When was the last time you spent 24 hours of your day with your spouse or your children? This pandemic has made that a reality, for all of us.

In the beginning of this circuit breaker, some of us rejoiced at the time we would get to spend with our families, especially our children. 4 weeks in, not so much.

Research has shown that this quarantine can mess up our emotions. Losing our sense of routine, replaced with feelings of being trapped. Sparking boredom, frustration, irritability, loneliness, stress or even anger.

The fact that we are home all the time, unable to grab a coffee with a friend, go to the gym or have our favourite bubble tea, or any of our usual forms of release, only magnifies our internal tension. As adults, though we are capable of self-control, we still struggle with not letting our emotions take over our actions and words. More often than not, they sometimes spill over in our interactions with the people who are closest to us.

In the same way, our children are experiencing the same emotions as us, except that they may not be able to articulate or as effectively manage what they are feeling.

They are able to understand tangible realities like the fact that they cannot see their friends anymore, that the number of COVID-19 cases are rising each day, that they cannot buy their favourite food or snacks, the change in the way they have to learn. These external influences put a demand on their emotional well-being and could lead to anxiety.

Their self-awareness has not fully developed yet, which means that they do not entirely understand their emotional response to these realities; what they are feeling or why they are feeling it. This may result in behaviour that we do not expect, or have never seen previously.

It could look like your child crying over things that usually would not affect them, seemingly minor incidents, like losing a game they were playing, or that their pencil is not sharp enough. Perhaps they get easily irritated when someone is speaking too loudly in the house. When you ask a simple question like, “what are you doing?”, they react as if you are interrogating. Maybe they spend long periods of time in their room without interacting with you. They do things to provoke their siblings more often, or become fussier with what they will and will not eat. They follow you around wherever you go, or they ask way too many questions that they expect you to answer even when you are visibly busy.

In response, we sometimes hear ourselves say, “why are you so nice to your friends but with me you are…”. The truth is, when our children act up, show a tantrum, lash out or are rude to us, it also signals to us that they feel comfortable and safe to show that side of themselves to you. It may not always be a bad thing for them to express their negative emotions.

As parents, we do our best to understand our children’s’ behaviour, because we want to help them. Sometimes we are unable to do much because we do not know how to approach them, or they do not know how to respond to us.

We might even find ourselves in a vicious cycle where their anger triggers our own, and we end up in an escalating shouting match.

This does not have to be the case. When we respond in a way that they do not expect, we throw in a circuit breaker. Much like how the COVID-19 CB has disrupted our lives, this circuit breaker disrupts the potential heated argument, and turns it into teachable moments for our children.

In order to help you facilitate these conversations with your children, whether it is to build your relationship with them, or to help them navigate their thoughts and feelings, here are some tools that you can use to communicate better with them:

CREATING A SAFE SPACE

When speaking to your children, especially about things that are more personal, like their feelings, it is necessary that they feel safe to share them with you.

If you scolded them for something they did or got frustrated with them, it is alright to not rectify it at that moment. When our emotions are high, we are not in a state to listen to anybody. As parents, we have nuggets of wisdom to share with our children so that they can become the best versions of themselves.

However, when they are emotionally frustrated or hurt, that wisdom is short changed because they are not ready to listen. Anything that we say can come off as a personal attack to them or taken out of context.

What matters is that we create a safe space: calm, dessert (optional but preferable), conversation friendly.

Remind them that there is no correct or wrong answer. It is a time and space where you and your child can be vulnerable and not be judged for it.

As they share, we should bite our tongue and avoid commenting on what they are sharing. With every word they share, they are also testing the boundary to see how much they can open up or how much they should hold back. When we respond too quickly without allowing them to finish, they may not feel like they can be honest with you.

Most importantly, we should keep to our word and not let our objections show, or act defensive, especially if their sharing may imply something negative about us. It is not a time to point out their flaws or find fault. It is a time where we seek to understand them better.

VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS

After we have created a safe space for them, they will begin sharing what they are feeling and going through. It is not easy for them or anyone to share things that we are not proud of or things that make us feel small or think negatively about ourselves. When they make themselves vulnerable, do validate their feelings.

Phrases that echo what they are feeling like, “that must have been very difficult for you to go through” or “it must have been very frustrating when that happened”, gives them the confidence to share more.

Affirm them for being brave enough to share. Listen to what they are saying. When we acknowledge and validate their feelings, we help to build their self-esteem. We empower them to accept both their positive and negative feelings, and to not always act on it. Instead of judging with the benefit of hindsight, how they could have handled the situation better, help them see that it is okay to err, and they do not have to be afraid to try again.

