Parents, are you nurturing your children right?

By Limpeh Is Foreign Talent

Hi guys. I have had the chance to observe some children and teenagers of late - firstly, my nephew had come to visit me with my family some weeks back. Secondly, I have been spending some time with one of my best friend (let's call him Greg)'s family and seeing his kids up close. Well, it suffices to say that there are some vital lessons which I think children should definitely be taught - the sooner the better. It is kinda strange in that my best friend has two children and his daughter definitely has much better social skills than his son, but it seems bizarre that his son hasn't quite picked up the same social skills as his daughter has despite the both of them having been subjected to the same upbringing. I've come up with a list of five important social skills that children and teenagers definitely need to learn: but don't be surprised that you come across some adults who do not have all (or even any) of these skills. It's not just a matter of chalking these up to soft skills you need for the work place - if you do not have these skills, you (or your child) will be an unbearable asshole that nobody will want to befriend. Now that's not a situation any parent wants!

Are parents responsible for teaching their children these skills?

1. Kindness

Oh this goes way beyond being polite. I'm talking about going out of your way to say or do something nice for another person - from my observations, I think children are inherently selfish and only think about themselves. Perhaps that's because young children do not have any money - well, even if they wanted to say buy a birthday present for a friend, they'd have to ask their parents for money. So they become very passive in the kindness department- they expect others to be kind to them but are alien to the concept of being kind to others. But it doesn't take that much to be kind to another person: simply saying something encouraging can mean a lot to another person. Yet somehow, some children seem to pick this up a lot quicker than others - after all, nobody wants to be friends with a selfish, egotistical creep who is unable to be kind to others. Our desire for friends makes us realize just how important it is to show kindness to others. Somehow this is something we tend to figure out on our own, some faster than others.

In the case of Greg, it's so strange. He has been an incredibly good friend to both my partner and I - he's gone out of his way to help us and is undoubtedly an incredibly kind person. However, that kindness seems to have only rubbed off on his daughter and his son is a total brat who screams at daddy, making unreasonable demands. And I'm just left totally puzzled, firstly that Greg's parenting skills have somehow failed when it comes to his son (but has certainly passed the test when it comes to his daughter) and secondly, that it hasn't occurred to Greg that this is something he desperately needs to do something about his son's behaviour, I can't imagine anyone wishing to have anything to do with that brat of a boy. I only tolerate him because I'm very good friends with his father. Or maybe Greg has tried to teach his son how to behave but for whatever reason, has failed. I think parents often stop at asking their children to be polite - I think that is simply not enough, parents really need to go a lot further and nurture them to be kind people.

Can you teach someone to be kind?

2. Humility

Now this is something I found with my nephew and to be fair to him, my entire family from Singapore is guilty of this. We were at a restaurant when the waitress asked, "so what would you like to drink?" My nephew barked a monosyllabic reply, "coke". Everyone from my family simply stated what they wanted to drink in as few words as possible, like "orange juice." Now I actually find that quite abrupt and rude - I would say something like, "could I have a diet coke please? Thank you very much." I think this goes beyond being polite - you see, in Asian culture, they demand that you are polite to your family members especially if they are older than you, but to the waitress in the restaurant, forget her, she's the scum of the earth and doesn't deserve the slightest bit of respect. That's the problem with Asian culture - those in the service industry in Singapore get treated really badly by the public and that kind of attitude generally condoned by Singaporean society. By that token, Singaporeans can be hideously rude.

So why is it so important to treat people like waitresses and taxi drivers with respect? After all, as children, they have yet to have proven anything. At least the waitress and the taxi driver are able to earn a living from their jobs whilst children are completely dependent on their parents for everything. Children who have wealthy parents may enjoy a good life, but they should not assume that they are better than everyone else just because their parents do earn a lot of money. It horrifies me the way I see some Singaporean children treat their maids - have a job, earn some money, before you think you have the right to treat anyone like that. I don't pretend that society is equal and that a taxi driver will command as much respect as a doctor, but children who have yet to do a single day's work should be taught some humility and respect everyone. (Unless they are very rude or obnoxious, then feel free to be rude to them in return.)

Do you treat a waiter with respect?

3. The art of asking questions

Now I noticed quite a common trait amongst with young children - they are quite keen to impress adults so they tend to spout information that they have gleamed (from school, from a book they read, from their friends, from the internet etc). What they do not realize is that their efforts to impress the other party rarely ever succeed, especially with us adults. A far more effective way to try to establish rapport with the other party is simply to ask them questions: be it about themselves or simply seek their opinion about an issue. So if you find out that this lady you've just met is a teacher, you could ask her what she enjoys about her job - or you could also ask her about what she thinks about the education system. You recognize the fact that you're never going to know more about the teaching professional than a teacher, there is so much that she can teach you about her profession, so you engage her in a conversation whereby she gets to do the talking and you do the listening. Seems obvious? Not to children.

Let me give you an example of what I had witnessed recently.

Lady: I am a teacher.

Child (about 9 or 10 years old): My auntie Sarah is a teacher too!

Lady: Right. (does not quite know what to say) Well, I am a Chemistry teacher.

Child: My auntie Sarah teaches Maths!

Lady: (Senses that the conversation is pointless) Okay. Excuse me. (Reaches for her phone and pretends to be busy doing something on her phone to end the conversation.)

