Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

The Wall Street Journal published an article dealing with why children lie and lends some insight on how to deal with your child’s dishonesty.

The article touches on what we have probably known growing up as kids ourselves – that parents are terrible at detecting when their children lie.

Parents are remarkably bad at detecting their children’s lies. In experimental studies of preschoolers, parents were able to detect accurately when their children were lying only 53% of the time?a little better than chance, according to a 2010 study led by Dr. Talwar. That falls to 33% by the time their kids are 6 to 8 years old. And parents of 9- to 11-year-olds have only about a 1 in 4 chance of knowing when their kids are lying.

As parents, we do naively hold the hope that our child is really a truthful, honest person in the making and that ironically, we consciously choose not to believe that our child is telling a lie when they actually are.

Worse still, we may be propagating our child’s habit of lying by being liars ourselves.

“Parents who lie for convenience’s sake, by calling in “sick” at work to attend a sporting event, for example, suggest truthfulness doesn’t matter. Or they might give mixed signals, such as, “Get A’s at all costs,” but “Don’t cheat,” fostering the kind of stress that can lead to cheating.”

And while parents may deem themselves mature enough to differentiate between harmless fibbing and outright lying that may harbour dire consequences, we need to keep in mind that our children might not have developed such advanced differential thinking; thus, even the “white lies” we tell in front of our children – whether consciously or not – hold consequences to our child’s development that we may not be immediately aware of.

In keeping your child on the straight path, the most effective way would be to set yourself as the example for your child. If you commit to be the man you want your child to be, you’ll find it not only benefits your child’s development, but your own too; it’s what makes fatherhood so magical. [The Wall Street Journal]

We interrupt this programme to tell you we're interrupting this programme

Dear all,

Most of you have come to expect my letters to Xander to arrive every Monday. The last two weeks have seen a couple of unscheduled letters that were posted nearer the end of the week.

I did intend to keep a schedule for the letters, but being a personal blog, I do also realise neither my life nor Xander is inclined to conform to my plans, so here’s the deal.

I’ll still try to write weekly, but let’s keep the day of the week a surprise, shall we? It isn’t so much a rhetorical question, so do let me know in the comments if you think it’s a good idea.

Love,

Winston

Dads for Life Conference 2012

Dads for Life is holding its 3rd conference on 12 May 2012, 8.30am at Orchard Hotel.

It’s a 4-hour event featuring two keynote speakers, two keynote speakers, Mr Wilfried C. Hoecke from Family Connection, South Carolina, USA and local parenting expert, Dr John Ng, talking about current trends in active fatherhood and also “how fathers can turn conflict into bonding opportunities”.

The conference will also host a local panel consisting of Mr C Kunalan (Singapore’s most successful track and field athlete) and Mr Douglas Foo (National Family Council) to share their own fathering experience.

Tickets are priced at $9 per person, with a group discount of $36 (or $7.20 each) for groups of 5.

Never Gonna Give You Up

Mummy: I think you were too harsh on your last couple of blog posts.
Me: Harsh? How?
Mummy: For one, you were really harsh on Andre. Also, you sounded like you were asking Xan to give up.

Dear Xander,

Sometimes, even though a person means well, he or she will inadvertently overstep boundaries, or make mistakes, or push too hard on a piece of advice they think is the only right way to go about doing things.

Sometimes, the person will be stubborn and insist his way is the right way.

Sometimes, the person will realise what he did and deal with the embarrassment with a quick brush of the hand and say, “i didn’t mean it that way. It was an honest mistake. Let’s move on.”

Sometimes, the person will admit he was wrong, and not only apologise, but try to make it right again, no matter how hard making it right might be.

What your mother said about the last two letters made me realise what I did. Bringing another party into a story published on a public platform will always carry risks; sometimes it pays off, everyone has a good laugh or a thoughtful read, and life goes on as planned. Sometimes, you screw up, and then you pay for it. On this occasion, your father screwed up, by passing judgment on a 4-year-old.

Andre is a very bright 4-year-old boy, always smiling, always friendly, socially engaging, and very caring towards the people whom he loves and who love him. He is also an only child; aside from his daily 2-hour interactions with the children from his kindergarten, the only other “sibling” of his age group he has contact with on a regular basis is his 3-year-old cousin – you.

In light of these circumstances, triggered by the sobering reminder your mother gave me, I realise I have absolutely no right to make any assumptions about Andre’s character, attitude or behaviour, much less pass judgment on him based on such assumptions.

