Some parenting 101s are best learned on the fly – how to change monstrously-soiled diapers without fainting, or how to keep your cool when your child vandalises the walls with stickman drawings (sorry, mum!), to name a few.
But there are also some other things that you can be mentally or financially prepared for, even before the arrival of your baby. From their physical to intellectual well-being, there are tons of bases to cover.
You have to start somewhere, so here are 11 parenting tips every new parent needs to know to maximise their child's potential.
1. Feed them well
This one's a bit of a no-brainer, but here's some layman science behind it. The foundations of good health are laid during your child’s earliest stages, when he's developing most rapidly.
Their nourishment affects not only their health but also their behavioural and cognitive development – their ability to learn, communicate, and socialise. So take care to feed your infant well – this includes not only feeding them what is needed, but also when it's needed.
Look for early signs of hunger such as stirring and sucking motions, instead of only dashing to the supermarket when your child starts frantically crying.
And then there's the importance of breastfeeding. The cells, hormones and antibodies in breast milk strengthen your child's immune system, lowering your child's risk of illnesses and diseases, from the common flu to even asthma and eczema. This protection is unique and changes according to your infant's development – something that baby formula cannot duplicate.
2. Get the right jabs
When your child is at their earliest stages in life, they are most vulnerable to diseases, so getting them properly vaccinated is the most powerful defense against this.
In Singapore, the National Immunisation Registry ensures that your child gets all of the mandatory immunisations. But there are also optional ones such as the rotavirus, chickenpox and influenza vaccines that you should consider.
3. Make your career decisions in their best interests
Should both parents continue working and leave the child in the hands of a caregiver, or should you quit to be a stay-home parent? Is giving up your job in your child's best long-term interests?
If financial issues are a worry, quitting your jobs wouldn't be the best way to go. As long as you spend quality time with your child, even if it's just during weeknights or over the weekend, this beats quitting your job to sit in front of the TV in their presence.
And if you're worried that they form an attachment with their carer rather than with you, worry not. A child is capable of forming more than one attachment, and you can still stay relevant in their life even if you're not their primary caregiver.
So it's worth considering perhaps leaving your child in the care of their grandparents – just make sure they aren't being spoilt with too much ice cream. You know how grandparents are!
4. Plan ahead for their education
It's no longer just about you, but all about your child – ensuring that your child gets the best education might mean making major life changes such as moving houses, which involves much planning in advance.
Beginning this year, children who wish to be prioritised for enrolment into primary schools based on home-school distance – usually under 1km – are required to have stayed at the address for at least 30 months from the start of the Primary 1 registration exercise (there was no specific length of time required previously).
Of course, the level of kiasu doesn’t just end here. It never ends.
Consider schemes such as applying to be a parent volunteer at your primary school of choice, which usually reward you with a greater chance of successfully enrolling your child in that school.
5. Tailor your child's education to suit them
Children learn best when their brains are most rapidly and critically developing while young.
As much as we might bemoan being sent for extra-curricular classes at the tender ages of 5 or 6, we wouldn't be half the people we are if not for them. Have you ever tried learning a new language at 20? It's the stuff of nightmares.
Expose your child to anything they are interested in for an all-rounded education – it's equally important to acknowledge other areas of talent such as performing arts, sports, and even soft skills such as leadership.
Take it from someone who’s never done well in Mathematics but is still getting on absolutely fine in life – exam results don't define your child or their potential.
Differentiate the kind of learner your child is and tailor their education accordingly. For instance, tactile learners might not necessarily respond to visual stimuli and vice versa. Learn how your child learns!
6. Acknowledge their achievements
Personally, I was fortunate enough to have never seen the evil cane in my childhood – shout out to my mum and dad for never believing in physical punishments.
But what motivated me even more were the affirmations that I received whenever I came home with a good test score or a Sports Day medal.
Praise your kid when they deserve it – acknowledge that excelling is an achievement that is worth celebrating, and NOT simply a norm. Encourage brilliance, don't expect it!
7. Budget wisely
You won't want to realise you're out of diapers only after your baby does a big one in their pants. You won't want to realise you're out of funds only when a financially pressing situation arises, either.
Assume the largest expenses. Consider what-if situations: our current living situation costs S$x a month, but would it potentially increase?
A local university education costs at least S$30,000 per annum (and we're only talking about the basic fees), or even more if they decide to enter certain fields such as dentistry. Or is your child considering studying overseas, which would cost a whole lot more? Plan for the unplanned.
8. Get health coverage for your child
Getting health insurance for your children while they're young and healthy would mean you get to enjoy a lower premium and that any new medical condition that subsequently develops will be covered.
Whilst Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents are covered by MediShield Life, which provides basic coverage on hospitalisation and surgical costs, taking up Integrated Shield Plans such as Aviva's MyShield will grant you higher coverage so you have the option to receive treatment at higher wards or private hospitals, and still be covered for the greater costs incurred.
Many parents are covered under health insurance but neglect to do the same for the child. Some Integrated Shield Plans provided by independent insurers offer free insurance cover for your children.
For example, if both you and your spouse are covered under Aviva MyShield's Plan 1 or 2, you can enjoy discounted premium rates for your children till age 20!
9. And invest in your child's education
Give a man a fish and he'll be hungry in an hour; teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime. Teach him how to use the internet, and he won't bother you for weeks.
Really, though, the best investment you can make for your child is in their education. Make plans to ensure that your child will have sufficient funds to see them through their student life.
There are a variety of different savings options available.
For one, Aviva's MyEduPlan gives you 4 Guaranteed Cash Benefits* for your child's University education at their respective Payout Ages, so you can rest assured that their school fees will be covered when the time comes.
There's also the option to add on protection riders to your plan, which ensure your child's education fund will continue to grow even in the event where you are unable to continue contributing to their education fund financially.
10. Make sure you'll be there every step of their way
The best thing you can do for your loved ones is to take care of yourself. Financially, this rings true as well.
Your child is completely financially dependent on you and your spouse, so it's important to have a back-up plan should you no longer be able to provide for the family. It's no happy situation to think about, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
Look into term life plans that provide a monthly income stream in such circumstances, better allowing your family to manage their expenses without the fear of a fixed sum being depleted.
11. Think long term
Have your child protected in the long term even in the face of uncertainty. Perhaps school bullies are for your child to fend off by themselves by the time they enter their teenage years, but you can still protect their financial well-being.
Enter Aviva's MyLifeChoice plan, a whole life plan consisting of lifetime protection as well as a cash-savings component, offering added protection as well as helping with your child's financial discipline.
Taking out insurance plans for your child while they're young and deemed at a lower risk of suffering from health problems grants you a lower premium, offering your child ready protection at a lower cost.
Maximising your child's potential
Parenthood… It's equal parts rewarding but also worrying. There's so much to think about, and changing your kid's diapers is only the beginning.
You'll inevitably find yourself thrown in unexpected situations sometimes – especially when we're talking something as big as raising a child – and insurance is a small price to pay to give you a greater peace of mind. Maximise your child's potential and don't leave their future at the mercy of what-ifs with these parenting tips!
*The 4 Guaranteed Cash Benefits are guaranteed cash payouts paid to the policyholder from the Payout Age (19 or 21) onwards.
Republished with permission. This article first appeared on The Smart Local on 28 January 2016.