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Are You a Helicopter Parent?

14 Oct 2015

Are you a helicopter parent

Christine Sim with her husband Peter and sons Nicholas and Collin.

How far would you go in your effort to bring out the best in your child? One mum went from timing her son’s lunch breaks with a stopwatch to seeing the error of her overprotective and micromanaging ways. 

Mrs Christine Sim, 52, was a self-confessed “helicopter mum” who would do anything to put her children ahead of others. “I was a kiasu parent,” she says. “If other parents said something was good, I’d do it for my kids.”

When her two sons were in kindergarten, she would make them rewrite their assignments because she wanted their handwriting to be impeccable. When her son Nicholas, now 18, was in primary school, she trained him to eat fast by timing him.

I was scared he wouldn’t have enough time to finish his food during recess because he was a slow eater,” she says, “so I trained him to finish his meal before the timer rang or I’d take away the food.”

She ended up packing sandwiches for him daily.

“Looking back, that was a mistake,” she says. “Even when he was in Primary 4, he didn’t want to buy his own food.” The boys didn’t seem to enjoy school much.

Changing Perspectives

Mrs Sim’s perspective on parenting changed when she joined the Parent Support Group (PSG) at Loyang Primary School. She helped organise parenting talks and gained useful tips from the other parents in the group. She realised that what worked for one child might not work for another.

“I learnt that every child is unique and each has their own learning style,” Mrs Sim says. She started tailoring her teaching approach to suit each child’s interests. She taught Nicholas Maths by using blocks, which he loved. She used jigsaw puzzles to teach Collin – her younger son who’s now 15 – how to spell. Mrs Sim found that her children enjoyed learning a lot more with her new approaches.

“It’s important to spend time with your kids to find out their interests and strengths,” Mrs Sim says. She also didn’t feel the need to enrol her sons in tuition classes as she and her husband were around to coach them in their revision. She felt it was a better way monitor her children’s progress and grades.

Taking part in the PSG activities also gave Mrs Sim more opportunities to interact with the teachers. With a better understanding of what was taught at school, Mrs Sim felt more equipped to help her children in their studies. It didn’t matter that her children were not top of their classes. She was happy to see them become more independent learners.

Among her proudest moments was when Collin was involved in a terrarium demonstration at the Singapore Garden Festival in 2010. He spent hours researching, building and caring for his terrarium. “I saw how much heart and effort he put into it,” Mrs Sim says. “He was so proud that his hard work paid off.” Collin was picked to present the then-Minister for National Development Mr Mah Bow Tan with a terrarium at the event’s appreciation dinner.

Making Better Choices

Mrs Sim was able to give her children sound advice when the time came for them to choose their secondary schools. She encouraged them to make their own decisions and look beyond their aggregate scores. She told them to think about how they could contribute to the school based on their strengths.

“If you like something, you’ll put in a lot of effort,” she says. “I tell them, ‘if you focus on your strengths, on something you’ll enjoy, you’ll excel. If you pursue something you don’t like, learning will be a torture.’”

Nicholas decided on Hai Sing because of the school’s strong taekwondo programme. He went on to win several awards for the school and is now a taekwondo black belter. Collin, on the other hand, chose Anglican High because he wanted to be on the debate team. He’s now an eloquent debater and a student councillor.

“They have to be happy with their own learning journeys,” Mrs Sim says. She found it rewarding to watch them mature and discover their talents. In fact, Nicholas attended open houses at the polytechnics on his own before he even graduated from secondary school. He aimed to qualify for one of the business courses because he was inspired by business leaders like Warren Buffet and Robert Kiyosaki. “He wanted to give himself one year to work towards his goal,” she says.

While grades are important, Mrs Sim constantly reminds her children that paper qualifications aren’t everything. “Having good qualifications doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. Having a good attitude and character is just as important,” she says. “What differentiates you from everyone else is your skill. Show them what you have to offer.”

Mrs Sim believes in imparting life skills so that her children are prepared to face the working world. “How you manage your time, anger and stress is very important when you start working,” she says. She teaches them how to weigh the pros and cons when making decisions and encourages them to pick themselves up and move on when things don’t go their way. When Nicholas didn’t qualify for the business course he wanted, she advised him to explore his other strengths such as writing.

Paying it Forward

Today, Nicholas is enjoying his Communications course at Singapore Polytechnic. “He’s become more confident and sociable because the course requires him to meet people.” She is equally proud of Collin, who is using his public speaking skills to encourage his schoolmates through devotional sharing at school.

Serving in the PSG has not only changed her view of parenting, but it has also helped the family bond. “Because I know what’s going on in school, we have so much more to talk about,” Mrs Sim says. “I’m making memories with my children.”

Mrs Sim continues to serve as a parent volunteer even though her children have long graduated from Loyang Primary School. “The school has given us so much and built such a strong foundation in my kids,” she says. “Now it’s time for me to give back.”