Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (September 20, 2018)
Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting Professor Marvin Berkowitz from the United States in Hong Kong. He is the inaugural Sanford McDonnell professor of character and heads up the Centre of Character and Citizenship in St Louis. He is a seasoned speaker around the world and regularly does talks and trainings in Singapore, Taiwan, countries in South America and in Europe.
He held a talk for parents last week and shared the DENIM model of parenting which he calls the ‘Fab 5 of Parenting for Character’. This came out of his years of meta-analysis of research on parenting and character education.
D stands for Demandingness
When I first saw this one, I was worried because I feel like we Hong Kong parents can be overdemanding – requiring our children to get 100% in everything, to learn everything under the sun and to be better than everyone else. But that is not what Prof Berkowitz means. My understanding is that we demand our children to be the best that they can be. We have high expectations of our children because they will rise to meet them but if we have low ones, they will sink to meet those too. But the most important point about this is that we have to set ones that are attainable and scaffold to help children succeed. What does this mean? Don’t set the expectation for a 3 year old to do calculus or how to read novels. But if the goal is for a 3 year old to put on his own shoes and tie shoelaces, scaffolding is likely to be required. Scaffolding is to create levels of assistance to help a child attain their goal so scaffolding for putting on shoes could be to give directives on which is the left and left shoe, or how to hold up bunny ears in laces before tying them. And expectations doesn’t just have to be academic ones, they should be character ones too. What are the expectations for responsibility or honesty? Kindness and thankfulness? We should have demandingness that sets high but attainable expectations of our children and scaffold to help them reach them.
E is for Empowerment
Prof Berkowitz shared that this one is particularly difficult in Asian cultures are we are quite hierarchical and children are often told not to speak in front of elders. But giving children a voice feeds their soul. For me personally, I’m quite passionate about this because children will eventually become adults who will need to speak up and make choices but if we strip them of that opportunity when they are developing, we don’t give them the chance to learn how to develop their own opinion, voice or confidence to speak up. So we should empower children to speak up and make choices. Of course that doesn’t mean they should get to choose everything but give them options that you’re comfortable with and then let them choose between the ones you’ve offered. So you wouldn’t ask a child “do you want to go to school today?” (because if the answer is no you can’t follow through in empowering their choice) but could ask them “do you want to eat Chinese or Japanese food tonight?” if you had already narrowed the choices down and would be happy with both.
N is for Nurturance
This is to nurture and love children so that they know that they are loved and we’re proud of them. We find it easy to critique our children but harder to praise. When they feel secure and loved, that’s when our lessons to them are more effective. One of my favourite children’s books is ‘Have you filled a bucket today?’ and it’s about how everyone has an imaginary bucket that gets filled with love when others show love to them through words or actions. But when people are mean or hurtful, it is like they ‘dip’ and take something out of the bucket. When we discipline or reprimand our children, it is out of the intention of love but often it might feel to them like we are dipping from their bucket so we must make intentional effort to fill their buckets continuously so when we do need to seemingly ‘dip’ from the bucket, they have reserve. I once read somewhere that for every negative thing you say, say three positive things to balance it. Let’s be generous in the ways we praise and nurture our children so that they feel safe, secure and loved.
I is for Induction
Induction is to give the reason behind why you feel the way you do about their action and get them to think about how it affected others. It’s an important way to help children understand consequences as well as to grow in empathy. For example, instead of “I’m so proud of you” it can be “I’m so proud of you for sharing your toys with your sister. How did it make your sister feel? Yes, happy. I’m so proud of you”. And if it’s a negative feeling, it could still work. For example, “I’m so upset at you right now because you hit your friend. How did it make him feel? Yes, you’re right. He was in pain and sad. Please don’t do it again.” By using the induction model, children then understand why we feel the way we do, how their actions have affected others and what they could do similarly or differently in the future. This allows each experience to be a learning opportunity – one to grow in reflection, empathy and understanding of consequences.
M is for Modeling
The most important of all is this last one – role modeling. ‘Be the character you want to see in your kids’. We have to live out the character we want to see in our children. If we want our children to have gratitude, we first need to demonstrate what that looks like to them and to others. If we want our children to be kind and compassionate, we need to show them what that looks like. It’s easy to expect things of others but it’s much harder to have change in ourselves. Someone once said “your actions are so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying’. Let our words and our actions be consistent and a good model to our children.
DENIM – a great model for effective parenting.
培育和愛我們的孩子，讓他們知道自己是被愛，而父母亦以他們為傲。我們很容易挑剔小朋友的缺點，但很少稱讚他們的優點。當孩子感覺到安全感和被愛時，家長的教導自會更有效。我最愛的童書之一《Have you filled a bucket today?》講述每個人都有一個隱形的水桶，當其他人通過言語或行動表達愛時，水桶就會裝滿愛，惟當有人傷害別人時，情況就如有人把手伸進水桶裡，拿走一些東西。當我們教訓或懲罰孩子時，縱然那是出於愛，但他們仍會覺得我們從水桶裡搶走他們的東西，故此我們需要不斷努力填滿他們的水桶，好讓我們日後似要從水桶挖走一些東西時，他們仍有儲備。就讓我們慷慨地讚美孩子，助他們在安全及充滿愛的環境下成長。
最後一項為最重要的原則——成為孩子的榜樣。「你希望孩子成為怎樣的人，便先要令自己成為那樣的人。」家長需要以身作則，活出好品格，為子女樹立榜樣。如果我們想孩子常存感恩、善良及富有同情心，我們先要向他們及其他人展現應有的模樣。我們常期待別人改變，卻很少改變自己，曾有人說過：「你的動作大到我聽不清楚你在說什麼。（Your actions are so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying）」我們必須言行一致，才可為孩子訂立好榜樣。