I bullied my child and I didn't even know it

I bullied my child and I didn't even know it
Photo: ST

Like many anxious first-time parents whose child started Primary 1 this year, I went into panic mode months before the school year started. I was stressed that he still couldn't spell well, even though he's an advanced reader for his age. For two weeks, I made him practise spelling daily. He was bewildered because I was usually big on learning through play, not a rote-learning freak.

I was short-tempered with Ayden when he committed careless mistakes. I knew he could do this; he just wasn't focusing. I began talking louder, and louder… until I was so highly strung, I yelled at him.

All because he couldn't spell "fourteen" and "forty" correctly. My frightened son stared back in me in horror, tears welling up.

And try as he might, he just couldn't do it. Instead of using his phonics skills to sound out the words, like he always does, Ayden panicked and began clutching at straws: "J… K…W…"

Hubby had to pull me back and tell me to calm down.

I realised, to my horror, that I had become… a bully.

The thin parenting line

"It's sad to say, but parents can be bullies, too. Suicide is a major problem among young people in Asia, and part of the problem is that many teens are under incredible pressure to earn top grades so they can make it into the best schools and get the best jobs for the most pay.

"Parents naturally want their kids to do well, but when a mother and father give love and support only if their child is successful in their eyes, it is a form of bullying.

There was a case in which the parents burned their child with cigarettes because her grades were not up to their standards. That's an extreme case, to be sure, but I've encountered similar stories around the world."

The first time I shared this passage from Nick Vujicic's new book, Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying (and Other Stuff That Keeps You Down), with my mummy friends, we quickly protested.

Hey, that's not us! We just want the best for our children!

We're trying to help them be the best they can be! It's for the good of their future!

We are not bullies! Maybe it's an issue of Asian versus Western culture. Generally speaking, Western parents are not as gradeobsessed.

Children in the West do much less homework than Asian kids; Singapore just came in third in a global poll on the number of hours children spend on homework, proving that they are among the most hard-working in the world. But in Asia, kids are routinely told that their job is to be good students. Parents, even those from low-income families, often make huge sacrifi ces and pay exorbitant fees to support the $1-billion tuition industry here. That is something the motivational speaker-cum-author wants to highlight to parents: instil discipline; don't bully.

The 32-year-old, who was born without limbs, recalls his own naughty days: "My parents spanked me when I did something wrong or chose to discipline me in different ways. (For example), they wouldn't give me the things that I wanted, or (they'd discipline me) through the chores that I did at home, like vacuuming our house and cleaning my room, or even fi xing up my bed with my teeth."

From a child's point of view, Nick agrees that "it sounded a little mean or a little unfair, but it was good. It made me feel like I wasn't treated differently than my siblings".

What he wants to emphasise is the difference between "disciplinary action and motivation for kids to do what the parents know they need to do".

Love the kid, not the grade

Nick notices that many parents, especially from Asia, put "the pressure to perform" on their children. "I've noticed some extreme cases of abuse and bullying," he adds.

The first-time dad to twoyear- old Kiyoshi James admits that he does not have a perfect formula for parenting, and that every parent does it differently. But he reckons that some people end up bullying their young ones because they learnt it from their own parents.

"They just feel like they should do the same. We know that love is the greatest thing we need to communicate to our kids.

"Some people think: if I'm concerned with their grades, and getting them to the best university and giving them the best opportunities and materialistic things, then that's the way I show my love," he observes.

Motivating children should stem from good communication and not material rewards, Nick emphasises. "It's when you have quality time with them, when you have conversations outside of school and homework, that really helps you to connect with your kids," he explains.

"I'm not saying not to discipline your children or not to make goals. My parents made goals for me. I wanted a stereo for my next birthday and they said: 'Well, you need to work hard and set some goals for your school and your grades as well. If you get the grades, you get the item you want.' That was their way of motivating me.

"But my parents did not bully me, even though they had strong views about schoolwork. At the same time, they always made sure it wasn't one-sided, and that it was a balance of me talking with them, doing things with them, being with them - whether we went fi shing, camping, did things together, played board games as a family, even read books together. Just family interaction.

"Communicate with your kids and see if they understand why you tell them what you tell them. It is because you love them and it's for the good of their future. But at the same time, have a balance of reward and encouragement," he reiterates.

"We have to analyse how we discipline and talk to our kids, how we set the parameters and tone at home. Because the way that you parent your children will determine what they think, what they do and who they are."

Young Parents, published by SPH Magazines, is available in both digital and print formats. Log on to http://www.youngparents.com.sg/subscription to subscribe and for more parenting stories.

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