• A Parent Perspective


    “…the foundation – whether it’s strong or weak – is not really going to
    change. So it’s all about the work you put into the first 6 years.”
    – Dimitrios Kavvathas

    The Journal catches up with Dimitrios Kavvathas, devoted father of Anastasia (2 years) and Ioannis (9 months) on his perspective as a parent. Mr. Kavvathas recently retired as a Partner at Goldman Sachs.

    You are very passionate about the topic of early childhood development. What triggered this interest?

    I’ve always taken a strong interest in how talent gets created, and how people get better at what they do. Nurturing my own children to becoming the best they can be represents the ultimate challenge to me in terms of effort and understanding in fostering the concept of self-improvement.

    The imprint of a child is formed mostly at the early years and by 6 years of age there’s not much more you can really do. Yes of course there is a lot of hard work that needs to continue afterwards but the foundation – whether it’s strong or weak – is not really going to change. So it’s all about the work you put into the first 6 years. I can’t imagine anything more important than getting it right now.

    The ‘foundation’ you referred to – what is that comprised of?

    Foundation for me means everything surrounding one’s attitude and approach towards learning, to knowledge and to others around them.

    What principle(s) guide your parenting philosophy?

    I have a great passion for athleticism and there’s no better analogy better than how a professional athlete works or thinks to how I would want learning and education to work for a child.

    What underpins fitness is discipline; the willingness to defer instant gratification for future success. You are constantly working hard for a goal that’s somewhere in the future; a sprinter might be training for 4 years just to excel at a 10 second race. One particular famous study by Walter Mischel, known as the Marshmallow Test sought to identify the most important predictors of success in life. Above anything else, virtues such as patience and self-control were found to be the most consistent predictors.

    Does the pursuit of discipline come at the expense of happiness for a child?

    I think the key is to find ways to help children develop their own discipline, not to force it upon them. Using sports again as an example, in the US a lot of children enjoy competitive sports and they naturally want to get better at what they do.

    By promoting a similar attitude towards learning and education, I believe that a child can take a disciplined approach and find the process enjoyable.

    What advice can you give to those who seek to balance work life with family life?

    We can say all we want about attaining balance but we are not really attaining it. I’m not working for the time being, and it just makes me realize more how much can be done with the children. Having a disciplined program in place is a start to ensure that any time spent is focused on quality.

    You’ve enjoyed considerable success in the world of finance. Are there any concepts from the business world that can be brought into the parenting world?

    In the business world we often talk about the importance of being customer-centric. With education being one of the most important consumer products, how many educational institutions really consider what the needs are of its ‘customers’? This leads me to have some reservations on how the education system works both philosophically and practically in Hong Kong. I applaud SPRING for breaking the mold.

    Lastly, you’re at a formal gathering with your children and they start crying uncontrollably. You have a matter of seconds to pacify them. What would you do?

    I start by hugging them, holding them close to my head. In a slightly severe but constructive tone, I say (in Greek) “Please just stop this now, it is not helpful.”

    There is firmness in the voice but with a bit of pleading as well, so whether they are in the mood to understand fear, or if they are more receptive in that moment to the pleading aspect, they can take it whichever way they want.

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  • Did you know?


    “Play has loads of therapeutic benefits for a child and
    provides an outlet to process emotions and experiences.”

    Play as a vehicle for therapy

    As parents, we usually understand how our children feel by watching them and how they act. It’s easy to tell when they’re happy and content, and they show us by being cheery and playful. When things are not going so well, our children may behave in ways that can cause problems and they are not always able to express what they are going through. We and other people such as teachers and other parents observe that the child may stop doing what they are told, or become excessively anxious or withdrawn.

    Play can be a powerful platform to reach out to our children

    Play is one of the most natural ways for children to understand their world, to learn about themselves and develop their social, emotional and physical skills. Children also use play to express feelings even before they develop the ability to communicate properly through language.

    Just as the body heals from physical injury, a child has an emotional system that can be self-healing if certain conditions are present for the child. Play has loads of therapeutic benefits for a child and provides an outlet to process emotions and experiences.

    Play Therapy is an approach used to help a child activate his or her innate self-healing abilities, and to support the child’s growth and development on an emotional and psychological level.

    Play Therapy is used by therapists to help children experiencing all kinds of difficulties, ranging from experiencing single or multiple trauma; adjusting to family changes such as separation or divorce; feelings of aggression, excessive anger, fear, sadness, worry and shyness; chronic illness and hospitalisation; to sleeping and eating difficulties.

    Children do not necessarily have to “talk out” their problems using words to feel better; children can communicate through the use of toys and art materials to release feelings and experiences. For example, children who see their parents fighting may use puppets to act out these conflicts. Play therapy can therefore be used directly, making use of role-playing and art to aid children to freely express the feelings they have difficulty saying and to develop and devise coping skills.

    How can I assist my child to express and overcome their difficulties?

    The role of parents or caregivers is extremely important in achieving the goals of Play Therapy. Filial Play (a form of Play Therapy) involves the child and parents or caregivers and therapist to strengthen family relationships and enhance attachment between a child and his or her parents.

    In Filial Play, parents can learn the principles of Play Therapy and certain skills including how to create an open and accepting environment to improve the parent-child relationship. The effects of the supportive setting facilitated by a trained play therapist can be longer lasting – and help a child to develop appropriate ways of thinking and behaving.

    Through Play Therapy, even the most complicated of problems can be discovered, rehearsed, mastered, and adapted into life-long strategies.

  • Did you know?


    “At birth, the brain already has 100 billion neurons,
    but they are not well connected yet.”
    –   Scarlett Mattoll, MSc, MBPsS, MAC

    Brain Power – Maximising the early years

    How do you know if you’re doing everything you can to nurture your child’s mind?
    Brain development starts even before birth and it’s important for parents to support their child’s learning during the first five years of life.
    Knowing how you can support your child’s development is one of the best first steps in helping him or her develop brain power.

    At birth, the brain already has 100 billion neurons, but they are not well connected yet. The connections need to be formed through “neural pathways” that act like very long wires. These wires allow for communication between our brains and bodies so we can interpret everything our senses pick up from the outside world.

    As our child’s brain develops, there are critical periods for our children to optimally develop vision, auditory, cognitive, sensory, motor and linguistic functions.

    As children grow up, they get lots of stimulation from the environment which connects neural pathways; practicing the same things over and over again strengthens the existing neural pathways even more. When you don’t use it, you lose it! Stimulation and care help our brains develop better and keep it running.

    At around the age of two, children experience a period of “synaptic exuberance”, where neurons become linked up at a faster rate than any other time of normal human development. This explains why two year-olds often run around repeating actions and insist on doing it themselves. They are happy after completing a new capability with success, and parents should applaud them. Parents who provide emotional support and greater learning opportunities see healthier communication patterns. This leads to well-adjusted primary students and less-stressful teenage years. Who can say no to that?

    So – what can you do to maximise the early years?

    This seems obvious but touch your child! This first sensory experience develops closeness between you and your child and better links up senses with the brain, and thus allows the development of other senses more quickly.

    Talk to your child and be a model for their language development. Emotional development starts at home, so smile at your child every chance you get. Children who don’t get their emotional development from home are less likely to develop functional social skills, which can be much more difficult to acquire later on. Play with your child to help the transition from parallel play to cooperative play in their toddler years.

    There is much responsibility that comes with being a parent. Being aware of the areas in which your child will most benefit and supporting them every chance you get is the first best start in the lifelong task of giving your little one real brain power.

    Scarlett Mattoli, founder of psychology consultancy Psynamo Limited, offers advisory services on issues surrounding normal development and learning differences of children.

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