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Looking at managing our children from another perspective

At the beginning I would like to share this “Parable of the monkey and the fish” with you.  Once upon a time, a monkey and a fish were caught in a terrible flood and were being swept downstream amidst torrents of water and debris.  The monkey spied a branch from an overhanging tree and pulled himself from an overhanging tree and pulled himself to safety from the swirling water.  Then, wanting to help his friend the fish, he reached into the water and pulled the fish from the water onto the branch.  The moral of the story is clear: Good intentions are not enough.  If you wish to help the fish, you must understand its nature. If we want to work with our children, we need to be aware of what works and what does not work.

I have been running the Resourceful Adolescent Program for parents (RAP-P) for many years in a high school. Every time the parents will bring this up, and would like me to give them a solution.  I would like to take this opportunity to share my perspective with you in this blog.

I have observed and noticed that when I talk to parents at this meetings, they always complain about their children not doing any house chores or even cleaning their own room.  They say whenever I ask them to do, their children will either ignore them or end up having a fight with them.  They reported that at school their children would not argue with their teacher.  What’s wrong with it?

It is about setting up rules and forming a habit at the beginning.  Some parents never mention about rules or limits at home.  Even when they have rules, they never follow these up.  They seldom teach them at the beginning of their childhood, e.g. like taking some responsibility to look after their house or tidy up their own room.  When we look at the way we taught our children to brush their teeth, it was a bit difficult.  Overtime they develop a habit and without reminding them they do it, every day they will brush their teeth once or twice a day.  The research says it takes thirty days to form a habit.

I have parents reporting to me that they let their children play computer games whenever they like without imposing any restrictions or setting up rules.  When their children go to high school, they cannot discipline themselves by exercising control.  When parents realize the problem and stop them from sitting in front of the computer, their children fight back.  Teaching children to learn some simple rules require to commence at the very beginning.  Remember something easy was difficult first.

It appears now the lowest level of our basic needs in the Maslow’s hierarchy is the Wi-Fi, and not our basic needs like food, water, sleep, etc.  It sounds like Wi-Fi replaces our basic needs.  I remember that there were a few times that some adolescents came to visit me from overseas at my place.  The first question that they posed to me was if I had any Wi-Fi in my place.

Children in the family are very common using their gadgets to access the facebook, myspace, messages, etc and internet computer games. When parents do not have any restrictions on them, overtime some parents would realise that their children are being addicted to it.  When they try to gain control of the internet, their children become furious with them.  Consequently after the fight, communication will break down in the family.  Sometimes some children may refuse to go to school or they cannot get up in the morning as they go to bed very late.  Parents get stuck at this stage.

It sounds like there is no panacea for this. We have to understand that once a habit is formed, it takes time to replace it.  For other families if the situation has not gone that far, it would be better for you to consider the following suggestions.

First thing to do is to set up some limits or rules in the family.   This has to be implemented as earlier as possible.  Once the children have formed a habit, it takes time to eradicate it.  It would be better if we could start early and limit the time they spend on the computer.  One way of doing this is to help them replace the undesirable behaviour/task with a desirable behaviour/task.  We cannot just stop them from not playing games on the computer without a substitute for it.  Instead we might have to introduce some activities which they are also interested to participate.

If we want our children to develop a good bonding with us, we need to spend time with them.  Imagine that when we have extra money, we will save it in the bank.  When we need the money later, we can withdraw the money from the bank.  By the same token, if we can save our “relationship” in the bank.  When we have a fight with our children, we can “withdraw” the relationship from the bank and use it to help us “patch up” the “injury” of our relationship.

In 1906 Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in Italy.  The Pareto’s Law stated that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth in Italy. Many people have observed that similar phenomena also exist in other areas.  Basically it says that 20 percent of something always are responsible for 80 percent of the results.  If we are going to apply this in building our bonding with our children in our family, we will see 80% of our relationship with our children will attribute to 20% of the time we spend with them.  Playing sports with the children in the family is a good way to connect and build up the relationship.  Table tennis is a family sport that can connect the whole family together. Some people play TV games or doing other things together will still work as long as it serves the purpose.

Having stronger family bonds can prevent conflict.  But how do we prevent conflict with our children?  Here are some strategies other parents have found it useful:

  • Take time to listen to them
  • Not to jump to conclusion
  • Develop empathy
  • Negotiate with them when setting rules or limits
  • Be aware of your stress
  • Be respectful in the family
  • Validate and appreciate everything they do
  • Do some fun things together
  • Promote harmony
  • Understand their needs

(Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program)

Imagine there is an orange in the kitchen and two people in the kitchen both want the orange.  How are you going to resolve it? Cut it in half and each gets half.  This is probably what you are thinking now.

Let’s assume one person now goes to the juicer and starts squeezing himself a rather too small orange juice.  The other, with some difficulty, begins to grate the rind of the orange to flavour a cake.  If they had discussed the needs before, then they could have the equivalent of a whole orange.  Their needs are complimentary, in fact, not conflicting.  With the determination to use a win/win approach, two sets of needs can frequently dovetail together.  A win/win approach rests on strategies involving going back to underlying needs, recognition of individual differences, openness to adapting one’s position in the light of shared information and attitudes, and attacking the problem, not the person.

Make sure we move on after having a conflict with our children.  We may try to use humour to desensitise the situation, discuss the problem calmly, apologise for the part in the conflict, show to the children parent don’t hold grudge, have fun together, act normal and give hugs.

There is no recipe to fix every problem.  As long as we start building the bond with our children at the beginning, the family will prosper. In family therapy, the family is seen as a “whole” rather than just as the sum of its individual members.

Last but not the least, enjoy staying together with your children!


Resourceful Adolescent Program for Parents

Gabriel Wong

Clinical Psychologist

Gabriel Wong
Author's other posts
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