No matter what the government says about the joys of parenting, most of the Singaporean kids you see around you look plain miserable.
Their lives are a battery of school, tuition, CCAs and exams, and you’re more likely to see them in tuition centres than having fun outdoors. (At least, before Pokemon Go arrived.) When you overhear a conversation between a parent and a child in public, the kid is usually being nagged about how he needs to practise the piano or grilled about his latest math test results.
But when it comes to things like helping out with household chores, doing something for others and thinking for themselves, I’m afraid that many Singaporean kids fail miserably. Their raison d’être is to study, get those grades and secure a high paying job when they grow up. And their parents (and maids) will do anything to ensure they can focus all their energies on doing just that.
This has resulted in many Singaporean kids being rather spoiled, entitled little buggers. It’s a problem that will only get worse, as the new generation of parents, many in retaliation to their own strict upbringings, are now coddling their kids and showering them with attention and toys to make up for the fact that they’re forced to study so hard.
Afraid little Liam is going to grow up into a brat who can rival China’s Little Emperors? Here are 5 practical activities you can do.
Activity 1: Create a bucket list of experiences for rewards
Okay, we get it, the poor kid spends 60 hours a week in school and tuition, and he needs to enjoy a treat every now and then.
But if you’re not careful and keep lavishing your beloved with toys and attention, you could end up with a screaming child (just like this one) rolling around on the floor at Kiddy Palace because you refused to buy him that Star Wars lego set. Buying too many toys for your children or caving in to their every whim and fancy can create serious problems, because kids can grow into very materialistic beings fast.
When you want to reward your kids, instead of reaching for that giant Frozen dollhouse, how about giving them experiences and a bit of your time instead? When junior aces the PSLE, take him to the zoo instead of buying him an iPad. Head to the Botanic Gardens as a family on Sunday instead of hitting up Toys ‘R’ Us.
Letting your kids experience life is important, especially as so many kids these days simply have no lives, for lack of a more apt term. And by holding off on that Nintendo Switch purchase, you’re teaching your child to value time spent with loved ones over acquiring stuff.
Together with your child, list up 10 experiences that he or she would absolutely love. Then put checkboxes next to them so that when they get rewarded with one of them, like a trip to the Botanic Gardens, or a stayover with their cousins, they can get the satisfaction of ticking them off. Give it a fun name like “Kayla’s Amazing Experiences List”, decorate it and pin it up on the wall or fridge to get your child excited!
Activity 2: Observe foreign workers to teach compassion
Most millennials in Singapore have heard this from the lips of their parents—if you don’t study hard, you’ll become a road sweeper. It’s that kind of upbringing that’s partly to blame for Singapore becoming a country of materialistic, money-and-status-obsessed robots.
Your kids are going to learn from the things you say and do, even when you’re not aware that they’re watching. They’re like little sponges, sucking it all up. So watch yourself. If you don’t want them to grow up to be entitled, inconsiderate adults, you have to make sure you don’t act like one, either.
A simple and everyday activity you can do is to observe foreign workers and talk about them. Singaporeans commonly suffer from a certain blindness to the existence of these foreign workers, although they’re all around us doing road works, construction tasks, or household chores right in our homes.
As you and your children observe foreign workers at work, start conversations about their occupations, where they come from, what language they speak and the differences between their cultures and ours. You can teach valuable lessons about geography, languages and most importantly, compassion.
It will teach them not to see migrant workers as second class human beings and take them for granted. Want to go a step further? Take a cue from this family whose 3-year-old toddler has made friends with migrant workers in his estate.
Activity 3: Identify 3 household chores and do them together
Singaporean kids tend to do nothing but study, study, study. Away from the books, they don’t have to lift a finger to do a single thing for themselves.
Assuming your kid lives with you till he gets married, that’s going to mean you’ll be doing a helluva lot of stuff for him over the next two decades, so don’t set a bad precedent.
I’m a firm believer that kids should be made to help out around the house, even if their tasks are as easy as just washing the plate they’ve just eaten off of.
When your kids learn to be responsible for themselves and considerate towards the people around them, they’re indirectly being trained to have a better work ethic and greater independence, which will serve them well when they enter the working world.
Identify 3 simple tasks that your children can do for themselves, and start them on it. It could be washing the dishes, folding their clothes, or as simple as keeping all their toys into the designated storage box. Communicate with them that they are now big boys and girls who can contribute to the household and do the tasks with them for the first few times. For example, you fold your own clothes, they fold theirs. This way, it doesn’t feel like you’re just ordering them around.
Children love to be given power and independence, and contrary to what we think, children are capable of household chores if we let them learn. The first few times may be messy and result in more effort on your end, but the younger they start, the less resistance you will get when they grow older. When they get better at those tasks, you may not need a domestic helper after all!
See how Marie Kondo’s children do it:
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Activity 4: Shop together with a fixed budget
Many full grown Singaporeans have serious problems with credit card debt and overspending. Curb that by teaching your child the difference between needs and wants early, rather than pandering to his every whim.
Before making a purchase or acceding to a request, talk your child through the decision-making process. Help him or her to understand how much time or money something costs, and then analyse together whether it’s something he or she really needs, or simply wants.
On your next shopping trip, give your child a fixed budget of $50 (feel free to increase this, but don’t go over $100 because there won’t be much of a challenge). Tell your child that he can buy anything he wants, as long as it is within $50.
Don’t just let him loose in Toys ‘R’ Us with that $50 or he’s just gonna bust the budget in 3 minutes and end up with 1 useless toy. Teach him budgeting skills by talking him through his purchase.
For instance, if your child claims he needs a new pair of Adidas shoes for school, having a talk about it can help you to suss out whether he really needs them because his existing shoes are worn out, or whether he just wants to update his look because all his classmates have cooler shoes.
If you identify that he really needs a new pair of shoes, teach him to compare prices. Maybe, he will find that he can get a pair of Converse shoes on sale that are as cool, is within the $50 budget and will leave him with $10 to buy a toy.
And what type of toy to get? Challenge his thinking: Should he get a display figurine that does nothing but look pretty, or should he get a card game that everyone in the family can enjoy? Or, maybe, does he want to give up on the toy now and save the money in a bank so it will grow interest over time?
In your day to day, resist the urge to say yes or no to your kids’ requests without helping them reason. These are big opportunities to instill some common sense into your kid, so don’t let them pass you by.
Activity 5: Instead of rushing for seats on the MRT, grab the nearest pole!
We all know those Singaporean parents whose kids are unbearably bratty because of what they’ve been taught. These parents teach their kids to be selfish and kiasu by constantly warning them that they’re about to lose out to others, comparing them with other kids and encouraging selfish, me-first behaviour.
One example is that mother you sometimes see on the MRT who nags her kid to rush for the train seats the minute they step into the carriage, even scolding the kid if he’s not fast enough.
A fun activity you can do on the MRT is to create a game. Tell your children that seats are for elderly or pregnant women who aren’t as strong and dexterous as them. Challenge them to grab the nearest pole when they board.
For older children, they can balance on the moving train by keeping their feet wide apart between stops. As they focus on balancing, you won’t have to hand them an iPad so they’ll sit still. Don’t get so worried about falling. The truth is, children have a lower CG and even if they do fall, you’ll be right there next to them.
This teaches your children graciousness as you teach them how to make a conscious effort to think of others and goes a long way to raise kids who are not spoiled and entitled.
Which activity will you try? Share your opinions in the comments!