| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Secret diary of a stressed out parent

Enrol on a parenting course to turn your tantruming tots into little angels

Reaching the end of their parenting tethers, Kate Chevilly and her husband Mark enrolled on a parenting course to tame their tantruming tots, with surprising results.

Crunch time
It’s a typical weekday morning. At 7.45am, I’m dashing around the house, trying to muster five-year-old Charlie into the car because we’re late for school again. His cheeks are tear stained, my hand is smarting from the hefty smack I’ve just delivered, and we’re both feeling pretty rotten.

The reason? We’ve been battling each other since 5.45am. Charlie, as usual, has refused to get dressed. For two hours, we’ve cajoled, bribed, persuaded, threatened and shouted – all to no avail. In the end, with less than 10 minutes to spare, I attempt to manhandle my son into his uniform. The result? Kicking, hitting, screaming and pulling of hair ensues (Charlie – not me) and I receive a nasty bite to my arm. That’s when he gets the ‘last resort’ smack.

For the umpteenth time, I wonder how things have got so out of control, and with a stinging palm and teeth-marks on my forearm, Mark and I finally concede defeat. We enroll ourselves on an eight-week Positive Parenting course run by parent educator and former teacher, Therese Sequeira.

Week one
In theory I arrive late and without Mark because our younger son is sick and Charlie’s been playing up. Therese gives us a sheet of paper and asks us to write down the behaviours we’d like to change in our children. I write a long entry, beginning with ‘better listening and following instructions to managing anger and stopping violent physical retaliation’. There are other things too, but I’ve run out of space. ‘Right,’ says Therese, ‘give these to me, and we’ll have another look at them during the last session to check our progress.’ I hand it over, not holding out much hope. This week’s lesson is about how we react to our children. I realise I’m guilty of giving in to whining, while Mark is impatient and shouts too much. I vow to take a firmer approach. I tell Therese about our morning struggles. She says, ‘Stop giving him so many instructions. Tell him once and withdraw. Don’t get into a debate because then he’s getting the attention he wants.’ Hmm. I just don’t believe it’s going to be that simple.

In practice The next morning, Charlie refuses to get out of bed, so I follow Therese’s instructions to the letter. Charlie is told to get dressed once and left alone. We ignore all his ‘Nos’ and cries of ‘I’m sick!’ and wait. Twenty minutes tick by, during which Mark and I manage to stop ourselves from checking on him. We’ve got up very early, already believing our strategy won’t work. But, just as we’re giving up hope, Charlie appears fully dressed. We almost fall off our chairs – and he is delighted with himself. We dole out lots of hugs and praise, and leave the house on time, smiling for once. From then on, mornings (by and large) run like clockwork.

Week two
In theory Buoyed up by the previous week’s success, we both make it to class on time. Today’s session is about learning how and when to praise your children. I’d always considered myself a good praiser, but now
I realise there are times when we both focus too much on the negative stuff. Therese says if we praise Charlie correctly, his misbehaviour will be replaced by good behaviour. Our task for the week is to encourage independence through active praise (where you don’t just say ‘well done’ – but tell your child exactly why they’ve been good). We’re advised to respond to Charlie as soon as he requests our attention. Even just taking 30 seconds to acknowledge what he’s doing, she says, will stop him seeking attention in negative ways.

In practice Mark realises he’s guilty of escalating. That means giving Charlie an instruction too many times and getting angry when he ignores it, rather than giving him a consequence after the first time. We make a point of using active praise with Charlie at every opportunity and, most importantly, stop repeating ourselves. An incident in the park shows us how far we’ve come. Charlie hits a smaller child. Then our youngest son copies him. Normally I’d tell them both off, threaten them with a punishment and get nowhere. This time I reprimand them, order them both off the climbing area, and make them sit in the sand for five minutes. They both do exactly as I ask, which completely amazes me. Just two weeks ago, I’d have ended up manhandling Charlie, kicking and screaming off the apparatus – and would probably have taken him straight home. Even better, Charlie is given the Golden Award at school this week for having the most improved behaviour in the class. I can’t believe it!

Time Out Dubai,

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