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Teach your children well

Support and encourage their efforts, and love them unconditionally

I met a good friend, Dr Foo Fung Fong, over coffee one day and asked: "How did you help your children become so successful?" When I asked about the "success" of her children, it was not just about academic excellence as society so often equates "success" with.

After all, Dr Foo is a medical doctor who followed her passion to serve disadvantaged children, youth and families.

Her work in the community has deeply inspired and motivated me to ask how she managed to juggle the demands of her job, community work and raising three great children.

Her quick advice to parents? "Understand that success is not limited to intelligence quotient, but emotional quotient and resilience quotient as well. There are multiple intelligences and our children probably excel in a few of these areas. It is important that we try to help our children identify their talents, intelligences, passions and create opportunities to shine in these areas."

According to Dr Howard Gardner's (Hobbs professor of cognition and education, Harvard Graduate School of Education) theory of multiple intelligences, there are eight types of intelligences - linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist.

Thus, it is critical to identify your child's intelligences as it helps develop the areas they are able to excel in. For example, a person with high spatial intelligence could make a good airplane pilot.

Dr Foo tries to practise this with her children. Her son, John, an undergraduate, also pursues his passion for fitness by running a gym and participating in numerous sports events. He also acts and dances in the local and international scene. Dr Foo said that John recently won a weightlifting competition. Clearly, she is proud of John's achievements beyond mere academics.

"Develop children holistically, everything should be anchored on good moral values," said Dr Foo. John can attest to his mother's words. When he was 15, his grades were mediocre and he was worried about showing his report book. When he finally plucked up the courage to do so, he was surprised that his parents complimented him on his good conduct (as reflected in the teacher's comments), and did not kick up a big fuss about his grades, although they did encourage him to improve. John was relieved and realised how much the grace and encouragement extended by his parents shaped him into a better person.

Dr Foo also abides by this principle: "Good parents are their child's coach and teacher. However, the most important role to play in your children's life is to be your child's supporter. Encourage them wholeheartedly and love them unconditionally."

Esther, Dr Foo's youngest child, said: "I never felt pressured to choose a certain path or achieve a certain result. My parents allowed me to explore but they ensured that I was able to manage my time. If I wanted to take on more activities, I had to juggle my time and energy. If I wanted to quit something, I had to be responsible and quit without my parents' intervention. I felt assured that no matter what my decisions are and as long as I am responsible for my actions, they are always very supportive."

Praise and encourage your children for their efforts, not just results. Talk about their interests and friends, not just about their homework or the next spelling test. Children need to know that they are loved and cared for for who they are, not for what they do or achieve. When our children do not do well, they too may feel disappointed.

As parents, help them pick themselves up, build up their resilience by supporting them and showing them examples on how they can face life challenges optimistically and independently. When they face an area they are weak in, help them deal with it.

For example, when John struggled with Chinese language at school, Dr Foo encouraged him to participate in a language immersion programme to learn about the culture and just appreciate the language.

Parents should be realistic about their expectations and their children's capacity. Assure and remind them of other areas they are good in. As the saying goes: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

When we love and support our children unconditionally and teach them to be resilient and adaptable, we can be their safe and stable harbour. As parents, let's strive to be our children's guiding light in this ever-changing world.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Teach your children well'. Print Edition | Subscribe