Building Blocks (BB) is our pilot home-based parents outreach programme organised in collaboration with Temasek Foundation. It aims to share evidence-based parenting tips, with a hands-on focus to enhance children’s early literacy skills.
As BB Phase 2 is coming to an end, we got a few parents to share about their parenting journeys and their experience in the programme.
In our first feature, we have Jingrui, a 39-year-old IT professional and father to 3-year-old Ezekiel! Here, he gives parenting advice based on his own experience, and we hope they will be useful to you as parents as well!
What kind of challenges do you face the most as a parent?
One key challenge is finding time to spend with the child, understanding their needs and wants, and giving them quality time. I’ve witnessed many families choosing to pass gadgets to their kids during meals to have a peaceful mealtime. Having a ‘digital nanny’ is the easiest and most convenient way as they will be very obedient instantly. I think the challenge of excessive screen time is very real. If parents want to raise a healthy and successful child, you really have to monitor the screen time. It can provide instant gratification (in that the child is occupied and you can do things in “peace”), but the long-term effects are very harmful.
Hence, whenever we go out for meals, I’ll play with Ezekiel using books and toys that we bring out in a bag while my other family members have their meals first, then when the other adult family members are done eating, it is my turn to eat. It’s a very deliberate effort; I rather take the short-term pain and then enjoy a long-term reward.
How much time do you spend with your child and how?
From Monday to Friday, usually my work hours are very long. I’ve been working from home since March this year, so that’s why I can get some allowance of free time and I’ll read books to my son, slowly moving towards books with more words instead of just picture books. Also, I think a tough part for him is having to switch between English and Mandarin in his brain, but I think it’s good for him in the long term as well, being bilingual instead of monolingual.
Can you share with us an important parental tip for other parents?
I think the tantrum videos are very good. Tantrums are something that not only children, but also adults have to learn to cope with. Just like the presenter [mentioned in the video], when parents have a tough time at work in the day and come back home to the child saying, “I want to eat, how come there is nothing to eat”, the parents will also “flip their lid” and snap.
[Sidenote: A part of the BB programme includes a series called "Tips Thursday", in which we invite experts and experienced parents to provide parenting advice. One of the themes was on tantrums, so we invited the Director for Chapter Zero Singapore, Li Ling, to guide us on the tricky topic.
Li Ling advises parents to empathise with their child, and look at the tantrum situation with 'soft eyes'. She explains that children are less able to express their emotions as fluently as adults, contributing to their stress and frustrations of living in an unfamiliar environment. She explains that the solution to tantrums is not to add more stress to the child with a negative and/or aggressive response. Instead, parents should:
1) Calm themselves
2) Reframe the child's behaviour (shift the way the parent is seeing the child)
3) Be the child's co-regulator.
Li Ling also shares that adults have tantrums too! Sometimes, after a long and tiring day, our cortex (in charge of logical thinking and understanding others) is compromised. We make decisions based on our limbic brain instead, which is an automatic - fight/flight/freeze/faint response. A.K.A, we “flip our lids” and throw a tantrum.]
When my son can’t get what he wants, he’ll sit on the floor and throw tantrums. In that case, I’ll put him in one corner, calm him down and hug him. Only when he calms down, then we can talk. As the speaker [in the video] mentioned too, once the lid is open and not connected, whatever you say will not make sense for the child until he calms down.
Also, it is a good principle to have a growth mindset - to know that you can stretch yourself and change for the better. For children, soft skills like resilience, grit, mental toughness and negotiation, all of these cannot be tested in an exam format. All these are life skills, if you manage to learn it early, you can reap the rewards years down the road. It’s very easy to say, but it is all about application. It is not about how fast you learn, it is about how fast you learn, download and apply.
Name one most memorable time you had with your child.
We went to the Singapore Zoo; he always talks about giraffes and he likes to chase the animals. During the circuit breaker, we let him watch Nat Geo Wild and he can identify most of the animals.
He is also sensitive to sound and we are trying to expose him to music. I think music is the highest form of “engineering” as you have to coordinate with a lot of body movements - your feet, hands, eyes, ears - so it is good. But I don’t want to give him too much pressure. Just give him the exposure and if he has the interest, go for it but if not, just take it as a hobby. It doesn’t matter as long as he has fun and enjoys it.
How have you enjoyed the BB programme so far?
I think the tantrum video is one of the best because it is very relevant. The opening and closing of the lid is a basic but very good analogy for the layman who does not know psychology. The yellow rubber duck is good too, and the picture books are all in very bright colours to catch my son’s attention using visual effects.
Which of the BB content do you find the most useful?
I really like this other video on speech and language development because it provides a very good gauge for parents on what milestones we should expect when our child picks up a language. There’s a lot of things to learn from there, and it gives a good overview for the parents. This Learning Vessels initiative is very good because it is better to be proactive, and at least know something about it and get confirmation from well-trained professionals.
How did practising the BB content benefit your child?
If my child can read at a younger age and cultivate the habit, it’ll stay with him in the long run and make it easier to pick up new skills and do well in school. It is an everlasting learning journey.