“In the past decade of motherhood, I have never had an undelightful day,” says Elaine Tang, a seasoned media figure and parenting KOL, who shares her parenting experiences and insights across various platforms. Albeit her remarkable achievements in the media industry, Elaine is content with being a laid-back and foolish mother in her son’s eyes as she firmly believes her son will pave his own path. She particularly resonates with Taiwanese actress Evonne Sie’s words: “The key to parenting is to treat yourself like a child and your child like an adult. Treating your little ones like children will only stunt their growth. Children grow every day, so it is important to have faith in their potential to improve!”

Refrain from following the crowd blindly

No one is born to be a perfect mother – Elaine learnt as she went along. She admits her only advantage over other mothers is that she enjoys observing and analysing children’s personality, and sharing her insights with others through writing. Her friends and readers would consult her on their parenting dilemmas. The question Elaine gets asked most frequently is how to navigate the school selection process, which is a common struggle among parents since their children’s birth. Unlike some parents, Elaine and her husband do not prioritise grades. Rather, they believe in selecting a school that is a good fit for their child’s personality and needs. Elaine applied for six completely different kindergartens for her son so she could see which one would be the best fit for him during the interview process. She recalls, “One of them was the best public kindergartens in Tseung Kwan O. During the interview, each candidate took turns picking and describing an object from a bag. When the candidate who went before my son struggled to answer the question, my son helped him but was scolded by the teacher for interfering. When it was my son’s turn to answer, he was criticised for giving an overly detailed answer. It was clear to me that he would only be seen as a troublemaker at this school. During the interview at an international school, my son received an A+ for answering the principal’s question which was meant for parents. The principal told us that the school needed lively students like him. After several interviews, I realised my son needed a school that promotes happy learning.” In the end, Elaine and her husband enrolled their son in a forest kindergarten at Clear Water Bay and an international primary school. “Our school choices have allowed our son to enjoy more quality time with us and participate in extracurricular activities. In addition, my husband and I were able to raise our son without worrying about academics.”

Elaine emphasises the importance of selecting the most suitable school for children, rather than simply choosing the “best” school. Blindly following the crowd can result in a poor fit for children’s needs. Elaine offers several practical tips on selecting the right school for your little ones: (1) Consider the path you want your child to take and choose a school that aligns with your goals. It may be difficult to transfer from an international school to a traditional one, though going vice versa is often easier. (2) Select a school that suits your child’s personality. While disciplined and studious children may thrive in a traditional school, energetic and lively children may feel stifled in a strict, traditional environment. (3) Examine how different schools foster young minds. Elaine advises against selecting schools that prioritise grades above all else. (4) Look at the educational philosophy of the school principal and observe students’ behaviour outside of class by visiting the school after hours. (5) As long as your child is passionate about the chosen school, he/she will naturally be motivated to work hard.

Parenting on the same page

While many argue that being a parent should require a licence, Elaine disagrees, but emphasises that it is helpful for spouses to have a strong foundation and see eye to eye for the sake of their children’s future. Elaine believes that many parents have not considered carefully why they want to have children and are not prepared to make sacrifices for their little ones. It is not just about carrying on the family lineage or completing certain milestones in life. “Rather than personality, upbringing, education, wealth or appearance, the most critical factor in a marriage is values, which can be applied to everything. As long as a couple shares similar values, there is nothing they cannot work out together. Values are interconnected with parenting as well. It is not uncommon for a couple with different values to apply conflicting parenting styles, which can be confusing for their children.”

In addition to marital relationships, the parenting methods of the previous generations can create challenges for modern-day mothers. Elaine’s greatest source of pressure comes from her own mother. “She is a classic example of a traditional Chinese parent who believes in disciplining children with corporal punishment and humiliation. Since she thinks praising children equals spoiling them, she has never complimented me. After I had my son, I had to explain my parenting methods to her. She questioned my school choices and advised me against praising my son too often. I have had to constantly correct her whenever she teaches my son the wrong messages. Fortunately, my son has learnt to distinguish right from wrong – he even corrects my mum sometimes.” The flawed parenting methods of the previous generation have made Elaine more cautious as a parent. Determined not to repeat her parents’ mistakes, she has become a humble mother who is willing to learn from her son. “My son once asked my mum why she did not thank me for cooking such delicious food. My mum replied that gratitude need not be expressed. My son then taught her, ‘You should keep criticism to yourself and express your gratitude. This way, the people around you will be much happier.’ Innocent children can sometimes teach us more lessons than what we can offer them.”

