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1: February 9, 2003 (Prof. Minmin Wang)

Posted on 2007-01-03 by Liao,Bonnie

We started the forum by listing parents' questions and issues. Prof. Wang briefly answered them. She gave a talk on "How to Communicate with Children." Then parents asked more questions during the second period (in the hallway). Prof. Wang could not stay for the third period because her mother was sick. So we mostly went through some of the key points of her talk again and shared some other ideas with each other. (Parts marked with * are my own after-thoughts.)

1) Q&A Summary

a) My child is too shy to speak publicly. What could I do to help?

Answer: Feeling too shy to give a "public speech" is very very common even among adults. Don't need to worry too much or push too hard.

* Don't reinforce the image that your child is shy by talking about it with others or praising the other kids in front of your child. Let your child see a different image of himself by providing opportunities when possible (but not forcing him to talk if he doesn't want to) and praising every little progress and courage.*

b) Once my child starts reading, he can't hear me or his teacher's instructions. How could I get him to "listen?"

Answer: "Not listening" is not necessarily "bad." Everybody's learning style is different. As a parent, you could help to select the right career. If the situation gets too severe, you may want to let him see a psychologist.

c) How important is it to live in a good school district?

Answer: Which school district you live in is not all that important (!). It all depends on the quality of the students - not the ranking of SAT exams. When colleges review applications, it is more important that you are the best students in your school than whether you're from a good school district. You'd only need to watch out for some urban school districts where the physical learning environment becomes unsafe and that your child might be surrounded by too many problem students.

d) My son is not interested in making an effort in his study. He doesn't care about his grades and always thinks there're worse students than he is. What could I do to change that mentality and to motivate him to study harder?

Answer: Motivation has to come from within himself. Essentially, people work hard for money, power, and fame. You can use stories to share your viewpoints with him, provide additional help such as tutoring if needed, and to create a good learning environment at home. If these did not work, you probably couldn't do much more than accepting the reality. You should allow him not to accept your viewpoints(!). Every child is different and they develop at different pace.

*Need to understand what's important here. Not all students can be A students or need to be. Prof. Wang has said the high school students ought not to use more than 50% of their time and energy on course work; the rest of the time and energy should be used on other things: sports, community services, socializing, exploring other interest, etc. Let me (Bonnie) quote Betty DeGeneres (Ellen DeGeneres' mother) here - '"Why on earth should she have to fulfill my dreams? Why not love her and support her as she fulfills her own?"*

e) My son spends a lot of time on the phone talking to his buddies. Should I intervene?

Answer: Talking on the phone with friends is part of the social development and probably the development of other hobbies (e.g., the child talking to friends about a mystery story theme or an imaginary monster war could be a future novelist). You could agree on a time limit on talking on the phone though and teach your child how to say "no" to his friend.

2) Topic: How to communicate with children - techniques and methodology

Focus on communications. Emphasize "being equal."

a) Communication is one-on-one. (technique)

Don't try to talk to more than one person at the same time; spend some time with each of your child alone. (The same works with your spouse.) This would help develop a good relationship.

b) Use body language. (technique)

In China, it is not part of the mainstream culture to touch (i.e., hugging, kissing) your child. Fortunately, this is very acceptable in the US. Should use it often because "body language" is powerful. Sometimes, when your child is upset, you don't need to say a word; a hug would means a lot. If you say, "You are special. I love you. Don't be afraid," while you are hugging, these words would be much more impactful than if you'd just say them without the hug. Also, a "pat-on-the-back" also works wonder (even with your spouse). These all help develop an intimate relationship.

A note later, parents need to be sensitive to your child's reaction to your affection as well. Some children at certain age, do not feel comfortable being hugged in public. Just need to respect that.

c) The cultural differences. (methodology)

In the traditional Chinese culture, parents talk to children less. Whenever talking, the parents are always "right."

This is not the case in the western culture. You can use the "story-telling" method when teaching your child. Because you are "being equal," the emphasis is not on criticism. Tell the child what you'd appreciate all the time.

"When my daughter started learning to play piano, I used to nag her about practicing at the beginning. Later I told her a story about how much I wanted to learn to play a music instrument when I was young and how my brother and I saved up money to buy an er-hu. ... So I told her when she's 7 or 8 years old that if she did not like it, she could quit learning piano. She never did quit and was motivated to practice.

When my daughter started her training in the school's swimming team, she became timid when she's asked to dive into the water. Again, I told her a story of myself and how much I wished that I could swim. Again, I said, 'If you don't like it, you can quit.' I hired a personal trainer to help her swim. She did well.

