Trisha Reloaded

Dedicated to Trisha, as always. Dedicated also to L, my source of inspiration, and the reason why I choose to see the bright side of teaching.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Being a Parent-Coach

Being a parent of an 8-year old girl, I'm often asked by other parents if my girl is taking this or that lesson. Like, is she taking piano, swimming, or ballet lessons? Does she go for abacus lessons, or Kumon (since she's struggling with Maths in school) or Speech and Drama (since she's quite shy)?

The answer is, No. Other than a ballet class which lasted barely 1 year, my daughter has not attended any extra-curricular or enrichment classes taught by professional teachers and coaches. Going by modern, middle-class parenting standards, this is quite an anomaly, especially since I have only one child and many would assume it is my duty to pour as much resources as I can afford on her. Some parents have reacted with a bit of shock at my lax attitude towards what they deem to be essential developmental classes for children which would give them a headstart in life. Why would an educated parent like me not invest in my child's development by having her learn a skill from a professional?

To be honest, I struggle with this question quite a bit. Not least because I see practically every kid I know of learning piano, earning silver or gold awards for swimming etc. There are 2 main reasons why my girl is not one of them.

1) She has no interest in attending classes taught by strangers. She is, by nature, wary and shy towards strangers. This could be both a strength and a weakness, but for now, rather than force her to attend a class, I prefer to not force her if she feels uncomfortable about it.

The seond reason is more important to me, and it is this:
2) I believe, as far as possible, that the parent should be the coach, rather than an external, unfamiliar person who doesn't know your child's personality, needs and insecurities. I think many parents either claim they don't have the time, or the skill to teach their child, say swimming, and so outsource it to a swimming coach but I would like to challenge parents to make the time to teach your child something that you do know, or if you don't know how to swim, attend a swimming class together with your child! After all, if you feel swimming is important for your child to learn, then what excuse do you have for not knowing how to swim?

My daughter has told me unequivocally that she wants ME to be her coach and I have not regretted the moments we have shared while I teach her whatever skills I have. I have taught her how to play badminton (she's in the school's Badminton Club now), tennis, table-tennis, pickle-ball, and even the recorder. Just last week, she learnt how to cycle on a 2-wheel bike, thanks to Mama Coach. We are still working on swimming, which would take a longer time since it necessitates a more troublesome visit to a public pool.

What are the benefits of being a parent-coach? Well, I can't quantify the value of parent-child bonding. Unlike a coach who may use a more demanding and impersonal teaching style on my child, my girl and I have mostly lots of fun in the teaching and learning process, and the sense of achievement and thrill when your child has mastered something - like hitting a smash in badminton - is shared by both the learner and the teacher in a way which is more meaningful and memorable than getting a tangible acknowledgement like a certificate.

At the end of the day, I want my daughter to have fond memories of the times we had when "mummy taught me how to cycle". If you outsource most of these to external parties, then it is a real pity I feel. Of course, I am no pro and I may not be teaching my child the correct methods. But since I am not too concerned about raising an Olympic champion, I think I can live with such imperfection. She can always go on to learn from a proper coach later on once the interest is ignited by me.

Lest you think I'm disdaining such external classes, I must emphasize that I do see the role of these classes to teach various skills at a more professional level. By all means, enrol your child in such classes if you feel your child needs the discipline and rigours of proper training. But do not neglect the importance of being a parent-coach. Some skills can be learnt in a more relaxed way, and I'd bet if you ask your child, he may just tell you he won't mind having you as a coach.

There are 6 weeks in the year-end holidays. Ample time for your child to learn a new skill. Why not teach your child something? Then when your child utters, "My Daddy taught me this!", you'll know it's all worth it!

"Parents are the pride of their children." Proverbs 17:6b.


At 8:07 PM, Anonymous rachel tan said...

hi, came across your blog via mr brown's.

have to say 'i also say' to your post today! :) am glad to find another person who feels this way about those extra classes & lessons. my take: my 2-year old isn't attending preschool & i've been asked why i'm not sending him to one yet. am using the 'we-just-came-home-from-overseas-so-give-him-some-time-to-adjust' reason. reckon it's easier to say that than this - why is it that people here think kids should be 'schooled' as early as possible? how much 'headstart' can these schools give the kids that parents can't by reading to them, bringing them out (sans maid!), & simply spending time with them?

while i agree that it'll be great for my little man to socialise with other kids his age, surely he can have that experience too when we join a playgroup? also, i loathe to stick him into the whole school-going structure before he's had his fill of unstructured fun. this, i have to admit, comes from my experience when i was in the teaching service. felt kinda sorry for those kids who have ccas in school, extra activities after school, plus the usual tuition lessons. when do they get to have plain silly fun?

thanx for sharing your thoughts on this issue.

At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I whole-heartedly agree. Today's parents push their kids into all kinds of classes, tuition and activities. The time that they actually spend bonding with their children becomes less than what is already sorely lacking.

I'm glad that your daughter had requested for you to be her coach. I'm sure you'll have many happy times with her ahead of you. :)

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous cabtrix said...

As a student, I'd like to say that yep, my mum taught me how to swim, to ride a bike, to do housework, to play several sports all the good values and what-not, and quite importantly, to cook - and I think I'm better off for it.
Yes, I'm not exactly competitive material, but that's because of me, not of my parents.

