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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Model Parent

About a month ago I had my first crawling experience in decades. We were then at a children's playground after a visit to a friend's home. Our son Z was excited to be on the move again, after being cooped up in a house for quite some time. He sprung to life, walking round and round the bottom of the play area, before finally deciding to climb up the ladder. When he got to the top, Z made his way through the maze of walking platforms, finally stopping just at the entrance of a small tunnel.

It wasn't a particularly long tunnel; nor was it a particular scary tunnel. It was, however, the first tunnel that Z had ever encountered. And he was not prepared to face it.

Looking at the look of uncertainty and doubt on my son's face, I knew I had to do something. So I grit my teeth and squeezed myself through the tunnel. Once through, I turned around and smiled at Z.

"Baby," I called out to him. "Daddy's here! Come to Daddy!"

The little boy hesitated, clearly frowning in puzzlement over the new development. Then I believe I detected a tiny cheeky smile on his face. Going down on his knees, he carefully and concertedly crawled all the way through the tunnel. Once through, he clapped his hands in delight, and promptly repeated the journey continuously for a couple more times.

As I reflected on the day's events, I realised that Z's story was a lesson in parental modelling & mentoring. I knew I had to crawl through the kid-size tunnel because my son wouldn't do it on his own. Especially since I knew that he really wanted to do so, but lacked the faith and courage. But once my son saw that his Daddy had to go down on his knees and squeeze through the tunnel, he not only "borrowed" his Daddy's faith to enter it once, but also made the same journey back and forth continuously on his own. It was truly a priceless lesson on parental influence and developing confidence in your child.

Numerous research studies show that parents are the most influential figures in their children's lives. One of the latest, by the Scout Association in the United Kingdom, noted that teenagers were influenced most by their parents and siblings. The study of more than 1,000 youths aged 13 to 18 also observed that parents served as bigger role models then celebrities such as David Beckham.

I am taking parenting seriously. There have been many occasions when I have chosen to model positive actions to my son in the hope that he would follow suit. For instance we have been clasping our hands together before each meal and saying "Thank You, Jesus," in a gesture intended to give thanks to God for the food we eat. Since Z was five-months-old we have also taught him to do likewise, and now, at the age of one-and-a-half years, our son imitates us whenever we clasp our hands together. In fact, he recently said "Thank You, Jesus," for the first time, one of his first complete sentences.

One other instance of modelling has been in the area of cleaning up. We have discovered that our son enjoys using a tissue or cloth to wipe the table. I believe he has learnt this action from his Mummy, who often goes around the house with a tissue to wipe up the messes he makes. In a recent incident, Z went into a tantrum and overturned a glass of freshly-squeezed apple-peach juice all over Sue. We were of course very upset with him, especially since we were at a hawker centre and were a distance away from home. While we were scolding him for his actions, we couldn't help but be amused that he had taken a piece of tissue from me, and was attempting to wipe the table. At that moment I couldn't be completely sure whether he had acknowledged his mistake, and was wiping the table in an act of apology; or perhaps he was simply enjoying himself in the clean-up process.

Lest the title of this entry presents the presumption that I am a "model parent", let me note for the record that this is far from the case. Both Sue and I are far from the ideal parent, and we have made so many mistakes in the parenting process. Z has recently been going through a tantrum phase and there have been many times when I have allowed my actions to reflect my anger rather than my desire to correct him. It's in those moments when I know I should have approached the matter differently - not to react in anger to his tantrums, but to instead be calm and yet firm in the disciplining process.

I know the journey ahead will be long; I don't particularly want to test my dexterity and my endurance to climb more obstacles in the future. But I know I will have to - afterall I know there will be times when my son might be scared of the unknown and would seek a comforting and reassuring gesture from his father. And I know I will go ahead before him, and hope he "borrows" my faith, learning to make the same journey on his own.