The Secret to A Child’s Success

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We all want our children to be successful in life. By success I don’t just mean academic results. Success includes good character, good values, ability to progress in life, being good citizens and respected by the community.

But how do we ensure success for our children? Like many, I used to think it was mostly about studying hard in school. But when I was at MOE I learnt a few interesting things about what helps children succeed.

The Still Face Experiment

At one MOE Conference on Early Childhood Education I was introduced to the “Still Face Experiment”. This is a famous experiment by Dr Edward Tronick in 1975 which shows the dramatic impact of parent-child interaction.

It starts with a mother actively engaging her 1-year old child. The baby responds happily and positively. Then the mother abruptly stops and shows a still face, not reacting to anything the baby does. At first the child tries to engage the mother’s attention. When there is still no response the child reacts negatively, showing signs of stress and eventually starts crying. The experiment with fathers had the same result.

The experiment shows is that even at a very early age children are sensitive to their environment and respond to it. The quality of social interaction they receive is important. Lack of positive emotional connection and attention from their parents causes them insecurity, anxiety and distress, eventually resulting in negative behaviour.

The first key to a child’s success therefore is the parent – child relationship. Children who come from loving and caring environments, whose parents engage, talk, teach, play and bond with them regularly and show interest in their activities and support them, are more likely to become confident, well-adjusted individuals who will do well in later life.

Learning begins long before primary school

The next key to success is a good early childhood education. Research has shown that those with early childhood education generally do better in life than those who don’t have any.

The pre-school age is an important stage of a child’s brain development. At this age they learn very rapidly. Studies show that children start learning as early as when they are in the womb!

These are formative years during which the foundations are laid for the child’s way of thinking, ability to grasp concepts, social interaction and motor skills. This is also the best age to learn languages.

Pre-school is essential preparation for primary school. Children without pre-school education will be at a disadvantage in primary school compared to children who have had it.

Learning through play

The traditional way of pre-school learning was mostly by memorisation. Some memorisation is still necessary, but teaching and learning today is very different.

One important technique is letting children to learn through play. This is different from leaving children alone to play by themselves. Instead it is structured play. For example, a visit to the neighbourhood mini-mart can teach children many things – discipline (lining up), new vocabulary (learning names of shop items), handling money and maths (by buying a sweet and counting the change).

Play stimulates children’s imagination, intelligence and language ability. It helps them become confident and sociable through interaction with other children. This is especially important when they start formal schooling and later as adults.

Therefore parents should not only focus on academics but also allocate time to engage and teach their pre-school children through purposeful play. It would be good not to have other distractions eg the TV shouldn’t be on at the same time, so the child can focus fully on the learning play. This is also a good way to teach values.

Many Pre-School Options

The pre-school landscape has evolved in recent years. There are many options to meet varied preferences and needs.

Working parents prefer whole-day childcare. Families with adults at home may prefer half-day kindergartens.

There are a wide range of operators within different price points to cater for different household budgets. These include private operators, and anchor operators like PCF and NTUC My First Skool. There are also MOE kindergartens (which have a childcare option) providing high quality affordable pre-school education. There are government subsidies for pre-school fees.

Parents who have difficulty getting pre-school places for their children can approach the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) for assistance.

SINDA Pre-school Enrichment Programme

To complement our children’s pre-school education, SINDA offers a quality pre-school Literacy and Numeracy (LYNN) enrichment programme for children aged 3 to 6 at very affordable rates. These classes are available island-wide at accessible locations. Learn more and sign up now for 2018 classes at

How our children will fare as adults depends a lot on the quality of their relationship with their parents when young and on their pre-school education. We must invest in both to give them the best chance to succeed in life.


A monthly column where pertinent themes and concerns relating to the Indian community are discussed by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law and President, SINDA. Look out for it in Tamil Murasu on the first Sunday of each month.