May you have many happy times ahead with your daughter :D

At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was happy that my parents did not force me to continue on with my organ lessons, though when i grew up i wish i had learnt more in depth then.
Then again, if i was really forced to learn all those activities, i would have a depressing childhood.
How much value do these additional lessons really give us, i wonder. How many of us that used to learn ballet for example, when we were young, say that we loved it now that we were 'taught'?

i agree with you in spending time coaching your daughter and i am sure she will certainly have good memories of it since she is doing what she truely loves-- spending time with mummy! =)

At 5:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While parent-coach works for you (congrats!), I think it doesn't work for everyone.

Some parents get emotional and impatient when the children don't meet their expectations; some children challenge the authority because they know how to bully their parents. Often the children end up learning nothing, or worse, in tears when the two sides get emotional.

:) I think that's why a lot of parents prefer sending their children to classes.

At 10:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think whether to parent-coach or leave it to the professionals really depend on the child's inclination. Every child is unique especially in how they learn best. Parents know this more than the teachers in school because they have 30 odd others to take care of too.

Having said that, I think children should only go for classes when they want to; not forced to.

A colleague of mine told me this - his son went for art lessons for almost a year but could only doodle miserably every session. He promised no more lessons at the end of the month. And the boy came home with an A on the last day of the arts lesson!

His son may be a Picasso but he would not be happy as Picasso ... my colleague saw the light finally.

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

here some tips to teach your kid how to swim. the most importance task is to get their head underwater without fear.
How to do that, play a game of searching stone in shallow water. this is to get her head into the water to look at the stone. to make the stone, you can use a small piece of cloth and wrap some sand or small pebbles.
When the kid can submerge head in water, teach them to float by relaxing, and finally the use of both limbs.

At 2:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I have the patience to coach my kids. But right now, I have neither the inclination nor the courage to do it.

My kids are taking formal music classes. They started at 3 or so. Why? I went to Sec 1 with 39 other girls; and on the first day of school, the class teacher wants to know who knows music. 38 hands shot up. I don't want my kids to go through how I felt then. It is materialistic and shallow, but the feeling sucks when you are a 13-year-old.

I want to give my kids the opportunity to learn when they are young. It is so easy for them to pick up skills now. I am taking violin lesson with my 7-year-old and it is obvious he is far better at it than me. One day when my kids are older and more mature; when they can make more informed decisions; or when they can't cope, I'll let them stop the lessons. But right now, Mommy decides.

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Scruffy Dosser said...

I applaud your decision not to load your kid with extra classes. My parents forced me to learn the piano for eight years, all so that they could proudly proclaim at the end of it all that I had passed Grade 8. The only effect it had on my personal development was to greatly sour my relationship with them and to develop a painful aversion to music that lasted for three years after I was finally allowed to stop. I rediscovered music studying at an overseas university, with the help of voluntary classes taken with professors who did not chase me around the piano with a cane, and now see that most Singaporean kids who are forced to learn music are perhaps learning how to read music, and how to perform a sequence of arm and finger movements, but have no real understanding of music as a language and a culture at all. There is something mechanistic in the way parents force such classes on to their children, as though they are forcing them to eat vitamins. They never understand that it is meaningless to learn a skill, especially an artistic skill, unless you learn what the art means.

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Wayne said...

Trisha, You are doing your child a huge disservice to not allow her to be able to develop relationships with other adults. She will need to know how to negotiate and benefit from such relationships for the rest of her life, whether it be as a student, worker, or member of the community.

Not only does she need to learn how to negotiate the leader/instructor relationship, she needs to learn how to work in groups, how to be part of the whole. By being in classroom settings, or any sort of a group setting, she's learning how groups work, how to speak up in groups, how to influence other people, how the needs of the group sometimes outweight her own personal needs. This is life.

You say she has told you "unequivocally" that she wants you to be her coach. I don't buy it. Your influence is in there. Even if your influence was not, you are the parent and you need to decide what's best for her development. She doesn't just get what she wants; she gets what you decide she needs (with some input from her but mostly based on your authoratitive analysis of the situation).

We have in our world too many "me-focused" children who have no idea of their impact on groups. Say a child is in a dance class. The group is learning a choreographed dance. All the kids have committed to learn the dance. Each person's part builds on the parts of others. This is interdepence, this is how life works. If your child gets in a snit and decides to quit, her decision affects the whole group. Kids don't understand this today. They aren't encouraged and taught how to operate in groups.

We need this.

I'm not saying that your child is quitting on a group. She has not started. But when she decides to go into a group, her skills will not be developed. So she is shy -- fine. So she's not in 10 groups, maybe 1 or 2. But she needs to be in groups. Structured groups with a leader other than you. She needs to see that the dynamic between you and her is not the only dynamic between her and other adults. That would be a huge mistake.

Your role as a parent is to coach yourself out of a job. To make yourself obsolete. You don't want her to need you when she's an adult. Eventually. You might be gone. Even if you are not, she will want to know how to fend for herself. It gives her so much more to offer to another person in building a life.

Being all things to your daughter might on the surface seems selfless. But it's not. It's quite detrimental and quite focused on your needs and your comfort zone. That needs to change for the benefit of your daughter.

Good luck to you,

Mark F.


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