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.

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.

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.

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.

Tech & Tykes: What's the Issue?

In the late 90’s, computers were just starting to infiltrate homes and workplaces alike as the ultimate productivity tool. I was a cocky A-level student then, constantly achieving less than stellar grades, and completely aloof about the things that were going on around me, one of which, was computers. I swore to myself that I would never use a computer, because quite frankly, I never saw the relevance of such advanced technology in my life.

In 2001, I built my own computer out of necessity for my studies. Since then, I haven’t looked back, nor have I been able to shake off doing tech support for the companies I’ve worked with (and my own family) since.

Today, the technology age is in full swing; we grow increasingly reliant on smartphones and tablets for communications and computing, traditional media companies are gasping for breath as digital media takes over the world, and forward thinking drives us into newer ways to interact with our machines, from wired control (like the good old Atari 2600 or the 1st Playstation) to wireless control (Nintendo Wii), to just waving our entire bodies around for control (you’ve seen the crazy dancers prancing around in front of the XBox Kinect).

 

The global takeover has even seeped into our parenting habits. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the kind that readily hands over the iPad to your kid for that bit of peace and quiet (oh yeah, for education and entertainment and all that as well), or the kind that shakes your head in dismay over how technology has become a replacement for good parenting. As a young punk that had to deal with the reasoning for both sides of the war on Parenting 2.0, I understand where you’re coming from. All of you.

Fear of New Things

The biggest thing about this parental aversion to technology is that it’s happened countless times before in human history. When the radio first got popular in the pre-Depression era, parents were up in arms about how their children will turn into hipsters listening to this new-fangled rock-n-roll garbage. When televisions were being churned out of productions lines during the Depression era, parents were writing into their governments demanding that controls be in place to stop their children from watching too much of the devil’s picture-box. When computers started pushing VGA graphics and computer games were being offered on a buffet line,? again parents threw a fit. The fear of new things spans generations of parental worry, and quite frankly, does not look set to end anytime soon.

Unless we just calm down for a minute and think: why resist the inevitable, when you can use it to your full advantage?

My Child Doesn’t Need It

I have heard this proud proclamation by parents who simply refuse to allow their child any electronic entertainment past the Fisher-Price Barney Learning Fun Laptop. They cannot be more wrong.

Image courtesy of Nan Chiau Primary SchoolSchools all over the world are getting into the idea of interactive learning through the use of tablets and smart devices. One prominent example is Nan Chiau Primary School, who, in collaboration with chipset manufacturer Qualcomm, and none other than Microsoft, has embarked on a programme called the WE Learn mobile education project, “which uses 3G smartphones to create a 21st century classroom experience for Singaporean students”.

It won’t stop with Nan Chiau Primary; according to the Qualcomm press release, “The Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) is working to better prepare its nation?s students to thrive in a fast-changing and highly-connected world by promoting the development of self-directed learning and collaborative learning skills in its third Master plan for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in education.”

As our child advances in his or her education, computer usage will grow in increasing inevitability, from type-written compositions, class presentations and computer-based examinations, to video and audio editing, graphic generation and even 3D modeling, all before your child’s tertiary education is over, and any specialist modules are chosen.

Exposure to technology has never been more urgent for your child. Just like good early education ensures an easier time for your child’s academic life, for your child to get to know how to interact with technology and the wonders of what it can do in your child’s world, will make a big difference in whether he or she will do well in school, out of school and everything else in your child’s path.

The Internet is Evil

You know what I speak of. Uncensored opinions, unrestrained political/religious dialogue, cyberbullying, flame wars… and that’s just on STOMP. But lest we forget, the Internet is also a dearth of information happily shared by people who care as much for knowledge as parents do, if not more.

You need to first? acknowledge that the Internet is going to be the most viable, accessible and available? knowledgebase for your child – and you – to learn everything. Given the right resources and guidance, your child can become a whiz at any school subject, get access to any information quickly and efficiently, and the best part is, the skills that come with using the Internet for research and knowledge is a life skill that will follow your child through to old age.

