Last week, I sat down with Keith, a seven-year-old boy. Keith's mom has been angry with him for the past few days and refused to talk to him. Mom brought Keith to me, hoping I can have a chat with him. In mom's words, she said "I don't know how to teach my son. It seems like he is acting out and making the same mistakes on purpose. He is getting on my nerves."
Keith wanted to tell mom something he saw on TV and barged right into the toilet when mom was taking a shower. It is not the first time Keith has done this. Mom has explained to him a few times about toileting and privacy etiquette before this. Mom couldn't take it anymore and spanked Keith.
This may sound familiar to many moms and dads. You have tried explaining and reasoning with your kids. But you still find yourself repeating the same instructions over and over again. It's making you frustrated and next thing you know, you burst into anger. When we get angry, we tend to do things we don't mean to do and say things we don't mean to say. And later, we often feel remorseful for yelling at our kids.
We hope our kids understand what we are mad at them for and never to repeat that same mistakes. But, the big question is - "do they really get it?" Here is my conversation with Keith.
Me: Keith, do you want to talk about what happened last few days between you and mummy?
Keith: I don't know why mummy is angry at me. It feels like I'm always doing the wrong thing. I want to do right, but it turns out to be wrong. She said she doesn't want to talk to me.
Keith was confused as to why he got scolded and spanked.
Often, parents have an assumption that their child knows what's going on - that kids should know what's right and wrong, and to always be in their best behaviour. But that's not true. We can't expect a seven-year-old to think like thirty-year-olds, it's unfair to them. Young children's brain is not fully developed to carry out higher-order thinking like reasoning, analysing and problem-solving. It's not because they don't want to, but they are not equipped with the ability to do so just yet.
Instead of focusing on punishing the wrong behaviour, why not guide kids to focus on the solution to the problem. Teach them how to see things from a different perspective. Here are a few tips to guide children to gain a better understanding of their actions without having to yell at them.
A. Before anger, breathe.
Kids will always try to push our buttons. But our reaction towards children's actions is entirely up to us. We can choose to react with anger and violence, or we can choose to react with calmness and patience. It's not an easy task, but with practice and self-awareness, we too can learn how to regulate our emotions before taking it out on our kids. At the end of the day, no one is willing to listen to an angry and violent parent. Research has found that children thrive more in a calm, positive and reassuring learning environment.
Before we yell, let's take a step back and breathe. Ask yourself, "do my kid understand what's going on? Will scolding and hitting help him learn?" Often, scolding and hitting do not contribute to learning. It will only add to fear.
B. Talk about emotions.
We can guide children to understand emotions in contexts and help them put things in different perspectives. In Keith's case, mom can relate her emotions to the toilet barging experience.
Mom can say, "I know you must be excited to want to tell me what you saw on the TV. But mummy was taking a shower, and with you barging into the toilet with no warning, can you guess how I felt at that moment? Yes, mummy felt scared and shocked! And that's not a very nice feeling :( "
When we help children put emotions into contexts, we are guiding them to have empathy and be considerate of other's feelings. Also, they will have a better understanding as to why they are not allowed to barge into the toilet when someone is using it.
C. Focus on the solution, not problem.
When we yell at children's wrong behaviour, we are teaching them to focus on the problem, not the solution. In this case, not only children will not learn what's right, and they will continue to do wrong. So instead, let's turn it around and focus on the solution.
I asked Keith, "I know you wanted to tell mummy something you saw on the TV. But mummy was taking a shower. What can you do instead?"
Learn to throw the 'question ball' to children to encourage them to think of solutions to their own problem. Keith gave it some thought and replied, "maybe I can wait for mom to be done with a shower. Or I can tell dad about it."
Children are very much capable of solving problems if we allow them to do so. Their brain is not capable of doing it on their own. They need constant guidance and support from us.
D. Draw or write them down.
Keith's mom insisted she had told him a few times on why he must not barge into the toilet. I don't deny it. But, young kids may, at times, forget. We, adults, are pretty forgetful too. To strengthen their memory of past experiences and lessons, I encourage parents to write or draw it down. Children are very visual, and they tend to learn better on paper.
Make it interesting and fun for them! Make a moral scrapbook of themselves and read to them every other day. They are going to love it!