I told my daughter a lot of stories of my own including my love history."

About religion. People need to be spiritual. Without a declared religion, how to help a child develop and grow spiritually? Through the Chinese culture. Tell stories from Chinese proverbs and from Lu3 Xun4. For an example, the story of an old man having lost his horse (sai4 weng1 shi1 ma3) would teach a child the philosophy behind "good" vs. "bad" and help the child maintain good spirit despite of success or failure. (There are many other examples.)

When the child did something make you angry, you could tell stories about how you used to do the same thing and that you understood how she felt. Of course, the stories should be relevant.

As a parent, one needs to read more to accumulate the collection of your stories. (Example of Deng4 Ya3-Ping2 winning ping-pong championship after being told impossible, etc.)

Once the child starts reading, often ask the child to teach you and discuss those things that you do not know. For example, read ancient Greek history to gain more knowledge and to increase vocabulary.

(This concludes the first-period session.)

3) Misc. about Prof. Wang's daughter

Find a tutor to help with writing in Grade 7-8. Again, let the child to decide if she wants to commit to the 5-paper per semester commitment. Explain clearly the benefit and your willingness to support, yet, leave the decision with her.

Brushing teeth. Find a book for her to read about oral hygiene and then discuss. Since age 2-3, have a very good brushing habit.

Started simple cooking since age 7. Again, let her know the reasons and form a good habit.

4) Free discussions

a) Going through the story-line for "an old man having lost his horse (sai4 weng1 shi1 ma3)". Amazing how far the story could go and the variations of it.

b) There's a game called "The Game of Life" (9 years and up) that can be played by the whole family. LINK

*"Children not only can imitate some of life's most exciting moments like going to college and getting married, they learn to handle money and some of life's pitfalls like losing a job. To play the board game, kids follow Life's path, collect money, experience life's events and go good deeds to earn Life Tiles. At the end of the game, players add up their money and values of the Life Tiles to determine the winner: the person with the most amount of money left. Life is a game that makes children think by challenging them to learn and problem solve through life's bumpy road."*

c) Such a game is fine, but how can we teach a child there are more important things than "money, power, and fame" (or big houses) in life? (*Yeah, what about those great people who are devoted to non-profit organizations? What about teaching our kids to use their money to help other people instead of using 'big houses' as a symbol for success?*)

*My answer is "actions worth thousands of words." Doing those "more important things" yourself would be the best way to teach your child about your values. Taking your child to a "soup kitchen" (where poor people can have hot meals and be taught basic job skills) or a food pantry (where donated food are distributed to needy families) to help those poor and less fortunate people would teach your child valuable lessons in life.*

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2: January 12, 2003 (Prof. Minmin Wang)

Posted on 2007-01-03 by Liao,Bonnie

Introduction

Prof. Wang is teaching communication at Rider University. Her daughter came to the US at the age of 7. She has been studying Philosophy at Harvard University since 1998. Between the age of 3 and 6.5, she stayed in China with grandparents while both of her parents went abroad to study for their doctoral degrees in Switzerland and the US.

1) Age and Communication

There are three critical ages for raising a child: 3, 7, and 13. If parents could help a child to pass these hurdles properly, the years following the three ages would be very easy.

Up until 3 years old, "Love should be rational." - as opposed to completely "emotional." This means that you should NOT spoil your child. Should not treat your child as a new "toy". Never use your child as an outlet for your anger. Always reason with your child instead of ordering your child to do or not to do things. Never assume that your child can't understand what your reasons are. Do not criticize your child in front of others. This would help your child develop a series of good habits for the years to come and make it easier for you and your child to get along. Examples used, let the child handle it when she fell down; teach the child not to take too many candies.

At the age of 7, the focus should be character building: to be honest, sincere, considerate, to have empathy, etc.

a) Honesty - When a child said "no" while in fact she did take the candies, she might not realize saying "no", in this case, would equal to telling a lie or being dishonest. She's afraid that you'd scold her. It's easier for her to say "no." You need to tell your child the importance of telling the truth. "If you didn't have the courage to tell the truth, just kept silence and I would know. You would not be telling a lie." Gradually your child will learn to tell the truth as she has more courage and confidence. Your child will be more willing to tell you the truth than the other kids later in the preteen or teenager years.

b) Being Considerate - American culture is the culture of individual, while the Chinese culture is the culture of "whole" (? zheng3 ti3). The child concerned about being late to school and didn't want to keep the promise. This is "selfish." Role-play at home to let the child experience how to be a "mom" and became more considerate. Let the child know your values. Discuss them openly. In this way, you'd build a more intimate relationship with your child. The child would be more responsible, considerate, and trustable.

