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Being unfocused when playing with toys, will it make it harder for them to concentrate on learning in the future?

October 2023

Source : Registered Clinical Psychologist, Yiu Fong Lee

 Some parents may notice that their children, aged 4 to 5, often have trouble staying focused when playing with toys. For example, they may play with one toy for only 2 minutes before switching to another, and they might take out all the toys in the room without cleaning up afterward. Parents may worry that if their children are so unfocused now, how will they fare in exams or when studying in the future?

 It turns out that when children’s brain development is not yet mature, their attention span can be a bit short. Research has found that mindfulness can help improve children’s focus, especially by training their frontal lobes, which can enhance their attention and concentration.

 There are some mindfulness games that can be used as a reference. For example, parents can use certain apps with visual cues. Children can follow these apps, for instance, there might be an image of a balloon that inflates when they breathe in and deflates when they breathe out. This way, by following their breath, children can improve their ability to concentrate. Additionally, there’s a practice called ‘Statue,’ which many parents might remember from their own childhood. In this exercise, children must sit still and watch an app or a timer for a specific duration to see how long they can remain seated calmly.

“Then, if children manage to do this, you can introduce an additional element, which is auditory distractions. For example, you can include some simple sounds, like calm music. If the children succeed with that, you can gradually introduce more challenging elements, such as cartoons or anything they enjoy, to see if they can stay focused on the app and their breathing in a more distracting environment. This helps train their concentration.

 Secondly, we can try implementing some rules and visual reminders. You can tell the children that there is a rule when it comes to playing games or with toys: they have to finish playing with one thing before they start with another, and they should spend at least 5 to 10 minutes playing with each item before switching. You can use some pictures to show them one toy, then cleaning up that toy, and then moving on to the next. In between, you can indicate that they should play with each toy for 5 to 10 minutes.” 

What is interactive reading? What are the techniques and steps for engaging in interactive reading with children?

October 2023

Source: Educational psychologists, Shum Ka Man and Tang Wai Yan

 Interactive reading is when parents and children engage in reading through conversation. The main difference between interactive reading and traditional reading aloud lies in the fact that traditional reading aloud often involves parents telling stories to children or, in some cases, parents’ intention to teach children to recognize words, focusing primarily on word recognition. However, the advantage of interactive reading is not just about word recognition; it aims to foster a positive parent-child relationship and help children express themselves through conversation.

 In interactive reading, children take on an active role, where they can ask questions and guide the conversation through these questions and answers, thereby enhancing their reading comprehension skills. When parents engage in interactive reading with children, they should consider what questions to ask and what steps to follow. There are various ways for parents to ask questions, and we teach them a prompting framework that includes five different question types, abbreviated as ‘CROWD.’

 C stands for Completion, where questions can be posed in a fill-in-the-blank manner. R represents Recall, encouraging children to remember what happened earlier in the story. O denotes Open-ended questions, allowing children to speculate about what might happen next. W represents Wh questions, covering the six Ws: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Finally, D stands for Distancing questions, which prompt children to relate the story to their own life experiences, asking how the story connects to their daily lives.

Interactive reading also follows a framework called ‘PEER.’

The first step is ‘Prompt,’ which refers to the types of questions asked. The second step is ‘Evaluate,’ where after asking questions, you can provide responses to the child. ‘Evaluate’ involves giving positive encouragement to the child, such as praising them when they answer correctly, saying, ‘You did a great job; you listened very attentively.’ If they answer incorrectly, it’s still important to encourage them, saying, ‘You tried very hard!’ and then attempt to find the answer together in the book.

 Next is ‘Expand’ (E), which means expanding on what the child says. If a child’s response is brief, you can add adjectives or other details to make the sentence richer. Finally, there’s ‘Repeat’ (R), where after listening to the story, the child repeats the story, which can help improve their oral language skills.

Apart from during reading, can parents utilize dialogic techniques in their everyday lives?

October 2023

 Source: Educational psychologists, Shum Ka Man and Tang Wai Yan

 The techniques used in dialogic reading, including questioning and the subsequent interaction between parents and children, can actually be applied and practiced not only in reading but also in everyday life.

 For example, during playtime or when encountering something new while out shopping or seeing objects around, these questioning methods can be applied. As for the steps, we engage in a conversation and exchange with the child. For instance, if we are playing with trains at home, parents can use a questioning approach like, ‘When we’re on transportation, what do we usually ride?’

