Learn­ing

With so many hol­i­day ac­tiv­i­ties to choose from, you could be for­given for think­ing that bore­dom is bad for your child. Carla Saps­ford New­man in­ves­ti­gates what’s best for kids when they are away from school

Time Out Malaysia Kids - - Contents -

Should kids ever take a hol­i­day from learn­ing?

Ev­ery par­ent sooner or later faces the dilemma of the dreaded school hol­i­days. For work­ing par­ents, the is­sue is dou­bly dif­fi­cult. Sens­ing a void and an op­por­tu­nity, a ‘hol­i­day tu­ition’ or ‘hol­i­day work­shop’ in­dus­try has sprung up in Malaysia. Now there are classes and work­shops for foot­ball, Man­darin, maths and even scuba div­ing. No mat­ter what aca­demic or sports is­sue the par­ent feels in­se­cure or anx­ious about, there is a hol­i­day rem­edy for their kids. But who re­ally benefits? And is bore­dom a bad thing? What we learned may sur­prise you. Chil­dren’s learn­ing, or learn­ing is­sues, has of­ten more to do with the par­ents than the chil­dren them­selves!

The ex­pert speaks

We spoke to Ivy Tan, a child psy­chol­o­gist with a Mas­ter’s in Coun­sel­ing Psy­chol­ogy from the Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco. She works with chil­dren and their fam­i­lies at Sprouts in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya. In her prac­tice, she sees a lot of anx­ious par­ents who have brought their chil­dren and teens in for di­ag­no­sis and coun­sel­ing. Hav­ing worked with hun­dreds of ado­les­cents and at-risk youth in the United States dur­ing and af­ter her stud­ies, she has seen the wide range of be­havioural is­sues af­fect­ing fam­i­lies. In a way, the ques­tion of whether to send your child to a hol­i­day pro­gramme is a lux­u­ri­ous one. For many par­ents, they don’t have the money to do so. And for many, they don’t have the time ei­ther to spend with their kids given their de­mand­ing work sched­ules.

So we asked Ivy about the pros and cons of hol­i­day ac­tiv­i­ties. But as we soon dis­cov­ered, the is­sue re­ally isn’t about hol­i­day camps at all. But more about a child’s emo­tional, in­tel­lec­tual and so­cial devel­op­ment and what best serves the in­di­vid­ual child.

Ed­u­cate… the par­ents?!

When par­ents think of ed­u­ca­tion, they of­ten think of school­ing, tu­ition, flash cards and ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties de­signed to cram as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble into their chil­dren’s heads. What they of­ten do not think about is play. In­creas­ingly, the lat­est sci­en­tific re­search demon­strates that play can be as, or more, im­por­tant than learn­ing in a child’s devel­op­ment. Case in point: Con­sider all those Chi­nese ath­letes or artists pushed to per­form at world-class lev­els from the age of four or five. Many fiz­zle out by adult­hood. They never had the chance to be kids be­fore they were ex­pected to per­form like adults.

Ivy says she does see a lot of he­li­copter par­ents. ‘I do see par­ents who worry for their kids’ well-be­ing. And it im­pacts the child. The worry passes along to the kids! Kids are like sponges. What­ever the par­ents are feel­ing or go­ing through, the chil­dren are feel­ing it even though they may not ver­balise it.’ In other words, if the par­ents are stressed about their child’s grades or abil­ity to get into the best uni­ver­si­ties, the kids take on that stress as if it were their own. And this stress of­ten pushes par­ents into push­ing kids into learn­ing when they could be… do­ing not much at all.

Ivy men­tions that prob­lems don’t usu­ally de­velop un­til chil­dren be­come teens. ‘With ado­les­cents, the par­ents can’t con­trol them any­more. The kids say, “I don’t want to do this any­more, I want au­ton­omy. I just want to hang out with friends!”’ In this case, she says, it’s the parental ex­pec­ta­tions that are out of sync with their child’s devel­op­ment. Not the chil­dren them­selves. It is nor­mal for teenagers to want au­ton­omy and to fit into a group, not to fit into the pic­ture their par­ents have of

who they should be and what they should be do­ing.