CHECK-INS AND CHECK-OUTS

Questions like “how are you feeling about this circuit breaker” or “why are you behaving this way”, can be loaded questions that will lead to silence or your children shutting you out. One way to help them open up, is by starting with simple questions like:

Check-In at the start of the day: What is 1 thing you want to do today? It can be anything they want to accomplish for themselves, not what you expect them to do.

Check-Out at the end of the day: what is 1 win we want to celebrate?

You may get one word answers like, “nothing” or a blank stare. Do not be disheartened. Perhaps you can model the way and share first. Or perhaps find a different tack: “What is 1 fruit that would describe how your day went?”

Help them to recognise the small wins in their day. Simple questions like these are light and easy for them to respond to. When they feel comfortable sharing the small things, it allows you to build towards sharing something deeper later on.

FAMILY JOURNALLING TIME

For some of us, we may not be comfortable with verbal communication. Another method that we could try is writing down our thoughts and feelings. You could set aside one notebook for the family to write anything that they would like to share, but may not be comfortable saying it face to face. You may also ask each member of the family to have their own notebook, where they could write about different things each day, and let each other read about it. Things like:

  • One thing that made me frustrated
  • One thing that was exciting
  • One thing that I am grateful for
  • Something I read or heard that made me smile
  • A song that was stuck in my head today

Remember that this is not a composition exercise and that you do not need to correct spelling and grammar as you read their journal entries.  

DAILY DOODLES

Sometimes, speaking or writing may not be the best medium to express themselves. They may not be able to find the right words to describe how they are feeling. Consider using doodles as a form of expression instead. Before the day begins or when the day ends, you could spend 5 minutes with them drawing a picture that describes how each of your day was like.

If they feel that they are not good at drawing, let them google images, use magazines or even newspaper cut-outs to make collages that can help describe their day.

You could also prompt them to explain what they put together with neutral questions like, “could you share with me what this is over here?” and “what is so special about it that you chose to add it into your picture?”.

TALK ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS

This could be the source for the roller coaster of emotions we all have been feeling. Our children have the access to the same information that we have. However, most of their news sources are often sensationalised versions they encounter on their social media pages. Speaking to an informed adult could help them have an accurate idea of what is really happening outside of your home.

You could begin with asking them these questions:

  • What’s the funniest piece of news you have heard about Covid-19?
  • What are your friends doing during the circuit breaker? Are they bored at home?
  • What do you like about this circuit breaker?
  • Is there anything that bothers you about this Covid-19 situation?
  • What is the first thing you want to do when this ends?

If you have no idea where to start, perhaps start from the bigger picture – what is going on around the world, how are their friends doing – and then zoom into asking them about how they feel. Be prepared to share your thoughts too. Keep it light-hearted and see where the conversation takes you. This is the first step into talking about other external events that could affect us in the future.

 COMMUNICATION IS A JOURNEY…

It is needful for us to recognise that communication with our children, whether as toddlers or teenagers, is a process of building bridges. It does not happen overnight. The key thing to remember about these suggestions is that they are ways to create opportunities to reach out to your child, especially when they are struggling to process and understand what is going on around them.

It is about finding different ways for them to respond to you and remember that no matter what situation they find themselves in, you are someone whom they can feel safe enough to confide in and grow with.

It is not easy but know that even if they do not respond in the way you expect them to, they do recognise that you are trying and are doing something different. Sometimes, it just takes them some time to process and respond back. Remember that every time you try, you are building the foundations of stronger communication between you and your child.

This COVID-19 situation will pass, but the connections that you are building today will last.

As the pre-flight safety briefing goes, look to secure your own safety, before tending to those of your family. If you are unable to do so, you jeopardise your ability to help them. The same principles apply to your mental health.

No one wakes up in the morning thinking that they are going to hurt their family. Yet, the number of domestic violence cases during this global lockdown has spiked. 

The Straits Times reports that calls to the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) helpline in February 2020, have increased by 33 percent compared to 2019. In March 2020, calls related to emotional and psychological distress, violence and abuse, was up by 35 percent; to 619 enquiries.

In times of crisis, it may feel like you are losing your sense of control or power. Having to juggle the needs and demands of family members, in spite of increasingly limited resources.

The forced constraint, the isolation, it all adds up. Managing the transition and that of your family members, can affect your personal mental health.

School, tuition, CCAs, and hobbies, innocuous and pedestrian activities that we never gave much thought to. Only when they are gone, do we realise that we needed them as much as our kids did. Providing us with moments of respite and rest.

You have now become the masterchef, housekeeper, finance manager, school teacher on top of your usual role at work.

Some of us do not have access to the help from extended family that we had previously. Some of us are anxious about the stability of our jobs in this unpredictable climate. Some of us are concerned about our ability to financially support our families.