 These methods can encourage children to express themselves more and foster greater interaction with their parents. Besides play, children often enjoy drawing. During the process of drawing, you can also employ dialogic reading techniques. For example, ask questions like, ‘What is the content of this drawing?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘When did you see this? Could it be related to the playground equipment we saw at the park last week?

  These are actually just a part of the dialogic reading techniques, and there are some additional tips for dialogic reading. For example, deliberate pauses are important for us. Sometimes, parents may be a bit impatient and expect an immediate response after asking a question. However, we should give children some space and time to answer gradually. Children need time to organize their thoughts and sentences. If we remember the techniques of dialogic reading, they can help us be more patient in our everyday conversations with children.

Let go of anxiety; don’t become a monster parent

October 2023

Written by Marriage and Family Therapist, Child Play Therapist, Rachel Ng

 

When my son was in the first grade, I often encountered the same group of parents at the pick-up and drop-off station. One of the parents had a son who coincidentally attended the same school and grade as my son, so we gradually became acquainted. It was also during that time that I began to witness what was called “monster parents”!

 

She would frequently ask about my child’s extracurricular activities because her son was enrolled in various classes every day, sometimes even attending two in a single day. On the other hand, I struggled to list many activities for my son. He enjoyed exploring and creating games at home, finding his own joy. I also saw that he was able to grasp the lessons taught at school, so I felt that there was no need for him to participate in additional extracurricular activities. Always, my wish for him was to be happy.

 

 

However, gradually, when most of the parents around you gather and chatter about what their children are learning, what levels they’ve achieved in music and language exams, and so on, I, who originally believed in the “go with the flow” approach, began to feel anxious. I couldn’t help but question whether I was a lazy, unambitious, and neglectful mother who didn’t plan for her child’s future!

And so, I also began to enroll my child in various courses, but the resistance I encountered was beyond what I had ever imagined. During the years from my son’s second to fourth grade, even though the number of courses he attended was not extensive, conflicts often arose between mother and son due to the insistence on him participating in additional extracurricular activities. I couldn’t bear to see both of us suffer from the results of these clashes, so I asked myself: “What is truly important for a child? To possess a wealth of knowledge but carry an unhappy heart, or to have a lively, cheerful, and positively charged life?” Even though I hadn’t yet studied marriage and family therapy at that time, I still believed that a harmonious family relationship was the cornerstone for a child to have a healthy life.

 

In the end, I decided to no longer “force” my son to participate in activities he disliked. By letting go in this manner, I actually created space for him to learn to take responsibility for his own decisions. He would let me know what he wanted to learn or even if he wanted to attend Chinese tutoring at the appropriate time. These exercises in autonomy and responsibility, unwittingly, became invaluable assets for my son in the future. They proved beneficial in his education and career, leading to success in every aspect.

 

 

In reality, many parents, like myself back then, find themselves in an environment of intense competition, where they see other mothers doing the same crazy things. This makes those actions seem not crazy, but rather the norm. Even if reluctantly, they feel compelled to do the same. However, children find various ways to express to us that they are struggling, that they cannot accept it! The question is, do mothers really see it? If parents have a short-sighted perspective and are anxious only about gaining an initial advantage, focusing solely on creating fleeting competitive edges for their children while neglecting to establish qualities that contribute to their long-term development, then in the end, the casualties may extend beyond just the mother-child relationship to include the child’s life itself!

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Parents Zone

How to cultivate a child’s manners? Respect and attention are essential

October 2023

Written by: Education expert, Principal Cheung Wai jing

 At a talent recruitment event for a large multinational company, both Siu Cheung and Siu Choi successfully passed the initial and follow-up interviews. They stood out from over 100 competitors. Whether it was written tests or communication skills, both were equally impressive, leaving the human resources department’s evaluators in a dilemma, as the company would only hire one person.

 In the end, the company manager decided to personally interview both candidates. Surprisingly, after just a few minutes, the manager chose to hire Siu Cheung. When asked for the reason, the manager candidly stated, “The reason is simple. When I was speaking to them, Siu Cheung maintained eye contact with me the whole time, while Siu Choi was looking around, indicating that he wasn’t good at actively listening to others. Being adept at listening and respecting clients is a crucial requirement for a sales supervisor.”

