Relationships: reducing family tensions and stress

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2012, 2:09pm

"My younger son's bad behaviour in school is driving me crazy. He is undisciplined, incapable of following rules, and has conflicts with his schoolmates and teachers," says Melinda, a perfectionist mother of two sons, aged 15 and six.

The more she tried to manage her son's behavioural problems, the worse things got - he became even more rebellious. This vicious circle increased the tension in their relationship.

Melinda found it difficult to strike a balance between showing love for her son and exercising discipline. She couldn't help feeling that she was incapable as a mother.

Mr Choi has a five-year-old son who has eczema. Poor sleeping patterns and uncontrollable itchiness cause the boy to have mood swings. Out of concern for their son, his parents repeatedly reminded him to stop scratching, which caused conflict. The couple worried about the disturbance and distress brought about by the eczema, but they felt helpless.

Both Choi and Melinda are facing a problem typical of many parents. Their expressions of love and concern result in conflict between them and their children.

Most parents today are keen to equip themselves with parenting skills. They read books, attend parenting talks and search for solutions on the internet. But most of them still find it difficult to put theory into practice.

Much of the conflict arises when there is a mismatch in expectations. Parents try to manage their children; the children continue to express themselves in their own way and neither party gives up. No matter which party surrenders, the family is the loser. It either spoils the child or drives parents and child apart.

During growth and developmental, children behave instinctively. Conflict between parents and their child is inevitable. The key question is how to guide our children in the right direction without upsetting the relationship - it's better to benefit from it.

There is no short cut. Daily practise and understanding are the vital elements for relationship building. Both Choi and Melinda ended up taking a course in child-parent relationship therapy (CPRT). They practised "special playtime" once a week with their children to better understand them and build the foundation of the parent-child relationship.

During their special playtime, Melinda tried looking at things from her child's point of view, to gradually understand his feelings and thoughts. She gave him space to explore and accepted his limitations. Melinda described the therapy as a kind of magic.

Her reward has been an improvement in her son's co-operation, and his behavioural and emotional problems have abated significantly. He has found more friends at school and become more stable. Teachers also report progress in his concentration and he is not as prone to mood swings.

Choi is now able to understand the aspirations expressed by his son during their playtime. It has also helped the boy resolve the distress brought by his eczema and improved his self-confidence. During playtime, the son feels loved, understood and accepted.

Choi is amazed by the magic of the therapy. His son expresses his views and feelings more freely while they play. He also seems more cheerful. Choi uses the "filial therapy" concept and skills in daily life to get along with his son and his wife. He listens to and reflects on their feelings. The family relationship has improved considerably.

The use of CPRT therapy to build up relationships with children is like body building; it works through repeated exercise and practice.

It not only strengthens the "muscle" of family solidarity but also strengthens immunity from parent-child conflict.

Venus Chan is the manager of the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society