WHO’S IN CHARGE?
Do you ignore your preschooler’s tantrums in the hope that he’ll stop soon enough? You just might be doing more bad than good, parenting experts tell JASSMIN PETER-BERNTZEN.
Do you ignore your preschooler’s tantrums in the hope that he’ll stop soon enough? You just might be doing more bad than good.
When Jolin Chua became a mum, her top priority was to ensure she raised a happy and healthy child.
Her son, Keiran, now four, was her precious gift after many years of infertility, so all she wanted to do was put a smile on his face.
“I was obsessed with keeping him happy all the time. I equated crying and fussing to something negative and wanted to correct it immediately by giving in to his requests,” the 40-year-old sales manager recalls.
“It was successful in the beginning, but once he started growing up and becoming more vocal, I realised giving in constantly does come with consequences.”
Not only did little Keiran expect to get his way all the time at home or with his parents, he also expected the same treatment at the childcare centre and during playdates.
When things didn’t work out the way he wanted them to, Keiran would throw major tantrums. It was also at this time that Jolin noticed that he was struggling to settle into school and didn’t have a lot of friends.
“By putting my son’s happiness at the top of my priority list, I forgot to teach him how to follow rules or be kind,” Jolin adds.
“I realised I wasn’t setting him up for success, because in the real world, you can’t expect everyone to make you happy all the time.”
As parents, we only want the best for our kids. But in our quest to give them that, we sometimes don’t realise that the well-meaning things we say or do can do more harm than good.
Young Parents speaks to parenting and academic experts on what mums and dads are doing that unwittingly fuel bad behaviour in their preschoolers.
YOU IGNORE THEIR TANTRUMS
We’ve all been there. Our kid starts a major tantrum in the middle of a family gathering or supermarket trip.
We look the other way, hoping that by not giving them any attention, the drama will die down eventually. When it does work, we think we’ve ﬁnally cracked the parenting code.
But have we, though?
“Some respectful parents claim that this way, the children will learn how to feel the full emotion,” says parenting expert Cornelia Dahinten.
“But it might be a mistake because the kids do not yet have the brain function to calm down by themselves. They need loving support.”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD Tantrums are a cry for help. Your child is trying to say something, but isn’t able to fully verbalise it. In such cases, effective communication is key.
Jerine Ang, principal at Pat’s Schoolhouse Sembawang Country Club, shares a great tip: “Help your child express himself by making ‘I’ statements such as, ‘I feel upset’. Then encourage him to put his feelings into words by asking him questions.
“For example, if he’s yelling at his younger brother, ask him: ‘You sound really mad to me. Can you tell me what’s going on just now while you two were playing together?’.
What you’re doing here is acknowledging your child’s feelings, connecting, empathising and offering a solution. Talking it out teaches your child a positive way to regulate his behaviour and express his emotions.
“It also sends the message that while it’s natural to feel angry or frustrated, that doesn’t make it okay to display bad manners of screaming and shouting, especially in public,” Jerine adds.
Sometimes if there’s no solution, just being there for your child and offering a loving space to let out the emotion can also do wonders.
YOU’RE TOO PERMISSIVE
Having grown up in an authoritarian environment, some parents today have decided that they don’t want to raise their kids in the same manner. But at the same time, they lack the inner compass to ﬁnd an alternative parenting method.
“This often results in permissive parenting or erratic reactions,” Cornelia says. “Both are not very helpful, and can confuse the child and parent.”
Being more of a friend to your kid in the hope of maintaining a close bond with them can also backﬁre, because your child doesn’t have a good model to learn from. WHAT TO DO INSTEAD As a parent, you need to accept that you will not be liked all the time by your kids. Also expecting children to be constantly happy is a parent trap that leads to permissive parenting.
So, instead of always trying to ﬁx things for your kids or letting them get their way, what’s more important is to teach them how to overcome negative emotions so they learn how to be happy.
YOU START DISCIPLINE TOO LATE
You let your preschooler’s bad behaviour slide because you think he’s still young and doesn’t have the maturity to grasp such concepts.
However, Cornelia points out that humans are pattern seekers. To learn a new pattern of behaviour, we need to come into constant interaction with it.
“If we do not start early, we are confusing this pattern. It is not the value system that changes with age, it’s how well we’re able to adapt and execute throughout our development,” Cornelia adds.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD Start early – as young as 18 months old, Jerine says.
At this age, tots can already understand that other people have feelings just like them and this is in fact the best time to start teaching them that their own behaviour can affect others.