Love God by loving our children

Love God by loving our children
A. Susila is a member of Jurong Tamil Methodist Church

Methodist Message (MM): The COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for two years. It has been hard for everyone, but even more so for children who have started going to preschool during the pandemic. How can parents help their children develop normal interpersonal relationships with schoolmates and families even though we are all masked up and social distancing?

A. Susila: Socialising with friends is an important and positive part of every child’s life. With the pandemic, there have been many essential safety rules that have been put in place that hinder the preschool children’s interpersonal relationships with their school friends. It is even more challenging for very young children, who need close physical contact—such as through high-fives, hugging, handshakes—to understand the need for social distancing and mask-wearing.

However, children are perhaps more adaptable and flexible [than adults] in using new ways of socialising. The use of technology, such as Zoom and other virtual platforms, has made it easier for children to socialise with friends and extended family from a distance. Small uncrowded indoor activities, with fully vaccinated extended family members and friends, are also possible. All that is required is a little imagination and pre-planning.

MM: Quite a lot of kids in our Methodist community have just started attending new schools. How can parents help their children adjust to going to a new school, especially if they are starting school for the first time?

Susila: Starting at a new school can be exciting, but it can also be a milestone filled with anxiety and uncertainty. As parents, don’t show your anxiety about their transition to the new school, because your child will be anxious too.

Discuss your child’s fears and expectations with them, and reassure them that you will be there for them physically and emotionally, before school and after school. To make the transition easier, start your child’s new school-year sleep routine several weeks before school starts. This will help ensure that your child’s transition to a new school doesn’t include transitioning to a new sleeping schedule at the same time.

Before the first day of school, take your child on a trial run. Go to the school with them using the route you’ve decided on. This will help make their first day of school less intimidating.

The morning of the first day of school can often end up being chaos, especially if you have more than one child to get ready. In order to avoid the morning rush, get everything ready the night before. Planning the night before will allow your child to get plenty of sleep, get out the door on time and not feel any additional anxiety.

MM: How can parents help their children who might still experience anxiety at their new school even after a few weeks?

Susila: Many pre-schoolers suffer from separation anxiety when it comes to school. To adults, the number of hours a child spends in school might not seem long, but for an anxious child, it feels like an eternity before they can see their parents again. Also, it’s so difficult for a parent to peel their crying child off their leg and head to work like nothing’s wrong.

It helps to establish a quick routine for drop off from day one. Don’t linger at school; don’t hold your child in your lap or sit at the table with them. Instead, hug your child at the door and say, “See you soon!” Every minute you prolong the inevitable, the harder you make it for your child to tell you goodbye. A child is MUCH more likely to get upset when a parent leaves if the parent lingers for too long. Let your child know that once you do your special goodbye signal, you’ll head to work, and they’ll head to the classroom to learn and play. Then remind them that you’ll be back to get them before they know it! If your child cries EVERY morning, have something to divert their attention—such as by distracting their attention to their favourite toys in the classroom—even a few minutes can make a lot of difference.

Remind them that at the end of the school day, you’ll be there to pick them up. Tell them that you can’t wait to hear about their day. Please don’t promise a treat after school if they don’t cry, or threaten not to come back to pick them up if they cry. Be sure they get a good night’s sleep every night, so they are well-rested and there is one less reason for them to cry when they get to school.

MM: Congratulations on receiving the Outstanding Early Intervention Professional Award! What are early intervention professionals, and what are some of the developmental needs of the children that you work with?

Susila: An early intervention professional works alongside paediatricians, therapists and other professionals to support children with special academic, social and behavioural needs, as well as their families. Their role includes assessing the child’s development and inquiring about contributing factors such as their environment and medical history. They work with parents and teachers to design and implement an Individualised Educational Plan that best fits the child’s needs during the necessary intervention.

I work with children between two and six years old who have been diagnosed as falling within the mild to moderate range in any of the following: developmental delays (such as speech delay; global developmental delay; intellectual disabilities), autism spectrum disorder, physical disability, hearing impairment (with prescribed hearing aids only) and visual impairment (with prescribed corrective lenses only).

MM: Why did you decide to go into a career that involves childhood education, and how did you come to focus on children with developmental needs?

Susila: I started working with Presbyterian Community Services (PCS) Grow & Glow Jurong West Childcare Centre in 1987. I was pleased working with typical children and to integrate the children with special needs in the mainstream settings. This enriching experience working with these children is the only window that has helped me and is still encouraging me to enhance my career to serve them better.

As a Senior Resource Teacher, I was empowered to help more children to attain additional aid as early as possible. Unlike their counterparts, children with special needs require special education schemes and related services if they want to realise their full potential.

It might be more challenging to work with children with developmental needs, but every child has a unique developmental trajectory. While some speed through their developmental milestones, others might require additional support to help them realise their potential. My role is to work with both teachers and families to implement necessary interventions to support these children.

When your heart is fully invested in a person, you will embrace their potential and capabilities.

MM: How would you encourage parents and siblings to deal with strangers who might not understand their children with developmental needs, especially when their kids behave unusually or act up in public?

Susila: People will be curious why your child/sibling is not able to self-regulate their behaviour. Not everyone in our community might have come across a family with a child with special needs and may not understand the challenges the family face. They would not always need to know what to say or do. Sometimes, situations can be overwhelming for everyone and it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.

MM: What’s your advice to burnt-out parents who might have had to work from home and deal with the circuit breaker, school closures or mandatory quarantine?

Susila: It is sometimes stressful for parents to spend time with their children after a long day at work. Take time to talk to your child (e.g. look at family pictures or storybooks) to create stories/sentences through writing/drawing and playing games (e.g. card games, boardgames, computer games). This will enable parents to track their child’s progress or regress.

Parents can also work with their child’s teacher to plan their next activity, such as through (e.g. take-home or home-based learning activities). This information can help parents to collaborate with teachers to support their child’s learning more holistically.

MM: How does being a Christian help you to be a good educator?

Susila: I thank the Lord for having placed me in this “mission field” as an Early Childhood Educator with Presbyterian Community Services (PCS) since 1987. Embracing the organisation’s vision and mission has enabled me to honour and magnify the name of our Lord through the services of PCS (vision) and to meet challenges and needs of the community in Christian witness to touch lives (mission).

The Lord has given me two mentors—Ms Kanniga and Ms Gomy—who have always embraced my potential and encouraged me. This journey has enabled me to become a “fruitful tree”, turning inspiration into action and I want to, in turn, inspire many more “fruitful trees” in the EC sector.

A. Susila has been an early childhood educator for more than 30 years, and was one of the recipients of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Awards. She received the Outstanding Early Intervention Professional Award, a new award created this year to recognise the important role early intervention professionals play in supporting children with developmental needs. She is a member of Jurong Tamil Methodist Church. / Photo courtesy of A. Susila