We are also navigating new territory in our relationship with our children. We have never had to be as involved in their learning or spend as much time with them as we do now. This may also have strained our parent-child relationship or it may not have turned out the way that you had expected.

Managing these stressors poorly will impact how we respond and react to the people around us – particularly our children. When we are fighting off pressures from every front, it could lead to an extended period of frustration, anxiety and uncertainty.

If left unchecked, that one harsh word, that one outburst, that one hand raised in a moment of fury, can spiral into something more serious and harmful. It can happen to the best of us.

To help protect our mental health during this circuit breaker, here are some things that we can do:

Balance what you read 

Do not overdose on articles regarding Covid-19. Ensure that you get information from reputable sources. Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day and nothing more. Instead, try spending more time reading positive and encouraging articles. Avoid breeding unnecessary anxiety. Replace it with positive perspectives and feel-good pieces.

Hakuna Matata time 

Schedule ME-time. Exercise, paint, dance, bake, cook, do a crossword puzzle, play a game, watch a Netflix show. Do something for yourself for 30 minutes each day. It’s your “no worries” moment for the day. 

Communicate with your children 

If they do something to frustrate you, chances are they were unaware of how or why it did. When we blow our top off at them, they are often unable to separate the anger from the teaching point. Wait till you have cooled off, sit down and share with them what made you frustrated in a neutral way. Ask them how they felt about it. 

This may not necessarily have to be verbal. Perhaps have a family diary book where anyone can write honest feelings. A journal where they can write or draw what they think happened which made you frustrated. Ease the tension and then help them recognise the specific actions that caused them to affect you. 

Connect with people 

Humans are social creatures. Connect with the outside world so that you feel less trapped on an isolation island. Video call your friends and family and share your worries and concerns. Know that you are not alone in what you are going through.

Control what you can

Avoid overindulging in things that makes you lose control – Binging on Netflix, alcohol, or even social media. Too much of anything is good for nothing.

Check yourself 

Emotions are subtle. We may not even realise we are feeling them until we look at ourselves in the mirror or we see how others are reacting to us. When our emotions get the better of us, they can sometimes spillover to the people in close proximity to us, affecting them in ways we do not plan. 

Our frustration with work or our spouses can sometimes lead to a raise in our voices or a switch to a negative tone when speaking to our children. Other times, it makes us more irritable that when our children do things that are not a big deal, we react as though it is. It is important that before we react or respond to any situation, we check our emotions to ensure that we are responding rationally and our response matches the gravity of the situation.

Ask for help

The reality is, being in any type of lockdown affects us all in ways that we may not have realised. Some of us are able to handle it and move on much quicker than others. The truth is, you do not have to manage all of this on your own. 

Sometimes the bravest thing that we can do for ourselves and our family is to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength and resourcefulness. When we are able to recognise that we need support from others, we become an example to our children, that they too can reach out for help whenever they need it.

It is only when we can manage ourselves first, that we can then be the support our family needs during this time.

If you find yourself needing support for any reason, below is a helpline that you can reach out to. You are not alone in this. We at High Achievers stand with you in this time of crisis.

National Care Hotline: 62026868

Should you need any assistance be it for mental well-being, stress over finances or marital or family tensions, you may call this hotline. It links you to specialised and trained professionals who will be there to listen and support you with any of your concerns.


So, it has been a week since the beginning of Home-based Learning (HBL) and I am not going to lie, it feels like it has been a month. This is unchartered territory for many families having to juggle their own job responsibilities as well as their children’s learning.

Some children have eased into the process and can be left alone to focus on their work. Others may require more guidance and consistent check-ins to ensure that they are not distracted, they know what is going on in their lessons and they are on task. It is no easy feat having to now be accountable for your child’s learning on top of taking care of other priorities within your homes.

The good news is that learning from home is not a new concept and there are experienced parents who have been sharing tips and strategies to help with your child so that you can take the time to focus on your own work commitments. Here are the top 4 secrets that have been shared to help you facilitate independent learning at home to ease your load.

1. Gear them up for learning

All successful people have warm-up routines. Charles Dickens ensured he was awake at sunrise and had breakfast at 8am. Jennifer Aniston wakes up at 430am daily, has a cup of hot water with lemon, washes her face and meditates for 20 minutes. Barack Obama ensures he does strength training or cardio as soon as he gets up. These routines inform the brain and tell us that our day has started, that it is time to get to work. Curate a warm-up routine for your child;

Physically 
  • Wake up at the same time
  • Take a shower, put on your uniform, comb their hair
  • Have breakfast
  • Play an energiser with them (e.g. keep a ball in the air for as long as you can, play a hype song and jump to the beat, play thumb wars with them)

Let them feel like they are getting ready for something. You do not need special equipment to do this! Be creative, find what works for you and your children.

