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Article in Today Paper

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I understand that not everyone who visits my blog is from Singapore and even so, not everyone managed to get a copy of Today paper on the day that my article was published. So here it is, enjoy!

 

Raising children: Choosing the best of East and West

 

A reason I have embarked on a writing journey is the realisation of the distinct differences in parenting styles between Westerners and Asians. In my case, it is Australian versus Singaporean (I am a Chinese Singaporean and my husband is an Australian Caucasian).

BY KAREN FOOTE –

MAY 23

A reason I have embarked on a writing journey is the realisation of the distinct differences in parenting styles between Westerners and Asians. In my case, it is Australian versus Singaporean (I am a Chinese Singaporean and my husband is an Australian Caucasian).

I have observed that the differences in parenting styles are strongly related to the values placed on education, work ethics and material possessions. I remember, during my early years living in Melbourne, no one would recognise the Louis Vuitton bag I was proudly carrying.

Soon, I realised that practicality, not luxury, was more important to people in that city.

Australians generally relish the idea of minimum work days and just “having enough”, while many in Singapore measure their success by what they own.

 

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

 

How does this relate to bringing up children? In Australia, parents do not rush to send their children for early education programmes or language and mathematics preparatory classes.

Instead, their children, some as young as toddlers, join playgroups. The aim is to help them develop their interpersonal skills and explore the world through play.

Unfortunately, some parents in Singapore think tuition is a must for their children, so they can do well in school and succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

The parents’ anxiety somehow gets embedded in their psyche: That success means being the best and having the best, and is solely measured by what can be observed outwardly.

But what is good for our children? I believe childhood is a special time. As parents, it is important we help our children maximise this crucial period, while giving them a proper education.

The difference in attitude towards education is only a modicum of what I have observed in a child’s development in both cultures.

Let me illustrate. In Australia, a Caucasian boy finds a table at a food court while his mum buys drinks; upon her return, she thanks the boy for getting a table.

In the same scenario in Singapore, a mother’s response when she sees a table found by her son tends to be: “Aiyah, this table is too near the toilet! Why can’t you find a better position?”

In the second scenario, instead of thanking her son for getting a table, the mum bemoans that his action is not good enough.

Has she considered how damaging her complaint is to the boy’s self-esteem? Both families need only a table for a meal. Is there any significance in having a better-positioned table?

 

BALANCE REQUIRED

 

In Asia, many parents unwittingly focus only on academic excellence. They reserve their praise exclusively for that purpose, dismissing non-academic qualities displayed by their children, such as consideration, charity and good manners.

Readers may argue that this is not the case and that I could have taken the illustration to the extreme. But ask yourself: When was the last time you complimented your child on a simple task, such as washing his plates?

I recently attended a workshop by Dr Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. A section of the workshop focused on the importance of parents’ validation and how this would help shape their children’s self-esteem.

When we compliment our children on completing a task well, we are telling them that they are growing up on the right track.

This helps build self-esteem in them and, in turn, encourage them to see the good in others.

Ultimately, it is not about whether the Western way of raising children is superior to the Asian one. Both have their pluses and minuses. In navigating and combining the best of the two cultures as I raise my two boys, I have learnt that there needs to be a balance.

Most of all, we should enjoy raising our children.

Karen Foote is a psychologist and author of the new book, The Parenting Trap: Raising Your Kids Confidently – Your Way, which is available at all major bookstores.

 

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