Elaine’s son has enjoyed playing with LEGO® blocks since kindergarten. His home is filled with the masterpieces he has built over the years.

Three must-have skills for the future

“My biggest hope for my son is that he can thrive anywhere in the world,” Elaine states. To achieve this, she places great emphasis on her son’s ability to self-learn. As an example, she cites the impressive achievements of Hillary Yip, the 13-year-old CEO from Hong Kong who made a splash in the start-up world with her language learning app MinorMynas. She later dropped out of school to focus on her career and was even invited to give a speech at the Jack Ma Foundation. By the age of 10, Hillary had already developed excellent programming skills, which allowed her to create an app that encourages children to effortlessly learn foreign languages from kids in other countries. Elaine believes that children like Hillary who can self-learn will excel anywhere in the world.

Despite the widespread integration of AI in our lives, creativity, as well as communication and problem-solving skills, remain indispensable for navigating the future. Elaine firmly believes that AI has limitations generating original ideas and is confined to executing tasks, making it unlikely to replace human creativity. Effective communication skills encompass proficiency in social and verbal communication, which have been instrumental in the success of numerous celebrities and politicians, including Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Good communication skills can also imbue leaders with natural charisma. Those who excel at speaking are often skilful writers as well. “Schools are where students can hone their social and problem-solving skills. I advise against excessive parental complaints to school staff and overbearing interference in your child’s life. While bullying must be addressed, other interpersonal issues on campus can often be resolved by children themselves.” As a parent, Elaine sees nurturing good character, especially empathy, in children as a fundamental necessity. She says, “Kindness and happiness are essential qualities that must be instilled from an early age. Even the most talented individuals may cause harm and rebel against society if they lack empathy. On the contrary, children with empathy are inclined to do good and are more likely to receive support from others. They tend to make meaningful contributions to society as well.”

Under an education system that still focuses on rote learning, many parents nowadays continue to prioritise academic achievement. Elaine, however, is a firm believer in the “free to learn” philosophy advocated by American psychologist Peter Gray. Over the past decade, she has found this parenting method highly effective for her son. When he was in kindergarten, Elaine made sure he had time every day to engage in the activities he enjoyed. His favourite pastime is playing with LEGO® blocks – he can even complete complex LEGO® sets that come with 500-page instructions. “He can do it because he enjoys it. I believe you can learn from playing with anything,” Elaine shares. Her aspiration for her son’s happiness is reflected in his Chinese name.

Elaine’s aspiration for her son’s happiness is reflected in his Chinese name.

Raising children teaches parents to be better people Elaine is deeply grateful for motherhood and sees children as valuable opportunities for parents to rediscover themselves. “As adults, we can easily be bogged down by life’s distractions. Children often offer a fresh perspective on the world.” Elaine believes that in an ideal parent-child relationship, the child should be treated as a grown-up while parents are treated as children. She illustrates, “When we treat children like adults, we show them respect and put our faith in them. When we treat ourselves like children, we can learn so much from our little ones and reflect on our own actions. Playing with children is also a unique and enriching experience – what a privilege it is to be a child again.” Elaine challenges the misconception held by many parents that getting children into a good school guarantees success. In fact, the role of parents is paramount in educating young minds. “I know a mother who works at the Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care (SPHC). Her premature daughter weighed only 500 grams and was covered in tubes from the moment she was born. When the doctors advised her to give up, the mother quit her job to care for her daughter full-time. Although her daughter suffered from many health complications as a child, she is now healthy and the two even spent time outdoors during the pandemic. When she was rejected by more than 10 primary schools, I helped secure an interview for her and she ended up being an award-winning student at the school. Despite her fragility, her mother’s unconditional love has guided her to grow up happily and healthily. Rather than parents’ careers or backgrounds, love and patience are key to raising children,” Elaine concludes.

During the pandemic, Elaine’s family visited up to 100 local nature spots and compiled their adventures into the “travel without flying” series on Facebook. Inspired by her family trips, she developed a set of outdoor parenting advice that encourages parents to take their children out of airconditioned rooms and explore nature. Elaine shares, “Children belong outdoors where they can soak up vitamin D to strengthen their immune system. Most importantly, they need to play and socialise under the sun!”

This photo was taken at the tombolo of Sharp Island.