Guidelines set the framework for a child's independence

Nora Tong

A CHILD, PROBABLY NOT MORE than two years old, runs from the doors of the Central Post Office towards a road where cars are speeding by. His desperate mother rushes after him. But when she reaches him, instead of a loving hug in relief and explaining to him what he has done wrong, she slaps him hard across the face to punish him for being so 'naughty'.

Many parents would do the same in that moment of terror and, indeed, every day on Hong Kong's streets some can be seen scolding their children for innocent misdemeanours.

Yip Kwok-hung, a research fellow at the social sciences department of the Hong Kong Baptist University, believes such reactions have a negative effect on the development of a child. Explanation beat punishment, he said.

Dr Yip has spent 10 years helping young children build mental stamina and older students improve their learning abilities, which he says are often weakened by poor parenting. And he has now developed a guide for parents. His 'Multiple Quotients' consists of indices showing how well a child fares in seven domains, taking on the theory of multiple intelligence developed by Howard Gardner.

Dr Yip's seven include the ability to face up to adversity (the adversity quotient); their relationship with parents (bonding quotient), creativity (creative quotient), their development in languages and mathematics, physical fitness and the ability to reflect on mistakes (development quotient), the ability to exert self-control (emotional quotient), intelligence (intelligence quotient) and the soundness of their moral values (moral quotient).

He said his theory complemented Gardner's but he believed that the Harvard-based psychologist had glossed over the importance of developing the ability to cope with adversity: 'Young people nowadays cannot bite the bullet which may cripple their future development.'

Dr Yip said early indicators included 'lacking in perseverance and patience', such as giving up on games because they seemed too difficult and turning constantly to parents for answers to homework.

This was not the child's fault. Young people were growing up in more sheltered environments where materially they could have anything they wanted. This, however, counted against them. 'Overprotected children don't know what failure is like and won't be able to stand up and face difficulties,' he said.

Parents could hone children's perseverance through challenging games such as jigsaws, Lego and chess which required them to be patient and determined.

Dr Yip, leader of the Problem-Based Learning Project at Baptist University promoting problem-solving skills, said that from a project he had been working on with 20 schools he had noted how parents intervened, overly guiding their children and even doing the work for them instead of letting children handle the problems themselves.

Creativity could be fostered by encouraging children to develop their own thoughts and accept new ideas within the bounds of moral principles.

'Some parents unthinkingly consider an answer different from the norm or the expected to be wrong and discount the possibility of an alternative. By doing so they are strangling children's creative potential, making them conform,' he said.

On the development quotient, he suggested parents observe from everyday life what their children could and could not do, be sensitive to their levels of ability and avoid being too harsh.

He provided two tips that were often ignored - do not hold children to adult standards and never lose one's temper when a child fails to meet expectations - as that mother did in Central. 'Face is much less important than your child's feelings,' he said.

He also cautioned against Hong Kong's ingrained culture of disapproval: 'Compliments, not criticisms, instil in children an interest in an activity.'

Dr Yip said parents should take the lead in strengthening a child's bonding quotient, or the parent-child relationship. Examples of parental neglect that hindered this included farming children out to private tutors instead of overseeing their learning themselves, failing to attend important occasions such as school parents' days, and ignoring children at home.

Many parents mistakenly thought showering children with material goods would make them feel secure, he said.

Parents needed to show greater respect for their children's work, including their early creations which reflected their inner world.

Dr Yip said his theory also highlighted the need to cultivate proper moral values in young people. 'What is to become of an extremely intelligent child who lacks morally sound principles?' he said.

Parents should be aware of the immoral messages spread by the internet and violent video games which encouraged children to hurt the innocent and despise the virtue of sympathy. They should discuss openly and critically with their children the implications of the content, he said.

Parents had an enormous influence on their children's moral values and should hence be strict with their own moral stance.

His other advice on parenting included seeking help from experts on child development such as teachers and social workers, when necessary. 'Being a parent is a long-term commitment,' he said.