Did I mean to pass judgment? Yes, albeit unconsciously. Was I wrong? Undoubtedly. Am I sorry? Yes, I am. Can we move on? No; not until I make amends.

A more drastic mistake your mother made me aware of was that my message to you in my last letter implied that you should give up making friends with a person when it seems like a futile endeavour. The notion is so subtle yet so impactful, it’s even made me rethink the entire premise behind Dear Xander.

My intention behind these letters is to provide you with a resource that your father can impart his knowledge and experience with, using a medium that I was most comfortable with – the written word.

That being said, the knowledge and experience I have with making friends – remembering that I mentioned having taken a lot of hits and earned myself a lot of grief and misery – hardly qualifies me as an expert in the area (for that matter, I am now reconsidering my self-perceived expertise in every area I thought I was an expert on).

Your father didn’t have many friends in his youth. I wasn’t particularly close with most of who I hung out with; I had a handful of very strong friendships, what I felt was a pre-requisite for truly regarding people friends, but at the end of the day, I found I had made more people hate me than like me.

It left me jaded, pushed me into bitterness, and made me cynical for a long time afterward.

These days, I have grown to treasure the few friends I have left from the days of my youth, and thankfully, the ones who hated me are hardly anywhere to be seen.

I really don’t want for you to resort to giving up like I did when frustration got the better of me. There is a way – there is always a way – to get through to people, as long as the kindness of your heart remains strong and your goodwill prevails no matter how people treat you. Understand that good begets good, and as long as you persist in being a good boy with the heart that you have, no one will be able to resist you for long.

For all my imperfections, I am sorry.

Love,

Dad.

Promoting Balance in Your Child's Capabilities

This is the 2nd in a 6-part series of articles based on the public lecture conducted at the National Library on 16 April 2012 by Professor Steven Pfeiffer entitled “Raising a Successful Child”; the content herein is reproduced with permission from Professor Pfeiffer and the National Library Board.

As parents, we make decisions every day that reflect in part the balance that we show in raising our child. We have to be careful in encouraging the child academically and intellectually, but we also have to be cautious not to put undue focus and weight in their intellectual and academic development to the extent that we’re not giving enough time, appreciation, and opportunities for the non-intellectual, non-academic development that are also very important in raising a child into a successful adolescent and a successful adult.

Though Prof. Pfeiffer focuses on high-ability youngsters in his work, he notes that the notion of balance – subtle and nuanced as it is – applies to every child, in every town, in every city, across the globe. In his National Library lecture, he raises the example of Alex (not his real name), a very bright 11-year-old student and world-class swimmer who held the third fastest 100-metre freestyle time in the world, and on the fast track to become something special in the swimming arena. However, Alex’s work in school took a precipitous drop, and he was showing signs of clinical depression. His father, a physician who happened to work in the same medical centre as Prof. Pfeiffer, was very aware of clinical depression and was worried for his son, and brought Alex in to the professor’s private practice by his parents. Prof. Pfeiffer noted that Alex was indeed in trouble and he was instead on the fast track to becoming a real mess; if the parents had not intervened, Alex’s depression would have worsened and he would have turned to drugs and alcohol, would have been asked to leave the school.

Image courtesy of Sengkangbabies.com

Alex’s parents, though well-intentioned, loving, caring, smart and thoughtful, had been doing everything they could – through their own efforts as well as persuasion of others – to promote his swimming abilities; Alex was getting extra swimming lessons at his university, spending many extra hours in the university exercise facility training with boys 5-6 years older than he was, because that was important if he was going to stay on the trajectory of a world class swimmer.

The parents didn’t realise that Alex was suffering because the balance was awry; Alex was a very sweet, respectful youngster, and he was unwilling to tell his parents, “Mom, Dad, stop. Too much.” It was only through individual counselling that Alex shared his difficulty in communicating with his parents, and adding that he hardly gets to spend any time with his friends, and he didn’t have any “downtime”, or time to unwind and relax. Alex also said he knew his parents were well intentioned, and he wasn’t willing to tell them to stop because their heart was in it, and he knew they get such gratification from seeing him perform at swimming meets.

Counselling over a number of weeks helped Alex feel comfortable enough to actually share with his parents that he needed them to back off, that he needed some time away from swimming, time to focus on other things that were important in his life. His parents were surprised, they had no idea that this was what was lurking beneath the surface of Alex’s problematic behaviour. They were then ablke to adjust to their son’s needs – they didn’t take him out of the swimming pool, but one evening a week, they took him out of practice and participated in their church’s youth group with kids his age. Over time, Alex continued to swim for his university, but never made it into the Olympics, though he did end up getting a scholarship, and is now in medical school.

