Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Age of Reason

To say that these past few weeks have been difficult for us is an understatement. We have been embroiled in one tantrum after another; when the 4/1/2-year-old finishes his screaming match, the 2/1/2-year-old begins his own song and dance. And just when Daddy and Mummy think that everything is ok, one brother decides to snatch an item from the other, and the entire process is repeated once again. There seems to have been no respite for us. As I mused earlier this month on Facebook: 

The best Valentines' Day gift this year was when my in-laws offered to take the kids overnight today. Much needed respite after a tiring few weeks.
Brothers are great to fool around with; but they are can sometimes also be a
formidable fighting opponent.
There are two options to take when everything seems to go wrong in your parenting. You either choose to give up and outsource the problem to your spouse or childcare centre, or you make the conscious decision of digging in your heels, reading up books on parenting and trying your level best to help the situation improve. I am someone who loves to think and reflect, and this has been my preferred choice during this difficult situation - to find an alternative approach of resolving the issue.

I wrote about the importance of honour in a previous post with specific reference to how parents can try to alter the balance of power in the parent-child relationship. I also mentioned that I am currently experimenting with a whole new approach of choosing persuasion over force when getting my children to obey me. 
Holidays are a great time to build the parent-child relationship. When we create memories with
our children we refill the reservoir of love that can sometimes run dry during tense moments of the relationship.
This idea for a change arose more than two weeks ago when both Sue and I were at our wits' end at how to discipline our children. I was then adopting the hardline approach of responding with a firm "No!" every time either of the kids wanted to do something that we felt was not right. This would almost instantly result in a tantrum, especially with the younger one. What was particularly frustrating for me was that E would immediately go to his mother and whine to her, complaining that I said no to what he had been asking. And because Sue and I practice the principle of supporting each other's parenting decisions, she would turn to the 2/1/2-year-old and say no too, referring to me as the authority in the matter. 
The husband and wife have to be in one accord in major parenting decisions.
I decided that enough was enough. I no longer wanted to be the "bad guy" in the parenthood.

So the next time little E asked me for something I knew to be inappropriate for him (such as asking to watch a movie close to bedtime), I decided to adopt an approach of "role reversal parenting". I turned to the little boy, and told him to ask his Mummy. E then asked Sue the same question, and he was given a firm "No" by his mother. To my surprise, the little boy did not throw as big a tantrum as he would have if I had been the one saying no. Somehow the tense atmosphere in the household had been broken.

I tried this approach for a few days with mostly successful results - the children were recognising their mother as having the final word on discipline matters, a role I gladly relinquished as I had been the one holding onto that position for the longest time imaginable. And, as the days went by, I began to realise that I was becoming more tender in my disposition towards the kids, a change that I personally enjoyed. I began to ask myself the following questions: What if I adopted a more persuasive style of parenting? What if I seasoned my previously firm and possibly dogmatic style of parenting with a pinch of tenderness and empathy?

It was with this mindset that I attempted to deal with some of the observed disagreeable behaviour. For instance this morning we were preparing to go out and the 2/1/2-year-old refused to change his shirt. "No!" he screamed, wrenching him way out of my grasp. I was deeply puzzled as I had just changed his shorts and had imagined that it would be easy to also change his shirt. 

"Come now, E. Come and change!" I called. "Come on. Daddy has been asking you many times!"

"No!" he insisted, "No.... Mouse.... No!" 

I was hit by a sudden burst of inspiration. 

"Oh? How come you don't want to change? Is it because of the mouse?" I pointed to the Mickey Mouse on his T-shirt.

"Umm..." came the reply.

"I see.... But E, the mouse is very dirty. We need to change so that we can wash him and get him clean again. Ok?"

The little boy hesitated briefly. And then responded decisively, "Umm."

And with that I changed him out of the shirt without further problems.