The second thing you need to acknowledge is that the Internet is going to be the most viable, accessible and available? knowledgebase for your child to learn EVERYTHING. As much good as an open platform for knowledge, discussion and entertainment can bring, dealing with the bad things it can present – hate, violence, stupidity, even pornography – can be equally taxing on a parent. The good thing about technology development is that a lot of the innovation is being created by parents conscious of just this kind of thing. Allowing your child to surf the Internet should come with proper monitoring and restrictions, all of which are easily done with some configuration, which I will be dealing with in a later post.

You’re a Better Parent Than an iPad

Image courtesy of Nan Chiau Primary SchoolNobody should ever doubt this fact. You need to understand that you have no business comparing yourself to a machine. You are the one in control, not the machine, nor your child. That being said, there is definitely a balance in the force that needs to be maintained; using a computing device just to placate your child while you run your errands or take a nap pushes you further into the dark side (remember, Darth Vader was never there for Luke all those years before Luke actually found out the black helmet dude was his father), while using a computing device with your child opens the path of the Jedi to both you and your young padawan.

More importantly, never simply give in to your child’s whims and fancies with the device; you should be the one determining when, where and how your child gets to use the device. It not only prevents the device from taking over your child’s free time (and subsequently, life), it creates a really huge opportunity to exercise your parenting chops.

The Bird Bird and the Bees

The following is part of a telephone conversation overheard by my colleague and her husband during a family dinner, between their 7-year-old son and his classmate, while a Channel 8 drama was showing on TV.

Boy: “Eh, ask you something. When you see the kissing scene in the show, does your bird-bird stand up?”

Mother stops eating. Father nearly spits his rice out.

Boy: “… Ok. … Ok… Ok, I talk to you later, bye.”

There is silence at the dinner over the next 2 minutes. Father breaks the silence and asks:

“So what did your friend say?”

Boy asks, “About what?”

Father says, ” The, uh, bird-bird thing.”

Boy matter-of-factly replies, “He say no.” And he continues eating. Mother already has her hands cupping her forehead.

Dear Xander,

I’m going to have to get back to you on this one.

In the meantime, if you ever have the problem of your bird-bird standing up while watching a kissing scene, you don’t need to let us know. Seriously.

Speechless,

Dad

Featured Blogfather: Singapore's Singlish Ambassadors

As a tribute to this featured blogfather – or rather, vlogfamily – extraordinaire, this post will be presented in both English and Singlish (English pedants, please cover the right side of your screen).

In English In Singlish
Singapore has a new Internet sensation in the form of 4 very endearing children, nicknamed Dr Jia Jia (6), his Big Bludder (12), their little sister Hello Kitty (3), and their latest addition Pall Pall (2), whose online videos have, at the time of this post, landed them a very impressive 8th position in Youtube’s list of most subscribed Singapore comedians of all time. Eh, you all got see these 3 chewren on Youtube not? Sooooooo cute, and dam farnee, man! Famous alledi some more!
Their parents, content to stay out of the limelight in favour of focusing on their children’s antics, have been uploading videos of their children educating the public about Singlish usage for 2 years now, and the YouTube channel boasts 50 very professionally executed videos, including 22 official Singlish episodes, and some public service announcement parodies thrown in for good measure, all scripted and produced by their father. Their lao pek lao bu quiet quiet make veeleeo of them for 2 years alledi, now got 50 veeleeo, inside got 22 episode all talk Singlish one, some more got make fun of TV ads one, choo know? Basically the veeleeo all the lao pek idea. Like very pro liddat, hor?
What’s even more amazing is that, amidst the fun and laughter, the family is also not afraid to talk about the more serious side of life, for despite their 6-year-old’s wonderful talent for comedy, Dr JiaJia was diagnosed with dyslexia. You don’t see everlyborry happy happy laugh laugh ah, acherlly Dr JiaJia got dye… dies… deeser… delicious… aiyah, he cannot read very well, but he still can be so talented you know? Mai siao siao ok?
His father said in an interview with Blogfathers!, “Dr Jiajia struggles quite a bit in his school with his dyslexia. He can’t copy stuff in the whiteboard in time. He can’t read much (except recently he has improved) and he needs his classmate to read him the math questions before he can answer. He couldn’t do well in spelling and was sensitive over it. But he is hardworking and often asked his mom proactively to help him.”However, with assistance from the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, Dr JiaJia’s affliction has improved by leaps and bounds. His father adds, “Until recently then he started to get perfect score in school. He speaks Chinese at home. But Hanyu Pinyin is hitting on his confidence. So you can say he is probably quite miserable in class although he tried to laugh it off. For Singlish he can’t read script. We read to him all the time, but sometimes he adds his own stuff. He has found confidence when he realized people like his character as Dr Jiajia.” The lao pek say hor,… aiyah, you read what he say on the ang moh side can? Wait I say alledi everlyting come out salah how?
Dr Jiajia’s tenacity for learning, coupled with the family’s strength and support for each other, shines through in the children’s online characterisations, making their videos seem effortless and wonderfully entertaining. More importantly, the family has become an epitome of our Singapore identity, and provides relief from the rigidity of our education system, and inspiration for us all. Dr JiaJia is velly velly strong, and I must really kowtow to the family, they all velly lurving one, see the veeleeo you know alledi. Their veeleeo like dam easy to do liddat, but got a lot of meaning one, see alledi make me sibeh ploud to be Singaporlian ah!
Who says we don’t have a national identity? Who? You tell me, I use one long long YouTube go hoot the fella fly to London.

