Creating an environment that involves ownership and self-learning are the best ways for parents to influence and not merely manage their children’s behavior.
This is the first of three reports on the Relationship Weekend with Australian clinical psychologist Dr. Robi Sonderegger, who ministered to City Harvest Church members from July 6 to 8.
By Foo Ce Chao
While many people think that juvenile delinquency can be solved through more punishment or treatment, Sonderegger suggested that better parenting—behavior influencing instead of behavior managing—may be more effective. Parents need to recognize that they are the ones with the opportunity to sow into the lives of their children and raise them to reach their full potential; character and integrity do not come through a lack of bad influences but from the input of good influences.
The pinnacle of successful parenting is respect: rules before relationship leads to resentment and rebellion, but relationships before rules result in respect. Drawing parallels to a soccer match, the “continental religion” of Africa, the psychologist related the role of parenting to that of a referee.
The 7 Core Characteristics Of A Referee
1) There are always two or more referees
While there is usually only one referee who goes down to the field to run with the players, there are other referees around to make sure the game is played fair. In parenting, both parents should be involved in raising their children.
2) They back each other up and support each other’s decision 100 percent of the time
Referees never contradict each other, or they will immediately lose the respect of the players. In the same way, parents should stand on the same side and support each other’s decision. Any disagreement should be discussed “off court.”
3) Emotional control
Referees never yell at the players for kicking the ball out of the court; they simply blow the whistle and re-start the game. Likewise, parents should keep their cool while disciplining their children—once they lose their composure, they lose control of the situation as well as the right to parent.
4) They follow through with the decisions they make
Referees will not change their mind about a call just because a player challenges him or complains about his decision. When making decisions, parents should be consistent in making sure that the rules are enforced; inconsistency in discipline often encourage negative behaviors in children if they know that rules can be compromised.
5) They pre-establish boundaries
With rules and regulations set prior to the game, each player knows the consequences their action will bring. Applying the same principle, it will be easier for parents to discipline their children with pre-established rules and consequences when the rules are broken.
In setting rules, it helps to have a “family objective”—what you want other people to say about your family should be the objective, and this should ideally include input from the children.
Setting a “family objective” gives children a basis to judge their actions. For example, if the objective is to be well-mannered, the child should know that anytime he behaves badly, he will be subjected to discipline.
The point is not so much in coming up with the best objective but giving the child a chance to be involved and therefore have ownership as well as a sense of importance in the family—fostering a mutually respectful relationship.
6) They are actively involved with the players, running alongside them on the field
Referees run along the edges of the field with the players in order to make a fair call when rules are broken. In the same way, parents should be actively involved in their children’s life, paying active attention to the details of their everyday life, e.g knowing exactly who their children hang out with, what they learn in school and the problems they face.
7) Administer instead of lecture
The role of a referee is to administer the game, not to lecture the players. By encouraging children to think about their own mistakes in the context of pre-set boundaries instead of lecturing them on what they did wrong, there is a higher learning value.
The administration of the rule can take the form of a “face the wall” or “sit in a corner” sentence until they are able to identify which of their actions are inconsistent with the pre-set family objectives. The key is to influence their behavior, not merely to manage it. “Children learn best when they do the teaching,” said Sonderegger.
Of course, when a child does well, there are positive consequences. He explained a better way of praising a child—not just blindly commending them for trivial matters in the name of boosting their ego but “strategic, significant” praise: one that involves learning. This is done using a “praise sandwich”, which consists of three points:
- being specific about what they did which earned them the praise,
- why the action was so commendable,
- and how it made the parents feel.
The bottom-line: the correct focus is on parenting the heart, the intent/ attitude, and not the behavior. If parents can capture the hearts of their children, they will capture their behavior too.
“I learned that parenting is about attitude and respect. It is actually not easy to apply the rules laid out as it is a learning process; there is always a need to countercheck and see whether we are really carrying it out,” said Lee Kiam Hiong, 58, a teacher.
“One thing that I learn from this session is praying with my children before they sleep, asking God to rule over their lives,” said Nancy Lim, 68, a homemaker. “I learn about unconditional love and the importance of respect. I will spend more time with my kid, to hug him more and show love,” added clinic assistant Pappy Tan, 46.
Read our reports on Dr Robi Sonderegger’s other seminars: