updated 17 Nov 2012, 10:03
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Parents, talk positive
by Jacqueline Woo

Whenever her father is away for long periods of time sailing with the navy, three-year-old Sherrie Chan would get fed up and throw tantrums because she misses him.

Her mother, Ms Yeo Sha-En, has her way of working around this.

The 31-year-old told My Paper that she would talk to her daughter at trying times like these, and eventually fish out three words - "I want Papa."

Instead of "using negative words to close the conversation", she said she tries to delve into the reasons behind Sherrie's actions.

"If I scold her, she learns that when she does something wrong, she gets scolded.

"Instead of wanting to explain, she withdraws. Then, as a parent, I don't learn anything. I gain zero information about her and why she did that wrong thing."

After finding out the reason for her tantrums, Ms Yeo would comfort Sherrie, and tell her that her actions are not the best way to ask for things or express herself.

While it is very easy for adults to communicate, "it's not easy for her (as a child) to understand what's going on, so we have to put it in perspective", explained Ms Yeo, the founder of Positive Education.

Positive Education is an education business that equips and empowers teachers and parents, using tools and skills in positive psychology necessary to support children in their journey of growth.

Ms Yeo believes that language is "a very important tool for learning", and is something that resonates strongly in parenting.

A simple sentence such as "Sit down, please", instead of "Don't stand on the chair", can make a difference in Sherrie's behaviour.

The latter sentence is marked with a negative word "don't", which is used quite instinctively when adults tell children what to do.

However, it does not stop her child from switching to alternatives, such as jumping, said Ms Yeo. In comparison, a request like "Sit down, please" is directive and positive, and uses the word "please".

"It describes what you would like them to do, which is more effective than using 'don't'."

In another instance, Sherrie had eagerly used a word she learnt recently - "represent" - though not in the right context.

Ms Yeo had two strategies, as opposed to scolding the toddler.

She could use subtle correction by asking, "Do you mean this? Is this what you're trying to say?"

Or she could praise Sherrie for the effort she took to use the word, before offering an example of correct usage.

For example: "Good job in trying to use that word, because it's a big word you've learnt, and now you're trying to use it. But maybe this is a better way of using it."

In this way, Sherrie becomes "more than willing to try using big words, as opposed to being fearful and sticking to very simple terms", explained Ms Yeo.

"You have to encourage children to keep trying. If I scold Sherrie, she won't want to use the word again, and she won't learn how to master it."

But negativity is not necessarily bad, she pointed out.

It is useful in certain circumstances, when one has to grab a child's attention, such as when he is about to dash across the road dangerously, as "there is no time to 'sayang' (or coddle) them", she said.

Still, she stands by her philosophy: "If it's not helpful to be negative, then there's no use in it."

Ms Yeo admitted this could be challenging for her and her husband.

It is easy to use negative terms, and pay attention to only the bad things that her child does.

What it takes is a lot of effort and constant reminders, and "after we do it often, it becomes a habit", she said.

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