Mentally
  • Play a game that gets them thinking (e.g. Name nouns that begin with all the letters of the alphabet, solve a riddle together, etc.)
  • Doodle what they want to do for the day or how they are feeling
  • Listen to classical music
  • Write as many questions as they can think of in 3 minutes

Just like how athletes stretch to warm up their muscles, warm their brain up before learning begins. Try doing little things that would help them kickstart their brain activity.

Emotionally 
  • Reflect on a memory that they have had where they felt like they achieved success
  • Smiling exercise: Relax your face muscles. Slowly smile as wide as you can and feel your eyebrows move upwards. Hold the expression for 20 seconds.

Help them start their day right by achieving optimum levels of excitement. These simple things help to evoke positive emotions within them. When their mood is high and they feel great about their day, they will be more willing to take on any task in front of them – including school.

2. Prepare the workspace

All our homes are different. We do not necessarily have enough work desks for both parents and children. Apart from having a good desk space and chair, here are 2 guidelines that we can keep with us to ensure an effective workspace for our children.

Differentiation – your child’s ability to recognise the space as a space to work. It can be as simple as 
  • changing the arrangement of their table during school time and arranging it back during non-school time. 
  • Putting up pictures or images that they might see when they are in school.
  • Making a sign with them that says, “Joshua’s Learning Space”. 

Your child needs to be able to differentiate the space physically and psychologically. Supporting their understanding of the difference with these physical tweaks help to reinforce a more task-oriented behaviour. When they can separate their home space from their learning space, the transition from home behaviour to school behaviour becomes smoother.

Focus Mode – a mode that limits interruption from distraction or family members

You know how in radio stations, once they go live, they turn on a lighted sign that says, “On Air”? When anyone sees it, they know that they must be quieter and not interrupt the session. In the same way, you can create a system with your family.

  • Make your own “On Air” sign. Put your own spin on it like “learning in progress” or “studying now, I’ll call you later”
  • Set designated times when your child should not be disturbed or even when you should not be disturbed
  • Use physical cues like when you have headphones on, it means that you are focusing and should not be interrupted. 
  • Decide when they can use their phones or have a snack 

Setting agreements and boundaries like this with your family can help them recognise how their actions can affect another person as well as create mutual respect for everyone’s working time.

3. Set Micro Goals for The Day

It is a tall order to ask a child to sit still and do their work for 4 hours without any type of break. They are still figuring out their sense of time and it will feel like forever to them. Setting smaller checkpoints for them throughout their learning day can help curb questions like “what time is recess?”, “what is for lunch?”, “when can I play Roblox?”.

  • Work out their schedule of the day with them and identify break times. 
  • Share the menu for the day so they have something to look forward to. 
  • Ask them what are some things that they would want to do for the day – a walk in the park, some Netflix time, gaming time, etc. – and see how you can fit them into their day’s plan. 
  • Create a challenge for the day that they can do anytime they choose like doing something nice for your brother or smiling when you see anyone today. 

When you make this a conversation, instead of something that is dictated to them, you allow them to take responsibility for their learning and feel more invested in their day. What begins as an overwhelming 4-hour learning session becomes broken down into smaller chunks of focus time interspersed with relaxation time.

4. Plan Purposeful Breaks

Breaks are meant to refresh their minds before they enter a new cycle of concentration for another subject or task. Breaks do not necessarily have to be just lying down or phone time. A common problem children face is headaches from prolonged screen time. 

  • Use their breaks as a chance to rest their eyes by staring out into greenery or looking into the distance. 
  • Do a short physical exercise to get their blood pumping to their brains.
  •  Invite them to prepare a snack with you. 

Simply doing an alternative activity is enough to reset their focus before going in for another lesson. You can coordinate their breaks with your own work schedule or with their siblings for a quick catch-up before everyone heads back to work again. Breaks are perfect opportunities to make sure they are ready to absorb new content each time they go back to their lessons.

Most of all, TAKE IT EASY…

Give yourself a break. It has been 2 weeks. We are all still trying to find the best combination of methods and habits to help get our families through this new way of life. We want the best for our children and it can seem daunting to coordinate all these different things to support your children. That’s why focusing on little tweaks to our daily habits can help set your children up for success each day. 

At the same time, give them a break too. This circuit breaker is a transition that can be difficult for them to navigate. You may not see them become completely independent overnight but 5 extra minutes of uninterrupted time each day is still a win. Recognise that they too are trying through positive reinforcement or affirmation. “Thank you for helping to put your cup in the sink” or “Good job for finishing up you assigned tasks today!” can go a long way in helping them feel more positively towards learning and shaping them to be independent learners.

We are almost at the end of Week 2. There is still 2 weeks to go. We’re halfway there. Stay Safe, Stay Healthy.