How to not be a shouty parent



FEB 23, 2020, 05:00AM SGT
Venessa Lee

Tired of tantrums and ineffective discipline, parents are taking parenting courses to manage both theirs and their children’s anger

There was snapping but no napping — that was the moment Ms Joline Lim realised her approach towards disciplining her child was not working out.

Her son James, then 18 months old, had been resisting his regular nap for weeks. Speaking firmly or cajoling him made no impact.

One afternoon about three years ago, one such “power struggle” left both of them shedding tears on either side of the door of his room.

“When he started shouting, I would shout. It kept escalating. I didn’t understand how I was going to get him to cooperate. I thought, how do I do this without punishing, forcing or threatening him?” recalls Ms Lim.

The stay-at-home mother and her lawyer husband, both 35, have another child, a one-year-old daughter. Their son James is now four.

Determined to do better, Ms Lim devoured parenting books and took parenting courses, such as workshops organised by Chapter Zero Singapore, a social enterprise which supports parents of young children in approaches such as respectful parenting and evidence-based parenting. Such courses typically address parental anger, as well as other aspects of parenting.

Parents interviewed by The Sunday Times are using a panoply of such tools to help them in anger management, both for themselves and for their children. They say the effort it takes to better manage their anger is worth it as it improves their relationship with their children.

Through these courses, Ms Lim learnt, among other things, that her son’s behaviour was a form of communication. A tantrum may signal that a young child is tired, hungry or simply in an overstimulated environment.

In 2018, they were in a restaurant when James started getting restless and cranky.

Ms Lim knew that the repeated exhortations from family members around the table to coax him to behave were probably aggravating him. She took him out of the restaurant and he immediately started bawling.

She let him cry as much as he wanted, then took him for a short walk. The boy eventually asked to go back to the dinner.

Ms Lim says: “It was such an aha moment. I had recognised the signs of an imminent blow-up and gave him the time and space to regulate his emotions and calm down.

“I’ve learnt to read his needs better and I’ve become more understanding of him. We have a more trusting and open relationship.”

When it comes to anger management, it helps to recognise common parenting triggers, such as when a child talks back to a parent.

Ms Lim says: “Why it was especially triggering for me was probably because, when I was young, I was told not to talk back. I try to remember that he’s expressing himself when I find myself wanting to be shouty or snappy with him.”

She has also learnt the importance of self-regulation and self-care when dealing with her own big emotions as a parent. When she gets stressed, she takes time out to take a shower or a walk.

“Sometimes, that sense of checking in with yourself helps you keep things in perspective,” she says.

While anger in parenting is commonplace, it is rarely publicly discussed.

Ms Tina Schmitt, a certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication in the United States, a global non-profit organisation based on principles of non-violence, says anger has a “social stigma” attached to it.

“Most of us have been told it’s wrong, which is where guilt comes from. This is what makes it difficult to talk about anger,” says the Germany-based trainer in a telephone interview.

Being able to connect authentically with ourselves and with others helps in dealing with anger, she says.

The roots of parental anger are wide-ranging and diverse.

Psychologist Sanveen Kang says that anger is normal.

“All parents feel angry at some stage. Anger can be good when it gives you strength and motivation, and negative when it occurs frequently or gets out of control,” adds the clinical manager and principal clinical psychologist at Psych Connect, a specialist psychology clinic that offers child development and wellness services here.

Parents can experience anger in a variety of scenarios, which may include post-natal depression; difficulty in adjusting to the changes that come with parenting; work-life balance pressures; unresolved trauma from one’s childhood; relationship or family problems; or work stress, says Dr Kang.

There are consequences to not managing parental anger.

Ms Poh Ee Lyn, a senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services, says: “When parents don’t manage their anger well, they may resort to harsh punishment and words to manage their children. This damages parent-child relationships and has long-term implications on a child’s psychological, mental and emotional health.”

While it helps to be intentional in addressing underlying anger issues as a parent, simple actions can help maintain calm within the household, says Ms Josephine Loh, senior manager for training at Morning Star Community Services.

She is also a trainer for The Incredible Years programmes for parents and children run by her organisation.

“Parents should realise they can control the situation by their tone and posture. For instance, chatting at the child’s eye level rather than standing over him and shouting instructions, or using a calm tone of voice can help,” she says.

It also helps to prepare yourself mentally before addressing a child’s misbehaviour.

Ms Rachael Teo, 47, found it challenging to get through the weekly English coaching sessions she gave 11-year-old Matthias, the youngest of her three children, who was often rude to her.

She has been reading parenting books and late last year, she attended the Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) run by Fei Yue Community Services.

Ms Teo, an adjunct university lecturer, says: “I found that it’s all in the mind. Usually when I got angry, it was because he had not met my expectations of how he should behave.

“My students are motivated and respectful, but he was not. I learnt to lower my expectations and I had to accept that he was not mature enough then and has a strong personality.”

Ms Teo, whose husband is a polytechnic lecturer, says: “I learnt to manage my own emotions. I’d read that, if you speak harshly to a child, he won’t listen. As an adult, would you listen if a boss spoke to you harshly?

“If I don’t set a good example, how can I expect my kid to not scream or shout as well?”

Family members have remarked in recent months that Matthias has become gentler and more polite. Mother-son interactions have calmed down, so much so that Matthias once asked her: “Have you been applying what you’ve been reading and learning?”

The Incredible Years parenting programme run by Morning Star Community Services also helped marketing manager Luo Ling Yan, 37, connect better with her child with special needs.

Her nine-year-old, the younger of two daughters, has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as well as ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), which is characterised by angry and irritable moods, and argumentative and defiant behaviour.

Ms Luo, whose husband, 42, works in the education sector, found that building a closer bond with the girl meant she is “more willing” to accept discipline.

She started spending more one-on-one time with her daughter playing cards and doing other activities the girl wanted to do, as well as installing a rewards system for good behaviour.

The girl, who is in Primary 3, has not grabbed her friends’ belongings or displayed other disruptive behaviours in school this year, which occurred previously.

Ms Luo says: “Illness itself is the challenge. Sometimes my daughter will say, ‘I don’t know why I’m like this.’ As the parent, I have to keep calm or situations can get worse. Praise and encouragement helps.”

This article was originally published in The Straits Times on 23 February 2020

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