Before I know it, I have spent the last 15 years in the company of children. I wonder if it were mere coincidence, or just imagination on my part, but I find that the three-year-olds who enrol each year are increasingly delicate, with a predisposition towards clumsiness. My suspicions have been further affirmed by other teachers and fellow educators.
The consequence of small families with fewer children is that both parents tend to focus all their attention on their only child. It is understood that many families leave their toddlers in their baby walkers, even before they start crawling, out of fear that they could fall and hurt themselves. Since these toddlers lack the opportunity to crawl and explore at a very young age, they grow up to be children who are neither agile on their feet nor flexible with their fingers. I have even seen six- or seven-year old children who are still being pushed in their prams!
I pass by a primary school every day on my way to work. Although some of the children look like they are quite old already, their parents are still carrying the former’s bags. Those who are driven to school would be sent all the way to the school’s foyer; it seems as though their parents loathe to even have their children walk the short distance from the road. While it is understandable that parents should dote on their children, it does not seem healthy that every aspect of their lives is taken care of for them.
Moreover, parents, concerned that their children would be unhappy about what is being given to them, offer a myriad of options in food, clothing, and articles of daily use. As a consequence, these children become excessively choosy about their food and fail to grasp the meaning of moderation. Many of the parents of our new students would warn the teachers about their children’s food and other preferences instead of giving them free rein to try things out.
Nowadays, children have a healthy set of teeth, but they often do not know how to chew. Despite having four complete limbs, they are clumsy. When they get to school in the morning, they are often in a bad mood because they did not sleep well the night before. Many have developed the habit of skipping breakfast because they do not have the appetite. There are also those who eat only sausages, biscuits, or even candy, for breakfast. Their parents would actually accommodate these habits, instead of seeking to change them.
I once saw a four-year-old boy being carried up the stairs by his father. I could not help, but make a comment. The father explained himself with great earnestness: “If I don’t carry him now, I won’t be able to do it anymore very soon.” While it is true that children do grow up, this father should beware that his gesture of ‘carrying’ his child may turn into something that his son simply takes for granted.
I am probably being subjective in my criticism of parents of today. Perhaps their behaviour could be traced back to the way they were brought up. These young parents would have been born in the 1980s — the days when Singapore’s economy was booming and the family planning policy was implemented very successfully. Thus, they grew up in a time of plenty, with loads of pampering from their elders. Possessing strong personalities, they are not used to sharing with others. They also have their own take on how to bring up their children.
A father once told me that he allowed his three-year-old son to decide where they would have dinner every day to give the latter a sense of freedom. However, on one occasion, when the father failed to make it to the stipulated venue because of work commitments, the child threw a tantrum. In nurturing the son’s sense of freedom, the father had also cultivated his son’s belief that the freedom that he enjoys was an entitlement, without recognising that mutual respect for others should inform that freedom. The father was speechless when I pointed this fact out to him.
In the media, the phrases commonly used to describe Singaporeans nowadays include: “over-protected”; “lacking in tenacity”; “dare not take risks”; “inability to overcome difficulties”; “tendency to shirk responsibility”; and “no sense of mission”. Many commentators place the blame on the government, or the schools, without considering the fact that the children’s first exposure to life begins at home; moreover, their parents are their lifelong guardians. Even after the children have grown up and gotten married, their parents would still be their pillars of support. Schools are merely one of the stops in their lives. Hence, the parents have to bear the primary responsibility of how their children turn out, especially as they are their children’s first role models.
I feel it is pertinent to contemplate the above in a serious fashion precisely because early childhood education involves not only educating the young ones, but also their parents. Family upbringing is indeed a profound branch of learning. We should thus undertake more research in this area besides making appeals and providing guidance. Parents must first examine themselves critically and understand that they have much to learn in order to do a good job as guardians of their offspring, if they would like to see their children stand up on their own after falling, without bawling for help from the adults. They need to recognise that the children do not always require the adults to step in whenever they encounter any disputes. They should train their children to take care of their own needs and push them to persevere, instead of calling it quits at the snap of a finger. Ultimately, one cannot hold children accountable for their future as they are passive participants in a process in which their character and morals are moulded by the adults.