5 SEL Strategies to practice over spring break

A growing body of research suggests that helping children to develop good social and emotional skills early in life makes a big difference in their long-term health and well-being. According to Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence”, he says that through family life, “we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings; how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting’ how to read and express hopes and fears.” Therefore, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) first takes place at home. When parents are able to interact with their children by helping them to work through feelings constructively and engage in respectful and caring relationships, children will then be able to navigate emotional challenges such as a disappointment, hurt or anger successfully.

Besides enrolling your children for Dolphin Kids’ Social-Emotional-Cognitive (SEC) programs, here are 5 strategies which you can consider doing on a regular basis to help improve your child’s SEL. These suggestions are also not an exhaustive list, and some may require advance thought and planning to put into action. Begin with one item and add on more as you gain comfort and confidence with using these strategies.

Providing children with opportunities to use their voices and make decisions are great ways to boost your child’s autonomy and confidence. It teaches them what it means to build respect, cooperate and develop their own problem-solving skills. Avoid overwhelming them with too many choices and make certain choices “rituals” where they get to choose consistently., e.g., What do you want to do on Saturday morning? Go to the park or the library? Get them involved in fixing problems and learn to trust that your child may be able to find a good solution to the problem with some careful consideration., e.g.,If there are books all over your child’s bedroom floor, ask her how she thinks the floor could stay clear.

Apologizing does not mean that you forget whatever your child did that was upsetting. Actually, it means that you clarify that some of what you said was hurtful and had to do with your own frustration. “It’s not whether you make a mistake, it’s how you handle that mistake”. Parents’ ability to acknowledge mistakes and accept responsibility for actions is imperative in helping their children to do the same. An effective parental apology involves a deep understanding of our child’s feelings, a great deal of self-control, and good social skills.  They are demonstrating that taking action to accept responsibility after a mistake is more important than the mistake itself.

It is normal to feel irritated or angry at times. Yet it is important to bear in mind that modelling is a powerful teacher. Learn to recognize triggers and make a plan to do something before you lose control. Allocate a “quiet spot” where family members can go when they are upset, or stop talking and leave the room for a while to calm down. Discuss as a family about what everyone can do to stay calm by creating an emotional safety plan.

Make yourself a good example, and teach your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Make sure your child has time to have fun, and make sure that your child hasn’t scheduled every moment of his or her life with no “down time” to relax. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help your child stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.

In order to have friends, we have to learn to be a friend. Teach your child the skill of empathy or feeling another’s pain. By learning to connect with others, children can feel empowered and strengthen their resilience. Brainstorm with your child on how they can help others, e.g., you and your child can prepare food in a homeless shelter, go on a fundraising walk-a-thon or simply ask her to collaborate with you on household activities. This teaches children that by sharing and helping, they can make a difference in the lives of others.

Lastly, don’t forget to work together with your child’s school than work alone. Both schools and parents contribute in different ways to make the child’s learning effective. Learning SEL skills is like having an insurance policy for a healthy, positive, successful life. When children are able to master them, they are more likely to succeed in school and life.

5 tips to get you started on a healthy tech diet

As a society, we have been spending more time than ever watching videos, browsing social media and swiping our lives away on our tablets and smartphones. According to a new study by market research group Nielsen, an average adult spend more than 11 hours per day on consuming media. Unsurprisingly, teens and tweens are on their screens for 6 to 9 hours too. And if you are a parent, you are also most likely concerned about your child’s technology usage. So as the new year is approaching, let’s consider adopting a healthy tech diet!

Just like the food we consume impacts our physical and mental health, so to does the technology we consume. A healthy tech diet comes from moderating screen-time usage and consuming healthy tech (i.e. creativity, education), limiting snack tech (i.e. certain highly addictive video games & social media), and avoiding toxic tech (i.e. cyber-bullying, pornography).

Many of us would probably agree that consuming a healthy tech diet is beneficial but we may not be ready to put it into practice yet. Perhaps we may think that it is something hard or impossible to achieve. Change is often scary and letting go of old habits is tough. So before you decide to give up the idea of changing your tech diet, read the following 5 tips that can help you get ready for a #TechDietChallenge.

