woensdag 5 december 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: Free-range children

"Oh, she's over there", I pointed E. out to the British grandparents who were sitting next to me. E. was purposefully walking off towards the horizon by the side of an Olympic size swimming pool. The grandparents looked concerned. They shifted on their chairs.

"The Dutch child barrier lies much further out", their son, our fellow parent-friend, comforted them. He held his hands about twenty centimeters apart. "This is the American barrier", he moved his hands slightly further apart: "This is the British barrier", he opened his arms as wide as they'd go: "This is the Dutch barrier."

E. looked round and decided to amble back towards us. "If I run after her, she'll keep going", I explained. "But if I just wait, eight times out of ten, she comes back on her own." The grandparents nodded rather unenthusiastically, clearly not impressed by my parenting philosophy.

Where American and British parents are always a step or two behind their children, Singaporean parents prefer to be right next to their children. They are close enough to catch them when they fall. Strange Singaporeans rush in when E. topples over to help her out, and since I am generally a few meters away, they usually get there first.

Then they are very surprised when E. pushes herself off the ground, dusts her knees and simply gets on with things.

"So independent, lah!" they'll admire her. And when she smiles at them: "So happy!"

It's true. E. loves to run around, explore and skip along with S. and myself. At playdates she'll rush off to have a look at all the amazing toys and she adores to play with other children. She doesn't let things like toppling over or getting into a toddler scrap distract her from the bigger picture which is doing her thing, having fun, discovering the world.

More than one Singaporean has commented that they'd love their child to be more like ours.

Maybe so. But I dread the day we'll be in a restaurant and instead of respectfully listen to us, she'll make a scene. Because that's what all this autonomy and independence and happiness is leading up to: a willful, stubborn child, who has complete faith in her own opinion.

I should know, I was a Dutch child too once and I remember my parents sighing and looking wistfully at other dining families in foreign restaurants. "It's always the Dutch kids screaming", they'd nod at each other. (Writing this, I'm thinking we can't have been that bad, as they kept taking us four out to restaurants in the first place - or maybe my parents are masochists.)

Singaporean children are protected from pain and hurt, but at the same time also taught to withhold emotions in a public setting. I am the only mother at daycare to extensively kiss and cuddle my child upon pick-up, just, you know, because she's there. And I've missed her. And she looks cute. Singaporean parents generally reserve displays of affection for the home.

This goes for displays of distress too. A Dutch preschool teacher, who teams up with a Singaporean teacher to lead her class room, told me that where Dutch teachers will let children fall and get into scraps and only intervene if there is actual crying, her Singaporean colleagues will try to prevent hurt and crying. But once there is pain and crying, the Dutch teacher will comfort the child and let its emotions run free, whereas the Singaporean teacher will pick up and cuddle the child and then sternly tell it: "You've been comforted. No need for crying."

Both are trying to teach a child resilience: the Dutch through letting the toddlers experience the consequences of their actions without intervening, thereby fostering an independent nature, the Singaporeans through teaching toddlers trust and respect for their elders.

I wouldn't mind if E. picked up some of that respect along the way - although in fairness and although I like to call her a little wild animal, she isn't actually. She's much too loving to leave us alone for very long. She knows that we grow sad without her.

Eight times out of then, at the edge of the barrier, she'll look over her shoulder, smile cheekily, then run back and throw herself into our arms.

6 opmerkingen:

  1. this was so interesting...finally someone explained it in detail to me. It's true that for Asians the barrier just does not exist and we can be quite stiffling in our overprotective tendencies.

    1. A Dutch friend commented on Facebook that both Asian and Dutch adults are pleasant, well-functioning people - so both ways seem to work just fine :D I definitely agree with her, like I said: both ways have pros and cons.

  2. This is pretty true...to a certain extent.

    I think our parents (the grandparents) tend to practise "helicopter parenting" on their grandchildren. My mother-in-law loves to hover around A, picking him up at every squawk that he makes. She likes to prevent his falls and if he does hurt himself in some way, she goes all "oh so poor thing!"

    And Singaporean kids can throw the loudest and meanest tantrums in restaurants too!

    1. Aunties and uncles are definitely the first ones on the scene when E. decides to fall over :) And fellow parents do seem more relaxed than the teachers at our school or helpers or aunties and uncles.

      Having said that - I'm always reminded of S.'s colleagues who pointed out at a BBQ, when we were fondly observing the little ones running wild: "Yes, but do you notice it's only the Dutch ones?" The Asian children were sitting and/or playing quietly. So well-behaved! So polite! There were some green-eyed looks then.

      Last October, I even noticed a difference between myself and Dutch parents back home - I keep much closer to my child nowadays and feel quite apprehensive when I see the 'risks' they let their children take!

  3. Hahahaha see so much similarities with my child.
    Maybe because I am Dutch aswell.
    I like my rough diamond. She is going to need that spirit to survive the unseen future. Have Singaporean friends and we always give her the Singaporean or the Dutch way of handling things and then let her choose the best option for her.
    Grin am now getting lectures of her that the Dutch way isn't always the best way :)

  4. I like my rough diamond too :) I don't think any one culture "gets it right" - but contrasting and comparing is very interesting! It sounds like you're able to take the best of both worlds - would love to hear more!