That was not the only time that I had managed to persuade little E to obey us without resorting to a strongly physical approach. During the previous days I had also managed to convince the little one why we couldn't go to the Singapore Flyer at 10 o'clock in the evening, or why it was not possible to listen to the "Joy" song in the car - the disc was at home and if he really wanted to listen to it, he would have to ask Mummy when he was at home.
2-year-olds love to explore and test boundaries. They are created with an insatiable desire to discover and learn.
Developmentally, I am aware that young children at the so-called "Terrible Twos" phase of life are trying to assert their own wills and distinguish between the self and others. But children at this age don't always have the ability to communicate their desires. This results in many temper tantrums when adults don't seem to be able to understand them. What I have learnt is that despite their lack of verbal communication, 2-year-olds are talking to us in many other ways. And if we communicate with them through the gentle art of reasoning and persuasion, we are concurrently honing skills of logical thinking. This will be very useful for them when they also grow in their verbal ability. 

There are, of course, non-negotiables such as openly defiant behaviour or actions that could result in danger. I still believe a firm hand of discipline is needed in such cases. But in other instances, the parent-child relationship could benefit when parents try their best to understand why their children do the things that they do. For reasoning with the child requires a strong understanding of the child, coupled with an empathy for him or her, as well as a humility to admit that our logic is not always better than theirs. 

There is, after all, a reason to believe in our children - regardless of how many temper tantrums they have, or how ever many times they make us sad. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review of JJ's Science Adventures (Heat and Light): Or Why I'd Rather Have My Kid Read a Science Comic Than A Textbook

Adventuring into a world of darkness in order to discover the worlds of heat and light!
It's been an exciting time on the homeschooling front for us. Mark and I attended our first homeschooling conference right here in Singapore, with at least 50 other homeschool parents and their kids. The guest speaker Heather Shirley is one of the CEOs of Classical Conversations, Inc., based in the US. It's a curriculum that our family has decided to embark on starting August this year, as a community with 6 other families. We can't wait!

The Classical Conversations Parent Practicum was more than what we thought it would be about. More than just covering the curriculum, it dealt with the much bigger picture of the core of education and what learning is all about. It dealt with the heart issues of us parents, and how we are often more like slave masters or sledge hammers, drilling Science and Math concepts into the brains of our children, rather than gently wooing them with an appreciation of the beauty behind these disciplines and how everything we study reflects the awesomeness of the Creator.

The Classical Conversations Parent Practicum which took place last week.
Reading Aurelia Tan's second book in the JJ's Science Adventures series reminded me of the whole discussion. I had earlier reviewed the first book on Magnets and had really enjoyed what I had earlier thought to be a dry, boring Science topic. I was looking forward to this second book, covering two topics this time, Heat and Light.

Aurelia once again draws her young (and not so young!) readers into the world of Professor Tan, inventor of the 'World Maker', a machine able to create worlds in different dimensions, and the adventures of his two grandchildren Jonathon and Joyce, whom he has designed it for. The comic definitely woos readers with it's engaging plot, extremely creative plot, and illustrations which transport the reader into a subterranean world of darkness where they save a community of mole coal miners from overheating due to the sun staying still in the sky. 

It is fascinating to me how Aurelia is able to weave the Science concepts (with the key words required in the MOE Science syllabus, no less!) so seamlessly into what is an extremely imaginative plot, with illustrations by award-winning illustrator Nicholas Liem working so closely in tandem to draw children into a world of darkness where heat and light are the keys to the puzzles they solve and the problems they encounter.
Using Scicnce concepts to solve a puzzling predicament!
I would say it takes much more skill for an author to take a concept like 'the law of reflection' and incorporate it into a narrative plot than to write a chapter in a textbook on a similar topic. The best teachers are those who can take a complex topic and make it simple and easy to understand.
Why is it that we can still see in the dark? Because of the reflected light which enters our eyes.

Learning about how shadows are created.

Learning never occurs in a vacuum, but is always best done in context. At the conference, I realised why I had such struggles with Maths and Science when I was in school. I could never draw connections between what I was reading in the textbooks and how it would be relevant to my everyday life. As Heather Shirley shared at the conference, I was suffering from what she termed as "intellectual disconnect". 