 Expressing Sincerity and Respect through Eye Contact

 This example illustrates a straightforward lesson: eyes are the windows to the soul, and people use their gaze to convey a range of emotions such as respect, attention, disdain, and indifference. Therefore, maintaining consistent eye contact during conversations signifies your sincerity. Moreover, those who can attentively focus on others’ words without shifting their gaze will naturally earn gratitude and respect from others.

 Schools often organize activities centered around the theme of “politeness” to encourage students to be courteous to others. “Others” includes not only family members, elders, teachers, and fellow students but also unfamiliar people. Children should learn early on about polite phrases like “good morning” and “thank you,” but many still don’t proactively greet others, let alone observe other daily life etiquette. Schools focus on teaching students how to behave politely when interacting with teachers and peers in the school setting; the rest relies on family education.

 

 

The example of “job hunting” mentioned above might not be applicable to elementary school students for the time being, but they also frequently have opportunities for interviews. If they want to leave a good impression on others, children must learn to use their eyes to show their attention and respect when conversing with others. Therefore, parents need to teach children the skills and art of listening. Of course, when parents listen to their children, they should also give them appropriate respect and attention. This way, children will learn that politeness in interpersonal interactions knows no age or status boundaries. Here are three listening tips:

1. When listening to someone, avoid looking around and instead focus on the person’s eyes.

2. When you understand or share the same sentiment, use your eyes to communicate and show agreement.

3. Gazing at someone doesn’t mean staring fixedly at them; doing so can actually come across as impolite.

In literature, characters are often described as having “eyes that speak.” In reality, everyone has eyes like that; as long as we utilize them well, they can be more persuasive than the words we speak.

Is an electronic pacifier a quality toy?

October 2023

Written by: Speech Therapist, Lee Wing Yan

 With the advancement of technology and material abundance nowadays, it’s not hard to see that tablets are being used as “electronic pacifiers” for young children. Regardless of the occasion, whenever parents bring out this “electronic pacifier” and play YouTube videos, children sit quietly, and adults can focus on their tasks. Since tablets and smartphones can calm young children and provide educational games and videos for learning, does that mean they are quality toys?

 The key to selecting “quality toys” lies in whether young children can genuinely learn from them. Indeed, educational videos and interactive games can offer the cognitive concepts that preschoolers need to learn, but we also need to consider how preschoolers actually learn language.

 Recent foreign research explores the impact of the parent-child interaction pattern on language development one year later (i.e., at age 3). The study found that the presence of “connectedness” between parents and children during interactions most influenced the child’s subsequent language development, including whether both parties participated in the same activity in turns. Additionally, children’s learning of verbs, such as “I eat” in “eat” or “Mom drinks water” in “drink,” directly affects their future language development (from the three examples above, it’s clear that to form complete sentences, children need to recognize a certain number of verbs).

 Seizing everyday life opportunities to teach verbs through activities

 So, can tablets and smartphones achieve the mentioned “connectedness”? Based on my daily observations, children tend to use tablets and smartphones alone, and they resist it when parents want to intervene. Furthermore, most of what children learn from videos are limited to English alphabets, counting, nursery rhymes, cartoon character names, or specific dialogues from cartoon characters. But what about verbs? Verbs are often easily overlooked in videos because children can learn them more effectively by doing them in real situations! For example, teaching a child the action of “brushing teeth” doesn’t it involve singing a nursery rhyme “Up and down the brush,” repeatedly emphasizing the action of “brushing,” and brushing teeth together with them? In daily life, whether during bath time, cooking, playing with toys, or going to the park, parents can take the opportunity to teach relevant verbs used in different scenarios through interactive activities.

Furthermore, research also indicates that the quality of interaction between parents and young children during play and reading, including the vocabulary adults input to children and the spontaneous “baby talk” from children, is higher compared to when using tablets and smartphones. Scholars generally believe that young children’s language learning primarily occurs through interaction with people. Therefore, if young children excessively use tablets and smartphones, reducing interaction with family members, it may be detrimental to their language development.

 So, what defines a “quality toy”? Whether it’s choosing tablets, smartphones, or traditional toys like dolls, puzzles, and toy cars, the most important aspect to consider is:

 Does it promote interaction and communication between parents and children?

Does it replace original opportunities for parent-child interaction?

 

In parent-child interaction and communication, parents can use various communication techniques to enrich the child’s language environment. These techniques have been mentioned in the previous article on “Four Communication Styles.” Toys are, in fact, just tools. Through toys and quality interaction, we aim to enhance young children’s language development.