Raising a child is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Yet, it is the most fulfilling one. We spoke to Epworth’s Senior Social Worker, Ms Chow Kit Seen. With 25 years work experience of counselling individuals, couples and families, here are some
questions we have asked her on behalf of parents.

Interview by Angie Lee and Shalom Fung.

1. Given your extensive experience in counselling, what is one common mistake that is often made by parents?

Inconsistency. Parents need to be consistent in parenting. If parents have set a rule for their children,
they have to make sure that it is being enforced.

2. What is so important about consistency in parenting? 

Being consistent in parenting guides the children in what they should or should not do. One example is
setting the bedtime rule for the children; say, they must sleep by 10pm. Apart from very special occasions, which must be extremely rare, both parents have to ensure that the bedtime rule is well enforced. When the rule is not consistently enforced, children become confused. They will also take advantage of the inconsistency. They will argue with their parents and, at times, manipulate one parent against the other. They will give 101 plausible reasons why the bedtime rule
need not be obeyed, citing examples of when one or both parents allowed the bedtime rule to be broken.

3. Will inconsistency in parenting affect only the children?

It affects the parents as well. When children can manipulate the situation to their own favour, it is likely to lead to arguments between parents. I have witnessed the “blame game” between fathers and mothers about who is at fault for their children’s disobedience and misbehaviours. Such arguments strain the couple’s relationship and affect the children. When such arguments get ugly, turning into quarrels and aggression, children can start to blame themselves for their parents’ anger.

4. What advice would you give to parents who are in such a situation?

Parents have to calm down first. They will then have to discuss and come to an agreement on the rules they wish for their children. The rules have to be realistic and consequences have to be agreed on when these rules are broken. These rules and consequences should be made known to the children before implementing them. Parents will then have to stand together on the rules they have agreed upon.

One parent should not allow the children to bend the rule in the absence of the other parent; no matter how hard the children try. Parents should be accountable to each other by keeping each other informed of their interactions with the children. This helps to maintain consistency as both parents are equally responsible for their children’s obedience.

5. Would it work better if one parent plays the “good guy” while the other plays the “bad guy”?

Such a strategy only serves to reinforce inconsistency. This will only make matters worse. Children will manipulate one parent against the other, undermining the authority of one parent or the other. Relationship between parents will quickly spiral into an open conflict with each other.

6. What should parents do to ensure that their children follow house rules?

Firstly, parents will also have to abide by the house rules that they set. So, if children are required to eat at the dining table, then parents should also abide by the same rule. Parents should not bend rules to suit themselves, like eating in front of the television or the computer. In this way, children can emulate their parents. Another example is, if parents tell children that they should be polite and not shout, parents should also behave likewise.

Secondly, children need a structured environment, with rules and accompanying consequences which are reasonable. With structure comes predictability. Then children will learn discipline and good behaviour. The structured way of life should be cultivated from an early age, as young as possible.

Thirdly, consequences for misbehaviour should be reasonable and match the rules that are broken. For example, if the rule requires children not to use their mobile phone during dinner, then the natural consequence could be not using the mobile phone for the next 2 hours after dinner. It should not be depriving the children of dinner in the next two days. For older children, it may be possible to work with them on the agreed consequences if rules are broken. In this way, they can also take ownership of the rules set.

Finally, parents will have to remember that the overarching principle is to be consistent all the time.

There are no perfect parents in this world. This is also no “silver bullet” in parenting. Parents need to know what “drives” their children to misbehave. Parents needs to innovate and find out what works best for different misbehaviours in their children. This may be a trialand- error process. Regardless of your struggle, it may be of comfort to know that you are not alone. All parents are constantly struggling with their children, trying to ensure that they grow up well to be useful members of our society.

Feel free to send us questions on parenting by scanning or clicking on the QR code. We will try to answer them. These questions may even be featured in our next issue of our newsletter!