Getting angry with your kids and shouting at them more often during this Covid-19 circuit breaker period? Stay cool – you’re not alone.
As families are stuck at home, Dr Lim Boon Leng says he has been hearing from parents who are more irritable and frustrated with their children while stuck at home.
“The parents usually feel very guilty having lost their cool. However, I haven’t seen any cases of overt abuse,” says the psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.
Stay-home measures have increased parental stress in multiple ways, according to Theresa Pong, principal counsellor at Focus on the Family Singapore, whose team counselled both husband and wife.
These range from cabin fever with no downtime, to managing kids all by themselves while fulfilling work commitments, being forced to work more closely with their spouse, and fears about the family’s finances, health and lifestyle.
While many parents had high expectations of how they wanted to spend time with their kids during the circuit breaker, they struggle with balancing working from home and taking care of their little ones.
As the lines between work and family blur, the “extra stress can result in disappointment and even resentment, causing them to lose emotional regulation”, she says.
Mums found to be more stressed than dads
While this can happen to both mothers and fathers, mums are more prone to it as they tend to be the primary caregivers, shares Ms Christine Wong, founder and principal psychotrauma coach at Rhemaworks International, a private consultancy that offers life and personal coaching and therapy.
Focus on the Family’s survey of 1,076 mothers in March and last month bears this out.
Sixty per cent of mums surveyed by the local charity rated their stress level as seven out of 10, a marked increase from 52 per cent in last year’s survey.
The report notes that mothers are at risk for poor emotional and mental health as well, as more than six in 10 respondents had insufficient sleep of six hours or less.
Ms Wong says parents should look out for these emotional red flags: setting too many rules and being triggered when their child does not follow them, being too controlling and using methods such as shouting and hitting and blaming the child for misbehaviour.
“The truth is, it is not the child’s fault. The child is only being a child. We all know this, yet we unconsciously expect them to have the intellectual capacity and behaviour of an adult,” she says.
Parents can inflict “unconscious emotional trauma” when they call their children names, label them naughty or stupid, or guilt-trip them, she adds.
Over time, such trauma becomes ingrained in the child’s belief system. When they become mums and dads themselves, they repeat their parents’ negative patterns of behaviour, and it becomes a vicious circle, she says.
(Also read: 5 things not to say to your kid when you are angry)
How stressed parents affect their child
Dr Lim explains that in the short term, kids who are emotionally abused may cling to their parents even more, fearing that they will be abandoned. They may also act up more.
“In the longer term, if the emotional abuse continues, the child may grow up to have low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and personality disorders,” he says.
Ms Pong adds that while many children are resilient and can overcome adversity, this should not be an excuse for parents to “normalise what could potentially turn abusive”.
“Instead, we can turn ‘failed parenting moments’ into teachable moments for our children and ourselves,” she explains.
“It starts with the grown-ups recognising how they ‘lost it’ or overreacted, apologising to their child for their misplaced or misdirected reaction/behaviour and processing with their child a better way to deal with stress, tension or misbehaviour together when it next arises.”
One ‘tiger mum’ speaks up
Ms Connie Ting, 37, learnt this lesson the hard way when she sought Ms Wong’s help two years ago, after realising that she had lost control of her emotions, even slapping her eldest child during a heated argument.
“My children called me a ‘tiger mum’. They loved me, yet they feared me,” says the stay-at-home mother of five children aged six to 12.
She learnt to see things from her children’s perspective – fights, for example, tended to stem from play fighting, rather than a sibling intentionally wanting to hurt another.
Now, if her children misbehave, she makes sure she and the child both calm down before talking about what happened, and she apologises if she is in the wrong.
Her relationship with her brood of five has improved so much that she has enjoyed their time together during the circuit breaker.
Her kids now tell her she is “very sweet and kind” and “always very comforting and encouraging”, she says, adding that “it’s so different (from previously)”.
Practising mindfulness and yoga
Ms Tina Chugani-Nair, 44, uses the tools she learnt as a kundalini yoga teacher to deal with stay-home stress, slotting in a couple of minutes of poses and breathing exercises whenever she needs time out from her two girls, aged eight and six.
“It’s not just parental stress; even the kids feel it, spending so much time with their parents,” says Ms Chugani-Nair, who has been teaching for 11 years.
Kundalini yoga is said to benefit both mind and body, strengthening the nervous and immune systems and improving mental clarity.
She also practises mindfulness and yoga with her daughters, letting them take the lead when they ask for it. “I think it gives them that calmness, and we also laugh it out,” she adds.
Ultimately, while it is normal for parents to act up when they are stressed, Ms Pong emphasises that they should always remember to affirm their children.
“Our affirmation plays a big part in building our children’s mental health. Our children need to know that parents are the safest people to go to if they need help.”
A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times.
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