I posted about my daughter and her teammate winning the championship in an International Moot 2022 (proud mama moment heh heh) and friends were keen to hear how she did it. They know of my hands-off approach yet how did she end up in a prestigious competition, beating 140 law teams from around the world to clinch the top spot?
Her story, I suppose, is remarkable given that she’s swimming amidst the sharks. Her classmates were from elite schools while she went to mission schools and did not have extra help from tutors. She has an academic mind, but still struggled in her first year of law school. It got better in the second year and she decided to take on the most demanding module of mooting.
Her classmates where complaining that it was such a tough module and she wondered how tough could it be as they were all super smart. She decided to take it and see for herself. Talk about loving a good challenge! She worked hard and was fielded as speaker and not only did the duo fight their way through to the finals, both of them were awarded Honourable Mentions for Best Oralist and brought glory to their University with the ultimate win.
We were at the edge of our sofa as we watched the livestream. She has no speech training nor debate experience and we were relieved to see that she was confident and was able to take the heat and answered the rebuttals with poise and eloquence.
So how did she manage to get this far?
1. Don’t do the thinking for them
Thinking is a great skill! Since they were young, I encouraged open debate, and the children were free to voice their opinions and substantiate why and how they came to their personal opinions or decision. Instead of telling them what to do, they were allowed to make their own decisions, plan their schedules, all within boundaries, and they had to face the consequences of their decisions. They failed many times, and things did not turn out as planned, but failure is the best teacher.
This was a crucial pillar which helped them to look at all angles of a problem and figure out a solution. With so many kids, my priority was for them to be independent. They made their to-do lists, set their goals, and explored their interests and passions in their free time (this meant that the house was in a mess most of the time, but I could live with that!)
2. Build their Executive Function skills
Having to manage such a demanding module means that they have to be organised, focused and know how to manage their time and priorities from week to week so that they can keep up with their already hectic curriculum load.
These are executive function skills which I have been developing in them since young. These skills cannot be taught via textbooks as children have to be guided and given opportunities to practice and hone these skills through activities, games and autonomy to manage their day to day lives. As an occupational therapist, I view the child holistically so that besides academics, other aspects of their development are not neglected.
I noticed that most parents are not able to teach these skills themselves, thus several years ago, I started a non-academic enrichment centre with another therapist who had been teaching children executive function skills for almost 20 years. We have seen such tremendous change in the children who come to us, and teachers are sending their own kids here as they know that we are the only centre focusing on developing executive function skills and resilience.
We are heartened that schools are starting to recognise that children are lacking in these skills. They are unable to pay attention in class, can’t stay focused on tasks to completion, struggle to regulate their emotions and all of these impedes their learning in the classroom. We have been approached by both local and international schools to help their students and are relieved that teachers and parents are now aware that these are skills that can be developed, instead of putting labels on children as being “naughty” or “lazy”. One P4 boy said to his mum, “It’s not that I don’t want to focus better, but I just don’t know how to!”
3. Prioritise sleep
Sleep is so important, yet often overlooked. It boosts their immunity and brain development. During her primary school days, up till P6, I ensured she had 9-10 hours of sleep per night. Sometimes they had too many past year papers to do but I felt that going to bed on time was more important than finishing another paper mindlessly when she was exhausted, then going to school tired, perpetuating the negative cycle.
She was well-liked by her teachers and thanks to her suggestion, they adopted a great strategy whereby all subject teachers had to write the next day’s homework on the whiteboard to ensure the kids were not over-stretched.
Once they enter the teenage years, their sleep pattern goes haywire. It’s alarming how some of our young people are already dependent on medication to help them sleep. While you can still control the amount of sleep they get, please do.
4. Allow for playground time
I insisted they spent 1-2 hours each day at the playground, even during their PSLE year. This gave them the opportunity to practice social skills, learn to make friends, negotiate and handle their own disputes. Her siblings said that she created the most brilliant games, complete with rules and instructions. Social skills are very important as we find that the young generation are unable to work collaboratively with others.
Making time everyday for outdoor play helps them to destress from the hectic day and to let them unwind and relax. We adults need downtime, and so do our kids!
5. Small pond, big fish opportunities
The 12 years spent in mission schools grounded her in values like humility and keeping an open mind, which surprisingly were what set her apart in this competition.
On hindsight, a mid-range JC offered her a lot more opportunities to lead and the experiences gained were invaluable. Being in charge of her band, managing the morale of the team and dealing with last minute changes during concerts helped her develop the flexibility to go with the flow and not be fazed by unexpected challenges. She headed several committees and that taught her to juggle different commitments while keeping her focus sharp.
During the run up to this competition, her group mate had a serious injury plus contracted covid, and they had to do a last minute reshuffle! She had to ditch what she had prepared for months and take on a whole new case, studying 52 pages worth of legalese in a short time. And during the competition itself, technical mishaps like the camera suddenly crashing and wifi not working had to be handled with professionalism and calm, whilst they were madly scrambling behind the scenes!
6. Build Resilience
The week long competition was fierce, as 140 teams fought to reach the semi-finals. After one particularly tough and stressful round where the tribunal grilled them aggressively, both of them broke down. It takes resilience and strength of mind not to be affected, to quickly pick themselves up, face up to their shortcomings, and learn from their mistakes to do better the next round.
I believe that all children are born with their own unique genius. This child thrives on competition and has a sharp mind for facts and figures. Next time, I’ll share about my other kids who are arts inclined, and in our eyes, they are just as successful.
Our responsibility as parents is not to force them to live out our dreams, but to nurture them with strong fundamentals of understanding the value of hard work, perseverance and teamwork, imbue in them a wide range of skillsets and a resilient mindset, and they will find their own areas of pursuit and flourish, while you sit at the edge of your sofa cheering them on!
Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist and mum of 6. She is also co-Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre developing resilience and executive function in children. She is a Parent coach and Certified Professional Trainer (UK) and is regularly featured on national TV, radio and print media. She is proud yet humbled to be awarded Singapore’s 40-over-40 inspiring women 2021.