That’s not to say par­ents shouldn’t push kids and teens to do things they don’t want to. Ivy says, ‘It’s good to have rou­tines and struc­tures. But you have to take into ac­count their psy­choso­cial devel­op­ment.’ If the par­ents have done their job well in the younger, for­ma­tive years of a child, the struc­ture is there, she says. They’ve built a good foun­da­tion of self-dis­ci­pline, learn­ing and re­spect for oth­ers that will stay with the chil­dren for life. Yet, ‘as they grow older they may want to break out of struc­ture’. Her ad­vice? Some­times let kids be kids and let teens be… well, ob­nox­ious.

Keep­ing up with the Jone­ses

Some­times par­ents come in, says Ivy, com­par­ing their chil­dren to the prodi­gies de­scribed by friends and fam­ily. Yet the child has to be looked at as an in­di­vid­ual, not in com­par­i­son against oth­ers.

Ivy states that in­creas­ingly, ‘some­times par­ents feel pres­sure.’ Pres­sure to do this or that, to send their kids here or there. Pres­sure to push their chil­dren hard, week in and week out. But don’t be swayed, Ivy ad­vises.

How­ever, even though many par­ents look to her to tell them what to do, she says she’s not the real ex­pert. ‘At the end of the day, par­ents are the ex­perts on their own chil­dren. No mat­ter who you con­sult, par­ents know what is best for their child… they know the child’s rou­tine more than I do. I say trust what you know is best for your child.’

Ivy looks at the big­ger pic­ture when a fam­ily comes in to see her be­cause a child isn’t re­spond­ing the way par­ents ex­pect. ‘When you do fam­ily ther­apy, if one per­son is feel­ing this way, ev­ery­one fac­tors in. It’s very in­ter­est­ing if you look at the is­sue as a sys­tem. Some­times par­ents get shocked when I say, “When your child feels this way, it’s not their fault.”’

Par­ents, she says, have to sep­a­rate their child from their own ex­pec­ta­tions. Her ad­vice? ‘Cre­ate more sup­port for the child.’ No mat­ter if the child says they’d rather hang out at the mall rather than learn to play the vi­o­lin or mas­ter their Man­darin. Longer term lis­ten­ing to your child, she sug­gests, can reap far more re­wards than the in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments in test scores or ath­letic prow­ess.

Ivy says par­ents also have to look at how the child is do­ing in gen­eral. ‘It is good to have goals and struc­ture, but is the child do­ing well so far? Does he need ad­di­tional aca­demic help? Talk to the school, the teach­ers.’ But at the end of the day, she says, ‘the de­ci­sion is on the par­ent to de­cide on a strict sched­ule or not.’ If the child isn’t do­ing well in school then it might be ben­e­fi­cial to in­tro­duce ex­tra sup­port. But not at the ex­pense of some fun, she cau­tions.

The se­cret of qual­ity hol­i­days

Ac­cord­ing to Ivy, the bot­tom line re­gard­ing school hol­i­days is that chil­dren need to feel the par­ent’s in­volve­ment and un­di­vided at­ten­tion. If they come home from an in­ten­sive Man­darin or Ba­hasa class and you’re ask­ing ques­tions while read­ing emails on your Black­Berry, don’t bother. When you are with your kids, be WITH them. They know the dif­fer­ence be­tween time and qual­ity time.

Ivy coun­sels to ‘know your child. You think you know what mat­ters to them. Par­ents can plan [out­ings to] theme parks and Dis­ney[land]. But if it’s not what mat­ters to the kid, it doesn’t mat­ter. Some would rather stay home with Nin­tendo!’

HUPENG / DREAM­STIME

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