At the age of 13, encourage your child to socialize with the other kids. Building self-confidence and self-esteem. This is different from the traditional Chinese concept. Should never hurt a child's self-confidence; it is very important whether a person would be successful or not later in life, especially important for minority children and girls because of the media's messages.

Encourage self-confidence and autonomy. Let the child make her own decisions. If she asks, give opinions. Do not offer unsolicited opinions. Can tell your own stories. Find the "bridge" in communicating with the child, but allow the child to make the final decisions.

Teach the child: "Know who you are." Example, help the child become the head of the school's tennis team - extra practice, extra private lessons, etc.

A student should only need to spend 30% of her time and energy on studying the schoolwork during elementary schools, 50% during high schools (80% in colleges and 110% in graduate schools). The point is the student should be able to handle the school work with ease and have a lot of time and energy for the other activities. Otherwise, the student should not choose to go to schools like Harvard because she'd feel very stressful. Need to help your child to find the appropriate books to read. (As a result, Prof. Wang's daughter did very well when she took her first SAT in the 6th grade and got full scores in the 10th grade.)

Parents should not sacrifice themselves for their children.

Need to change communication patterns if your messages cannot get across to your children. Be creative. If your child says something that usually would make you angry and she expects you become angry, you just not let yourself become angry. This breaking of "pattern" would get your message across better because you've now caught her attention. Be patient with your child.

When children are 13, parents can "spoil" them because you would not ruin them now. Example, at 7, let the child pack her own lunch everyday, but at 13, mom prepared everything because the child was too busy. By that time, the child appreciated the mom's help and love and would not take it for granted.

Realize we have different values and aesthetic (appreciation for beauty) standards from our children. Need to respect your child. To get her full attention, write her a note.

Make teaching your child a game instead of psychological pressure. When they say "Who cares" or "Cool," don't get too annoyed.

Don't tell your child that you want her to go to a good university early on. Let your child decide. Entering into a good university also depends on the community service experience and the essay quality.

2) Culture and Communication

1. Chinese culture: group, whole; American culture: individual. Different expectations for children: being good at studying vs. being good at sports. Should let the child be in a sport team early. Children who participate tea-sports are more successful in the society, less likely to be jealous of the others, with stronger self-confidence, more tolerate, and getting along with the others easier. Good training for willpower and stamina.

2. How to let your child be her independent individual? You should not expect payback from your child for all the sacrifices you've made for her. If you want to make sacrifices, you are making them for yourself. It'd be too much for a child to payback your sacrifices. Apologize to your children when you make mistakes.

Do not give up your career. You should pursue your own dream. Teach your child that everyone is special and should not evaluate your own worthiness by comparing with the others. Teach the child that she should not worry about saving "face"; be more free-spirited. Do something because of your own love not because of the other people. Accept yourself. Know who you are. You can't change the other people's comments about you, but you can change your reactions and you can choose not to be influenced by them. Change communication patterns. Let your child admire you seeing you pursuing your dreams. Do not give up your dreams. This is not to say you should ignore your child. This is not necessarily a conflict. There is always a way! List all the things and thoughts that seem to be conflicting and then find the right balance. You can't live among contradictories forever. To resolve these contradictories, you'd have to know who you are and what matters the most to you. There are no absolute solutions. You just can't depend on your children for all your happiness.

Americans tend to think that Chinese are not easy to make friends. Let your child to find American kids with common interest. Not all American kids use drugs! Let your child learn to express herself and be assertive.

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3: January 5, 2003 (Bonnie Liao)

Posted on 2007-01-03 by Liao,Bonnie

At the forum on Jan. 5, we went through the following subjects.

1) We reiterated some of the points from last week regarding how to deal with a "slow" kid. The main idea is to "seek first to understand, then to be understood." We need to understand our children first in order to let them listen to us or cooperate with us. (See last week's summary.)

2) One of the parents raised the point about getting involved with local girlscout/boyscout troops. It has been a very beneficial experience to her children and the parents. The time commitment for the parent is about one meeting every other week plus being a chaperon once in a while. Each troop has about a dozen children. The kids get involved with a large range of activities. Her point is, if we want to merge with the "main stream of the society," this could be one of the channels. She has learned a lot from attending the meetings and activities. There seems to be too few Chinese families involved with this great organization. (You don't need to be a Christian to join. I thought that was the case.) Let me know if you have any further questions.

