A version of this letter has been published on TODAY Voices
It was distressing to read the recent news article titled "Father jailed 4 months for beating 9-year-old son over mistakes in homework (6 Dec, 2018)". This highlights an urgent need for parents to learn to recognise the signs of stress and anger in themselves and find effective coping techniques.
As parents, we must do our best to teach with love and from a place of calm. For most of us parents, this can be a challenging prospect as we juggle multiple demands with limited time and energy. However, with continual self-reflection and feedback, we will see improvements in how we manage our emotions, and also the quality of our family relationships. Intentional practice is key.
When a child fails to meet up to certain expectations, we tend to react out of anger or frustration, rather than respond after deliberate thought. This often results in us saying words or taking actions that are out-of-proportion to the trigger event, and that we may later regret.
As part of our counselling practice, we encourage individuals to be aware of their negative thoughts as part of effective anger management. When an incident happens, a thought goes through one's mind, interpreting the situation. For example, if a child refuses to do his homework after repeated instructions to do so, the parent may automatically think: “He’s being rebellious!” This may then lead to angry outbursts and over-reactions.
In such a situation, it can help to 'talk back' to the negative thought, and reframe it into a more positive one: "Perhaps he is having trouble understanding this subject and thus avoiding it." Or "I don’t have to react angrily right now. I can choose to stay calm."
Another aspect is stress. Ever wonder why we sometimes react differently towards the same behaviour in our child? Our state of mind, or more specifically how stressed we are at the time, is a key determinant.
It is also important to reflect on our emotional state from time to time, and be aware of the current stresses in our lives. If we are feeling overwhelmed by various stressors, we should find someone to confide in and ask for support.
Raising healthy and resilient children begins with parents who are healthy and resilient themselves. By taking steps to understand our children's needs and manage our own emotions, we can establish healthier patterns of interactions in the home and create a safe environment for our children to flourish.
Judith Alagirisamy (Ms)
Family Life Specialist
Focus on the Family Singapore