The Age of Reason

To say that these past few weeks have been difficult for us is an understatement. We have been embroiled in one tantrum after another; when the 4/1/2-year-old finishes his screaming match, the 2/1/2-year-old begins his own song and dance. And just when Daddy and Mummy think that everything is ok, one brother decides to snatch an item from the other, and the entire process is repeated once again. There seems to have been no respite for us. As I mused earlier this month on Facebook: 

The best Valentines' Day gift this year was when my in-laws offered to take the kids overnight today. Much needed respite after a tiring few weeks.
Brothers are great to fool around with; but they are can sometimes also be a
formidable fighting opponent.
There are two options to take when everything seems to go wrong in your parenting. You either choose to give up and outsource the problem to your spouse or childcare centre, or you make the conscious decision of digging in your heels, reading up books on parenting and trying your level best to help the situation improve. I am someone who loves to think and reflect, and this has been my preferred choice during this difficult situation - to find an alternative approach of resolving the issue.

I wrote about the importance of honour in a previous post with specific reference to how parents can try to alter the balance of power in the parent-child relationship. I also mentioned that I am currently experimenting with a whole new approach of choosing persuasion over force when getting my children to obey me. 
Holidays are a great time to build the parent-child relationship. When we create memories with
our children we refill the reservoir of love that can sometimes run dry during tense moments of the relationship.
This idea for a change arose more than two weeks ago when both Sue and I were at our wits' end at how to discipline our children. I was then adopting the hardline approach of responding with a firm "No!" every time either of the kids wanted to do something that we felt was not right. This would almost instantly result in a tantrum, especially with the younger one. What was particularly frustrating for me was that E would immediately go to his mother and whine to her, complaining that I said no to what he had been asking. And because Sue and I practice the principle of supporting each other's parenting decisions, she would turn to the 2/1/2-year-old and say no too, referring to me as the authority in the matter. 
The husband and wife have to be in one accord in major parenting decisions.
I decided that enough was enough. I no longer wanted to be the "bad guy" in the parenthood.

So the next time little E asked me for something I knew to be inappropriate for him (such as asking to watch a movie close to bedtime), I decided to adopt an approach of "role reversal parenting". I turned to the little boy, and told him to ask his Mummy. E then asked Sue the same question, and he was given a firm "No" by his mother. To my surprise, the little boy did not throw as big a tantrum as he would have if I had been the one saying no. Somehow the tense atmosphere in the household had been broken.

I tried this approach for a few days with mostly successful results - the children were recognising their mother as having the final word on discipline matters, a role I gladly relinquished as I had been the one holding onto that position for the longest time imaginable. And, as the days went by, I began to realise that I was becoming more tender in my disposition towards the kids, a change that I personally enjoyed. I began to ask myself the following questions: What if I adopted a more persuasive style of parenting? What if I seasoned my previously firm and possibly dogmatic style of parenting with a pinch of tenderness and empathy?

It was with this mindset that I attempted to deal with some of the observed disagreeable behaviour. For instance this morning we were preparing to go out and the 2/1/2-year-old refused to change his shirt. "No!" he screamed, wrenching him way out of my grasp. I was deeply puzzled as I had just changed his shorts and had imagined that it would be easy to also change his shirt. 

"Come now, E. Come and change!" I called. "Come on. Daddy has been asking you many times!"

"No!" he insisted, "No.... Mouse.... No!" 

I was hit by a sudden burst of inspiration. 

"Oh? How come you don't want to change? Is it because of the mouse?" I pointed to the Mickey Mouse on his T-shirt.

"Umm..." came the reply.

"I see.... But E, the mouse is very dirty. We need to change so that we can wash him and get him clean again. Ok?"

The little boy hesitated briefly. And then responded decisively, "Umm."

And with that I changed him out of the shirt without further problems.

That was not the only time that I had managed to persuade little E to obey us without resorting to a strongly physical approach. During the previous days I had also managed to convince the little one why we couldn't go to the Singapore Flyer at 10 o'clock in the evening, or why it was not possible to listen to the "Joy" song in the car - the disc was at home and if he really wanted to listen to it, he would have to ask Mummy when he was at home.
2-year-olds love to explore and test boundaries. They are created with an insatiable desire to discover and learn.
Developmentally, I am aware that young children at the so-called "Terrible Twos" phase of life are trying to assert their own wills and distinguish between the self and others. But children at this age don't always have the ability to communicate their desires. This results in many temper tantrums when adults don't seem to be able to understand them. What I have learnt is that despite their lack of verbal communication, 2-year-olds are talking to us in many other ways. And if we communicate with them through the gentle art of reasoning and persuasion, we are concurrently honing skills of logical thinking. This will be very useful for them when they also grow in their verbal ability. 

There are, of course, non-negotiables such as openly defiant behaviour or actions that could result in danger. I still believe a firm hand of discipline is needed in such cases. But in other instances, the parent-child relationship could benefit when parents try their best to understand why their children do the things that they do. For reasoning with the child requires a strong understanding of the child, coupled with an empathy for him or her, as well as a humility to admit that our logic is not always better than theirs. 

There is, after all, a reason to believe in our children - regardless of how many temper tantrums they have, or how ever many times they make us sad. 

1 comment:

  1. I believe that every child has an ability to gain a knowledge, no matter gifted he/she or not. Parents need to spent more time with children, and teach them, maybe given some examples from a real life, not even from books. Some years later I was really occupied, but that I realize that I lose all moments of my children's childhood. So I just give a lot of my writing works for, and I got more time for family. It's amazing being home.


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