Are you looking to improve your physical, social and mental health? Better sleep, attention span, social interactions and reduced anxiety and stress — these are just some common benefits of a healthy tech diet. Evaluate how your current tech diet has been affecting your life and explore your personal reason(s) for wanting an improved tech diet.

What makes you return to your old tech diet  habits? Boredom? Loneliness? Convenience? Can you replace your screen time with a screen-free activity? E.g., sports, music, arts and crafts, reading, socialising. Or if you are consuming a “toxic” (i.e., cyber-bullying, pornography) or “snack” (i.e., certain addictive video games, social media) tech diet, can you replace it with something healthier (i.e., educational, creativity) ? Identify your own needs and explore as many options as possible.

Studies have shown that individual learning and motivation emerge from collaboration and participation in groups. Let your friends/colleagues/family members know that you are taking on a new challenge to change your tech diet. This way, you will be more accountable to your goals and inspire others to set their own!

A Chinese philosopher said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Transforming your tech diet will not be a one-time effort. You have to be consistent in order to reach your goal. First of all, by breaking down your goal into smaller, easier-to-accomplish ones makes the seemingly impossible, possible. For example, if you are used to reading on your smartphone before bed, spend half the time on it and/or try reading a book instead.

If you happen to relapse, don’t beat yourself up about it. Research has shown that self-critics are much more likely to be anxious and depressed and have lower self-confidence in their abilities, which undermines their potential for success. However, if you have a compassionate response to your struggles, you are recognising that failure and mistakes are inevitable. When we are kind to ourselves, we have more intrinsic motivation — the desire to learn and grow. Therefore we not only take responsibility for our mistakes but acknowledge them with greater equanimity.

Change is tough, but you are tougher! Pledge to a healthier body, mind and soul by joining our #TechDietChallenge that begins in the new year, January 1, 2019.

Rethink Back To School: Stress Busters for Students

Time flies when we have fun and we’re already at the end of summer! At this time, many students may feel a sense of dread or anxiety, knowing that they are returning to school. Parents may also feel the same way following a relaxed summer period. With increased structure, academic demands and peer influence, sometimes the transition back to school can get stressful. With a little preparation and understanding what to expect, parents can help their children cope with back-to-school transition easily.

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

When your child’s environment is disorganized or lacks structure, stress and anxiety tend to increase because nothing is predictable and no one knows what to expect. Create a routine that includes the basic building blocks of physical health – regular sleep, meals and exercise. Next, build in P.O.D (Play, Others, Downtime) into their schedules instead of just packing it with academic activities. Having a purposeful schedule at home can act as a guide and give some sense of order to reduce anxiety. When your child is healthy and relaxed, she will be more likely to cooperate and enjoy school.

According to Dr. Shimi Kang, children do not usually tell parents that they are stressed. However, they may act up by displaying physical and mental signs, consciously or unconsciously. These signs can include complaints of headaches, tummy aches, tiredness, distractibility, irritability, crying spells and general unwellness. When this happens, parents ought to investigate to see if the complaint is a manifestation of stress. She added that it is important to recognise the child’s feelings and behaviour and help the child to discuss what’s happening and why, and this brings us to our next point.

Before jumping into advice-giving, pause to listen to your child’s concerns.
Ask yourself, “What is she worried about?” Why does she expect that to happen?” Hold yourself back from judging and let your child share about what’s on her mind. When you can understand your child’s troubles, develop a coping plan with them. When children are stressed, they doubt their ability to cope. Address what’s bothering them by brainstorming together with them to create a actionable plan with concrete solutions. Think about worst case scenarios together and coach your child on how to cope and analyse both real and imagined stressful situation.

Teach and encourage your child to master the power of positive self-talk. Studies have shown that positive coping statements can help us cope through stressful moments. When your child is able to use positive words to lift themselves up, they become their own personal motivational coach. Make this a fun activity by creating “Coping Cards” with your child. Ask them to write down a positive coping statement for every difficult situation they can imagine. They can carry it in their pocket or bag to help remind themselves.

