The MOST IMPORTANT thing before teaching your child

“It’s not how much we teach; it’s how much he learns.” — Alfie Kohn

To help your child gain the most out of your teachings, he needs to be in the right state of mind. And to be the best teacher you can to your child, you need to be in the right state of mind.

Getting mummy / daddy prepared…

We all know that taking care of young children can be a big challenge every day. Often, my friends are amazed how I can take care of 3 little boys full-time when they get a headache from 1 to 2 kids whom they take over only after work.

The key is relaxation.

These are the steps:

  • If possible, wake up earlier than the kids to start your morning routine
  • Do deep breathing and relaxation exercises. If you do this regularly, it takes only a short while to be prepared for the day’s challenges.
    • Breathe in through your nose, fill the air to your abdominal area, the blow out slowly through your mouth.
    • You may imagine blowing a candle some distance away, to get a long breath.
    • The general position is sitting down. If lying down, I risk falling back to sleep again! Nowadays, I can do this while standing too.
    • I’ve attended yoga and pilates classes where similar deep breathing are taught. The prenatal class I attended taught this too. Deep relaxation is so powerful that I delivered Jae and El naturally with no pain relief.
    • If you’re time tight, at least 3 deep and proper breaths. If you’ve more time, you may relax for up to 20 minutes.
    • You may think of a positive message for yourself. For example,“I love my children. I’m a relaxed and patient mummy. I can take care of them with love and patience.”
    • You may also visualise yourself being the parent you wish to be — loving, patient, creative, fun, whatever fits you.
  • When you’re mentally ready, then meet your kid. (Okok, I know this sometimes doesn’t seem possible. Just try to make a few minutes of quiet time for yourself, even if it means hiding in the bathroom to do relaxation and deep breathing.)
  • Before our daily home practice session, I demonstrate deep breathing and relaxation to the kids, and take the chance to switch to the right mental gear. This ensures I’m calm and patient with them.

If they’re non-cooperative and I feel myself getting frustrated, I’d stop the session and we’d move to our calm reading corner and just do reading aloud.

Parent-child relationship is more emotionally-charged than teacher-child relationship, that’s why many parents comment that it’s hard to teach their own kids. There’re teachers who can handle 30 students in class yet scream at their child at home. This is normal and I fully understand.

However, it’s essential that we’re able to teach our own kids since it isn’t possible to outsource all teachings to others. Else, how to teach him the family’s values?

So the steps are to breathe, relax and visualise.

Getting the kid prepared…

Now that mummy / daddy is prepared, it’s junior’s turn. For her to absorb the lessons well, she needs to be in a relaxed state as well. My #3 Little El has watched us do deep breathing since he was a baby. By around 1-year old, I just have say “breathe” or “relax” and he’d start taking long breaths. I was amazed!

(#1 Vee did controlled breathing only at about 3 years old. So the key is to keep demonstrating until your child succeeds.)

Shichida classes begin with the “energy ball” exercise. This is actually the simple version of relaxation for babies and young children. The eventual goal is for the child relax, breathe and visualise on cue and independently. (In another words, to help him reach the alpha state of mind — relaxed yet conscious.)

So this is what you can demonstrate to babies and toddlers:

  • Before controlled breathing, the child needs to learn how to blow first.
  • Give a verbal cue, such as “Now we’re going to do relaxation / breathing.”
  • Take a deep breath and blow. Repeat it three times. Shichida classes offer a small item for the child to blow at. At home, I realise that this isn’t essential. So you may start without any material on hand.

For an older child who can blow, you may cue him to breathe and blow out slowly 3 times, before your child reaches school or starts home practice / home work / revision / music practice. So we do these several times a day. At home, we say “Come, let’s renew your energy please”.

You may also guide him to do deeper relaxation:

  • Let him lie down or sit.
  • Ask him to close his eyes. Or put an blindfold on him. (I got a RM5 Hello Kitty eye mask from Daiso.)
  • Give him verbal cues such as “Now breathe in through your nose and fill your tummy with air… Then breathe out slowly… Breathe in again… breathe out… breathe in again… breathe out… Now you’re very relaxed… Relax your head… your eyes… your mouth… your hands… your legs… Your whole body is relaxed…”

After breathing and relaxation, the next step is visualisation (or imaging). Visualisation helps the child to focus and build confidence, which will directly impact his learning. This is the visualisation example for Vee’s piano practice towards a performance or competition:

  • If the child is new to visualisation, you may say “Imagine you’re playing the piano. If you can see yourself at the piano, raise up your hand.”
  • “Imagine yourself playing ‘Minuet in G Minor’. You’re the best pianist in the world. The music flows from your fingers and you play with ease. There’re many people enjoying your performance and you’re very relaxed.”
  • Fill the visualisation with cues for the senses: what he can see, hear, smell, touch, feel. Perhaps what he “says” as well, if the scene is speech-related. But during the session, the child is relaxed and quiet. Everything goes on in his mind.

For a booster, you may play relaxation music in the background. You may get the tracks from CD shops or itunes, usually under the yoga / meditation music section. Look for the ones suitable for “alpha state”.

Who’s doing relaxation exercises?

“… I can reach a certain level where under stress, if I find myself grouchy, I go to a quiet corner to sit down. Within 20 minutes to half and hour, I bring my tempo down.” “I believe we should teach meditation in schools because that will save going to the doctors, taking Valium or whatever.” —  Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, Lee Kuan Yew, 2011

“Bowman introduced Phelps … to a progressive relaxation program based on the recitation of cues. Every night before Phelps went to sleep, his mother, Debbie, would sit with him in his dimly lighted bedroom and command him to relax different parts of his body. 

After a while, Phelps could relax without his mother’s cues. He became adept at placing himself in that same meditative state in the ready room before a race. Once he has cleared his mind and loosened his limbs, Phelps will swim each race over and over in his mind. 

It is not just the perfect race that Phelps pictures. He sees himself overcoming every conceivable obstacle to achieve his goal time so that when he stands on the blocks he feels as if nothing can stand in the way of him succeeding.” — Avoiding the Deep End When It Comes to Jitters, New York Times, 25 July 2009

“The French mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, ‘All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.’… Pascal was right: most of our miseries do stem from the fact that we have lost sight of the importance of being silent, for even a short period, every day of our lives.

Without the ability to concentrate, a full and complete life is not possible. If you lack the mental focus to stay with one activity for any length of time, you will never be able to achieve your goals, build your dreams or enjoy life’s process. Without a disciplined mind, trivial thoughts and worries will nag at you and you will never have the capacity to immerse yourself in more meaningful pursuits. Without deep concentration, your mind will be your master rather than your servant.” The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (page 62), Robin Sharma

Read the rest of the series here:

Part 1: Core elements of unleashing your child’s potential

Part 3: Grabbing your child’s attention for learning

8 thoughts on “The MOST IMPORTANT thing before teaching your child”

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