updated 23 Nov 2013, 21:32
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Tue, Jul 16, 2013
The Straits Times
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Singled out for bonding
by Jane Ng

Acouple of weeks ago, my family discovered to our horror that someone had dumped a tilapia into our fish tank placed outside our flat.

By the time seven-year-old Jason discovered its presence and shouted for me, the black fish about the size of my hand, was halfway through its meal of our tiny platy fish.

My son was inconsolable. After all, he was the main caregiver for our longkang fish, greeting and feeding them daily.

He stood sobbing by the tank and began scooping out the surviving fish. (We both did not dare remove the tilapia and my husband was out for a meeting.) To cheer up the boy, my husband took him longkang fishing at a farm to replenish his platy collection.

The outing was so successful, they returned beaming, with two bags full of fish.

It was a far cry from a similar outing a year ago, when three-year-old Shannon would excitedly follow Jason when he was trying to catch the fish, and ended up scaring them away.

It didn't help that I had to tail my daughter to prevent her from falling into the longkang. That time, we caught a miserable few and were given a couple out of sympathy.

So Jason had declared that the next time he went longkang fishing, it would be just him and papa.

Such one-on-one parent-child outings do not happen regularly. Since both my husband and I work, any time outside work would usually be spent together as a family.

While that may be an efficient way of spending time with everyone, it may not always be productive.

Yes, there are times when the kids enjoy each other's company, but they also often bicker or vie for our attention.

Jason has more than once said he enjoys spending time alone with me or his papa, without Shannon "annoying" him.

Even as I assure him things will improve as she grows older, I know giving each child individual attention regularly will benefit him or her.

Since Jason started Primary 1 this year, he has been spending weekday mornings alone with me after Shannon goes to school.

We don't do anything particularly exciting. It is usually breakfast after dropping Shannon off, sometimes followed by a spot of marketing, before we go home so I can start work and he can finish his homework or watch some television.

But the one-on-one talking, laughing (and nagging) seems to have made a difference. Or perhaps it is knowing he has some protected time with me before he goes to school. He is less tantrum-prone and more reasonable than before. (Or maybe he is just growing up.)

I try to do the same with Shannon by fetching her from childcare before Jason gets home from school, so that she, too, gets some alone time with me.

Experts say that spending time individually with each child is good for bonding and can build a good relationship that lasts beyond the growing-up years.

It is also best to start such a routine from young, while they want to spend time with us.

The best possible effect I've read, which I've yet to see take root in my kids, is that more one-on-one time with a child will help to alleviate or prevent sibling rivalry, since it will help a child to feel secure and reduce the need to fight for a parent's attention.

A study conducted at the Pennsylvania State University, which tracked nearly 200 families with at least two children each over a period of seven years, found that one-on-one time with dad is crucial for social development.

Another study found that children who spend more one-on-one time with their mothers had lower levels of depression.

I know Shannon thoroughly enjoyed her day at home with me when she was recuperating from a bout of stomach flu because we did girly things, such as play cooking and dressing up, while korkor was in school.

Meanwhile, Jason is looking forward to the next school holidays when he can go fishing alone with his papa.

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