We were never meant to study subjects in isolation; in the real world, Science is intrinsically linked with Geopolitics, and Maths with Art. In the early years of what we know as the institution of education, subjects were all interconnected and people learned from studying the greats like Aristotle and Plato, and not by reading summaries from textbooks. Textbooks came about because of the industrialisation of education into what we now know it to be; schools as factories producing workers for various fields in the economy.

But what, you may ask, does this have to do with the role I feel a comic series like this one may have in Science?

I would think that a much more effective way of helping a child to understand a concept would be to show him or her how it works in real life, the uses it has in solving the challenges we face, and having the chance to experiment for ourselves to see if what he or she is learning makes sense. 
So, this is why we need to know about conductors and insulators of heat!

I would also want to use a medium that would woo the child into wanting to find out more, rather than something that bores him or her into thinking that the subject is dull and only something to be learned for the exams. 

I learned during the Parent Practicum that often indirect learning works best. We toss an idea at our child, and see if he or she is ready to pick it up, examine it more closely and decide if it's something worth pursuing. 

I feel that JJ's Science Adventure series does this well. This volume is well worth the price as it combines two topics into one, and even comes with a DIY sheet which children can use to experiment with the concept of what factors contribute to making a shadow larger or smaller: the distance of the object from the light source and from the screen. To assuage parents' worry that their kids are not going to cover the syllabus which they will need to know for the exams, it is stated that the key words they will need to know are featured in bold, and there is even a series of topical tests that have been included to check for understanding, as well as a Did You Know? section which links to further topics for exploration.
On the fascinating subject of Bioluminiscence. Kids can read up further if they are interested.
I am personally selfishly hoping that by the time our boys have to take their Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) in at least 7 years' time, that the rest of the series will have been published by then. You can be sure that I will be surreptitiously leaving copies around the house, hoping that the comics will do their work so that my kids and I won't have to. :)

You can purchase the book from this link.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to Really Honour your Children

"I don't want Daddy!" yelled the 4-year-old boy. "Mummy! I need you!" he cried.

As if to add salt to the injury, his 2-year-old brother echoed: "Go away, Daddy! Don't change me!"

It was a Saturday afternoon. One of those days.

We had just come back from a lovely time at the park. The sun was not too hot, there was a gentle breeze, the kids had a great picnic and a good walking workout. There was however one problem; both needed to sleep and were extremely grouchy.
Enjoying a picnic in the park - the calm before the storm.
There had been tantrums; many of them. Both boys were fussing and arguing over what music to listen to in the car, who to hold their hand in the carpark, and what clothes to change into after coming home. 

Daddy and Mummy were exhausted; and Daddy was all ready to give both boys a huge spanking for their lack of obedience and total lack of respect. After all, Daddy had been the one providing for their every need. Daddy had been caring for them all these years since they were babies. Daddy deserved some respect, and boys who are badly behaved deserved to be punished.

Just as Daddy was about to raise his voice for the umpteenth time that day, he suddenly remembered what he had learnt while watching a recent parenting video, The Parenting Children Course, by Nicky and Sila Lee. "The family should be a place of fun," recalled Daddy, and he realised that the current situation was far from "fun" for the kids.

"Very well," said Daddy in a nonchalant manner. "E. Since you don't want to be changed, I think you want to be tickled instead!" 

And Daddy lunged for the stomach of the 2-year-old, sending the toddler into spasms of laughter. Turning to the 4-year-old, Daddy stared sternly at him.

"Z. You really don't want Daddy? Well, I want you!"

As quickly as he finished his sentence, Daddy launched a surprise attack at the torso of the 4-year-old, and the ferocity of the "finger strike" sent the little boy into prolonged giggles. At this point, the 2-year-old chose to conduct a sneak attack on Daddy, finding a vantage point just behind his father's back, and unleashing his entire weight as he engaged in a spectacular free fall manoeuvre onto his Daddy.

By this time, all tension had left the room, and the children were thoroughly enjoying a fun time of roughhousing with Daddy.

