What would I give, what would I hold back

Raising a 4-year old is harder than I thought.

Mentally, I broke today. It was already a lousy day to begin with but one does not tell anyone that he or she had a lousy day, especially to your loved ones. Or your colleagues. Or Facebook. Maybe telling it on this public blog is silent enough. Adulting is moronic in some ways.

Mentally, I broke today, except today, I gave in. I have lost my last tool to discipline her.

At this day and age, old methods are not only frown on, they might be illegal. Certainly no one has the heart to torture one’s own child. Is caning a torture, well legally no, but “not encouraged by the government”, according to wikipedia. How about ruler? Belt? Hangar? I’m not sure, but let’s just rest our case on all physical torture.

Verbal torture? From a screaming family (sorry ma, that’s what I mainly remember from my entire childhood), I found myself in another, except now it’s my turn. Last round, my course of action was to exit gracefully, by applying for a scholarship to another country. It’s not the same this time.

The reason screaming happens is because all the other methods did not work. Sure, read up, No Drama Discipline is a great book. So many wow ideas, connect emotionally, push the positives, negative time-outs. Now, how about you Mr. Author come spend some time with her? And no I would not accept a strawberry as a result.

Discipline, was how her father came to achieve the success he had in life. Low EQ is probably how he squandered it. I remember the many times I was judged, especially by the ones closest to me, that I will never be able to deal with my own emotions. I fought that with first class discipline. I learned to manage my own emotions. I learned to motivate my team. I learned to engage the industry. I learned to respect my family. I learn to take in every single judgement of my work, speech, and action with grace, and try to be the best adult I can be.

But it wasn’t good enough for her. A 4 year old doesn’t care squat about how her father feels. All she cares is that she’s hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, giving credit to the book for acronymizing it (HALT). And all it takes is that you fail once in hundreds of engagement for her lizard brain to activate.

In high school, I was a band kid. In the band room, we had a huge sign


up on the notice board. We pondered over it a lot. We tried physical punishment on each other. We tried mental punishment, sometimes abuse, learning the best from the adults and seniors. But most importantly, and often not properly framed, is that we practised a lot.

Practising is not a form of punishment. Except it is for many of us.

Young teenagers joining an Extra Curricular Activity to have fun and socialise, end up spending hours working on an instrument that they might not ever play well enough to mean anything in their life.

So how did we succeed? And become national level champions? With only the raw materials we were given (we do not reject taking in anyone from the band, unlike professional organisations), we enforce the strictest discipline known to us 14-year olds to train 13-year olds from zero to hero.

The ability to not follow your lizard brain, suppress your happiness boosted by random dopamine burst doing other things (we had no facebook at that time but distractions are plenty), pick yourself up and strive for a larger goal, by practising mundane music passages over and over and over, is the most important indicator of success of a musician by far.

And thus unfairly, as I could not discipline her the “normal” way, I agreed to her ask to join piano lessons. This despite her being the youngest in the class. For almost 10 months, my wife and I struggle to get her to practice, and as the pieces got tough rapidly, the amount of practise went down commensurately, until it was zero unless either mental of physical abuse was touted.

We gave time, patience, emotional connection, money, and, lots of money.

She quit.

No fanfare, just a full on tantrum, in class, in front of all parents, all friends. The truce is to postpone attending class by 3 months (by joining the next cycle / class, forfeit lesson fees). The reality is that she has learned that quitting is an option.

What we would not give, would never give, is to give up. If she cannot follow instructions now, she is going to have a hard time surviving Singapore’s ruthless education system that demand full compliance to all syllabus and conduct. Kindergarten teachers have consistently feedback on her disruptive attitude during class, even while she gets a glowing review on he report card. The parents needed to step up.

But I don’t have a tool anymore. The piano was my last unfortunate choice and it did not work.

And I don’t want her to hate the piano. She can hate me for asking her to practise, but not the piano. Not music.


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