Join in the fun with Dr JiaJia and gang on their Facebook page. Dr JiaJia is also on Twitter. Got connection one, mai siao siao. [DrJiaJia Youtube channel]

School of Life: Teaching Math As a Life Skill

As you guide your child through his or her first steps through primary school, you may have realised that there are plenty of non-curricular material to help with most primary school core subjects: storybooks in English and Mandarin for both languages, factbooks and fun experiments for Science, even storybooks addressing social issues for teaching moral education and social studies. But for mathematics?

Aside from assessment books, mathematics is the one subject that children have difficulty grasping, simply because its technical nature cannot be easily applied to their own real-life experiences. Textbooks will use apples and oranges, cars traveling certain distances at certain speeds, but at this age, children are more likely not to like eating fruit in the first place, and certainly don’t have driving licenses. However, there is one thing they will certainly take an instant grasp to: money.

Bear with me here, this is just a suggestion, but there is a bigger lesson to be considered beyond the idea’s surface.

Primary school is where school allowance is introduced into their lives. So instead of giving them a daily allowance of, say $2, how about you provide them with an upfront weekly allowance of $10 instead?

You will have to first introduce your child to the various denominations (from 5 cents to $50 at least), then teach your child how to enquire about prices before purchasing anything, and finally, addition and subtraction of prices to determine change. By the end of the exercise, your child will hopefully have learnt basic mathematics for up to 2 decimal points, which is pretty advanced for a 7-year-old.

There is a catch, however; should your child end up spending the $10 before the week is up, there is no more money to be had until the following week. This has to be a non-negotiable agreement, and that applies to you, the parent, as well. This is the discipline portion of the exercise, and also enables your child to learn to be budget-conscious when handling finances over a fixed period of time, much like how corporate finances are planned over a fiscal year.

Be prepared for your child to falter in the 1st week or two, though. This means ensuring your child will have something to eat when he or she comes home, even though it may not necessarily be something your child actually likes eating, like fruits.

You also want to ensure your child doesn’t resort to borrowing or asking for money from others by teaching self-reliance, i.e. that taking money from others means you take away the means for the lender to afford his own meal for the day, and vice-versa.

The most important lesson that your child can take away from this exercise, however, is that money is not an unlimited resource. By maintaining the discipline of providing only weekly allowances of a strictly fixed sum, you can also teach your child that money isn’t easily attained, and prudence is key for your child to ensure he or she can survive the week without going hungry at school.

Staying Ahead in Your Child's Safety

Disclaimer: This article is based on research garnered from online sources and the advice provided may not cover all situations. Parental guidance is advised (corny, but nonetheless…).

The recent spate of near-abduction events over the last week have led to a panic amidst the parenting community here. Part of the reason for the panic stems from a lack of information over why these incidents are occurring, and what exactly parents need to be wary of as they pursue outdoor activities with their children.

