When Ms Carol Loi’s daughter was just a baby, Carol wanted her young child to practise making decisions. Despite her own doubts, she gave it a try. She was surprised to find that even infants are capable of making simple choices.

“When I showed my baby two outfits, she would look at them and eventually her eyes would land on one. So young children are smarter than we think,” she recounted with a laugh.

As a mum to two young adults now aged 17 and 20, Carol was a working mother who raised both daughters with a combination of childcare and home-based help. As a busy young mother, she would find herself reflecting on either to raise her kids to fit her schedule, or vice versa. She realised that neither option was feasible. “It’s about maintaining a healthy balance between our own adult schedules and respecting their different developmental needs at the same time”.

Recognise that children develop at different rates

Carol pointed out that different children develop at different rates. Some reach their developmental milestones earlier while others reach theirs later. The important thing is to not compare, be patient and adjust our expectations to their growth timeframe.

“As your kids grow, we need to know when to loosen the reins and when to let go”, she says. Take children’s use of devices for example: we need to understand what is healthy and appropriate at each stage. For young children whose brains are still developing, it is best to limit screen time to avoid overstimulation.

Talk about our own failures and how we learn from them

Carol observed that because children today are exposed to so many more things, they mature earlier. One way that parents can connect with them is to share their personal stories and failures. “My kids love to listen to unglam stories about me. When they hear them, they know that mummy and daddy make mistakes too and they learn about how we overcome our failures.”

Another effective way she has found to teach her children independence and resilience is to role-play with them scenarios they may encounter. It could be how to deal with strangers when they are young, or as they grow older, about appropriate behaviour when over at friends’ homes. Through these “pretend-play”, she equips them with the necessary tools they can use should these situations arise.

Be a safe harbour for your children

Carol also emphasises that it is really important that parents become a safe harbour for their children. Start by showing respect to them and withholding judgement, she suggests. “Kids are really good at reading their parents' body language. If they see a disapproving facial expression, they may think: “Mummy is judging me” and clam up.” Conversely, by providing a safe space, your children know that there is always a place they can return to when they encounter failure and difficulties.

To parents who want to help their kids build the skills to handle life’s challenges, Carol has this to say: Start young. But even if you didn’t, know that it’s never too late to try.

The content of this article was adapted from a Facebook Live session that Ms Carol Loi, co-founder of SGFamilies and member of the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships, had with Minister of State Sun Xueling.