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How to raise successful children and teens – from a doctor with 3 GEP kids

As a parent of three children, the eldest in medical school and the two younger ones in their teens, friends often ask me what my secret is to parenting. They see my children who are academic high achievers, having gone through the Gifted Education Programme, hold top leadership positions in their respective schools and yet, still remaining humble and kind.

I have often said that my emphasis from the start was never about achieving the academic results but helping them build within themselves a strong emotional resilience. Just like a gardener who lovingly tends to his plants, I have tried to equip my children with the tools of emotional resilience by teaching them various skills that strengthen their emotional core.

Parenting is becoming an increasingly tall order in today’s world. With the rise of social media, children are now grappling with a whole range of modern-day issues that parents find themselves struggling to understand and keep up with. Nowadays, children as young as seven years old have their entire lives put on blast for hundreds of ‘followers’ to view and critique.

When children feel that their lives are not as seemingly perfect as their peers, unhappiness and self-esteem issues can set in. Being on the receiving end of jealousy can also create a whole host of mental and emotional issues, including anxiety, panic attacks and even eating disorders. In addition, our competitive school environment plus the pressures from social media have resulted in high rates of anxiety and depression among young children and teens. Many children are not equipped with the emotional resilience strategies they need to overcome these obstacles, bottling up their stress until it tips them over the edge.

As a medical professional with a passion for mental wellness, I have come across many high-achieving children throughout the years who have immense potential and drive, only to let stress and depression get the better of them. Much to their parents’ distress, these children were experiencing a rapid decline in their grades, health and passion for life. It is because of these experiences that I believe that it is so important for parents to focus not just on a child’s grades, but also on their mental health. A child’s mental health forms the foundation for all other aspects of their life. It is therefore why developing emotional resilience in your child is the key to raising them successfully.

Give your child a listening ear

Many children attempt to draw a veil over their emotional health issues, and it is very easy for underlying problems to go unnoticed by parents, who already have their plates filled to the brim with day-to-day problems. However, taking time out of your busy schedule to listen actively to your children can be one of the best things that you can do for their health and wellbeing. Watch out for subtle nonverbal cues. Those will often be the first tell-tale sign that something is wrong. Children in their teenage years, especially, may not be so forthcoming with their worries to you, but observing changes in their mood, behaviour and routine can be a good way to tell that they may need external guidance or just a listening ear.

When broaching sensitive topics such as your child’s mental health, it is important to approach the topic in as non-judgemental and gentle a way as possible. Many parents, in their haste to get to the bottom of the issue, end up making their child feel interrogated rather than empathised with. Focus less on chasing after minor details of time, place or people and more on exploring your child’s feelings about the issue and their current emotional landscape.

Ask open questions to give your child the chance to share ideas and details they feel are important to them. Should your child not feel ready to share at any point in time, take a break from the issue and do not push for a longer conversation. The last thing that we want as parents is for our children to clam up completely, effectively cutting off the stream of dialogue and understanding between parent and child. Even if your child does not appear to have any mental or emotional issues, keeping a clear and open line of communication will set the foundation for a secure and loving relationship between you and your child.

Be a role model for your child

An inspirational quote goes, “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” Modelling positive behaviour for your children is one of the key ways to instil good values in them from a young age. Studies have shown that children from as young as one year of age are already observing their parents closely, and mimic their speech and behaviour off their parents’. This “monkey see, monkey do” phenomenon even extends beyond early childhood and into their adolescent years.

Every child looks up to their parents for nonverbal guidance on social behaviours and mannerisms. As your child’s role model, it is important that you “walk the talk” by living out the values that you teach. Children with parents who have developed healthy anger management techniques grow up to be more patient and loving themselves. Show your child that no matter the stressor, nothing in life is insurmountable with the right perspective and help.

Focus on holistic, not ritualistic education

Finally, our exam-focused education system is one of the most common causes of stress, anxiety and other mental health issues in children. For some children, seemingly benign anxiety over an upcoming test or a fallout in school can quickly spiral out of control, manifesting itself in more serious conditions such as eating disorders and panic attacks. Encourage your child to take a few days off of studying each week to relax and spend time focusing on their mental health. 

Making the school holidays a time not just for cramming but also for fun and enrichment can also be a great way to give your child the chance to destress. If you are looking to use the holidays in a meaningful way, why not give your child the chance to learn about how to cope better with stress? There is a wide range of courses and workshops focused on mindfulness and emotional resilience for children available in Singapore.

This article is contributed by Dr Tan E-Ching, Director of Hallmark Health Singapore.

Dr Tan is running a series of Emotional Intelligence and Resilience Programs for kids and teens during the school holidays. Kiasuparents community members enjoy 20% discount for school holiday programmes. Please quote HallmarkKSP (T&Cs apply). Dr Tan is also running a series of free webinars on Coping with Stress and Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children. Do check here for details.

Dr Tan is contactable at 9838 2665 or drtan@hallmarkhealth.com.sg.

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