With Alex’s example, Prof. Pfeiffer wanted to show that giftedness in children may apply in areas other than scholastic achievement; it may even be in theatre, or dance, or in Alex’s case, swimming. Regardless of the talent that your child may possess in whichever area, parents must not only acknowledge their child’s giftedness, but must also recognise that their child is really going through a multi-faceted life with multi-faceted needs just like everyone else, and their experiences in other areas of development – academic, intellectual, athletic, artistic, social, or otherwise – must not be neglected.

Steven Pfeiffer, PhD, ABPP, is a Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the Florida State University, and is also currently visiting scholar at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Prof. Pfeiffer is also author of Handbook of Giftedness in Children, Springer (New York), 2008, and his upcoming book, Serving the Gifted… (Routledge, New York, 2012), will be available this coming August.

One Night at Grandma's (Part 2)

This is the second of a two-part letter, which began here.

It was already a good half hour past your bedtime as we prepared to leave Grandma’s house that night. As we were waiting outside, you climbed up on the wood benches in Grandpa’s garden, plopped your chin on the tabletop and continued to sulk.

I came over and sat opposite you, asking if you were all right. You replied me with a question.

“Why Andre don’t like me?”

Times like this really make me wonder if I had missed out on some milestone whilst I was researching on the mental development of a typical 3-year-old, or you were just growing up too fast.

Though I wasn’t sure you’d understand, I still tried to explain that in life, you can’t please everyone, and realistically, you shouldn’t even try. Soon after that, you added, “I don’t like Andre any more.” Looking at you then, I knew you meant you resented how he treated you but not him personally; you cared enough to continue sulking through most of the ride home, despite your mother consoling you by saying Andre still liked you, though it was getting late and he was getting grumpy.

Your mother and I understand the importance of your learning good social skills, to the point where we are heartened to see you being able to maintain your best behaviour during social gatherings, interact politely with strangers, and even extend a play-date invitation to another child who isn’t inclined to do the same to you.

There is, however, a harsh reality in learning these social skills that I realise, through your reaction to that Friday night incident, can only be taught by yourself, through your own experience.

The society we live in and try to fit into – whether it be classmates in school, playmates in your neighbourhood, colleagues at work, or even relatives in your extended family – will inevitably consist of 1 or 10 people who simply will not get along with you, no matter how hard you try to be nice.

While still a teenager, your dad took a lot of hits and earned himself a lot of grief and misery from trying too hard to be liked by people who just plain didn’t – and couldn’t – like him. It took a pretty long time to learn that I was competing in a Mr Congeniality contest against no one in particular, trying to impress no one who cares, and winning the hearts of no one who was worth it.

Your dad is giving you a pre-emptive heads-up here, knowing full well you’ll try to sign up for the same contest, expecting results where none can be given. I know also that eventually you will understand, the best way to get people to like you – people who will value your friendship and add value to you as friends – is to not try so hard to be liked. You only need to work hard on being the sensible, energetic, big-hearted, kind soul you already are, and you won’t need to look for good friendship; the good friends you need will come find you.

Love,

Dad

Considering Your Child's Emotional Intelligence

This is the 1st in a 6-part series of articles based on the public lecture conducted at the National Library on 16 April 2012 by Professor Steven Pfeiffer entitled “Raising a Successful Child”; the content herein is reproduced with permission from Professor Pfeiffer and the National Library Board.

Emotional intelligence is a crucial set of human capacities that exist within each child that can be, and hopefully is, nurtured by family or in a school environment; it is essentially the child’s ability to manage their own affect of life, their own emotions.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Image courtesy of motherinc.org

Children who are strong in emotional intelligence have an ability to read another person’s feelings; when a youngster is high in emotional intelligence, they can foster positive relationships with other children, and their social skills may carry into the rest of their lives, as they grow older into adolescence (when they start thinking about dating), and as they move towards employment in the real world.

Those who don’t have well-developed emotional intelligence – even though they may have high IQ – don’t read social cues from other individuals well. This may become a real problem for the child, not only in the child’s academic life, but when the child grows up and steps into the real world. What Dr Steven Pfeiffer found in his work as director of Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) and dealing with very intellectually bright children – children who tested very well or are clearly very bright – is that some of the youngsters didn’t have really well developed emotional intelligence or social skills. Three common problems that he saw on the campus of Duke University were an inability to read social cues, social skill deficits, and performance deficits in demonstrating social skills.