Below are some examples of coping statements:

1. Stop, and breathe, I can do this
2. This will pass
3. I can be anxious/angry/sad and still deal with this
4. I have done this before, and I can do it again
5. I’m stronger than I think
6. I will learn from this experience, even if it seems hard to understand right now
7. This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it is only temporary
8. I choose to see this challenge as an opportunity
9. I can learn from this and it will be easier next time
10. Keep calm and carry on

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is usually one of the most commonly overlooked ways to manage stress. Speak with your child’s teachers, principal and other relevant school staff about your concerns and ask if they are able to assist in any way possible. Before doing so, it is important to ask your child for her opinion because some children may be self-conscious and so it is necessary to talk to your child about your intentions first. If you think that you have applied every technique possible and still find yourself at wits’ end, working with the school counsellor to discuss more alternatives may be useful. Besides, counsellors can also help you identify an underlying mental health disorder, that may need professional help in order to get treated.

The start of new classes, subjects, teachers, friends, homework and rules can be overwhelming. It is normal for your child to have some worries. However, it is important for them to attend school. Skipping school will only increase stress and anxiety because your child is only avoiding her worries and have no chance to problem-solve them. Model pro-activeness as a parent and teach your child life-long lessons of resilience and adaptability!

How to Discover and Develop the Strengths of Your Child

In today’s world, much emphasis is placed on success. Because of the focus on high performance, many students often feel like they don’t have enough strengths. We often hear about how we ought to “play to our strengths” in order to succeed. However, what does it really mean?

Defining strengths

According to Australian Psychologist Lea Waters, strengths have three components:

He or she is good at it.
He or she feels good and becomes energized while doing it.
He or she often chooses to do it.

Talent-based strengths vs Character Based Strengths

After three decades of research, psychologists have discovered the definition of strengths, and have categorised them into two broad categories, talent-based strengths and character-based strengths. Talent-based strengths may include being good at music or having an excellent understanding of math, while character-based strengths include being exceptionally compassionate or brave.

As parents, it is easier to focus more on talent-based strengths because it is performance-based and observable. However, we have to be careful as this may have a negative effect on children who may not have yet identified their talent-based strengths because they start to think that they have little or no strengths at all.  As such, it is vital to also pay attention to character strengths which are moral-based and reveal through actions and feelings. By doing so, we are teaching them that attributes such as courage and perseverance are needed for overcoming difficulties in life, which would eventually help them recognise and develop their talent-based strengths too. Furthermore, studies have also shown that the most important character-based strengths for our well-being and happiness have been found to be gratitude, optimism, enthusiasm, curiosity and love.

So how do we help our children to discover and develop their strengths? Here are 5 practical steps:

Parents want their children to succeed and they usually have their best interests at heart. However, sometimes we may unknowingly burden our child by assessing everything they do.

For example, when your child shows you an artwork she did, instead of saying whether it is good or not, ask her what she likes about making it. By evaluating your child’s performance, it may cause your child to worry about how well they do, which may in turn hinder their ability to take healthy risks. Unreasonably high expectations may often pressure children to deter from creativity, experimentation and innovation and influence them to conform to rigid and prescribed guidelines from others. Because of how children love to please adults, they may perform so that they can gain parents’ approval rather than because they truly enjoy the task. When parents minimize expectations, children can then be free to discover what they feel energized by.  Help your children to grow into who they are, rather than who you think they should be.+

When children are allowed to be free to explore new things, the easier it be to discover strengths. Let your child be exposed to various social settings as well as a broad range of activities from art to music, dance, sports and nature. Be mindful not to only choose the ones that you think are beneficial for them. While they are at it, take time to observe the way they play and enjoy themselves. The best way to identify strengths in two or three-year-olds is to notice carefully when they are playing with other children. Besides noticing their talent-based strengths, watch for their character-based strengths as well. Is your child kind towards his or her friends? Does he or she tries to persist in solving a problem? When teamwork is required, does your child lead and influence others?

Listen to your child by being curious. Ask open-ended questions and show your interest in your child’s perspective. At the age of five, children’s ability to reason increases and so it is a great time to involve them in decision-making about activities they should or should not pursue. Questions like, “What do you think?” and “Why do you think that?” increases a child’s autonomy. If you sense that your child is giving up easily due to some struggles, remind them that learning something new or becoming skilled in an activity takes practice, patience and perseverance. Most importantly, be that role model who stick at things even when they are tough so that they can learn from your example.