The truth is that these incidents have existed for quite a long time, and on a regular basis. We have mentioned the most prominent case of the McDonald’s boys in the 80’s, then the Ikea incident that turned out to be a “misunderstanding”, and the recent case at AMK Hub. The latest incident occurred at a school in Simei, where a 10-year-old boy was snatched from his grandmother and subsequently let go.

How Abductions Work

There are a number of scenarios that act as motivation for such incidents, which also lend clues as to what to be conscious for when outdoors with your child. We do have to keep in mind, because child abduction is not a simple act by any means, kidnapping incidents are considered very rare in Singapore and the descriptions as follows are meant for a clearer understanding of preventive measures parents can take.

Organised Crime Syndicates

Image courtesy of Ms Sparky (http://www.mssparky.com)

These underworld outfits operate for the purpose of human trafficking for exploitation into slave labour, prostitution and even illegal organ trading. Around the region, these children may be exported to developing countries such as Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia to serve as drug mules, or even beggars, for instance, whose daily income – solicited from kind-hearted tourists or passers-by – are surrendered to organised crime heads.

Children are not necessarily picked based on defining traits (though healthy adolescents – male or female – are preferred), but more by locale, such as crowded areas where it is easy for predators to disappear with their prey, or along roads where vehicles can quickly stop for retrieval and leave without detection.

Black Market Babies

Image ? Richard Green/Mira.com

An international black market for illegal adoption exists where healthy infants and toddlers are primary targets; tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars are transacted for kidnapped babies, usually supplied by the same organised crime syndicates above, individuals in desperate need of money, or in some reported cases in America for example, staff in low-security hospitals who have administrative access to children.

Thankfully, such occurrences are almost non-existent in Singapore due to very strict policies governing the children’s safety and identity in local children’s hospitals.

Targeted Kidnappings

These are the stuff of hit crime dramas and blockbuster thrillers, and should be a concern for the socially affluent. It doesn’t help that a large portion of kidnapping cases involve kidnappers that the child actually knows, rendering the “stranger-danger” education largely ineffective.

Parental Child Abduction

In cases of matrimonial breakdowns or divorces involving children where custody battles are fiercely fought, a parent or caregiver not in custody of their child or children may look to extreme measures to strong-arm their own children away from their primary caregivers. These are, however, very rare, given a very strong deterrent in Singapore against kidnapping of any nature – if charged, kidnappers face the death penalty.

“Sorry, I thought it was my child.” – Mistaken Identity, or Psychological Craving?

Even rarer still are abductions by women who crave children of their own, but are by various circumstances unable to have any. The basis behind a strange woman leading your child away may stem from a case of maternal instincts overwhelming the female offender.

A Wikipedia entry summarises abductions of children by female strangers to raise as their own as follows:

“A very small number of abductions result in most cases from women who kidnap babies (or other young children) to bring up as their own. These women are often unable to have children of their own, or have miscarried, and seek to satisfy their unmet psychological need by abducting a child rather than by adopting. The crime is often premeditated, with the woman often simulating pregnancy to reduce suspicion when a baby suddenly appears in the household.”

In view of the above scenarios, certain locations can be pinpointed as hotspots for parents to take extra care when gallivanting about with their children.

Shopping Malls

Shopping centres are well-equipped with their own security teams to handle such incidents.

For example, in a response to concerned parents over the recent near-abduction case, the AMK Hub management’s own security team, working in tandem with the police, have taken action to step up security measures in the mall, including informing their security officers “to be more vigilant in looking out for any suspicious character(s)”, as well as stepping up patrols around the mall. The AMK Hub management is also assisting the local authorities with investigations relating to the incident.

Do be aware, though, that mall security cameras may not always serve the purpose of keeping visual records of what is happening in or around the mall. To save costs, some buildings may regularly employ the use of “dummy cameras”, devices installed for the purpose of deterring criminal activity instead of recording it. So when it comes to keeping a visual on your child’s safety, nothing is more effective than your own line of sight.

In making sure your child is also suitably free to explore when inside a mall or building, it is best to ensure your child doesn’t stray too far from you; a safe gauge would be within 2 to 5 feet of where you are (which we know is more easily said than done; pre-emptive education will be key to training your child in this discipline). From experience, when a very young toddler starts running too far for you to catch, instead of chasing after him or her (which your child might misinterpret as you trying to play “catching” with him or her), your best bet is to just call out to your child and get the child to return to you of his or her own accord.

