The phenomenon of “Kong Kids” has developed into a grave social problem in Hong Kong. Ridiculous cases about kids lacking self-care ability are extensively reported by the media. For instance, a primary six student who is unable to wash his/her own hair; a five-year-old child who cannot go to the toilet independently; a junior secondary student who does not know how to tie shoelaces; and a teenage girl who needs her mom’s help with bathing. To me, this is a tragic situation. Classified as “Princess Syndrome”, it is very common in affluent societies like Hong Kong. So far, no effective treatment is available for this “disease”.     
 


Ability to set goals
 
I would like to share with you my views on self-care ability and creativity. Let me first talk about self-care ability. Self-care is the ability to look after oneself and manage one’s own learning behaviour in everyday life. One must be able to take care of himself/herself before he/she can care for others. In my opinion, self-care ability is not restricted to being able to dress, use the toilet, cook and tidy up independently, it also includes taking on responsibilities. Children’s critical thinking can be nurtured gradually through such independent behavioural development. I believe that if one has independent and critical thinking skills, he/she will certainly be able to set goals for life in the future. From a philosophical point of view, the person will be able to find answers to questions like “who am I?” and “what do I want?”
 
As observed from my over 20 years’ teaching experience, setting a goal for life is not an easy task. When asked about their ideals, most secondary and university students gave a shocking response: “I haven’t thought of it,” or “Nil. I simply hope to get enough money to pay off my credit card debt.” Why haven’t they thought of their ideals for life? It’s because they don’t even possess the basic environment for nurturing their ideals. Self-care ability is not only reflected by a person’s competence to look after himself/herself in daily life, but is also embodied by the person’s acts and thoughts – whether he/she can be self-reliant as well as act and think independently with his/her own ideals. We should do our utmost to nurture the next generation’s self-care ability since it is not an inborn trait. Some people may be smarter than others, but cleverness and self-care ability are two different matters. Even a brilliant person may lack self-care ability. I believe that today’s Hong Kong kids can perform well in examinations, but I doubt whether they are able to think independently and have an exalted ideal.    
 
Training at an early age and provide kids with the right to choose
 
Personally speaking, I would ask my kids to tidy up their own toys and books when they reach toddling age (one and a half to two years old). Although their developing language ability may not allow them to clearly express themselves, it does not mean that they cannot understand their parents’ messages to the full or to a great extent. I believe that conditioned response training is important. Very often kids can tell dos and don’ts apart from their parents’ facial expressions, tone of voice and visual cues. Therefore, self-care ability can be the foundation of conditioned response training, but disciplining our kids by strict punitive measures is unnecessary. Instead we should provide them with a favourable environment and the right to choose so that they can live up to our expectations and learn how to make choices.
 
Kids should be given the right to choose among things shortlisted by their parents. This is by no means indulging kids as we shortlist some options that go with a nurturing environment. Let me take sports as an example. Swimming, track and field, gymnastics, ball games as well as the currently popular cycling, are all good for physical and mental health provided that they are done in a safe environment. They are also healthy activities that help develop a lifelong interest in sports. So, why not let the kid choose? I believe that by providing kids with the freedom to choose their favourite sports, we can nurture positive, happy and healthy kids who are interested in what they do.
 
A reward system can be a great tool as well. In sport psychology, material rewards are effective, particularly during the initial three months. But it is worth bearing in mind that the effectiveness of such rewards will diminish after this point. I strongly recommend parents to try using rewards to motivate their kids, gradually bringing out their inner sense of satisfaction. Rewards don’t have to be food treats or items on their wish lists. They are material aids that facilitate the building up of self-care ability and creativity that we wish the child to have. In short, if you want to encourage more exercise, enroll the child in a sports training course, provide him/her with sports gear and show support by being a spectator or giving verbal encouragement. For example, “You didn’t do so well this time, but if you work harder, you’ll definitely perform better next time.”
 
Add interesting elements to nurture kids’ self-care ability
 
Making activities more interesting by adding elements also helps. For instance, we can add some fun elements into chores that nurture kids’ self-care ability. Every morning I make the beds together with my daughters. They take the blanket and pretend it is a “rainbow umbrella”. Once lifted, they rush inside and stay under it with glee. Then I tell them how to make a bed and give them a reward with the aim of nurturing their tidiness. Afterwards, we perform a “ritual”. My daughters will count one, two and three, and all of us will clap our hands together rhythmically. This is also a common practice in sports training – performing a ritual to mark the completion of a course of training or an ideal act. Through such a rhythmical act, we impress upon ourselves our unity and successful cooperation. And by so doing, they feel gratified by the completion of a simple everyday task.
 
During the conversion of external conditions into a sense of satisfaction, parents should explain to their kids that being tidy is a responsible act as well as a foundation for and a key to future success. Don’t think that two to three-year-old toddlers are ignorant. According to some literature on child developmental psychology, babies begin to receive messages while in the womb. Their reception capacity is even stronger than that of adults, so never dismiss their reception and observation capabilities.
 
If kids have the above-mentioned self-care abilities, it means that they know all the dos and don’ts. It is entirely based on their autonomous thinking and eventually they will develop their own independent personalities.
 
(To be continued) 
 
(This article is a translation only. The original article is in Chinese.)
 
If you are interested in other articles of Professor Patrick Lau, please visit http://bublog.hkbu.edu.hk/bublog/html/blog.jsp?bid=7.