The boys enjoying one of their "fun" moments when they're not fighting.
We have recently been having many tough moments with our children. This is not to say that we don't enjoy times with them, but there have been many changes in the boys' day-to-day routines, and this has significantly affected their sense of security, their mood and definitely their behaviour. Our own patterns of work and the intensity of the workday have also had an impact on our emotions and hence our behaviour towards the children. Needless to say, when anxious children encounter tense parents, there is no doubt that sparks will fly.

So we fall back on the dreaded "D" word, and hide behind it as the panacea to all our problems. "Our children have been unruly. They need to be disciplined," we proclaim. Turning to our kids, we chant our all-too-familiar mantra: "If you don't listen to Daddy and Mummy, we will spank you!" All manner of protest is drowned out as we mete out our punishment with an iron hand. "Our children need to obey us," we declare. "After all, aren't we their parents and know better than them?"

Then there are the times when we have outings with other parents and their seemingly "perfect" children. We turn to our kids with frustration in our eyes and ask, "How come both of you cannot sit still during dinner? Can't you learn from Kor Kor X and Jie Jie Y?" And the inner voice within us sounds out its thunderous refrain, "Both of you children have behaved so badly; this must reflect terribly on us. We must truly be the worst parents in the world!"

What if there is a solution to resolve the escalating acrimony between parent and child? What if there is an alternative method of getting your child to obey you without having to resort to physical punishment? What if parent and child both learnt to honour each other?

When members of a family honour each other, there is much harmony!
I am in the process of writing a book on the importance of honour in the family. One of the key ideas I'm learning is that when we parent, we need to love our children in a genuine manner. The other important concept I'm learning is the strong relationship between love and honour:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:9-10)

When the great apostle Paul wrote this passage, he was talking about the importance of Christian love. He stressed the importance of genuine love, one that stems from goodness rather than evil. In the manner, we are instructed to love each other in the way brothers do. Honour then, is an outflow of love. We are called to “outdo” each other in the showing of honour. But we are not supposed to be boastful or proud while “outdoing” one another in the showing of honour. 

How do we really honour our children? The first step is to be humble about our parenting.

As a father, I know that the male ego can sometimes dominate our actions. The competitive streak in me yearns to get the better of my children; the bottom line being that I'm older and far more experienced that my child, and as such I must win the battles I have with him. But I'm learning that parenting should not be about winning. It should be about what's best for our children. Sometimes it helps to simply take one step back and consider the best way forward; of course this is easier said than done when we are mired in the pits of competition and strife. But if we can humble ourselves and admit that we were wrong; that could be the first step towards a change in the home situation.
There's so much we can be teaching our children if we choose not to
"fight" with them in wars that have no victors.
The second way to honour our children is to enjoy their company as we would that of a friend.

As parents, sometimes we can get entrenched in fixed parent-child roles when we confront their negative behaviours. We get upset when our kids refuse to obey our instructions, which results in us raising our voices and threatening punishment. This has a reciprocal effect on our children, who dig in their heels and continue to resist our instruction. But if we instead choose to engage them as a friend would - to use persuasion to get them to carry out the task - sometimes the results can be very different. I have been experimenting with their approach over the past few days, and it has been interesting to observe that my children do seem to be more compliant than they were previously.
Sharing "fun" moments with the children at the park.
The third aspect of honouring our children lies in persisting in our pursuit of what is good.

There are so many different books on parenting, and each of them presents a different approach to help us make sense of this crazy role that we have landed ourselves with. I believe that there are many ways to pursue our parenting. However, in our pursuit of knowledge, may be always preserve our moral compass. Right and wrong must be things that we continue to believe in and persist in teaching our children. As parents, Sue and I may have different nuances in our parenting styles and techniques, but we are in one accord in our parenting - our children must know God and we desire for them to conform to His will above all.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  

May we never seek to outdo our children in anything but in the demonstration of honour!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Discipling and Discipleship in Parenthood

It has been an oh-so-difficult couple of weeks on the parenting front. We are all adjusting to a new routine in the new year, and our boys have seemed to be exceptionally whiny and cranky these few days. Whining, squabbling, having meltdowns... handling each of these moments has left Mark and I feeling physically tired and emotionally drained.