Pasar Malams, Flea Markets

Unlike shopping malls, these outdoor tented sales events do not usually boast security teams of their own, but notably busy bazaars like the famous Geylang Serai Hari Raya night bazaars do have police officers guarding the streets.

Parents will do well to carry their child in their arms if they are able, or keep their young children’s hands held tightly in the swarming crowds, especially when near the roadside. Older children also need to know to stick close to their parents, and parents should always be mindful of where the boys in blue are in case they need to call for help.

Schools

The more seasoned child abductors will study habits before striking, and schools demand a regimental, repetitive daily schedule that is easy for them to follow. To this, the Ministry of Education (“MOE”) has policies in place that ensure the safety of schoolchildren in and around the school compound. These include security guards posted at entrances to record vehicles entering or leaving the school, as well as parent volunteers that ensure safety on the roads.

Most private schools also require parents to register their child’s caregiver’s particulars to ensure the right person is picking your child up from school or care centre.

School transport operators are also vigilant for incidents that fall out of routine, like a child who’s late for the bus or a child in the company of a stranger prior to boarding. It pays to maintain communications with the school bus driver, and let them know to update you if he or she notices anything strange or untoward along the way.

Parent volunteers working the road crossings during these times need to be mindful of suspicious new vehicles that are parked in the vicinity, especially if the same vehicle appears over a period of a few days. Also be aware of strangers loitering around school entrances; you can also politely ask if he or she is a parent, and possibly lead him or her into a conversation about his or her child’s experience in the school to determine if the stranger is the real deal.

Playgrounds

This is really where a parent’s skills in keeping track of their child can be honed to its fullest potential. Many malls boast large areas of play for children, equipping themselves with slides, crawling tunnels, and even water spouts for kids to run through, as well as a rest area for weary parents. Here you can practise watching your kids like a hawk (and become very good at it); besides watching for strangers who want to interact with your child, the more probable purpose would be for you to intervene if your child gets into a scuffle with other children over dibs on the swing, or crashing into other kids on the slide. Hey, it happens. A lot.

Special Events

Plenty of family-oriented activities are being churned out weekly for parents to bring their children out for a day of fun. Even then, given you are adhering to the advice given for taking care of your child in pasar malams and flea markets, some homework still needs to be done. Firstly, make sure you know who is organising the event; this isn’t so much to make sure you’re “hanging out with the right crowd”, as it is knowing who to go to in case you run into problems. In any event, the organiser will know how to direct you to the help you need if, say your child strays in the crowd and you can’t find him or her. In the same vein, make sure you know where the information counter or information tent is so you know where to go to find assistance.

Overseas

Who doesn’t want to go to Tokyo Disneyland, or Universal Studios Hollywood? The world is your child’s oyster, as long as you can afford it. But losing your kid in a foreign country can be the most harrowing experience a parent will experience.

If you have a set itinerary of activities to follow throughout, make sure you know where to get help in the places you’re visiting when you need it; this means getting theme park maps, or maps that indicate tourist information centres, nearby security posts or police stations. Tokyo Disney Resort, for instance, has a “Lost Children” section for parents who are separated from their pre-school children, and all Cast Members working in the Resort are networked with other Cast Members who will check with each other “in and out of the park to locate the missing child and to have him/her brought to you if the child is under their supervision.”

Also, make sure you register yourself and all your family members with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ eRegister system to ensure you can get support from the respective Singapore embassy or high commission in case of emergency. travel insurance covering your family is also essential; you may want to check with your insurance agent for more details on coverage in such instances.

When You’re Not With Your Kid

If you’re part of a dual-income family, and feeling vulnerable because you depend on your child’s grandparents or your maid to pick your kids up from school, remember that communication is key in your network of caregiving for your child, and you need to be very clear about how the child’s safety is to be priority. Focusing discussions on the child as the main topic rather than your own concerns will make sure grandparents know you bear no ill will, and drive the point through that everybody is working to make sure the child is safe.