.g. reading, Chinese etc. When Z is older we will only send him for classes that he is interested in for example music or dance etc - the non-academic type of classes. And yes, balance and moderation are important, as well as understanding the interests and inclinations of our children :)

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