Raising children without raising our voices

  • Family
  • Thursday, 23 Jan 2014

This mother resolves to be more mellow and yell less at her kids.

ON New Year’s Eve, my seven-year-old son Jason was playing with some foam stickers when my four-year-old daughter Shannon came along and wanted to join in the fun.

Unfortunately, he was not in a charitable mood and shooed her away brusquely.

“Go away,” he said repeatedly. “But I want to play with you,” she continued to plead. This alternated with: “Mummy, gor gor (elder brother) is shouting at me.”

Both their voices escalated in volume.

I initially ignored their fight, hoping it would fizzle out, but it did not happen. Before I knew it, I had, unfortunately, joined in the match – breaking every rule in the parenting book, going on a tirade and eventually silencing them with a piercing glare.

My tongue-lashing went along the lines of: “Why are you both fighting so early in the morning? Is there a need to shout at mei mei (younger sister)? Why are you touching gor gor’s things again?” This was all at a volume which rivalled theirs, and that irony did not escape me.

I’ve always thought of myself as a calm and collected person, but motherhood has changed me.

Before having children, I was seldom a yeller. Now, it is a rare day when I don’t raise my voice at them. Is it them or is it me?

I marvel at parents who seem to be able to keep their cool, who can talk to their misbehaving child in a gentle yet firm tone.

I’ve decided that my New Year resolution is to be a more mellow mum, you know, the one who, upon hearing her children shriek at each other, can calmly tell them to stop their fight without having to raise a decibel.

In reality, I’m not sure how that would work. Would two screaming children be able to hear what their soft-spoken mum is saying?

I’ve realised that their fighting is the primary thing that sets me off. But it is not the only one.

There are some things which get my goat more than others. For instance, insolence or a stubborn refusal to heed instructions irk me more than, say, the children spilling a drink or taking their own sweet time to get out of the house in the morning.

Since I made the resolution, I’ve been more aware of when I’m yelling at them. (I haven’t been very successful at not doing so yet.)

During the times when I try my hardest not to respond with a raised voice, I know they can tell my displeasure because my tone changes and I sound stern.

Parenting experts advocate a different approach to discipline, with suggestions to take a time out or use humour, affection or a firm but detached tone while disciplining.

It all sounds well and good on paper but implementation is a different matter and also dependent on my state of mind.

I’ve noticed my reaction is exacerbated by some factors – a lack of sleep or stress results in a lower tolerance for their conflicts.

Likewise, when I’m in a hurry to get out of the door or have to multitask, like when I’m trying to cook dinner and meet a deadline for a story, I have less patience for their antics.

Knowing the triggers is perhaps the first step towards doing something about it, and soon.

Experts have cautioned that excessive anger can be harmful to children.

Psychologist Matthew McKay, a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley and co-author of When Anger Hurts Your Kids, has said that these children end up less empathetic.

“These kids are more aggressive and more depressed than peers from calmer families, and they perform worse in school. Anger has a way of undermining a kid’s ability to adapt to the world,” he added.

One way I’ve found helpful is to talk through my emotions, since both children are now of an age when they can mostly understand where I am coming from.

So there are times when a simple “I had to stay up late to work so please let me sleep in and don’t fight with mei mei” would work with Jason.

Experts also agree that a strong parent-child bond makes discipline easier.

Another way is to pick your battles.

So while I’m willing to let them slug it out when it is a war of words, I draw the line when one starts physically hurting the other, for example.

I got a resounding yes from Jason when I told him of my resolution not to raise my voice at them (so often).

But when I added that he and Shannon would have to do their part not to push my buttons, his reply was near inaudible.

Here’s to a year of raising children without raising our voices. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

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