Notice your child’s character-based strengths and appreciate and compliment them for it. Here are some examples:

  • When your child practices honesty by admitting to a mistake, thank them.
  • When your child makes you laugh, tell them that you enjoy their sense of humour.
  • When your child is trying to overcome a tough situation (e.g., separation from parents or going to a new school), tell them how brave they are.
  • When your child shares generously with their friends, tell them how kind they are being.
  • When your child is able to wait patiently for her turn, praise them for showing good self-control.
  • When your child chooses to forgive their sibling or friend for having upset them, show them that you are proud of them.

Encourage your child to engage in their strengths in new ways on a regular basis. Strengths can grow if you can help them think up creative ways to use them in their daily life. Here are some examples:

  • If your child shows creativity, help them find new things they can make or problems they can solve.
  • If your child enjoys being sociable, help them spend more meaningful time with their friends or expose them to more social settings.
  • If your child likes being helpful to others, help them think of kind deeds for friends and family.
  • If your child shows leadership skills, allow them opportunities to organize things and influence others.
  • If your child has an adventurous spirit, help them find challenging tasks or activities which they can overcome.

Sometimes as parents we tend to focus on fixing weaknesses and problems, and looking for strengths can be less common. However, research has proven that discovering and developing our strengths is crucial for improving health and well-being. So dial back the criticism and start noticing your child’s strengths. Help your children to value and use their strengths regularly, and they will lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

The Power of Positive Mindset

Having a positive mindset has a bigger impact on performance than what researchers have expected. A recent study by Stanford University found something surprising. Researchers observed the brains of students to understand how attitude influence achievement, and it turns out that having a positive outlook on learning, plays an equally important role as IQ.

When children do well in tests, they would naturally enjoy the subject more and feel more confident about it. However, the study has shown that the other way around — starting off with an expectation that they will like the subject and are capable in it, can help their brains to problem-solve better and improve their achievement too.

How do we as parents, help children foster more positive mindsets towards a subject or their potential then? Here are some suggestions:

To help children establish a positive mindset, we have to develop one ourselves. When parents or teachers respond to children’s struggles and mistakes with “anxiety or over-concern”, they unknowingly teach children to fear failure and prevent them from learning from trial and error.

First of all, make an effort to recognise your own unhelpful or self-defeating thinking, e.g., an overemphasis on getting things right, trying to please everyone, or fear of losing out  (to name a few). Secondly, be conscious about making a choice in shifting your negative thinking by reminding yourself to strive for progress rather than perfection. Model a positive mindset in your lifestyle and interactions with your child and he will learn its true value.

Don’t praise your children for being smart. Research by psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that by doing so, it can cause children to be fearful of taking risks or pursuing tough goals that might make them feel vulnerable and less intelligent. Praise them for making effort by saying, “I’m proud that you tried really hard!” or “You really practiced that, and look how you’ve improved!”  

Build your child’s resilience by instilling in them a belief that our mental capabilities are not fixed and can be improved with effort. When your child makes mistakes, tell them that they are giving their brains opportunity for growth. So if your child comes back to you with a D on his math test, respond with something like, “What did you do?”, “what can we do next?” Don’t just tell your child to try harder, offer strategies or skills to overcome a challenging task.

Instead of saying “I can’t play basketball or I can’t do multiplication,” adding a “yet” to the end of the sentences changes their meaning and promotes growth and opportunity. The word “yet” gives children more confidence and lead them on a path that encourages persistence. By saying “yet”, it leaves possibilities open instead of just saying “I can’t”.This simple linguistic trick implies that children will master these skills eventually with time and practice.

Find meaning in things that happen

Help your child bounce back from disappointments by encouraging them to talk about their emotions and make meaning of the events that happened to them. Life is unpredictable and filled with ups and downs, and by nurturing spirituality, we can find direction and hope during difficult times. Connecting with nature, meditating, sharing stories, creating something or helping others in need are some ways to develop spirituality, which can give a greater purpose to life.

