Try these guides before reading the riot act

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am


For Mother's Day, I had originally planned to share some of my favourite mummy-baby storybooks, such as Deborah Guarino's Is Your Mama a Llama? and Amy Hest's Kiss Good Night.

Then my mind wandered to last Mother's Day. Around that time, my elder daughter turned from a sweet, easy-going toddler into a difficult malcontent.

According to my husband, the problem was our temperamental child. According to me, the problem was our differing views on how to deal with and raise our child.

If a stranger were ever to give unsolicited parenting advice, such as 'You need to control your kids' or 'You shouldn't scold your child like that', I would feel quite confident that they were wrong because they knew neither me nor my child. However, when my husband said to me, 'Our daughter is out of control and you're spoiling her', I got defensive and exasperated. Not only had he misunderstood me, he had also completely misunderstood our perfect angel of a child.

Joking aside, his statements forced me to contemplate the possibility that the man who knew me inside out could actually be making a more accurate assessment of the situation than myself.

My low point came during Mother's Day lunch last year. In the middle of yet another discussion about our differing views of our elder daughter's temperament, my mother tried to interject with her own comments. I inadvertently snapped at her and made her cry. Yes, I made my mother cry on Mother's Day.

That's when I knew that I needed help. So I invested in some parenting guides.

The subtitles of these books sounded even more promising than their titles: Robert J. MacKenzie's Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm and Respectful Boundaries; Elizabeth Pantley's 1996 best-seller Kid Co-operation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging & Pleading and Get Kids to Co-operate; as well as her 2007 book, The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behaviour Without Whining, Tantrums & Tears.

It was not lost on me that, from the titles I had decided to purchase, I was implicitly agreeing with my husband's stance that we had a strong-willed child who whined too much, and that I had been doing a lot of ineffective nagging and pleading.

Setting Limits is a useful guide for parents who like their advice served straight up. It explains that strong-willed children like to test limits more than compliant children.

The best tip I learned from this book is that, while parents can get away with giving unclear instructions to compliant children, strong-willed children need specific words and actions to understand how to behave.

For example, if you see a messy room and say, 'Oh, I wish you wouldn't leave toys lying everywhere like this', a compliant child will know to interpret this as a cue to tidy up the toys. On the other hand, a strong-willed child will need more concrete words such as, 'You need to put away these toys before we leave the house to go to the park to play'.

In short, parents need to be very conscious of their words and actions when dealing with a strong-willed child.

The two guidebooks by Elizabeth Pantley devote more pages to explaining what it's like to be a child: little beings who are not biologically nor psychologically capable of controlling their emotions. I like Pantley's proposition that discipline is not a simple matter of correcting a child's immediate behaviour, but rather is a continual process of training a child for a lifetime of self-discipline.

I also appreciate that her starting point is not assessing the type of child or type of discipline issue. Instead, she asks the reader to complete a 'What is your parenting style?' quiz. By focusing on what kind of parent you are rather than what kind of child you have, you can be more aware of yourself when putting Pantley's parenting advice into action.

My mother is not in town for us to celebrate Mother's Day together this year; but that's OK. I'm still atoning for the stunt I pulled last year and have been trying to make her feel that every one of the last 365 days has been a Mother's Day.

Annie Ho is a board governor of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong (, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy through reading aloud to them and providing easy access to the best children's books for underserved communities across Hong Kong