3) We talked about ways to get the grandparents to take advantage of the local senior center's service. Each township spends a lot of money to support senior centers' service because it is far less expense than providing the public education to children. Each public school student costs the township about $10,000 a year. So townships want to keep as many senior families in the towns as possible because they pay the same property tax but send no children to public school. Almost all senior centers offer: English as Second Language, dancing lessons, Tai-Chi, Games, computer lessons, and many many more. Lunches are $1 per day or free. The seniors can also get their own Senior IDs at the centers and use it to get discount bus rides and other senior benefit. Every center provides shuttle service that will pick up and drop off for free. Every October, the seniors get free flu shots. They also receive free periodic basic physical checkups. The social benefit is also significant even if one can't speak much English. There are other Chinese seniors to talk to in Chinese. Even if there is no one to speak Chinese, the others tend to be very kind and patient with each other. These benefits are available to any seniors regardless of immigration status or citizenship.

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4: December 15, 2002 (Bonnie Liao)

Posted on 2007-01-03 by Liao,Bonnie

Here is the forum summary for 12/15/2001 (2:00 - 4:40 p.m.). We didn't start with a topic, but quickly the following issues became the center. (* items are my after-thoughts.)

During the first period, we mostly centered around "Tardiness." Several parents said they had this problem at home. It seems that some children are just so SLOW when doing almost anything: eating, doing homework, dressing up for school, etc. The result is stressed-out parents (and grandparents) and stressed-out children. (Even if your child does not have this problem, the methodology and methods suggested here might be useful for solving other problems.)

Why do children behave like this? 1) reaction to parents/grandparents' nagging - "Hurry up! Hurry up!" 2) lack of interest/motivation (such as doing homework, especially Chinese homework) 3)* lack of the "time" concept (don't have any idea how fast/slow time goes by) 4)* wanting attention 5)* thinking "I am just a slow kid. Everybody has been telling me that. That's the way I am." 6)* schedule is too full - filled with activities parents want the child to have

What can we do to help our children? (We can continue this discussion next time.)

0)* Some of the "slowness" is age-appropriate. Children in general act differently from us. They may only need to hear it once or twice "How come you're always so slow?" to actually play the role of a "slow mover" for a long time. So first of all, stop telling them that they are just too slow.

1) All parents realized that constant nagging is part of the problem. So STOP NAGGING THEM ("Hurry up! Hurry up!") or at least do something different or say something different (see below) when they act slower than you expected.

2) Think hard for ways to get your child interested and motivated. (This is the parents' major challenge.) We talked about alternative ways of doing Chinese homework, etc. Some may or may not be a reality soon in our school. Nonetheless, there should be hope. Meanwhile, don't think you can or should force our children to do a good job in something they are not interested in.

3)* Help children develop the "time" concept. Getting them to set up a time table is a good starting point. (Don't forget to reexamine it every week.) Use a timer for dinner or doing homework (maybe just for the last 10 minutes). Once the time is up, STOP the activity. Sure they may miss part of their meals or get a bad grade for some homework assignments, but that's the best way to teach them. (If the kids don't care and don't change, you'd have to keep doing it and also look for other ways.) For younger children, try to count to 100 or count to 20 instead of using a real timer.

4)* If a child is trying to get your attention while being slow and you keep nagging him/her, you fall into his/her "trap." Say something like, "Now I have something to do and I'll leave you alone here to finish your meal. In 20 minutes when I come back, we are going to clean up the dining table together. I expect you will finish your meal by then. After that let's read a book (or do whatever) together."

5)* If a kid believes he/she IS a slow person, he/she is not going to get faster with that thought. The challenge is how to get him/her to think of himself/herself differently. First, we should stop saying things like, "How could you be so slow all the time?" "How comes your brother took no time finishing his homework?" "Can't you be faster?!" Instead, try something different like, "We are leaving in 30 minutes. I am sure you can think of a way to help you keep track of the time and finish your meal in 30 minutes." Buy a $10 timer that a kid can set it up him/herself. As soon as she can be "fast" once, tell her that she can indeed finish the same task in less time (DO NOT just use broad praises such as "good job" or untruthful comments such as "I always believe you can do everything quickly.").

6)* Some kids' schedule is too full and they have become resentful - the faster they move, the more activities their parents will want them to have. If this is the case, think about ways to slow it down.

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5: December 8, 2002 (Bonnie Liao)

Posted on 2007-01-03 by Liao,Bonnie

Today our discussions touched MANY subjects. (* items are my after-thoughts.)