There are so many benefits to having an attitude of gratitude and one of them is helping us to develop a positive outlook. Teach your child to see the positives in everyday life, no matter how big or small. At dinner or bedtime, share stories with each other about the simple pleasures of your day. Create a “gratitude journal” together as a family by gluing pictures from magazines, drawing or writing down things everyone is grateful for. These activities do not only build close relationships, they also can create a positive environment at home.

Having a positive mindset is one of the most important strengths for building resilience, which can eventually bring greater success and happiness in life. When children learn to perceive a difficulty as a manageable one, it makes them feel more confident and gives them hope. Besides, it also acts as a shield from anxiety, depression and poor health. Teaching your child how to respond to problems positively can make all the difference. Try to find the cup half full and be on the lookout for the bright side — your kids will also do the same.

The Role of Father’s: Insights and tips on how father’s contribute to their child’s social, emotional, and cognitive learning

Prior to the late 1970s, the role of fathers was more defined as the family’s main breadwinner, disciplinarian, and would take time to play when he could. However, times have changed and fathers are seen to be more involved in raising their children. In fact, majority of studies have affirmed that fathers play an important role in the health and well-being of their children. In celebration of Father’s Day, we want to share with you how the presence of a father is not only a positive experience for the family, but is also beneficial to a child’s social, emotional and cognitive growth.

How Fathers Can Help

When fathers are involved in parenting, children’s emotional well-being have been proven to increase. Children are generally more well-adjusted and there are less expressions of fear, guilt, stress and anxiety. When stressful situations occur, children develop a greater tolerance and have better problem-solving and adaptive skills — managing their emotions healthily and appropriately. And as a child enters adolescence, close relationships with their fathers can also improve self-efficacy and reduce aggressive behaviours. When children feel their fathers’ love and acceptance, they would also have higher self-esteem and be more self-motivated.

What Fathers Can Do

Children are highly impressionable and often take after their parents’ reactions to negative emotions. Therefore, the key to developing emotional intelligence in your child is to first recognise and manage your own emotions appropriately. When you are feeling more positive and relaxed, you can then be more sensitive to your child’s feelings especially when he is not able to express his feelings adequately. Increase your child’s vocabulary for words that describe feelings by demonstrating and modelling how to express feelings. When your child is feeling stressed or frustrated, be there to support him. Encourage your child to solve a problem by thinking ahead about the consequences of the solutions, help him to generate alternative ideas and choose the best plan of action.

How Fathers Can Help

Studies have proven that when infants enjoy higher levels of interaction with fathers through play and caregiving activities, their problem-solving ability increases and have higher cognitive functioning. When compared with mothers, fathers’ talk with toddlers is characterized by more wh- (e.g. “what, where” etc.) questions, which requires the child to express themselves more, use more  vocabulary and produce longer sentences when communicating with their fathers. School-aged children of involved fathers also perform better academically. They have more positive attitudes towards school and have less behavioural problems.

What Fathers Can Do

Cognitive development is the process where a child learns to solve problems, reason, think logically and creatively. Boost cognitive development through lots of play! Come up with games and activities that encourage your child to think and find solutions. From board games to sports, train your child to learn through trial and error and encourage your child not to give up. Children are little explorers so plan for a nature outing at least once a month. For example, it could be as simple as having a family picnic at the beach. Everything that the child observes — from the waves on the shore, birds flying, fish swimming in water or ships passing by — these are excellent ways to stimulate the senses, start conversations and spur imaginative thinking.

How Fathers Can Help

Studies have proven that when fathers are more hands-on with parenting, children tend to have more positive peer relations — less aggression and conflict, more reciprocity and generosity. They also have increased moral judgement, values and conformity to rules and display more moral and pro-social behaviours. By feeling secure and attached to their fathers, children are more tolerant and understanding of others. As they become adults, they are also more likely to enjoy supportive social networks consisting of long-term close friendships and successful marriages.

What Fathers Can Do

Teach your child that relationships are important. Model it for your child early on and help him to be respectful of others. If you notice your child behaving disrespectfully unintentionally, be sure to talk about it with him later. Be clear about insisting that they acknowledge adults in their presence as well as other kids. If you happen to have a child who is shy, teach effective strategies to deal with fears such as being interested by asking questions and listening to others. Have plenty of opportunities to practice social behaviours by following their lead in a “peer-like” way. When you are responsive to your child’s play ideas, it makes your child feel that they are good, effective play partners and thus are eager to play with other peers.

