Don’t take the express train to Burnout!

Workaholics are being made to take their vacation leave.

Young children in Singapore are not getting adequate sleep. Less than half get the 9 hours of sleep they require for their growing brains and bodies. Employees in Singapore get on average 6 and a half hours of sleep, making them the third most sleep deprived city.

And workers in Singapore are “under happy”. In other words, they aren’t unhappy. But they’re also not happy. They’re not particularly optimistic about their future at their workplace and about being treated fairly at their workplace. At least that’s what a 2014 poll comprising 5,000 local respondents on national workplace happiness concludes.

It’s the usual work-life struggle. Too much work. Not enough life?

Apart from addressing the sources of stress at the workplace and home through assertive communication and stress management strategies, it’s important to reassess your priorities at work and home. After the Chinese New Year festivities (especially all that feasting), this might be a good time to re-start your year!

Research suggests that we’re more productive when we prioritize what’s really important to us (read this article from the Harvard Review Blog). It’s important to make time for your support network, family, friends, and personal interests.

Here are some ideas to help you recharge:

Decorate a cookie
1. Decorate cookies and make a kite!

National Parks hosts a picnic for families every last Saturday of the month at a different park each month. Bring your kids for kite-making and cookie-decorating in March at HortPark (online registration required at the beginning of the month).

Marina Bay Sands
2. Singapore International Jazz Festival 2015  

Ramsey Lewis, Blue Note, Bobby McFerrin, and Chris Botti are among the performers at this Marina Bay Sands jazz weekend, 6 to 8 March 2015. Get more details here.

3. A taste of Cole Porter
Pink Martini
is also performing at the Esplanade Theatre for one night, 31 March 2015: Tickets from Sistic.

Symphony Lake - Singapore Botanic Gardens
4. Free Jazz at Symphony Lake

The Thomson Jazz Band performs favourite tunes from the traditional jazz era at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Sunday, 22 March 2015. Keep up with their events on their Facebook page.

Beautiful Sunday - The Esplanade
5. Free Classical Concerts at the Esplanade

Beautiful Sunday is a free concert of music at the Esplanade Concert Hall. The Carnival! 嘉年华!Concert by Kids Philharmonic in March features Saint-Saëns, Bizet, and the Symphonic Dances from Fiddler on the Roof.

River Safari
6. See capybaras at the River Safari
The Amazon River Quest Ride at the River Safari launched mid-year last year (July 2014). Singapore Zoo visitors get to see capybaras, Amazon monkeys, the Giant Anteater, the Brazillian tapir, and jaguars on this boat ride.

Visit the bird park!
7. See rare tropical birds up close 

Jurong Bird Park has a newly opened exhibit Wings of Asia with local birds which are hard to spot (without expert guiding) and endangered species in a walk-in aviary. Look out for the beautiful Victoria-crowned pigeon. Well worth a visit with your young ones.

Cat cafe
8. Cat Museum

There’s a new Cat Museum at 8 Purvis Street (open Friday 4.30-7pm; Sat-Sun 12noon-3.30pm; 4.30pm-7.30pm) where you can visit for some play time. Or you can have tea at the cat cafes in Boat Quay, Mosque Street, Victoria Street, or North Bridge Road.

9. Pet Expo 2015
Pet-education seminars and workshops, and pet competitions will be taking place at this mega Pet Expo over the 20 to 22 March 2015 weekend at Singapore Expo Hall 8. Catch Bobo, the skateboarding dog in action!

Visit a fire station!
10. Visit a Fire Station!

It’s Open House every Sunday morning at our local fire stations! More details here. Great for the little ones with a special interest in things with four wheels…

11. Standup Comedy
Russell Peters is in town for his Almost Famous World Tour on 7 to 8 April 2015. Nuff said.

Marina Bay Sands
12. Paris Opera Ballet

If your March evenings and weekends are already full, you can keep them open for the upcoming festivals in April and May: Paris Opera Ballet is in town on 17 to 19 April 2015 to perform Balanchine, La Sylphide, and Don Quixote at the Esplanade, while the St Peterburg’s Ballet performs Swan Lake at Marina Bay Sands in the month of May.

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It’s another year already! Happy Chinese New Year!

chinese new year 2015

Bak kwa, pineapple tarts, and love letters are among the things we look forward to this time of year. Ang baos can be a source of cheer (or cheerful pain), depending on whether you’re receiving or giving them. Some of us survive the awkward questions, gossips, and intergenerational social interactions during this festive season in much better form than others.

The two days off this week for visiting relatives and hosting guests at home can actually be more stressful than it should be.

In fact, cleaning the house in time is a source of stress. Clearing out boxes of nostalgia from our dusty cupboards can push our emotional buttons. Stocking up on raw foods in the overfull fridge and freezer or arranging for a place for the family to dine on reunion night can also be another source of stress. Heavy conversations at the table of tense reunion dinners are also things we don’t look forward to.

