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Tue, Nov 03, 2009
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Am I raising a monster?
by Clara Chow

I ONCE took an online quiz titled Find Your True Mum Style!, and was classified under “The Big Chill”.

Which means, according to the test results, that I’m a laidback mother with a laissezfaire attitude towards discipline.

Admittedly, I don’t mind letting my three-year-old son, Julian, have fast food occasionally (I’m too lazy to make fully-organic meals), or allowing it to slide when he insists on wearing his school uniform 24/7.

In a way, my parenting style has had to evolve to suit Julian’s opinionated personality.

He knows what he likes and it is usually easier to simply pick our battles. We reason, cajole and sometimes bribe him.

Trying to force him to do something usually gets us nowhere.

Still, I found myself wondering recently if I should lay down the law a little more.

For an awful, tiring period – shortly before I delivered Julian’s younger brother – my firstborn went slightly amok.

He acted up frequently – hitting relatives, refusing to greet his elders, shouting and throwing things. In an attempt to calm him down once, I locked him and myself in the bathroom and gave him a stern talking-to.

He remained unrepentant and was so saucy in his replies, I ended up bursting into tears.

His sassiness didn’t end there.

To my horror, in his smart-mouthed replies, he used my lecturing phrases on other adults.

“I am very disappointed in you,” he yelled at his grandmother, when she rebuked him for being too much of a wild thing.

This infuriated her so much that she refused to talk to him until I marched him up to her to apologise and he turned on the hugs-and-kisses charm.

As my mother-in-law remarked on how he was getting out of hand, I felt a pang of anxiety: Am I raising a monster?

At a Chinese restaurant, I watched as a young mother physically disciplined her twoyear- old daughter for tiny trangressions – everything from delicately turning her head away when offered a char siew pau to grabbing her mother’s bag.

She received smacks on her little hands and threats of more beatings.

To me, the little girl seemed perfectly placid, and I burned with envy to have a child as sedate and well-behaved as she appeared to be.

But, looking at the slightly cowed toddler, I knew this wasn’t the approach I wanted to take.

Luckily, as I leafed through a book on pragmatic strategies for stopping toddler meltdowns in their tracks (key advice: distract, redirect, time-out), the skies were clearing in Julian’s psyche.

One day, on a perfect outing with him, when he behaved beautifully and considerately, I found myself thinking: “What a joy he is to be with.”

It was a far cry from my previous siege mentality, when I woke up wondering how I could hide from him.

A recent post on the Wall Street Journal blog, titled Disciplining Your Kids: Simple But Not Easy, pointed out that many of the best parenting strategies mirror the ones that are effective for managing employees.

Mostly, tips like giving them boundaries, holding them accountable and praising them when they do well are often quoted.

These pointers, unfortunately, are difficult to execute well.

The key thing, I have learnt, is not to take it as a mark of personal failure when Julian acts up.

As a parent, laying down the law is a long, fluid process.

The best reaction to a tantrum, I’ve found, is to keep one’s cool (simple, but not easy) and think of the good days when my son is pure sunshine.

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