How to unlock your child’s potential

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Dr Shen-Li Lee, author of 'Brainchild – Secrets to Unlocking Your Child's Potential'.

MOST parents want to know the secrets – the secrets to being good parents, the secrets to bringing up bright children, and even the secrets to raising happy and healthy families. Author, former dentist and founder of figur8.net Dr Shen-Li Lee knows the “secrets” and has even written about them in her book, Brainchild – Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential.

These are the secrets she has discovered through trial and error with her own children and has taken the time to compile into a book.

She is personable, chatty and friendly, even revealing she is more at ease writing than standing in front of a crowd to promote her book.

“I’ve enjoyed writing since I was little, except it’s not exactly a typical Asian career. So, I moved on to something more realistic and went on to become a dentist. I didn’t like it. I tried a few other things and while I was doing that, a friend said, why don’t you blog? Back then blogging was something new, so I thought ‘Okay’.

“I did that and because I was rock-climbing back then, the blog was about rock-climbing. Then I met my husband, got married and had a child,” she says.

If her life was a children’s story, this is where you would read “and they all lived happily ever after”.

But, life never turns out that way, and the parenting journey is filled with challenges, hurdles and doubts. It was not any different for Dr Lee.

She never really considered herself parent material. Being a tad worried that she didn’t know how to look after children, she read everything she could on parenting.

This opened a fascinating world of information to her and she shared her newfound knowledge on her blog. The more she explored, the more she discovered, and the more she shared.

“I started to explore the topic of right brain education. There was very little information when I wanted to write about it, and I thought, this is terrible, it was like something secret and I couldn’t find out much. It was in 2008 or 2009 that I explored that and blogged about what I discovered. Because there wasn’t much information on it on the Web then, people started noticing my blog. From there, I just continued writing about child development,” says Dr Lee, adding that that’s how figur8.net started in 2007.

“Figure 8” refers to the knot used in rock-climbing. It is the most basic knot and the first thing you learn in rock-climbing. Dr Lee explains that it also has the connotation of returning to basics.

brainchild-newBrainchild – Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential is her first book and a lot of the content came from what she had already researched and written in figur8.net.

“As I’ve progressed, I’ve made mistakes with my kids, and I’ve gone off in the wrong direction, with good intentions. In retrospect, I think maybe I could have done things differently and I realise the areas that I perhaps didn’t pay enough attention to, and I guess this is what the book attempts to address.

“I’m hoping that other parents will not fall into the same trap. This is everything I can think of for helping children and families. Parents want their children to have all the right elements for success, but at the same time, sometimes what we think is going to contribute to success, isn’t.

“Growing up, it was all about getting straight A’s and good grades. But I look back partly at my own upbringing and how it helped me and it feels ridiculous because I had straight A’s but can’t remember what I learned. So, what does it mean? It means nothing.

“I thought, if that’s how my kids are going to grow up, that’s kind of pointless as well. I want them to really study something passionately because they’re interested in it. I studied this passionately because I was interested. I read things and when I talk to people, I remember it. Whereas, I look back and I think I did really well in pharmacology but I can’t really remember the drugs. Now, if someone asks me what is this drug for, I can’t remember because I just studied enough to get through the exam and that was it.”

So, what are the secrets? It’s all about going back to the basics, reveals Dr Lee. While you would think that all parents know this, Dr Lee shares that this is not so.

“I think people forget the basics. This is the whole ‘Figure 8’ concept of going back to basics. We are moving at such a fast pace now and we are so concerned with signing up our children for everything that will give them a better chance for a bright future. What we don’t realise is they’re so busy with all this stuff that they’re tired and haven’t got time to rest; they haven’t got time to consolidate what they learn. We forget that they need that.

“Maybe this book is not so much telling new things, but saying, hey, have we forgotten this?”

She believes that parents sometimes get caught up with keeping up with the Joneses with regard to education, extra classes and programmes, often wondering if they are doing enough.

Dr Lee knows what that’s like, having gone through it herself. At times when her children’s schedules are too packed and their tiredness starts manifesting in their behaviour, then she knows it’s time to take a step back.

“I think every time I go through this, it’s a reminder. Don’t get so caught up in this. Remember they need a break, they need time to rest, they need time to play, they need time to do their own thing … to get bored, even!”

Where do you then draw the line between exposing them to what they need and pushing them too hard?

“I think that line is very personal because I know families who do a lot and the kids handle it well, but I know that if my boys have way too much on, I start to see stuff like behavioural problems. It gets a bit crazy and we take a step back and everything calms down again. So, I think it is really personal and it’s more about parents being in tune with their kids and being able to recognise the signs because it’s going to be different for everyone,” says Dr Lee, whose sons are now six and nine.

She admits that this is a difficult time to be a parent, what with the overload of information and the many distractions that children face today, especially for parents straddling western methods and Asian traditions.

“We have a certain idea of what success is for traditional Asian families. But, success is up to the individual. It goes against all our traditional ideas about finding security, having a career, and making sure you put food on the table. It’s about finding your passion and finding out how it fits into your purpose.”

The world today is very different from the one that we grew up in. Today, Generations Y and Z are teaching us that it is possible and in fact better to find your passion and earn an income through it, be it in the arts or being your own boss.

“It’s funny but I still hear parents who want their kids to be doctors, lawyers and engineers. Haven’t we moved beyond that? When I was asked to write this book, I thought, I don’t need to because people know all the information that I’m sharing. But when I talk to parents I still see that they want their kids to grow up to become doctors. So, maybe not everybody knows that you should let your children follow their passion.”

And, what is the most essential lesson in her book?

“It’s about deciding what is really important. I know we want to do everything but at the end of the day every family has to decide what their priorities are. There are parents who ask me how to balance work and family when they come home late every day and want to spend time with their kids but also want their kids to have their sleep. You’ve just got to decide what’s more important and prioritise. Yes, you know all of these things are important, but what’s more important to you?

“I think the idea is to put forward everything that is available and then pick and choose what you can do and hope that it’s going to be enough,” says Dr Lee.