PHOTOGRAPHY Veronica Tay assisted by Sherman See-Tho. STYLING Martin Wong, assisted by Melvin Yeo HAIR David Gan, Passion Hair Salon MAKEUP Kenneth Lee, using Cle de Peau Beaute OUTFIT Ralph Lauren
Today’s children are an entitled lot, proclaims actress Joanne Peh, who is pregnant with her second child. “Everyone has witnessed a screaming child in a restaurant before. He or she is wailing for an ice cream dessert and the parents are so embarrassed and flustered that they quickly order it just to keep the child quiet.”
And it’s not just a Singaporean phenomenon. When she moved to Beijing with her husband, actor Qi Yuwu, in 2015 after she gave birth, Joanne found herself surrounded by kids from single-child families who all seemed to behave with the same disrespect.
Horrified by such over-concerned and protective parenting, she was determined to raise her own daughter, now 12 months old, right. That is, as an “unentitled” child.
Fresh from rounding up four months of extensive travelling for Unique Towns, a TV series that explores interesting places around the world, Joanne shares her strategies for child-raising and how she’s striving to be the best parent she can be.
Keeping Baby Qi out of the limelight
Joanne has never revealed her daughter’s name to the public. On her Instagram page, the actress affectionately refers to her as Baby Qi. Hiding their little one’s identity was a conscious decision by Joanne and Yuwu to shield their daughter from the public eye.
“She was born with both her parents in the limelight,” says Joanne. “We want to give her the freedom to decide if she wants that kind of life.”
Putting her child’s interests first
Baby Qi’s personality is starting to develop and her preferences and interests are emerging. Joanne says she isn’t keen to impose any activity or toy on her little one unless she first shows an interest in learning it, especially when she gets old enough for enrichment activities like piano or ballet lessons.
Case in point: She recently bought Lego blocks for Baby Qi to play with, remembering how much she enjoyed creating objects out of her imagination as a child. But her daughter wasn’t remotely interested in them. Disappointed though she was, Joanne says: “It’s her choice.” And the first-time mum wants to continue giving her child the autonomy to make decisions for herself.
Understanding her changing needs
The key element to successful parenting is to be responsive to your child’s needs, Joanne says. “Parents need to be aware that their children are always growing,” she adds. Their capacity to learn increases and their interests change.
Joanne shares how, as her daughter’s first birthday approached, she was already starting to assert her independence. “She used to sit patiently and eat whatever we fed her. But now, she wanted to feed herself and was a lot pickier. She would fling food she didn’t like all over the place.”
The change in behaviour was initially frustrating – think of the mess at every meal! But inconvenient as it was, Joanne wanted to let Baby Qi find her own way. “She has to learn how to do things on her own and she also has to learn that there are rules she must abide by,” she explains.
Meeting a child’s needs yet not giving in to their wants is what she learned from the book, The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World by Amy McCready, which teaches parents how to ‘un-entitle’ their children.
So when Baby Qi cries now, Joanne says she’s learned to figure out whether it’s from distress or if she’s throwing a tantrum. A tantrum signals a different need, and is a cry for attention, says Joanne.
To satisfy this need, Joanne makes what she calls “mind, body and soul time” for her daughter – 30 minutes of uninterrupted time during which she does something her baby enjoys, like going outside to play. “You don’t have to take your child to Disneyland. Sometimes, she just wants you.”
This rings true during those Kodak moments when Baby Qi crawls over to Joanne and rests her little head on her lap, or hugs Yuwu from the back like a koala.
Setting clear rules from day one
Joanne is no softy though – this mum isn’t afraid to discipline her daughter. So even though Baby Qi is allowed to feed herself, she isn’t allowed to leave the table until she finishes her food.
It’s strictly no electronic devices for her little one too. Joanne believes that kids need human interaction to develop proper social skills. “My baby has never seen an iPad or watched television,” she says.
But she admits that children are naturally drawn to screens and gadgets. So when Baby Qi is invariably exposed to digital world, Joanne wants to ensure she benefits intellectually from it. She’s already looking into signing her daughter up for coding classes when the time comes – it can develop perseverance, imagination and problem-solving skills, Joanne believes.
Preparing her for the future
When she was filming Unique Towns, Joanne and Baby Qi spent as many as 10 days apart at a time. It was hard for mother and child, but Joanne says matter-of-factly: “It helps her to learn that her Mummy is not always going to be around.” A nanny helped care for Baby Qi when Joanne had to travel.
A new issue now weighs on their minds: Should they send Baby Qi to play school? Joanne thinks it would be a good opportunity for her daughter to interact with her peers and develop social skills, but isn’t ready for others to set the rules for her daughter just yet.
Now, with her husband’s pending departure to China for work, the family’s time together in Singapore will be shortlived. Joanne herself is due to start filming for the Channel 8 drama, Dream Coder, which explores the fast-paced lives of people working in a tech start-up, her first acting project in two years.
She smiles tentatively: “It’s been two years since I’ve done something like this so I honestly don’t know what to expect. I will just take things as they come. We try not to plan too much, because things change.”