Let's act to be better parents

Let's act to be better parents

Print production manager Samantha See, 32, used to have to shout and scream at her two school-going sons "countless times" every day to get them to do their homework. Her sons are aged nine and six.

An encounter with the magic of theatre made her take a step back and realise she needed to do things differently.

Specifically, she attended a forum theatre parenting workshop last year on how to cope with everyday issues raised by primary school children.

Parents took turns to act out certain scenarios with a professional actor who played their child and had been briefed on their particular family circumstances.

Issues raised in the five-hour workshop ranged from a child's inability to wake up on time for school to taking too long in the shower.

The workshop was organised by relationship consultancy Real Academy for 25 parents at a primary school. Ms See says about the session: "I saw clearly that shouting and screaming only make my children shut down."

Founder of Real Academy, Mr Jim Lim, 38, a trained social worker and psychologist, says: "Forum theatre gives people an almost 'out of body experience' so that they can see things more clearly."

An interactive form of drama, forum theatre was devised in the early 1970s by Brazilian director Augusto Boal, who wanted to empower the audience at his plays.

Forum theatre encourages the audience to suggest different actions for the performers to carry out in an attempt to change the outcome of what they are seeing.

A member of the audience can also choose to take over the role of the actors on stage. A trained facilitator may be present to encourage audience participation or to offer suggestions when things reach an impasse.

While now adopted by voluntary welfare organisations and community groups for a range of purposes, from parenting workshops to dealing with Total Defence and terrorism issues, forum theatre was not funded by the Government from 1994 to 2003.

Along with performance art, both scriptless art forms were regarded as a threat to public order. Funding was reinstated only at the Censorship Review Committee's urging in 2003.

Today, parenting experts say there is demand among parents for workshops that use consultative and collaborative tools such as forum theatre to resolve the conflicts they have with their children.

Mr Lim says that about 250 parents have expressed interest to attend forum theatre workshops and he plans to start fortnightly workshops in May, each lasting three to four hours and targeting about 40 parents. Each parent will pay between $30 and $40 for a workshop.

He says he decided to run the workshops due to feedback from parents who had attended his more conventional parenting talks and found they were unable to translate the theory they learnt into practice.

Meanwhile, close to 1,000 parents turned up at the forum theatre parenting sessions on parent-teen communication, held by the Ministry of Education for the first time, on six occasions between 2013 and last year. The sessions were free.

Mr Mark Minjoot, 43, principal of Montfort Secondary, who was part of the scripting and directing team for the education ministry production, says: "Unlike parenting talks, in forum theatre, parents get a chance to see how their idea or strategy may play out in real life."

And if their solution does not work, they can hear from other parents in the audience who may have better suggestions, he adds.

"It creates a sense of community and supports the saying that it takes a village to raise a child," he says.

In these 11/2-hour forum theatre sessions, a father-and-son pair and a mother-and-daughter pair, played by professional and student actors, perform a script crafted around common issues faced by parents and their teenage children.

Issues such as difficulty in communicating with their children had been highlighted by parents during earlier focus group discussions held by the education ministry.

After reaching the scripted conclusion, in which the issue remains unresolved, the actors then re-enact selected scenarios and the facilitator or any member of the audience can stop the performance at any point to suggest different actions for the performer to carry out on stage.

A spokesman says feedback from parents about these sessions was "very positive and encouraging" and the ministry plans to explore new topics in future sessions.

So far, parents have been participating more actively in the forum theatre sessions than expected.

Says Mr Minjoot: "This is probably because the conflicts we presented were something they could really relate to, so many were willing to come forward to offer their suggestions or to act them out." Even parents who were passive members of the audience found the sessions useful.

Housewife Almaz Ng, 45, who has been attending parenting talks since her son Jordan, now 16, was in Primary One, says the forum theatre approach is "more powerful visually".

She says: "The father and mother characters were so naggy at times that I thought, if I were their son or daughter, I would go crazy too. But I realised that sometimes, I behave that way towards my son too.

"When you see this being played out on stage, instead of just being spoken about in parenting talks, somehow, it really brings home the message how ineffective it is to nag. It motivates me to want to change and not be like these parents."

She adds that through the enactments, she has become more conscious of her tone when communicating with her son and the need to see things from his point of view.

Another participant, teacher Anidah Ahmad, 46, who has two teenage children aged 18 and 14, also found that she could see herself in the parents being portrayed.

She explains: "The parents behaved like they were always right and did not seek the opinion of their children. For instance, the mother told the daughter what dress she should wear on important family occasions. I realised that I behave the same way towards my children sometimes."

Her takeaway, which came from a suggestion by another parent at the session, was to sit down with her children, Nurul Hamiza and Muhammad Hidayat, and work out a compromise.

"I have been trying to do this with my children," she says.


This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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