It pays to reason with kids, say parents
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That was one of the conclusions taken from a Singapore Children’s Society (SCS) survey last year that sought to understand how parents here raise their children and what children think of how they are brought up.
The survey, the results of which were released to the media yesterday, comprised interviews with 533 children aged 10 to 12 and their parents. Their opinions were canvassed in three main areas: disciplinary practices, childcare arrangements and parenting practices. Notably, parents and children were in agreement on several issues, which SCS research and advocacy committee chairman Professor Ho Lai Yun described as “encouraging”.
For example, both parents and children believe that it is counter-productive not to discipline a child who has misbehaved.
And, contrary to popular perception, parents surveyed said they try to reason with naughty children, as they find it more effective than physical punishment.
If the survey is accurate, then Singapore parents use physical punishment fairly infrequently.
Educators and social workers said the findings showed the advice they have given via parent education talks has been on the mark.
A teacher who wanted to be known only as Mr Srinivasan, who once sat on his school disciplinary committee, said in his experience children respect people in authority who they deem to be fair to them.
Using emotional blackmail and threats, he added, are “easy options”, but ultimately not as effective.
“It’s much harder and takes more effort, time and patience to reason with the child. Unfortunately, there are parents who take the easier option,” he said. In the study, parents and children reported that children have been made to feel guilty or ashamed when they do something wrong.
SCS Family Service Centre (Yishun) director Koh Wah Khoon, herself a parent of a 17-year-old son, observed that, when disciplining children, many parents have difficulty differentiating between the person and the action.
And in some instances they have seen, emotional and verbal chidings – for instance, telling the child he is stupid or useless – backfire.
“The child may feel, ‘I’m bad, useless, I can’t change, so why try?’” she warned. “Consistently putting them down this way can amount to emotional abuse.”
The survey also found that mothers remain the main, and preferred, caregiver. However, a relatively large proportion of the children under the age of three were cared for by someone other than their mother, like a grandparent or domestic worker.
Children who were cared for mainly by parents were happier with their childcare arrangements than those whose main caregivers were paid workers. Free copies of the study will be available to the public, parent support groups in schools, as well as social workers dealing with family issues and regional libraries.
It is hoped the survey will act both as a guide to parents and as a catalyst for further research.
At the moment, there is little information on the emotional effects of disciplining children, something SCS hopes to amend.
Said research adviser Professor Russell Hawkins: “The study reminds us that we may do well to study emotional forms of abuse, the impact of which may be harder to measure.”
TAKING THE EASIER OPTION
“It’s much harder and takes more effort, time and patience to reason with the child. Unfortunately, there are parents who take the easier option.”
TEACHER MR SRINIVASAN, who once sat on his school disciplinary committee
“The study reminds us we may do well to study emotional forms of abuse, the impact of which may be harder to measure.”
RESEARCH ADVISER PROFESSOR RUSSELL HAWKINS