Building a relationship

Little man had an unusual meltdown last night.

He was left in his cot after shower just like any other night. Usually, he will play on his own for a while before sleeping by himself. Last night however, he demanded to have his sticker books and toys, and wanted Hubby to take him out of the cot. Hubby refused and little man immediately threw a terrible tantrum.

I was in the shower all this while, listening to those shrill cries for Mama. I took my time, waiting for Hubby to calm him down. But little man was adamant about having his Mama and wouldn’t let it go without a fight. His constant “我不要爸爸!爸爸走开!” (I don’t want Papa! Papa go away!) angered Hubby so much that he was not able to keep calm himself. The episode ended with a very angry Hubby and a badly shaken baby.

After calming little man down, I tried to explain to him that he should not say those hurting words to Papa as Papa will feel very sad. He softened after some coaxing and I brought him to Hubby to apologise, to kiss and make up. However, Hubby was still pretty upset and did not seem willing to forgive him, although little man seems to have forgotton the racket he made minutes ago. To him, all was forgotten as long as he got his Mama.

I had a good talk with Hubby that night. I think we all need a refresher course on building and maintaining a good relationship every now and then, and it’s no exception for the parent-child relationship. These are some learning points I want to note down, for us as parents to reminding ourselves.

1. Keep calm & Do not take things personally
As much as I understand how infuriating little man can be at times, we as adults must always be the one to keep calm and level-headed. It is not that little man did not want his father, he just wanted his Mama and nobody else. Hence, he will reject anyone who is near him at that moment of his, anyone but his Mama. It is not easy to NOT take it personally, but as adults we must do that.

2. Think before you act
We are adults, we are not children. We should be able to rationally think about the situation before reacting to it. This is especially so when you are reacting to a child. Your reactions should not be just about how you feel. It is more important to think about what you want out of your actions, before reacting to the child.

If the child does not take well to the hard approach, the more you talk to the child in an angry and harsh manner, the stronger the reaction of the child will be. In the end, other than a screaming adult and a wailing toddler, you achieve nothing from the episode. This is especially so for little man who requires the soft approach to be able calm down and listen to reasoning.

One of the worse thing you can do to a young child is to start a cold war and start ignoring the child. Firstly, the child probably does not understand what you are doing. He will not apologise to you just because you stop talking to him, mainly due to his lack of understanding for such behaviour of yours. Secondly, he learns nothing from your actions. He does not learn what he has done wrong and how he can change for the better. Thirdly, your relationship with the child could be worse if your actions make him think that you do not love him anymore. The foundation of a parent-child relationship is love. It is important to make your love known to each other in order for the relationship to flourish. The child needs to know that you love him no matter what he has done wrong.

My personal experiences with cold wars taught me that they do nothing but drift both parties further apart. My father is the champion of cold war. When I was in my college years, we had a major disagreement and he started a cold war on me. Days became months, months became years. The war went on for almost three years. I do not remember how the war stopped, but from then, everything has changed. Hence, do not start a cold war. Not on the child you love so much.

3. Spend quality time together
It is not difficult to understand why little man only wants me. Other than the fact that I take care of him 24/7, the quality time I spent with him also build towards our relationship. Quality time meant no distractions, no mobile phones, just focusing on little man, be it playing, reading or learning together.

You will know if you have spent quality time with you child, because when you do, you realise you have gotten to know him a little better. You will see his progress, his emotions, his little actions and gestures. You will not feel bored or in a hurry to finish up the game you are playing with him, because if you feel that way, you are just patronising him. You are not spending quality time with him, as much as you would like to think so. The child maybe young, he can feel what you are feeling. He will know if you are truly there for him.

4. Verbalise your love
Hubby grew up in a family where love is rarely spoken. Hence, he does not have the habit of expressing his love verbally and physically. Even as an adult, I sometimes request Hubby to be more expressive of his love for me. It does not need to be much, just a hug and a simple “I love you” will do. He would often retort, “Think about all the things I have done for you, would you not think that I love you?” And I will accept it at that because indeed, he has done a lot of me and the family. I am an adult, I can try to rationalise my emotions and needs. But for young children, they need you to show and tell them the love you have for them.

The knowledge and reiteration of such deep love builds a strong foundation for future relationship between the parent and the child. It is not a given that all parents love their children, hence it should not be a given that the children should know that their parents love them. A strong relationship built during their younger years will help them to open up to you as they grow up. You do not want to be just a discipline master in their heart. You want to be their guide, their light, their friends and their shelter. They will come to you no matter what age, because they know you love them no matter what happens.

5. Put yourself in the child’s shoes
Whenever little man is in one of his moments, I will first try to take a step back to think if there are any underlying reasons for his tantrums. In the case of last night, little man was already very tired from a eventful weekend over at his grandma’s. To top it up, he was overstimulated by the meeting of so many new faces at a birthday party we brought him to that evening. He was still in his playful mode, although he was already very very tired. He did not understand that he needs to sleep and rest to feel better. He is only a toddler who is still learning to make sense and control his emotions. If we can see things in that perspective, we can be more understanding towards him. And truth to be told, little children can only learn to be more understanding towards others when they experienced such compassion and consideration towards themselves through others.

6. Make sure the lesson is learnt, not just brushed aside
As little man progresses in his abilities and skills, he also starts to test his limits in many ways I would never have thought of. Many times when he was reprimanded, he would throw a huge tanrum and cry nonstop. When he is in that state, nothing can go into his ears. Instead of continuing to scold him, I will soften my stance and try to calm him down first. When he is calmer, I will go through with him what exactly happened just now and what he had done wrong. I will ask him to repeat after me what he had done wrong, and make him apologise and say that he will never do that again.

The scoldings are not as important as the lesson the child should be learning. Many times, the scoldings are just for the parents to vent their pent-up frustrations. That goes back to my second point, think before you act.

Building a relationship is never easy, especially when it is with your very own child. It is a life-long learning journey. But I believe, with plenty of patience and love, we will be able to enjoy the fruits of a loving parent-child relationship in the long run.

I will do my best. I hope you will jiayou too.

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