Focus on the Family trainers, Joshua Liong and Nicole Wee, recently went on 938LIVE with Susan Ng to share their experience on the hot topic of disciplining our children. Here are the highlights of the interview.
Susan: Let’s start with your stories. Noelle, I was told that you had quite a strained relationship with your mum when you were a teenager.
Noelle: Yes, my parents were the ‘old school type’ which is what we would now call directive parenting. My dad was a smoker, and when I was about 12-years-old, I tried smoking. When my parents found out, my dad made me kneel down before a mirror and pull my ears to make me ‘reflect’ on what I had done. They had the caning style. So when I was a young parent, I brought that style into my own parenting. But I learned that it didn’t work too well.
Susan: How is your relationship with your mum and dad now?
Noelle: Right now, it is a lot better. It is true what they say, once you are a parent you know why your parents did what they did. When I became a parent and understood where she came from, I could talk more about what had happened in the past. Through this period of reconciliation, I have learned to release that bitterness.
Susan: Do you think that discipline has changed over the years?
Joshua: Yes, I think it has changed, but it is also still changing. I think we need to come across more like a parent-coach, rather than directive parents.
The idea of coaching is that you train your child to be better, to be able to manage their feelings and emotions and to basically do well in life. A coach wants to see them excel and succeed. That is where I see parenting has changed.
Susan: Why do you think there has been such a stark move away from punishment to instead, having a talk with your child about their behaviour and feelings?
Noelle: Directive parenting says “Do what I say, because I say so,” and when I first started parenting, I expected the same obedience. But my second son has special needs and because of that, I realised that my parenting has to change. He can be quite a rough boy and he would sometimes knock into people as he was walking. I would scold him and force him to apologise. But he didn’t actually realise that he had bumped into them. I later learned from an occupational therapist that he had sensory processing disorder. I felt so bad! It was my own ignorance that led me to scold him more than he needed. We need to teach our children proper behavior, and we also need to learn to discipline without being angry.
Susan: Some people over-parent and hover over their kids and others under-parent and just leave them alone. What are your thoughts about this?
Noelle: We we refer to that as ‘Helicopter Parenting.’ My boys do argue in school. Sometimes they fight. My personal take is to let our children try to resolve it by themselves. If they really cannot, they will go to their teachers.
I have had experiences where the parent of another child will call me and say that my son did this and that. I reply to them that I will go and check the facts with my child but the other parent was so upset that she didn’t want to wait for all the information.
My honest intention is that if my son has made a mistake, I’d like to be there to guide him along. In the end, I learned that my son didn’t do what the other parent had mentioned. But I feel that children need to learn to resolve conflicts by themselves.
Susan: How about when we under-parent? Is that wrong too?
Joshua: We have to find a balance. I can see why people over-parent, because we are living in different times, and there are real dangers out there. But when we do that, we rob our children of the lessons from making mistakes, disagreeing with their friends, etc.
When we over-parent, we rob our children of the lessons
from making mistakes.
But to under-parent and leave our children alone and to their own devices, that can be more damaging. I had a recent case where a child was abused by a family member and she couldn’t bring herself to tell her mum, because her mum wasn’t present for her. This is where being distant will result in the child feeling isolated.
Susan: Do you think children want boundaries, to be disciplined and guided?
Joshua: For sure! Boundaries are really important. There was a study done where a group of children were studied while playing in a fenced playground and they were all free in the way that they played. A week later, the same group of children played in the same playground but they had removed the fences and the children were huddled in the middle of the area not daring to go out to the boundaries. There is value in boundaries. Children may not be able to articulate it, but they do want boundaries so that they can enjoy themselves within those perimeters set for them.
There is value in boundaries. Children may not be able to articulate it, but they do want boundaries so that they can enjoy themselves within those perimeters set for them.
Susan: Do you think that we could work out these boundaries with our children, especially for older children or teenagers?
Noelle: Definitely. Our eldest son was not getting good grades but he didn’t want to have a tutor. Because he made the decision and is much older, we agreed to give him a year and then he would have the grades to show. Unfortunately for him, at the end of the year, his grades got even worse. Because this was a boundary he had set and we had agreed together, then we could say, “Okay, son, a tutor has to come in now. Your way didn’t work.” And he accepted it.
Susan: Let’s talk about older children now – the teenager. Can you share with us any practical tips?
Joshua: If I could give one word for effective parenting, I would say that we need to be very intentional in the things that we want to do with our children. Effective discipline really begins with identifying what kind of parent you are.
If you are a directive parent, then you need to work on restoring the relationship with your teenager. If you are a freestyle parent, then you need to be firm with your children. If you are distant, then you have to be there for them.
Identifying your own parenting style will give you the first step to changing your relationship with your teen. Focus on the Family has developed a new programme called ‘Parent Coach Dialogues.’ Part of this programme helps parents identify their parenting styles.
Susan: We want to have a good relationship with our children. What you are saying is that it starts from the beginning.
Joshua: There is a saying, “Rules without relationship and reason leads to rebellion.” When you always have rules without a reason or explaining it, they will rebel. But rules with relationship and explanation leads to respect and responsibility, which is what we are trying to achieve.
But rules with relationship and explanation leads to respect and responsibility, which is what we are trying to achieve.
Being a coach means helping them to see the right actions that they should take, and this comes through relationship and open discussion. It is a process.
Susan: And that is the word: it is a ‘process’. Life is a process and a journey, as are relationships. Thank you so much for being here and for sharing with us today.
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Joshua Liong is a principal trainer with Focus on the Family, working primarily with parents. He is the father of two girls, aged twelve and thirteen.
Noelle Wee is a part-time youth trainer with Focus on the Family and is the mother of three sons, aged twelve, fourteen, and sixteen.