Inability to “Read” Social Situations

With the very bright youngsters Prof Pfeiffer encountered who were unable to read the nuances or subtleties of social interactions, more blatant social issues may develop in the child’s social standing. In its most innocent form, these youngsters get ostracized – they don’t make a lot of friends. In its worst form, they get teased, taunted, picked on, and bullied. It becomes a real problem as the child blooms into adolescence.

Skill Deficits

The second problem manifests as actual skill deficits in emotional intelligence – they simply struggle in learning appropriate social skills. Now, the child may be wonderful in terms of reading, or may be fantastic in figuring out mathematical problems, but they just seem to have some problems learning appropriate social skills; parents need to understand that beyond working on school assignments and homework, they also need to take some time to enhance their child’s social skills.

Performance Deficits

The third common problem lies in performance deficits, where the child knows what to do socially but doesn’t demonstrate it. There are a group of children who know what to do, but for any number of different reasons, don’t demonstrate that social skill at the right time.

Blogfathers! Note: Teaching Empathy

Emotional intelligence is inextricably linked to how developed a child’s sense of compassion is. Empathy, or the ability to sense another’s emotions, is both a physiological and mental activity, and can be likened to a mathematical algorithm that determines the precise pattern of two people’s physiology at the peak of their rapport.

Compassion is not an easy subject to teach, but as parents, we are perhaps in the best position to show our own children what it means to understand and care for the emotions of others. Dr JiaJia and Big Brother recently released a very special episode that really exemplifies the concept of teaching compassion:

Writer Kim Manley Ort compiles a list of 25 lessons in compassion that you can easily share with your child, drawing influences from renowned leaders of compassion such as the Dalai Lama, and includes a range of social activities that may even teach the parent a thing or two about compassion and empathy.

Steven Pfeiffer, PhD, ABPP, is a Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the Florida State University, and is also currently visiting scholar at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Prof. Pfeiffer is also author of Handbook of Giftedness in Children, Springer (New York), 2008, and his upcoming book, Serving the Gifted… (Routledge, New York, 2012), will be available this coming August.

One Night at Grandma's (Part 1)

Dear Xander,

Your relationship with your cousin Andre is at best a tumultuous one. There are days when the both of you will laugh and play like best friends, and then things can suddenly turn ugly, when Andre refuses to play with you or share his toys, or you decide to do the same.
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Andre is about a year older than you, and communicates in spoken English at a level we feel is well beyond his age. He lives mainly with Grandma, which is also where you and Andre get to interact on a weekly basis. One thing that Andre hasn’t quite got the hang of is playing well with others over an extended period of time, being an only child, much like you. More importantly, he sees you as a competitor for the otherwise unadulterated affection and attention he usually enjoys from his mother (your mother’s sister) and Grandma; a sibling rivalry between two children who aren’t siblings in the traditional sense.

Which is why you surprised everyone in Grandma’s house last Friday night.

The night had expectedly come to the point where Andre was beginning to irritate you by not playing with you, and snatching toys away from you. You got fed up, and tried pretending to sleep on the sofa with a grumpy pout for a while (your mother and I have never seen you do that before), before walking over to seek consolation from your mother.

Andre was with his own mother in the middle of the living room reinforcing the fact that he “doesn’t want to play with Xander”, and “doesn’t want to share”, when you turned to him and suddenly said, “I want Andre to come play at my house.”

Your mother and her sister started looking at you in bewilderment. Your mother then tried to confirm, “You want Andre to come play at our house? With your toys?”

You said, “Yes. I want to share my toys with Andre.”

Andre was stunned; he sat in the middle of the living room, mouth open, not knowing how to react. On your behalf, I further extended the invitation, reasoning with Andre that it would only be fair that he come to Xander’s house to play with your toys as often as you come to play with his. Through the turn of events, we could see he wasn’t able to reconcile your offer with his intentional bad behaviour towards you, though; he declined the offer, then hid in a corner, apparently in shame.

Andre’s mother puts the incident down to a heartwarming generosity unexpected of a 3-year-old. I likened it more to an equally unexpected play of reverse psychology. Either way, you stunned everyone in the living room, and your parents were immensely proud of your big-heartedness/the most impressive psychological counter-manoeuver I have ever witnessed by a 3-year-old.

This would usually be the point where I would sum up the lesson to be learnt, a moral of the story, so to speak.

Except that this story hasn’t ended, and the lesson had yet to begin.

To be continued.

The Importance of a Child's Imagination

Dear Xander,

Your dad was once an avid comic book collector. In fact, there is a stack of about 200 20-year-old comic books set to be written into your inheritance, the most valuable of which hang across the wall of your playroom, waiting for you to make sense of the imagery contained within their covers.