So here are some tips to enjoy the holidays!


1. Try some cleaning hacks to get it done faster

Try these 36 creative solutions and these other 50 tips for a sparkling house. It also helps to not aim for perfection but have realistic de-cluttering goals for you and your family.

2. Know what you will and won’t eat before hand
For those who can’t have lots of salt, oil, protein, and/or simple carbohydrates such as sugar (e.g., those with diabetes), it’s helpful to know beforehand which foods are on the “okay” list and which aren’t. While it’s wise to indulge in moderation and engage in smarter eating, it’s helpful to look up that information in this list of Chinese New Year foods here and here before visitations start.

3. Try these stress management strategies
If you don’t manage to stick to your food plan on Day 1, you can always get back to it on Day 2. And for getting out sticky situations (though sugary nian gao fried with egg is rather good and is highly recommended, especially at this time of year), try these tips from Drive.SG. Negotiating family members can also be tricky: Try these tips for communicating effectively.

4. Tips for parents
One of the top tips from the experts involves lowering your expectations, while another is about being flexible with schedules. Read more in our previous blog post here.

5. Exercise to de-stress
It’s the New Year. So that means you can’t use the scissors or knife. You can’t clean or sweep anything. But traditions didn’t say you can’t go for a walk, job, a game of friendly badminton, or a swim. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. It can be a walk to the Chingay parade (1 March 2015), the Open House at the Singapore Philatelic Museum (19 to 20 Feb 2015), the night shows in Kreta Ayer (till 18 Feb 2015), goat (kid) feeding and photography exhibit at the Singapore Zoo (18 to 22 Feb 2015), or the floral displays in the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay (to 8 March 2015).

6. Spend time sharing traditions with the family
Here’s a list of why we celebrate the way we celebrate Chinese New Year! Don’t forget to relax, sleep in, and enjoy the company of your friends and family during the festivities.

Developing young children’s social and emotional skills

Developing emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence
is the buzzword in the modern workplace. But social and emotional skills are actually abilities which can be nurtured when children are young.

Success isn’t the only key ingredient for success. Knowing how to read, recognize, and respond to one’s own as well as other people’s emotions are key skills for the workplace. The ability to make friends and sustain social relationships are crucial to thriving at work and at school. Being able to manage our emotions including impulses and anger are important elements for success in life.

Parents play an important role in building empathy and resilience in their children. Here are some tips for developing emotional intelligence in young children:

Positive endings good, sad endings bad
Every story usually has a lesson to learn. The hare and the tortoise: Being persistent wins the race. The goose with the golden eggs: Don’t be greedy. The wolf in sheep’s clothing: Appearances can be deceiving. But it turns out that we learn best from stories which have a good ending. A 2014 study finds that children respond more positively to a moral story which promotes honesty than one which warns us about the consequences of dishonesty.

Encourage empathy with a habit of reading
Encourage your children to read fiction to gain an understanding about other people’s emotions and mental states. In a 2014 study of 1,000 adults, participants who read literary text extracts (e.g., Anton Chekov) were better at detecting emotions in others than control participants who were asked to read popular fiction or non-fiction. Another advantage of encouraging children to read is that those with more advanced reading skills are likely to do well in school. A recent twin study has established that reading ability at 7 years predicts how children perform in intelligence tests later in life.

Spare the rod, but don’t spoil the child
A new study provides evidence for this idea. In this 2014 study, occasions when parents spanked their children at home were captured on video-tape. Rather than using spanking as intentional discipline, parents in this study were observed to be often motivated by impulse or their emotions. Most spanking incidents were also in response to minor wrongs, and their children typically misbehaved within 10 minutes of the spanking. So, focus on being consistent and on providing opportunities to reward good behaviours. If helpful, encourage children to see things from the perspective of others.

Understand your child’s needs
Spending time with your infant or toddler is important. Babies have more opportunities to learn new words from their caregivers when their caregivers spend time talking to them. But time spent with young children doesn’t just benefit them cognitively.

A 2014 study shows that children with secure emotional bonds with their main caregiver (parents) have better social skills. Securely attached children tend to respond positively to other children on their first meeting. Such children also show an ability to adapt to their play peers: With play peers who show frustration and anger easily, securely attached children use appropriate strategies such as requests for toys rather than attempts to just grab toys.

Conversely, not having strong emotional bonds with caregivers increases the risk of problem behaviour at home and difficulties with academic subjects at school. Researchers of a recent UK study observe that children without a strong emotional bond to their parent(s) by the age of 3 years, are at risk for social and emotional problems (e.g., aggressive behaviours, deliquency, depression) later in life.

Encourage children to experience challenges early
Help your children explore the world for themselves. A new study found that teenagers who experienced challenges on a 10-day youth sailing “Outward Bound” experience were more resilient after the experience and more resilient than a control peer group studying an academic course. Telling your children to try harder also makes them willing to work harder, a new study suggests.