Raising Successful Children in the 21st Century
Okay, so who I? I have two kids - one in year 4 and the other in Year 1. I am an author of
the book Brain Child: which will be hitting MPH book stores sometime in May. It’s only
taken me 30 years to get here… Being a writer was my first real career aspiration - I kept a
journal, I wrote fake newspaper articles, I wrote poetry, and I used to make up stories. The
dream was that one day I’d publish a book. But I grew up in a very traditional Asian
background and writing wasn’t really a career option in that world so I never told anyone.
Instead, I came back to the veryrealistic world that we live in and became a dentist.
Unfortunately, I hated it so much that I couldn’t imagine spending the next 40 years of my life
looking down people’s mouths so I quit and went to work for companies like 3M, Roche and
In 2005, a friend introduced me to blogging. In 2007, my first son was born and I
remember feeling like I was drowning – I’ve always been the youngest child so I had no idea
what I was doing but I had this super capable mother in law rearing to get in on the action
since this was her first grandchild ever. I had to at least LOOK like I knew what I was doing
so I started studying how to be a parent and I kept notes on my blog. And that was 9 years
ago. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 9 years – studying parenting, child
development and education. 9 years is longer than I spent studying and practicing dentistry
My blog started to get noticed and someone eventually suggested I write a book so here I
And today we’re talking about success... and I’d like to start by asking – what do you
define as success for your child? What is the number one quality you would like to see in
When I was growing up, there was a running joke that only 5 careers exist if your
Chinese - you either become a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, an accountant, or a dentist. If
you’re not one of those, then you’re either very forward thinking, rebellious, or you were born
in a different generation. In my family, there was only one career and that was to be a
Now you’re probably wondering… so why are you a dentist? This is my dark and dirty little
secret that I never talk about. I scored well enough to get into medicine. The only problem
was that they introduced the “interview” system the year I applied. Now I was the
stereotypically socially awkward Asian girl who was good academically, but I couldn’t string
two sentences together to save my life. And I had to convince three strangers to let me
practice medicine when my only reason for applying was because my parents wanted me to.
So naturally, I bombed the interview.
There were two things that I learned here. The first was failure. Up until that interview, I
had never failed anything that really mattered. And I was devastated. I had spent my entire
life being good at school, excelling academically, being the one of the ones most likely to
succeed. And suddenly, I’d failed the only thing I was supposed to be good at.
I know the school has talked a lot about Carol Dweck and Growth Mindsets so I won’t go into
that. But I want to talk about failure because I think we are so concerned now about
protecting our children’s self-esteem and self-confidence that sometimes we go about it the
wrong way. One mother shared this with me – her son was invited to audition for a concert.
She was afraid he wouldn’t make it so she asked whether she should lie to him and make up
some excuse why he couldn’t do it rather than tell him the truth that he didn’t get selected.
The intentions are good but this is more harmful to the child than having to face the truth
because they will never get the chance to view failure as an opportunity for learning. The
hardest thing for a parent is to watch their child hurt.
The other thing I learned was how important social experiences are. And yes, we all
know social skills are important. We need it in every aspect of our lives. It is one of the top
10 skills for the future workforce. Even as a writer I need to get out here and be social. But
even though it is so important, it doesn’t get the attention that reading or writing or math
gets. Why is that?
Is it because we don’t see it as a problem until children are getting in trouble for it at school;
is it because we assume social skills are something that we learn as we navigate through life
so we don’t need to do anything about it; or is it because we don’t know how to help them
with it. There are plenty of programs for math, literacy, subject “xyz”, but social skills? When
I say I have trouble with social skills, I get laughed at. That’s because there are so many
aspects of social development – there’s a reason why they call it social “skills”. Someone
might be good in parties but bad in a boardroom meeting; good with friends, but tongue-tied
with strangers. Social skills are really just about practice and to practice you need
Let’s talk… How do we help children with social skills?
The next thing I want to talk about is dysrationalia which I think is quite prevalent in our
society today. Does anyone know what this means?
To put it bluntly, it’s why smart people sometimes do stupid things – just think about how
people get sucked into a scam. It doesn’t matter what your IQ – it can affect anybody. In fact,
being smart makes it worse because it just makes us better at defending a faulty conclusion.
It is the result of weak thinking skills, lazy thinking, and biases. The worst thing about
dysrationalia is that there is lack of awareness that it exists. We don’t know that we’re prone
to dysrationalia and it gets worse in adulthood especially when the foundation for good
thinking skills aren’t established during our schooling years.
We need to overcome this problem by starting now! And teaching children about faulty
thinking and teaching them thinking skills and processes to avoid dysrational thinking. Teach
kids not what to think but how to think so they can come to their own conclusions and so
they will not be led astray by dysrational arguments.
Make Learning Count
I think everyone here is familiar with that pre-exam period where students get time off to
study for their exams. It’s their last chance to reinforce the material they have been learning
through the year, or for some – to start learning it. When I was in Uni, they called this period
“swot vac”. It simply means “study without teaching vacation”. The students had another
meaning for “swot”. They refer to the swatting action we use when catching a fly because it
was like trying to swat information and hope that it sticks in our brains long enough to get
through the exam. And that was literally what it was for a lot of students.
We would stay up all night, cram as much knowledge as we can in the short period of time
we had before the exam – some of it for the first time because we’d wasted the whole year
goofing around – and then vomit it all out onto the exam paper and hope it was enough to
get through. I mean… Does that sound crazy to you? The worst thing about learning like this
is that the retention of information is lousy. You don’t remember much.
In fact, Henry Roediger, a psychologist at Washington University says you don’t remember
anything. When he talks about students coming back in the following year to the more
advanced class, he says that with many of these students, it’s not like they can’t remember
the material. It’s like they’ve never seen it before. They’ve spent one whole year learning
nothing. That’s a waste of time. That’s lunacy. They would have learned more if they had
spent the year backpacking through Europe.
There are actually two aspects to discuss here – motivation and learning skills – but in the
interest of time, let’s talk about how we can help children learn better.
What is more important: a high IQ or being highly creative?
Did anyone complete the brick and blanket activity on the table?
How many answers did you come up with for the brick? The blanket? Here are the answers
from a prodigy with one of the highest IQs in his school. Did you do better? Now compare
them to the answers from another student. You don’t have to have the highest IQ to have the
Conversely, when they compared academic performance of students with various
combinations of creativity and IQ, they found that creativity compensates for low IQ. But, as
we saw previously, IQ doesn’t compensate for low creativity. So how do we get creative?
We’re nearly at the End now... In high school, I was one of the top students but when I got
to Uni – I became just average because everyone around me was brilliant. Suddenly, the
only thing that distinguishes you from everyone else is what other skills you have – like
creativity, critical thinking, social skills, learning skills... these are just some of the things I’ve
covered today but there’s more. Unfortunately, I’m out of time so I hope you’ll read about it in
my book when it comes out! Thank you!