By the time you grow up, printed comic books may no longer be produced, overtaken by their more advanced and many times more interactive digital counterparts. But the stories will no doubt survive, looking at how they are being translated into cinematic experiences such as The Dark Knight, Spider-man, and of course, The Avengers.

While I believe the true canonical superhero universe to lie in the domain of comic books, I do quite enjoy watching the various iterations of the more favoured characters. My own favourite is undoubtedly Robert Downey Jr’s rendition of Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, whose reckless candour and disregard for safety in the name of making a point inspires your dear old dad to modify my own outlook in life and speak out when I feel the out has the slightest need to be spoken.

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Unfortunately, the comic book collection I am bequeathing to you does not contain anything pertaining to the Black Widow, although in the Avengers movie, she does carry a fair amount of appeal.

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But I digress.

The point I’m trying to make here, is that the reality that is our world will sink into our consciousness more and more as we age; we grow into adulthood realising that the world we live in may not consist of mutant superheroes, descendants of Greek gods, tech CEOs who wear powered super suits or ninja-fighting secret agents wearing ridiculously tight black leather catsuits.

Yet despite what you might perceive as you grow older, you must understand this one vital truth: these superheroes do exist.

They exist in stories told within the pages filled with pictures and words, and beyond. They exist in the work of those that make the effort to mark their adventures in movies, in song, and in bedtime stories. They exist in the minds of adults who keep their childhood close to their hearts, who believe in the impossible. They exist in the minds of children, in their thoughts, their dreams, and their imagination. And so they will exist in yours.

It is thus absolutely essential that you never lose the imagination you now have as a child. You will grow up into reality, but you must never allow reality to overtake you, because if you believe in superheroes, you may yet become one yourself.

Love,

Dad

Catch Marvel’s The Avengers in cinemas this 1 May 2012 and like the Official Marvel’s The Avengers Singapore Facebook Page and subscribe to Marvel Singapore YouTube Channel!

Changing the Cardinal Rule on Stranger Danger

We’ve all been faithfully teaching our children, as we’ve been taught ourselves, the rule of never talking to strangers. It’s a cardinal rule of child safety – and apparently not quite the right way to bring up your child.

People Are Strange

Let’s put things in perspective here: the moment your child is born, aside from mommy – whom the kid literally knows inside out – everyone else is a stranger, including dad. Even as adults, we continue to deal with strangers all the time, from tourists asking for directions, to people in the lift remarking how cute your kid is, to the McDonald’s counter staff taking your order. This point alone effectively makes interacting with strangers essential to a child’s social development. so it should be a norm for your child to learn to interact with strangers properly and at an early age.

Hello, may I take your child, er, order, please? (Image courtesy of brassmonkeyshow.com)

On the reverse, teaching your child not to talk to strangers has the adverse effect of instilling fear in the child. Teacher and mommy blogger Ren?e Schuls-Jacobson reflected on an incident at a department storethat gave pause for determining what a little girl might really learn when the girl’s mother yelled at her daughter for talking to strangers and yanked her away:

“That people are terrifying. That no one can be trusted. That the world is a scary place, and that her daughter is utterly ill-equipped to function in it. She taught her daughter not to speak. That even casual conversation is dangerous. That mother didn?t teach her daughter a thing about safety. She taught her daughter about fear.”

Lenore Skenazy, columnist, author of the radical parenting self-help book “Free Range Kids”, and now TV host of the TV show “World’s Worst Mom” (now airing on Starhub’s Discovery Home and Health), improves on the cardinal rule by reversing it. Her article on ParentDish ends off with this piece of advice: “Teach your children they can talk to strangers, they just cannot go off with strangers. It’s an easier lesson to learn and it will prevent your child from growing up a paranoid, freaked-out dum-dum.”

How Do the Dads Feel?

It’s easy for Lenore to say; she gained fame in 2008 for letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway alone and unsupervised. But the logic behind the seemingly reckless act of non-parenting, and the subsequent lessons that followed is built on a rather solid foundation. It’s a lesson in independence, both for the parent and child. It may be a rather drastic approach to most, but it’s an approach fathers seem to be able to relate to more easily than their wives (given that just about all the citations in this article come from the womenfolk, and they’re writing almost exclusively through their experiences in dealing with the reactions of other womenfolk).

That being said, if you are in agreement to the logic behind it all, how would you deal with your womenfolk if you were to adopt the approach? Put your two cents’ worth in the comments, and don’t worry. I’m perfectly fine with talking to strangers.