Asked to express how he wanted to be treated by his parents, a 10-year-old boy wrote: 'When they think I've done something wrong, they should ask me why [I've done it]. They should not curse and punish me before finding out what has really happened.' Confronted with the same question, an 11-year-old girl wrote that her parents should not try to understand her by remembering what it was like for them. She added that they should stop giving her dirty looks 'to stop me from doing the things I like'. Children today are more mature, complex and sensitive to the subtleties of adult body language. Few doubt the difficulties they face growing up in a modern society. But parents, too, have trouble understanding their children, an age-old problem that has spawned numerous books on the subject. While these books have been written mostly by parents or social workers, there is now one exploring the subject from children's points of view. Speaking from the Heart, which includes contributions by 128 children, gives an insight into how many Hong Kong youngsters think, and provides a way for their parents to understand them better. The book was compiled from a survey of 1,787 students aged between five and 14. Apart from making an interesting read, the anonymous comments in the book - published by the 3 Cats company - show alarming signs of problems caused by Hong Kong's education system and parents' hectic lives. The book also reveals children bearing the brunt of parental problems, some of which stem from marriage break-ups. One child, for instance, wrote that her parents should not 'take their temper out on me'. Dr Sandra Tsang Kit-man, Chartered Clinical Psychologist at the University of Hong Kong, says parents sometimes lash out at children when they are unhappy with themselves. 'Sometimes you get a case saying the child has problems, but when you look at it, it's the parents who have problems,' she says. 'Sometimes, the parents are crying out for help.' She adds: 'I see [from the writings] a lot of children who want their parents to be happier.' Speaking at a seminar based on the book, organised recently by the Hong Kong Boys and Girls Association, Dr Tsang stressed the importance of planning well for parenthood. 'If they feel they are not ready, they should not have children because there is a price to pay for having children,' she says. Parents should also try to prevent marital problems by spending time with each other and giving themselves breathing space in between their work and taking care of their children, she adds. She reminds parents to have a clear idea of their children's importance in their lives. 'Children don't have to be the highest priority. But while we're busy pacing back and forth doing our things, we should know where our children stand,' she says, acknowledging that her top priority is not so much her children but rather the family as a whole. 'We should then step back and see whether what we are doing is actually in line with that priority.' Parents exasperated by their children's behaviour sometimes say things they do not mean. One drawing in the book depicts a mother saying to her daughter 'I picked you up under a flyover', and the girl thinking 'Is it true?' Security is important and parents should not plant seeds of doubt in their children, Dr Tsang says. 'Though we know that certain things are obviously not true, children will wonder silently, and this affects their self-esteem.' In the hopes of improving their children's behaviour or performance, parents also tend to compare them with others, which Dr Tsang believes is destructive. She recalls a mother saying: 'I told my daughter how good our neighbour's daughter was; how well she was doing in school and how she doesn't constantly jump up and down. 'Why are you not like her?' I asked. But my daughter looked at me with her head down and said, 'But her mother is not like you either.' ' In the book, an overwhelming number of children said their parents put pressure on them to perform well at school. 'Don't give me pressure when I'm doing my homework. Don't hit me when I fail in dictation,' an 11-year-old wrote. 'Let me study slowly. I'll certainly achieve better results.' There is a fine line between motivating children and putting pressure on them. Primary-school children often have extra tutorials after school to keep up with school work, and this may be the only option for busy parents who cannot spend time tutoring them. But sometimes parents have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their children. 'Some women are not cut out to be mothers,' Dr Tsang says. 'Spending two hours a day with their children may be more than enough for them, but their husbands want them to be full-time housewives. Then it turns into a sad situation.' Having realistic expectations can simply be a matter of co-ordinating the abilities of parents and children. Parents should also take into account their children's age, level of understanding and needs. Younger children may require protection and guidance, whereas older ones need more space. Children should be taught according to their abilities, she cautions. Each child is different and if you expect too much, you may be disappointed. Parents should also be aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and listen to and accept each other. 'Fathers don't usually talk that much or tell their wives where the problem lies,' Dr Tsang says. 'Women are said to nag but if you listen to them they sometimes make some valid points.' As parents, Dr Tsang says there are two questions we must ultimately ask ourselves. Firstly, what do we want from our children; and secondly, what are our limitations in achieving that? It is only when we can answer these questions that we care for our children more effectively.