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Mind your body, The Straits Times
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Get the best out of your child
by June Cheong

Consistency is key to imparting values you want your child to have.

Adjunct Associate Professor John Wong, senior consultant in the department of psychological medicine at National University Hospital, said: "Parents need to be clear on matters like moral and religious values.

"Many young parents start families without thinking through what their values system is. Parenting begins as soon as a couple discusses when to conceive, where to build a family and so on."

Mind Your Body talks to psychiatrists and psychologists on how parents can influence their child's moral values.

Show, do not just tell

Younger children understand the concepts of love and care best in the form of hugs, kisses and other forms of physical intimacy.

Prof Wong said: 'Parents may tell their young children to love their siblings but that's an abstract concept to them. What they can experience immediately is a hug or a cuddle.'

He added: 'Learning about care and love for others is powerful because it extends to other moral systems. Your child will learn to be patient, tolerant, to give and take and to go the extra mile for others.'

Engage his empathy

Ms Vanessa von Auer, clinic director of VA Psychology Centre, suggested using feeling-laden statements such as 'That must have made you sad' or 'You were so kind when you shared your cookies with your sister' to reinforce the child's ideas about what is right.

Dig behind the bad behaviour

Private consultant psychiatrist DrAdrian Wang said that children sometimes behave badly to test the limits, to express their anger or to seek attention.

He said: 'Some kids who bully or fight others in school may have emotional problems at home that they do not know how to express.

'When a child misbehaves, look for the emotional reasons first instead of concluding that he's a bad kid and needs a whipping.'

Do as I do, do as I say

Ms Geraldine Tan, a child psychologist at the Centre for Effective Living, said parents need to share their values with their children.

On teaching children about sex, she advised: 'When a parent talks to his child about sex or is watching a film with explicit scenes, he should voice his opinions on what is acceptable and and what is not.'

How parents behave also modifies the child's perceptions of right and wrong. She said: 'If a parent sleeps around and the child sees it, what do you think he learns?'

Teach accountability

Children should learn that their actions have consequences. For example, if your child breaks a friend's pencil, you should encourage him to give his friend his own pencil to make up for it.

Ms von Auer said: 'Older children care about others' opinions and judgments of them, which is why typical children (without pathologies) will know that hurt, pain and death can be permanent and that if they inflict it on others out of viciousness, it is unacceptable.

'Typical children will show remorse, feel guilt and learn from their mistakes while children with disorders that may cause deviant behaviours may not.'

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This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.

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