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Raising a resilient kid with a sense of purpose

Parents must also let children feel loved and valued, which will help them face life's challenges

Mr Riduan Zalani is a multiple award winner, but his success did not come easily.

As a teenager and the eldest of five siblings, he faced hardships and had to work part-time while studying to support the family.

"I had to make difficult decisions such as staying away from home for close to seven years in order to practise, work and study to help provide for my family," he said.

But he succeeded. Last year, he received the prestigious Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council for his significant influence in and contribution to the development of the drumming scene in Singapore.

In 2013, he received the Singapore Youth Award in recognition of his courage and resilience in putting Singapore on the global world music scene. 


ST ILLUSTRATION: FRANCISCO

It was a strong sense of purpose that enabled him to overcome the challenges and chalk up such exceptional accomplishments.

As a child, he saw clearly how he could contribute positively to his family and steadfastly did so.

Today, he has great clarity about how he can contribute to the development of the arts and culture in our country and is ceaselessly doing so through performing, choreographing and teaching, and through Nadi Singapura, an initiative to develop the local Malay arts scene.

Mr Riduan knows his strengths, his passion and how he can contribute.

This robust sense of purpose motivates him to persevere in looking beyond his present circumstances and work towards his desired future.

In essence, a resilient child is one who adapts positively and perseveres. Adversity is part and parcel of life and there is no way we can prevent our children from facing it. Thankfully, we can help them to be prepared.

Here are a few tips:

•Set and work towards goals together;

•Expose them to new experiences (for example, places, hobbies, occupations) to let them discover their interests and passion;

•Affirm their unique talents and qualities;

•Provide opportunities to contribute to society (for example, by participating in community activities).

Another critical factor in nurturing our children's psychological well-being and making them resilient is their supportive relationships with significant adults.

Mr Riduan credits his achievements to his grandmother, whom he acknowledges as a pivotal person in his life. She provided strong support and a listening ear.

She was an excellent role model in problem-solving and guided him in dealing with his problems.

She helped him to focus on his strengths, cheered him on and showed him that effort is critical for success.

Mr Riduan also felt empowered to make his own choices, decisions and plans. "She told me to choose something I wanted to dedicate my life to," said Mr Riduan, and that was certainly what he did.  

As significant adults in our children's lives, it is essential to establish a caring and supportive relationship. This helps our children to feel safe, loved and valued, which in turn helps them face the challenges of life.

Parents can do this by providing a listening ear and communicating care, trust and belief in their children. Stories about eight-year-olds and their antics may sound trivial, but they are important to children. Their world and concerns are as big and real to them as our own concerns. So give them your undivided attention, validate their concerns and show them that you care. 

Try setting aside some "worry time" daily. Give your child 10 minutes to share his or her anxieties. Even when there may be nothing bothering him or her, let the child lead the conversation and just spend time having a chat. 

Parents can also encourage conversation time through regular family meals, where everyone gets together, or they can participate in activities that the child is interested in and talk during this time.

For example, I know a mother who took up guitar lessons with her teenage daughter as a way to bond. 

These seemingly insignificant conversations give us a way into our children's worlds and minds, strengthen the parental bond and also provide opportunities for us to show our trust and belief in them.

Here are a few tips. Give our children S.P.A.C.E to grow:

Support

•Provide positive feedback

•Be willing to listen

Problem-solve

•Reflect on setbacks together

•Guide your child to develop other plans

Affirm

•Affirm strengths and efforts

•Use of effective praise

Cheer

•Cheer your child on for every effort

•Celebrate all successes, even small ones

Empower

•Let your child make decisions

•Encourage your child to voice his or her ideas, and carry out the plans made

So if we want to strengthen our children's resilience muscle, help them develop a sense of purpose and create a home environment that gives them S.P.A.C.E. to grow.

•The writer was a principal for 18 years in Kheng Cheng School, Radin Mas Primary and South View Primary. She is a lead associate, focusing on partnerships and engagement, in the engagement and research division of the Ministry of Education.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Raising a resilient kid with a sense of purpose'. Print Edition | Subscribe