Child Development

I Have Kids Who Talk Back

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The kids in our family ‘talk back’ by our ‘Asian standards’.

Scene 1: Mom is desperate to convince the reluctant eight year old to learn Mandarin.

The unwilling kid ‘talks back’: “Mom, my goal is to work in NASA in the United States. By the time I work there, people will be speaking more Spanish than English. I should learn Spanish instead, and drop Mandarin”.

Mom tries to stifle guffaws and acknowledges the factual accuracy of the demographic projection.

Mom also  looks up the most desirable space agencies to work with together with said child. Mom still hopes it is one where he has to be proficient in another language.

Scene 2: Mom forgets to bring a snack when picking up the six-year-old after school.

Hangry (Hungry + Angry) kid shouting: “Mom, you are not being caring. You are forgetting the global goals of zero hunger! We have to go to the school café now to get me a snack.”

Mom acknowledges the son’s anger and reminds the son to say his “please” if he requests for something and not shout.

Mom engages with the child on the issue of poverty and socio-economic inequality.

How Dare you Talk Back to Me

Our kids may seem disrespectful to some.

However, we also view our kids challenging us as a way to engage with them, their learning, and our own learning. With more evidence pointing towards the neuro-plasticity in the ability to change our brain support learning, it is important that we model a growth mind set. It is thus important that as parents we model ongoing learning, and an attitude of perfecting the practice.

We also view this as learning to disagree agreeably. After all, a crucial skill in carrying out our professional and personal life is collaboration skills that require the exchange of ideas in a logical, rational and passionate manner to persuade and convince.

Let us Talk about this

I believe that children are natural critical thinkers. They are also curious beings, which explains why drains can be so interesting to a four year old. Our role as parents is to nurture their curiosity and critical thinking. The challenge, however, is to keep the exchanges and disagreements polite. Our family practices trying to turn heated agreements into loving exchanges by reminding ourselves:

That it is Not about Winning

The sign “Your Reaction is More Important than Who Is Right” hangs in our home. Winning an argument by shouting is not approved our family. For parents and kids alike.

To Stop and breathe

Like any human being, kids will naturally protest and argue if they are moved away from a pleasurable activity – like reading or playing. Clashes often happen when parents need to keep to schedule and get the kids moving.  We practise transitioning from one activity to another by agreeing on a set time, and setting the timer. When the timer rings, we (get a bloody) move on.

A Calm Corner

We have a corner in the house with a comfy chair. One kid decorated the big ‘calm corner’ sign, whilst the other invited an invented a ‘calm-angry-ometer’ using recycled material. We go/get sent there to calm down, take a break from the discussion. It has worked most times.

Ask “Is this a good fight?”

We tell our kids that our role as parents is to keep them safe and healthy, and there are areas that are non-negotiable. However, we also try to balance our family principle of challenging authority with the incessant contrary behaviour of children pushing the boundaries. This question is asked by way of stopping and thinking, before engaging in a potentially heated discussion.

Chatting Time

We try  to develop a deeper connection with our kids during those precious moments at bedtime, when the lights are off. We talk about the day, and what we are grateful for. This is where important aspects of our child surface, like the challenges they are having with a friend, or a big question about God. Having the lights off also works to mask a puzzled or annoyed look that can be quickly neutralised by a caring response.

We hope that more than ever, keeping our children engaged with us in their many ways will keep their communication channels open with us. For when the struggles in life gets hard, they know they can always, always turn to us by talking back.

Tze Yeng worked in advertising and made a leap to work in the non-profit sector. Fourteen years later she is contemplating her next chapter. She does this as her two boys, eight and six, raise her with their daily lessons in love and laughter within their organised chaos.