In the midst of it all, we found ourselves on Saturday morning at Labrador Park, feasting on sausages and hash browns under a tree, letting the boys wander around and explore the grassy patch nearby. They started collecting stones and throwing them into the sea, and after awhile decided to build a tower with the stones. 
Enjoying a simple picnic by the waterfront.
In a moment of inspiration, Mark said that we should build an altar and let it signify a time of surrendering our family once again to the Lord. We did so, taking turns to remember God's promises to our family and laying down a stone each, ending the time by worshipping God together with the song "Fires of Revival". It was a sacred moment. 
Our 2yo earnestly building the stone tower.
4yo Z makes sure the structure is sound.
But the boys continued to behave badly; even during dinner with some good friends later in the day. Things however got better when we spent time praying that night. We asked God to help the boys with their behaviour. It was then that our younger son E made the decision to follow Jesus. We ended with the hymn, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." The very next morning, I felt the Lord assure me of his decision when the same song was sung in church, and we witnessed our cocooned caterpillar transform into a butterfly that same day. Beauty in the midst of ashes.
Our little butterfly newly-emerged from its cocoon.
Preparing to release little "Fly", so named by our 2yo.
The butterfly chooses to rest after it is released. 
It has been such a trying period for me as a mother. So often, I look at the kids misbehaving, and at the back of my mind I can't help thinking of how I have failed to bring them up to be well-behaved and respectful of others. I think of all the times I am physically present with them at home, but not fully present and in the moment with them. I think of the times they have reached out to connect with me, but I have hurried them along and curbed the opportunity to show affection, because of tiredness or schedules. I sometimes look at the chaos and mayhem that happen in our home on a daily basis, and think, surely this is not how it's meant to be. I want peace and trust to reign in our household, but my heart is filled with worry.

Well, one of the pitfalls to avoid, especially when you are a stay-at-home mum and also when you are homeschooling, is making the family your idol. 
Recent Jurassic adventures in homeschooling.
And as I came to the Lord in brokenness and wretchedness Sunday morning at church, He reminded me that I am not in charge of my children's spiritual and emotional growth and well being; He is. In my concern over my kids and wanting to do the best job I can as a mother to them, I have been doing things in my own strength. I have been thinking I have a part to play in helping them to know God, when it is only God who calls them to Himself. In my holding on, I left no space for God to allow His spirit to work in their hearts.

I am reminded about what discipleship in parenting is all about. Firstly, it is the most important mission for us as Christian parents. I am reminded of why God brought us together as a family; the chief aim is to bring up our children and to do all we can do to plant the seeds in their souls that they might know Him, then leave the rest to the Sower. If we have done that, we have done our job and been faithful to the gifts He has given us to be stewards of in our children.

Secondly, it is all about letting go and letting God work in our children's hearts. Thank God that our children's salvation does not depend on us! We will spend all of our lives as parents making mistakes and thanking God for His mercy, letting go and letting Him take control. Having children is kind of like leading a life-long cell group. As a shepherd of a group, you see to the members' spiritual needs and growth. They are always on your mind. You think about how to help them develop in certain areas and to grow in their weaknesses as well as their strengths. So it is with parenting. However, just like in ministry, in parenthood sometimes you forget that there is nothing you can do; it is God's timing and work in people's hearts that causes them to grow.
Learning to let go of our children into the hands of God.
Thirdly, I am reminded of the power of prayer. Is there something that I am worried about with regards to my children? Turn it into a prayer. If there is insecurity, I pray that their identity will be in Him. If I see rebellion and a strong spirit, I pray that it will be surrendered to the Lord and used mightily for His glory, like it was with the apostle Paul. I pray that He will use the worship songs we listen to to minister to their spirits and develop the gifts of music we see in our boys. Prayer is the most helpful thing that can come from worry channelled to good.

I have been reading Pastor Ken Shigematsu's book "God in My Everything" and have been trying to apply some of the principles in our daily lives to slow down and look up. We have taken seriously his suggestion to start each morning with a shared worship song, a piece of Scripture from an audio Bible, or a prayer like the ones St Francis prayed. We end the evening thinking about our day and where we saw evidences of His grace, as well as the times when we have messed up and need to seek His forgiveness.

