Vincy and Franco have three children, who are all doing well in school. But the couple have always found it difficult to discipline their children, and say the youngsters are increasingly out of control.
The oldest, aged 10, usually tops his class but loves internet games so much he cannot control himself. Their middle daughter, eight, is also bright, but constantly talks back. The youngest, a six-year-old daughter, has been spoiled by their helper and always wants her own way.
Vincy felt overwhelmed, but recently told me she had found a solution.
"I can send my three little brats to the after-school classes from this semester onwards. They can finish their homework in school and the teachers can help in case they have questions. The school also provides dinner, so they can stay until 8pm and it will be 9pm by the time they get home. All they need to do is to take a shower and prepare for bed. This is such a perfect arrangement."
Franco is very work-oriented. He leaves early and comes back late. Apart from weekends, he has little time to see his children, let alone guide them. Vincy is a housewife, but has a hard time getting the children to listen to her. All she knows is how to yell at them. Fights among the siblings are frequent. Sometimes Vincy feels so helpless she simply goes out and leaves the maid to settle the situation.
Although Vincy and Franco believe they have an ideal solution, I told them it was a mistake. Handing over the responsibility of disciplining your children to others can result in disaster.
First, less time spent with the children means less communication. Parents should know and understand the nitty-gritty of their children's lives and help to solve any issues they face. If Vincy and Franco seldom talk to their kids, the children would feel no need to interact with them. If they don't build a close relationship at this early stage, the parents will find communication even more difficult when the children reach adolescence, usually an age of rebellion.
Second, when responsibilities for education and discipline are handed to others, the children will be influenced by outside value systems with little input from the parents.
Parents should work with teachers to help their children practise at home the knowledge, conduct, and self-care learned in school. How they present themselves at home shows how much they have learned. The after-school classes take away this opportunity for the children to practise managing their own time or sharing with siblings.
The children will, of course, finish their assignments under supervision in such classes. But once there is no supervision it is likely they will not be able to handle things independently.
To improve relationships at home, I suggested that Vincy and Franco make the following changes:
Have a schedule for family meetings
Setting a time for weekly get-togethers allows children to share moments from their everyday life, from learning problems to interesting encounters. This enhances the communication between parents and children and also allows the adults to help to solve issues with their children.
More discussion, less preaching
Parents should be good listeners and try to understand their children. Try to avoid responding hastily or preaching. Be open-minded and accept children's viewpoints.
More physical contact
Holding hands, a pat on the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek or a warm hug can make a difference in relationships, and give the children a greater sense of security.
Be a good role model
Get rid of bad habits and learn more about nurturing family relationships. When you feel proud that your children are taking after you is when you gain their respect.
I once witnessed a hungry baby waiting to be fed. The grandmother tried to feed him with his mother's milk in a bottle. However, the baby kept refusing until his mother held him and fed him herself. It is the mother's milk in both cases, but the baby chose to be in his mother's embrace because he valued the intimacy. This is something that cannot be replaced.
Samantha Leung is a social worker with the HK Family Welfare Society