During the first period discussion, we centered around a specific problem described by a parent. Her 9-year-old boy seems to "deny everything" whenever being questioned about doing something undesirable. One such example is that he sometimes leaves the front door open after entering the house. However he always deny that he has done it even when he has (there might be times that he didn't do it).

We first tried to understand why and listed the reasons or possible motives for a child's denial in general (not just in the above example).

1) afraid of being blamed if admitting having done the undesirable things; 2) embarrassed for having done something "stupid"; want to save face - "hao4 mian4 zi"; 3) doesn't want to take the responsibilities; 4) doesn't want to start an argument with the parents, in which he/she would lose anyway (after all, the parents ALWAYS win, don't they?). 5)* in the cases of young children, sometimes, they actually may wish that they had not done it so they would deny it for the purpose of feeling as if they had not done it.

Regarding Motive 1), one effective approach is to cultivate an environment at home in which everyone never focuses on blaming but only on solutions. This could start from how to deal with a glass of spilled milk. Words like "Look at what you've done!" or "Can't you be more careful." would NOT help cultivate this environment. Instead, ALWAYS focus on what can be done about it. In most of the cases, the children have already heard enough from us or know what went wrong. Just hand him/her a mop or a piece of papertowel would be enough for most children. FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS.

When engaging a child's cooperation (such as remembering to close the front door), a) Describe what you see, or describe the problem , b) Give information (why the front door needs to be closed), c) Say it with a word (if you want to help remind him), d) Describe what you feel, e) Write a note (can use humor - "By Management").

Furthermore, try the problem-solving approach. a) talk about the child's feelings and needs, b) talk about your feelings and needs, c) brainstorm together to find a mutually agreeable solution, d) write down all ideas - without evaluating, e) decide which suggestions you like, which you don't like, and which you plan to follow through on.

Never try to solve a serious problem while you are busy in doing something else. SIT DOWN and invite solutions - no blaming. (If you child has got used to be blamed and feel uncomfortable about a sit-down meeting, tell him/her that you understand how he/she feels and that you are only trying to get their help to solve a problem you have.) Remember, it is YOUR problem and you are asking them to help you. (Be prepared to be told by the children that you shouldn't be upset about it and that you should just take it easy. They might be right. :-))

Regarding Motive 2), be kind to yourself when you make a mistake (joke about it) so kids learn to be kind to themselves - and are not afraid of admitting having done something "silly" or "stupid."

Regarding Motive 3), be a role model for your child ready to take the responsibilities whenever you screw up. Imagine a child who has never seen any adults admit doing anything wrong (and don't count on that he'd find such a role model from outside of your family) - how could he know he should be ready to take his responsibilities!

Regarding Motive 4), be sensitive about letting your child stating his side of the story or reasoning and simply focus on expressing your understanding. Be a good listener. You don't have to "win" or prove your points all the time even if you are right. Pick your battles! Remember the saying "Do you want to be RIGHT or be HAPPY?" (There are four different social styles among people: analytical, amiable, driver, and expressive. If you can be more flexible instead of "budding heads" with your child all the time, you're modeling how to managing interpersonal relationship in the long-run.)

Regarding Motive 5)*, if it is obvious to you that a young child has done something and doesn't want to admit it, don't pressure him/her into admitting. For many children, using an imaginary figure could help ease the situation and show the child how you would have handled the situation should he/she admit. "Oh, it must be a little mouse who has accidentally knocked over the milk cup. I am sure he didn't mean it and wish the milk's still in the cup. Let's help him to clean up. Can you pass me a piece of napkin, please?"

As many parents have already realized, many of our children's misbehaviors can find their roots in the parents, which means there are a lot we can do differently to encourage the behaviors we want.

During the second period, the discussions were mostly centered around sibling rivalry: how to understand a child's uneasiness or unacceptence towards a new sibling, how to stop the teasing and fighting, how to treat children when they are so different, ... Remember the multiple-spouse scenario? Imagine yourself dealing with your husband's second wife (or your wife's second husband, for that matter). That's how possessive (towards the love-giver) or resentful (towards the new family member) one could become. That's how hard it could be for a child dealing with a sibling. We will find another time to expand the discussions.

During the third period, the discussion about how to make children do Chinese homework more willingly were quickly turned into a discussion about finding new ways of showing a child the importance of learning Chinese (article at http://www.wenxuecity.com/BBSview.asp?SubID=newsdirect&MsgID=7971 ) and finding new methods of teaching/learning Chinese. I introduced the concepts of Dr. Ma Liping's new text books that are being piloted in one of the first grade classes. 

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