I am enjoying the richness of our family's spiritual life this week. May He open up in your minds and hearts new ways and visions that might grow your family too.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Australia 2014: The Wild Marshlands of the Tuart Forest

The Last of the Tuarts

As the sun headed towards the horizon, we made the best use of the daylight hours to stop at the delightful Tuart Forest National Park. The Roaming Down Under website provides this interesting history about the Ludlow Tuart Forest:

Once upon a time, the main road between Bunbury and Busselton in Western Australia passed right through the Ludlow Tuart Forest. The railway did too, so anyone in WA who ever went "down south" knew what a tuart tree looked like. You couldn't miss them, the way they grew almost to the edge of the bitumen.

Times have changed. The railway is long gone, and a busy bypass takes traffic quickly around the edge of the forest. To see the tuart trees means diverting onto the overlooked old road ... but it's well worth the detour for anyone with an appreciation of Australia's unique trees.

Tuart trees are native only to the coastal plain between Busselton and Jurien in the south west of Western Australia. They grow up to 40m high, live up to 500 years, and their stately grey trunks form an open forest different to others in the state. As with WA's other tall forests, most have been cut down since Europeans settlement, leaving Ludlow Tuart Forest as the only surviving tuart forest anywhere.
Headed to the Tuart Forest National Park.

Cheesy & Creamy

Just before we got to the national park, we decided to stop at the Old Cheddar Cheese Factory, located just a stone's throw away. We were truly delighted by the variety of cheese as well as how yummy they tasted!  
Lovely cheese at unbeatable prices!
All smiles!

Into the Wild

Back on the trail, we were at once delighted to get back into nature. Both Z and E were quick to disembark and head off into the forest. 
4yo Z at the start of the walking trail.
Look carefully! Can you spot the Rainbow Lorikeet?
Kangaroos in the wild! What's more fun than chasing them around?!
Kangaroos at rest.
Wildflowers galore. Our boys spent many moments just enjoying them as they were. 
On the mangrove boardwalk.
Sundown in the mangrove...
Walking past he wild grasses.
One happy little 2yo.

The Malbup Bird Hide

As we headed towards the edge of the forest, we noticed a quaint little straw hut nestled in the trees. There seemed to be no one in sight. Who could possibly own a lovely little hut in such glorious surrounds? We did so much want to get to the water's edge, but the hut and its all-encompassing straw fence was in the way. Getting curiouser and curiouser, we knocked on the outside of the hut; and gently pushed the down open when there was no response. It was only then that we realised we had found a lookout point for bird lovers to watch the small feathered creatures up close. We had stumbled into our first bird hide! 

The lovely bird hide prior to our approach.
Illustrations of all the birds that come to the hide.
Our little 4yo posing inside the bird hide.
Like son, like mummy!
While the 2yo sits on Daddy's lap to follow the action.
Mesmerised at being so close to the marshland birds.
The view from the bird hide. Quite a lovely marshland scenescape.

The serenity of the surroundings brought a deep sense of peace to all of us. It was special just being
there at sundown to enjoy the land in all its splendour.
The woodland creatures are not afraid to come near; especially since all of us are hidden inside the hut.
We stayed for a good half-hour or so, watching the sun slowly making its way down the horizon.
One could truly sit for hours and enjoy the beauty found here, at the site of the world's last remaining tuart forest.
Enjoying the marshland view as the colour slowly drained from the scenescape.
Twilight is nigh.
This photo was particularly haunting. It seemed to symbolise the hope of the day still shining on the marshland...
It was with a deep sense of serenity moderated with a tinge of sadness that we departed from the bird hide. The guide books were right. The Tuart Forest National Park is truly a site to behold; and those who choose to make a detour here will be rewarded. As for us, we were already thinking that we would come back here one day - to experience the deep tranquility that can only be derived from a complete immersion in nature!

Next: An a-mazing time in Yallingup.