By Raf Dionisio (with consultant Maribel Dionisio, MA)
I co-own and manage social enterprises that help communities through tourism. People often ask me what made me give up my high-paying corporate job for a 24/7 commitment to uplift the conditions of some of the poorest of this country. The answer is and has always been simple: I grew up empowered. My parents raised me in such a way that instilled in me the idea that I can make good of whatever I have if (1) I try hard enough and (2) I believe in myself enough. It helped a lot that my mother was a relationship guru and an author of many parenting books.
Of course, not everyone has a relationship and family counselor on speed-dial. So I listened in on mom’s parenting talks that she does in different schools to get a better picture of parenting. I’ve connected each one to my personal experiences. Below are six tips my mother swears by (and I myself can validate)!
1. Spend one-on-one time with each child:
Nowadays, everyone is busy. With bumper-to-bumper traffic, a phone that never stops buzzing, endless emails, and challenges in life and work, it’s easy to forget that parents need to spend one-on-one time with their children. Yes, you heard it right: One. On. One.
Why is this important? In families with multiple kids, especially those who are close in age, kids will tend to compete for their parents’ attention. If they don’t fight for a parent’s time, then siblings fight each other for the littlest of things—where to eat, who gets the biggest piece, who sits in the front seat of the car, etc. The list is endless.
Remember the last time you had a one-on-one with your best friend where you were able to connect and talk really well? Wasn’t that nice? The same is true for parent-child relationships. Real quality time wouldn’t work if there was a third person. It’s rare in big families for a child to have deliberate, one-on-one time with mom or dad. Someone is always fighting for their attention. So when it does happen, it’s a treat.
Mom used to make sure to have one-on-one time with my brother, sister, and I every week. She would pick up one of us from school and go out for a snack with a P50 budget. (She was also teaching us financial management in the process). My dad, Allan, would take me out for hotdogs or ice cream on Saturdays. No matter how simple the date was, it provided me with the avenue to have my parent’s full attention. The result was better communication, which led to better relationships and less envy among us siblings.
2. Listen without judging
Being present physically is different from listening and being emotionally present and supportive. As adults, we often forget what it’s like to be a child. We’ve grown accustomed to multi-tasking—texting or browsing through something while talking to colleagues, employees, and even friends.
Talking to a child is simple—give them your full attention because they can tell when they don’t have it. Kids naturally want someone to listen to them and to be interested in what they are doing. Connecting with your child means listening to them and making them feel that you heard and understood them, regardless of what they did. Specifically, if a child likes something—he or she will do it again and again.
If a child watches a movie for the 10th time or plays a game for the 10th time, kids will not appreciate comments like—“you watched that again?!” or “Don’t you get bored doing that?” instead they will appreciate comments like “Wow you’ve watched/done this activity so often! You really like it huh? What is the best part about this movie/activity?” As with all adult relationships, asking follow up questions about a child’s interest helps build the bond and this is best done right after the activity.
I remember mom being particularly good at this, since I identified her early on as one of the people who was nice to share stories with. As I grew older, I realized that everyone who fit into this category of “masarap ka-kwentuhan” were people who would listen 100 percent, then ask follow up questions about topics that were important to me. What worked for me as a child still works for me as an adult.
3. Teach kids about natural and logical consequences
Children ages zero to 12 are at the age when they are trying to explore boundaries and rules. Their appreciation of the world is growing and, as they grow, they will eventually learn about limits and rules about what is legal or illegal, appropriate or inappropriate. When a child crosses the line, rather than punishing them, parents should explain to kids early on that for every action, there is a reaction and reason for that reaction.
If a child hits his or her playmate, then they are separated immediately. The offender is made to play on his or her own and is also separated from toys and other things that are fun. Why? This is the consequence of inappropriate behavior.
If a child lends or shares a toy with another child, then the second child may share or lend back with the first, as an act of reciprocation. This is again the natural reaction or consequence (albeit a good one).
This happened to me quite often, as I was bullying my younger brother growing up. I remember not wanting to share toys with him, so the consequence was he didn’t share back with me. I remember fighting him so the consequence was I was separated from him and kept alone in my room for the bad behavior. The result on both occasions was I felt lonely—something that I didn’t like as a child. So I had to be on better behavior if I wanted a playmate, or I needed to share if I wanted people to share back with me.
4. Help them make friends
As simple as it sounds, not every child is adept at making friends. Some will need more effort than others. Additionally, this is a skill that schools do not teach. It is a skill, however, that is a basic requirement for anyone to succeed in today’s interconnected and social world.
You can try to find other families who have kids of similar age; call your classmates or reach out to the parents of your child’s classmates. You can also do extra-curricular activities such as camps for kids, which can provide the venue for a child to make new friends while sharing these new experiences with others.
Mom and Dad have a lot of friends, and I remember mom telling me that other kids would be there and wanted to play the same games I liked to play— as a seven-year-old, games and playmates meant a lot of fun! Little by little, mom put me in situations where I could make more friends—with my cousins, with the kids of her friends, etc. Today, the friends I made as a child are still my friends, and people I work with in business.
5. Helping them try new things
Change is a constant thing and so it’s important that children learn how to deal with new experiences or things on a regular basis. Technology evolves so fast that they need to keep up! Putting children in different situations can also help them as they grow older—having prior experience with manual labor, or interacting with international personalities can help a child become well rounded, and allow them to adjust to many different contexts. Raise your child to enjoy new experiences and learning. Enroll them in activities that allow them to explore what they can do—individually or with others.
I used to be a couch potato—I was 11 years old, overweight, not into sports, and watched too much TV. So my folks asked me to join a summer camp in Zambales with other kids. I was terrified. I had never been away from mom and dad for more than a few hours and now they were sending me to the province for three days with my brother and one of mom’s closest friends.
I was scared because it was new, but as that weekend unfolded, tears of fear turned into laughter and smiles because I discovered myself on that trip—how I loved nature, met new friends, and learned how to cook and take care of myself! The new experiences helped create confidence to take some risk and try new things, because I knew how to handle different situations.
6. Teach them to learn on their own
For a child to enjoy learning more, it’s best that kids are taught how to learn on their own, or how to teach themselves about constant self-improvement. Asking your child questions for feedback on activities they do such as, “what can they do better so that it’s more fun” or “what can they change to make it better” will trigger their minds to analyze and find improvements. You can also teach kids how to properly and responsibly use Google or YouTube so that they can find the answers to questions they have. Encouraging curiosity can go a long way, as self-learning and continuous improvements are two characteristics of successful leaders.
Growing up, dad and grandma taught me about reading—and how to use it to learn more. I didn’t like it at first but grandma got me a fun book to read, and after forcing me to read for 15 minutes, I ended up reading for one hour (Grandma knew what I liked and was able to use this to teach me different skills). In terms of study habits, mom and dad also made me a lot of reviewers and games so that learning became exciting and competitive. Today we call this “game-ifying” learning. This principle of reading and playing games to learn stuck and I still use them today with my team.
There are plenty more other things that we want are our kids to learn, and these six are just some that parents do to help raise independent and confident children. If you’re looking for fun but educational activities for children, MAD Travel Kids holds Junior Heroes Camps every second and fourth Saturday of the month at the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan. Allow your kids to be changemakers at a young age by exposing them to lessons like environmental awareness, social business, and positive impact.
If you’re interested in parenting literature or parenting talks check out Facebook/MaribelSisonDionisio or look for the book Helping Our Children Do Well in School available in bookstores nationwide.