The new REWARDS plan.

Ha. I know the word REWARDS was bound to grab your attention. It has the same effect on my 9-almost-10 year old; her eyes light up like a lit Christmas tree whenever I mouth the word. Let me breathe it out slowly…rewards. Ah…

Yes, who doesn’t like them? We have loyalty card programmes, frequent flyer points accumulation programmes, buy 1 get 1 free member incentives…but these are rewards of a different kind. I call this the Mama – Baby (Amanda still thinks of herself as a baby) Rewards Scheme or MBRS for short. A stroke of genius if I may say so myself, it has taken Amanda from daydreaming average student to driven and focused, top of her class, solid performer (of course, we also have Ms Amy of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre to thank); I only wish I had implemented it sooner.

Before I proceed, you’re probably wondering, will this work for my child? My question to you is: do you know your child well enough to know what he or she would consider a reward? It’s NOT what you consider a reward, it is what he or she really desires but has to get your co-operation or at least approval for.

Having allowed Amanda all the latitude in the world to learn through play up until 8 years of age (you’re probably wondering how that has worked for me or if you’ve been following this blog religiously you already know), I’ve come to realise that what constitutes a reward for her are the following:

* playdates

* having her bestie sleepover

* attending birthday parties

* going for tea somewhere nice

* getting new art supplies

* going clothes shopping or to the movies

* extra computer time

Okay. So it’s pretty obvious that Amanda is a regular girl. Some kids are not motivated by material things; in fact, many would be pleased to just have you show them some attention. But REWARDS are extra special. I give Amanda my full-attention 80% of the time so it is not a reward but a basic requirement in her book.

So how can she “redeem” these wonderful rewards I used to give her freely when we lived in Brisbane? To turn them into real rewards, I first took them away. Yes, I know this part is a pain but I took them all away: I cancelled every play date, every “fun” excursion…I wiped the slate clean and we focused only on work. We did this for 1 whole year and a bit. 

You’re probably going, “Yikes, this is hardcore!”

Whenever Amanda said she wanted to quit Kumon etc…I said her father and I would ship her to Singapore if need be to get her grey cells (aka brains) into shape.

Brains are muscles,” I told her. “Yours are currently mush. They need to pump some iron.” I’d lift invisible weights with my hands for emphasis and flex my equally mushy arms.

“Ya, but I don’t like math,” she used to tell me.

“That’s because you’re no good at it,” I said. She was then average or perhaps slightly above average in that department. “Trust me, the moment you get good you’re gonna love it.”

She’s now the best in her class. Her Kumon instructor Ms Amy says it is to be expected. Amanda now finishes tasks with time to spare, in some cases enough to help another 7 of her floundering classmates one by one.

I love how Ms Amy ripped up Amanda’s work when her handwriting was bad too. Amanda now has beautiful handwriting.

I’ve been told I am a Tiger Mum. I don’t think so but if I am, it’s only because I want the best for my kid. It’s like the Dulux slogan: Worth doing, worth Dulux. Mine is: Worth doing, do it well the first time for God’s sake!

Now, for Amanda to “redeem” a reward, she  has to successfully complete another level of Kumon or make an A or High Distinction. Extra rewards will also be given for school awards recognising achievement or participation in outside (ICAS for example) tests that lead to “demonstrable achievement.”

I even give Amanda permission to daydream. Where? In the toilet, in the shower, in bed, while waiting for her father in the car…But when she’s in class or at Kumon or doing homework, she has to be mentally present and ready to make neurological Carl Lewis sprints.

We went back to Brisbane for a fly-by trip recently (Sorry, if I didn’t call on you. It was only 2 days and I had too much to do) and we met up with Amanda’s bestie Lily and her mum, Melissa. All have been informed of this new REWARDS plan, MBRS. Now you have been too. Try it. It works a treat. Just be prepared for some major sulking before that.

A very unusual Christmas present.

Me and some of the mums from school were discussing Christmas presents.

“I’m going to Garden City to buy Lego,” one announced. “I’m getting my sons Batman Lego.”

I’ll be getting Amanda intensive Kumon lessons for after the new year,” I said.

They all turned to look at me.

“Amanda has got between 5 and 10 years to thank me,” I joked. “I’m very patient.”

“It’ll be one  of your family stories,” said another mum with a laugh. “Remember the time when mum got me intensive maths lessons for Christmas?”

“Have you told Amanda yet?” asked the first mum who was going to buy Batman Lego.

No, I just told her I have a very special surprise for her waiting in Malaysia,” I said, unable to suppress my glee at being able to deceive my seven-going-on-eight year old for that long. I plan to get her a few other gifts to sweeten this one; a couple of new outfits should do the trick.

“You know what I reckon would be the best present?” said the mum who wasn’t buying Lego. “Going abroad to see the world. Just being in Malaysia will teach Amanda so much. Children here are so privileged, so sheltered.”

“You’re right. She’ll get to see hardcore poverty first-hand; the kind that is inherited, not the result of drug or alcohol abuse.” Although Malaysia has poverty resulting from and reinforced by alcoholism in the rubber estates. “She’ll see children younger than her serving her massive bowls of hot soup, working – my mother used to point them out to me all the time and say, ‘How lucky are you when you could easily have been born that kid?’ She’ll see the limbless begging at the sides of the roads, some trying to sell packets of tissue as we eat. She’ll be shocked out of her system all right. Already I’ve been talking to her about thieves and robbers, kidnappers, molesters, drug and human traffickers; of children abducted from schools, shopping centres, at the night market, never to be seen again. I’ve prepared her to meet the dredges of society we don’t see in our sanitised world.”

It’s a land where parents still spank, if they don’t belt, whip or box, many among the uneducated brazen enough to do so publicly. It’s also a land where we don’t help the old, the young or the invalid, basically anybody, at airports in case they are drug traffickers. We ask to see what’s in the bag before agreeing to carry it even for family or friends.

“Many of our kids get the shock of their lives when they go overseas,” she said.

“I bet they do.” I hear Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz saying to Toto, her dog, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

Here in Australia, it is so safe. Barring very few areas, you can walk down the road during the day, decked out in bling like a Christmas tree without fear of being robbed  or molested at knife point. These are things that never even cross your mind, living here.

I highly recommend families in first world countries take their children to see what lies beyond their 5 star resorts when on holiday in Asia. It will open their eyes to the hardship and human suffering beyond our privileged shores and make the next generation of what might be potentially spoilt-brats, thankful for living here. Privileged Asians in Asia, cloistered in their rarefied affluence, should try living without the maid and air-conditioning for at least a week of every year to get a perspective of how the other half live. Perspective is the gift that keeps on giving long after the season’s decorations have been taken down. You can’t find it in any store and it’s bound to be one the kids remember for years to come.