From what we gather, many findings have affirmed the positive effects of fathers’ presence and father-child relationship. Mothers are not only the ones who affect their children’s development but fathers do have a direct impact on children too. Fathers provide for children’s needs in a different way than mothers, and they are just as invaluable to children’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive functioning.

7 Ways to Engage Your Child in Everyday Play

The “P” in Dolphin Kids’ P.O.D.  stands for PLAY! Why is play important? From learning problem-solving skills, to creative thinking, processing emotions and building resilience, play offers great opportunities for growth and parent-child bonding.

Children love to play and have an endless capacity for play. However, parents’ ability or willingness for play may not be as consistent. Sometimes, after a long day of work and chores, getting down on the floor to play dollhouse with your child or going outdoors for physically active game may seem exhausting. But the truth is, play does not have to last long and it can also be part of everyday life.

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, there are 7 different types of play that accomplishes different benefits. Here are its definitions and some tips to get your started:

Attunement Play

Communication with your child happens all the time, and a large percentage of what we perceive in communication is non-verbal signals. Eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice and bodily gestures can be easily sensed by your child as to whether or not you are genuinely interested in them.

Attunement play is therefore the foundation of all forms of play and can be used in all kinds of interactions with your child. Respond to your child’s actions by mirroring her movements and expressions, make up a song or do a dance with the action. Enter into your child’s world and show that you are listening and understanding him/her.

Social Play

Social play helps children establish social norms. Play with parents set the stage for children’s ability to successfully play with others. Strive for an even distribution of power — Be careful not to take over and give too many directions when playing with your child. Likewise, it is also important not to let your child boss you around. When we allow children to dominate us in play, to be inattentive to our needs and desires, we may, in fact, be turning them into spoiled brats. Cooperate with your child in play by sharing a common goal and having complementary roles, e.g., fixing a jigsaw puzzle, building a bridge with blocks, making art, baking/cooking together.

Pretend Play

Imaginative and pretend play is where creativity begins. Playing the pirate, doctor or teacher — acting out stories which involve multiple perspectives and determining ideas and emotions, pretend play can help children to create their own sense of their mind, and that of others. If make-believe play is not something you feel comfortable doing, try talking to your child regularly explaining features about nature and social issues, or read to your child at bedtime instead.

Movement Play

Leaping in the air teaches us the effects of gravity. Dance teaches us the various ways that our bodies can move. Movement play helps us think spatially, and the physical exertion and effort to get a movement right fosters adaptability and resilience. Chase games, hide and seek, tickles, and rough-housing games make children laugh, scream and sweat — which can help release pent-up stress hormones that they would otherwise have to tantrum to discharge.

Object Play

Object play allows children to explore the functions of objects and develop tools. By manipulating objects such as building blocks, puzzles, cars, dolls, etc., object play allows children to try out new combinations of actions, and may help develop problem solving skills. Sometimes, object play also involves pretend play, e.g., building a house or feeding a doll. Some household items can also serve as fun and interesting objects for play, as long as they are safe.

Storytelling-Narrative Play

Besides improving children’s sense of well-being and self-identity, storytelling plays an essential role to children in understanding their environment. Through listening to stories, they learn to understand the differences to others’ feelings, culture, backgrounds, and experiences. When children can create their own stories, they also show better divergent thinking. Try coming up with a beginning of a story and let your child think and explore as much as they can. If they get stuck or repetitive, suggest one or two ideas on what can happen next.

Creative Play

Children start developing their creativity in role-playing and pretend play, and when they do, they are able to imagine new ways or ideas about doing things that can add function and progress to lives in future. When you are with your child, stimulate creative ideas by encouraging them to come up with new and unusual uses of everyday items, art materials or toys. Try to remain open and curious to new and original ideas, and encourage children to come up with more than one solution or answer.