Can you see how the child in this example had absolutely no idea that she had totally failed to engage the lady by trying to talk about 'auntie Sarah' - a person who has absolutely nothing to do with the lady in question? When I present it to you like that, it is pretty obvious but to the child, it simply isn't. When the child hears the word 'teacher', the child would just blurt out the first thing that comes to their mind regardless of whether or not it serves any kind of purpose. We call this skill "think before you speak" - is your response an intelligent one or are you simply saying the first thing that has popped into your mind (which may be at best irrelevant, at worst, downright stupid). Now we often take it for granted, but you'll be amazed how many people lack this skill. I have witnessed so many adults who actually do just blurt out any crap that pops into their stupid heads without first considering if what they say is appropriate or not. Such people are devoid of any kind of tact and are like a bull in a china shop.

4. Being a good sport

Oh this is something that astonished me with my own nephew. You see, I have a table tennis table and we played a lot of table tennis whilst my family visited. And okay, he is a child playing many a total of six adults, clearly he is at a disadvantage. Yet he refused to accept that by virtue of his age, he was going to struggle to win against any of the adults and he often threw a strop when he loss. In fact he wasn't that bad at table tennis - just not as good as the adults. It led to his his father (who was a brilliant table tennis player) deliberately losing to him just to make him feel better but I wasn't prepared to do that - so I would thrash him but I would still lose to my brother in law. My nephew then just couldn't figure out why he would be able to beat his father but still get thrashed by me when his father would often beat me. I rolled my eyes in disbelief and didn't say anything - like is he that much in denial about how much his kind father is deliberately letting him win? Really? I resisted the urge to say anything, I didn't want to speak out of turn.

Are you a good sport?

But my point is simple: there is always going to be someone better than you at anything you're good at. If you do encounter someone who is better than you, then graciously acknowledge that the other person is superior because there is really no alternative - throwing a strop or going into denial really isn't going to do you any favours at all. When I play someone who is better than me at table tennis and I lose, I would always congratulate the winner and thank them for the opportunity to play them - after all, I am never going to improve if I keep playing opponents whom I can easily beat. I can only improve when I play someone better than me, who will take me out of my comfort zone. It is really the same with anything in life - even at the Olympics, the gold medalists are usually humble and gracious. Parents often pressure their children to do well at school, but do we teach them how to lose graciously? This is certainly an area that parents need to pay more attention to because children need to learn how to cope with failure.

5. Empathy

Oh we have all heard children scream "it's not fair!" over so many things. Because we are just two weeks before Christmas, I was in a shop recently and this kid was throwing a massive tantrum over this snowman toy. He was screaming, "but Max has one, so I want one too! Why can Max have one but not me? It is not fair!" The poor mother was probably thinking, it is a Christmas toy - you're just going to play with it for a two or three weeks then just forget all about it by the time January comes around so she refused to get him one. She pointed out to him that he has plenty of toys at home which he barely plays with and he should play with those rather than get a new one just because his friend has one of those snowmen toys. But oh no, the kid wasn't going to just walk away without any protest - he screamed, he cried and he did everything he could to make sure his mother got the message that he wasn't happy.

It takes a certain amount of maturity to learn to see things from another person's point of view - certainly that kid in that shop who wanted the snowman toy wasn't able to see the matter from his mother's point of view despite the fact that she did try to reason with him. Empathy is such an important virtue - ironically, it is not often something we're taught. If you're lucky, you may have a parent or older sibling who will explain it to you but otherwise, we tend to figure it out the hard way when we realize that nobody wants to befriend a selfish brat devoid of empathy. The popular kids in school are usually the ones who understand how empathy works. However, you'll be amazed how many people become adults without actually learning all that much about empathy - they are the ones who make very few friends and whilst modern psychology has all these labels for people with behavioural disorders, this is definitely an area that parents need to spend a lot of effort on rather than let their kids figure it out for themselves.

You may respond to this list and say, oh every child is different, you can't expect a child to develop a perfect set of social skills - nobody is going to be perfect. However, I do remember this guy in my school, let's call him Chen. Well, it suffices to say that Chen's social skills were very poorly developed and he really had no friends in school. Even during break time, he would sit on his own and read a book instead of talking to friends (because he had no friends). I have no idea what Chen is doing today, but I can imagine that he would simply take out his phone and stare down at his phone during his breaks at work and still have no friends. Modern technology has plenty today to keep people like Chen amused (computer games anyone?) so Chen could quite easily get through an entire day without having to speak to anyone yet I can't help but think that he can't be that oblivious to his loneliness. Was Chen a loner by choice or did he secretly yearn to have friends? Is his loneliness actually making him feel utterly miserable? Or is he used to it by now? If you don't want your child to end up like Chen, then it is not so much a question of trying to teach your child the right social skills but being prepared to do something about the situation when it is clear that things are going wrong. Not doing anything about the child's poor behaviour would actually do the child far more harm in the long run.

So my friends, what do you think? Can parents actually nurture their children into sociable adults with the right kinds of soft skills to get along with others in society? Or is this something that children have to learn for themselves, often the hard way? Are some people just loners who have no interest in making friends? How can parents make sure their children don't end up like Chen? Many thanks for reading.

This post was first published over at the blog of Limpeh Is Foreign Talent on 14 December 2016. It is reproduced with permission.


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