Play is in the Everyday

Play offers connection, bonding, and co-operation. Opportunities for play can happen everyday with common daily activities. The quality of time spent with your child is the factor that makes a difference. As Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting puts it, you need to be “tuned in” to your child’s needs and wants. Give your child your full attention and follow their lead by letting them direct and control the pace of the play. Relax and have fun while being in the moment with them. Whether it’s baking cookies together, or washing a car, it’s the spirit of playfulness that we bring to daily activities that turns the mundane into play.

The Role of Mother’s: Insights and tips on how mothers contribute to social-emotional-cognitive (SEC) learning

Mothers are most often the primary caregiver who support their children’s physical, emotional, mental and social development. As such, it is no surprise that mothers play a significant role in every aspect of their children’s growth. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we want to recognise and strengthen the maternal role and relationship that contribute to social-emotional-cognitive (SEC) learning in their children. Here are some insights and tips on how to interact with your child to improve their SEC skills.

Children often take reference from their mothers when it comes to the expression, understanding and coping with emotions. Even early in infancy, your child can already express themselves emotionally through their body language, vocalizations and facial expressions. When mothers respond with positive emotions, infants begin to regulate their emotions and gain a sense of predictability, safety and responsiveness in their environments, that will eventually contribute to a sense of self-confidence as they grow up.

Provide a positive role model of emotional regulation through your behavior and through the verbal and emotional support you offer your child when managing their emotions. Don’t be afraid to apologise to your child if you have lost your cool and reacted in an inappropriate way to a situation. Use feeling words when you talk with children about everyday situations, “You scored a goal! How exciting was that!”; or “It’s pretty disappointing that your friend can’t play with you today.” Invite children to describe their own feelings, “I’m feeling quite nervous about going to the dentist. How about you?”, or “when I am angry, I try to take a few deep breaths to calm down.” Demonstrate and explain to your child how to identify, label and manage emotions in a calm and helpful manner.

When young children are able to experience, express and manage emotions, they are equipped with the ability to establish positive and rewarding social connections with others. Positive emotions enable relationships to form, while struggles with expressing and coping with emotions leads to problems in social relationships. Research has also indicated that a mother’s advice and guidance about peer relationships significantly reduces aggression in boys, while improving girls’ prosocial behaviours, i.e., helping, sharing, caring and collaborating with others. In other words, social competence improves with mother’s coaching and positive responsiveness.

Talk to your child about how people’s feelings, beliefs, wants and intentions to improve your child’s social understanding and empathy. Use TV shows, movies or story books to talk to your child about what the characters may be feeling as a result of what others do. There are also many teachable moments available everyday. For example, if you notice your child being refusing to share his toys with a friend, you can say, “That makes him sad when you choose not to share,” instead of just saying, “stop it,” or “don’t do that”.

Research has shown that a mother’s EF, e.g., short-term memory, self-control, and cognitive flexibility contribute to their child’s development of EF.  In other words, high level cognitive tasks, including planning, problem solving and decision-making are essentially EF. For example, when a child shows an undesirable behavior, a mother has to use her EF skills to focus on relevant information, control her response in the presence of her own stress, plan and act as necessary according to situational demands. Rather than having negative or hasty reactions, she has to analyse the various situations through logic and emotions to plan and make decisions.

Besides role-modelling EF skills as a parent, you can teach and encourage your child to develop their own plans as they encounter new experiences –  for everything from celebrations (e.g., creating a plan to make a birthday fun and meaningful) to the most difficult of life’s challenges (e.g., creating a plan to remember the loss of a loved one). Let them practice writing out their plans, and then trying to execute and when necessary, adjust their plans. Set a few guidelines and try to allow them to explore as much as possible (Be a DOLPHIN Parent!) without overly correcting them or imposing your ideas on them. This way, children are given opportunities to integrate the key systems of the brain that boosts EF.

From the above, we caught a glimpse into how each aspect of SEC development in young children are supported by their relationship with their mothers. However, because mothers have such great influence on her child’s well-being, they too, feel often blamed for the way the child turns out. As such, mothers carry the burden of the responsibility of caregiving, which includes the struggle of dealing with expectations from themselves and others. Therefore, it is always important to remember that as a parent, you are also every bit as human and hence, will make mistakes from time to time. Children do not need to grow up in a “perfect” environment, rather they need to experience, understand and learn from how you adapt to problems and deal with your struggles too.