Asalaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh Sister,
Jazak Allah khairan for writing in with this important topic.
Child rearing practices, in spite of cultural differences, are often a source of debate and controversy, so your experience is by no means an isolated one. The problem essentially relates to keeping the balance between learning from one’s own childhood experience of parents, your own parenting skills and the combination of this (for each spouse) within the marital relationship when raising one’s own children.
It often makes for a lot of contradictions as you have found but it is resolvable bi idh nillah (God willing).
The key to the solution is in the balance of responses between all three aspects. Because each response has its own consequences, we must consider all reactions and look at what is the most effective both practically and emotionally. This means sometimes separating one’s own behavior from ones history and looking at the behavior in and of itself.
Children learn in so many ways – through what we say, encourage and explain but also in what we as adults do, so children learn through ‘reinforcement’ and ‘modeling’ of good behavior, to use the psychological terminology! These are the basic foundations to managing children’s behavior. And a shared strategy between parents is really important in implementing these ideas to ease what is a lifetime challenge.
Practically, when the children are being emotionally distressed by the form of discipline in the house it is vital that you change this because in my clinical experience it is often the case that ‘unhelpful’ parenting results in adult difficulties around self confidence and self- esteem; and this in turn affects their future parenting and the cycle may continue.
However, this change can only occur if the individual concerned acknowledges this connection; perhaps your husband feels there is no connection between his experience of being parented and his own parenting style and so this makes it harder to help him reconsider his behavior.
I have a number of questions for both of you to discuss together:
* Does your husband accept that he suffers from the problems you describe? If so, does he make any connection with his own experience of parenting and his low self esteem? Ask him to think also about how he now feels towards his parents and what he feels as an adult about that form of parenting. Your husband may like to consider that his experience and that of his parents may have suited him but not his children.
* Can you discuss with your husband the importance of changing his response to the children for the sake of their emotional well being rather than make him feel he is harming them? Perhaps he has been so busy considering that his method is right that he has not considered that it may be destructive in other ways.
Remind your husband that the children are too young to understand his view of managing them and it is hindering not advancing their progress. It is important to consider that, from a psychological point of view, the children are yet developing their sense of understanding of the world so although your husband may be using ‘adult logic’ for the children this is not the message they receive.
Indeed his explanation would be rather complicated for them to understand. The more sophisticated expectations of adults may not make any sense to children at all – all they will feel is the negative emotion and associate it to an act or person accompanied by nothing more than some confused explanations.
Further, their development will build on their past experiences and if these have been negative this will affect their wider world view as they develop, especially where there is no alternative information. I am telling you this so that you are aware that children will/may not understand adult agendas even though they may accept them and respond as expected.
When thinking about these issues it is important that you both have the welfare of the children in mind as a priority and not your own personal agendas. Here are some tips and alternative responses for both of you to consider: Do not argue in front of the children about your individual methods of discipline.
Children being children will simply take advantage of situations where parents are not in agreement over their disciplining – this will only increase your problems and may even make their behavior harder to manage. If your responses are inconsistent, it is likely that the children will become confused about what is expected – so you both need to have a shared reaction to their behavior and expect the same behavior from them to some degree at this early stage.
In answer to your question: Shall I be on their side and tell them their father is wrong? Each parent has their own respect and honor in the eyes of the children irrespective of their behavior (though, of course, to some extent any wrongdoing has its own unchangeable influence.) It is the job of each spouse to protect the other in this and maintain a level of respect of the other by their children.
My thought is that you are correct in your thinking that any disputes over parenting should be done quite separately from the children because my experience of working with parents is that such displays of disagreement often end up not only in resulting in the children’s behavior being ‘mismanaged’ but may also cause increasing rifts within the marriage.
I suggest both you and your husband also look at the Islamic obligations that your children have over you in order to balance your reactions. The Sunnah (prophet tradition) tells and shows us clearly to consider the capacity, ability and age of individuals when understanding. There is a clear etiquette when trying to change behavior and correct mistakes in the Sunnah; and we always see that kindness is the way to good Tarbiah (upbringing) though with firmness not degradation or humiliation. Just remember these basic rules:
* Good behavior plus reinforcement leads to good behavior
* ‘Bad’ behavior plus reinforcement equals ‘bad’ behavior
* Good behavior and no reinforcement equals less good behavior
* ‘Bad’ behavior plus no reinforcement equals more bad behavior By ‘reinforcement’ I mean to reward the child when they do something good through a practical, emotional or material reward – in essence it is the attention this gives the child that has the greatest influence.
Humiliation and aggression as a ‘teaching style’ is not part of reinforcement and is not helpful for children at this age because it tends to make them retreat rather than increase in confidence. This may lead to the correct behavior but for the wrong reasons. It may also damage their relationship with their father.
Whenever you shout or chastise your children for their bad behavior it is common that such behavior is reinforced because bad attention is better than no attention as far as children are concerned.
So, again, constant criticism and negativity will possibly increase their unwanted behavior because that may be the only communication they have with that parent. So your children may learn the best way to have any interaction with their father is to behave in this manner as it ensures some attention from him. Further this will also teach them that to communicate with people you need to be negative and critical as this will have been the style of communication they have learnt from their parents.
Most parents simply ignore their children when they are well behaved and only shout at them when they are badly behaved- this is the wrong way round. Always reward good behavior – praise your children when they are good and just ignore them when they are badly behaved.
In an instance where you must take action and ‘punish’ the child because the behavior cannot be ignored – make sure that the punishment is given at the time of the problem behavior or children would not understand why they are being punished. Make sure the punishment is in proportion to the bad behavior – it is meant to teach the child a lesson not distance them from you or demean them. If the children are too afraid of you because their experience of you is to be shouted at or humiliated it is likely that when they do have problems (may Allah protect them) they will not feel able to come to you for help so the method is counter-productive.
This should also be a warning to all parents that if we treat our children in a certain manner then the lessons they learn from that teaching will be also applied to the parents later in life. I have personally seen this on many occasions.
Until you make some shared agreements about parenting you could tell your children that their father may do things differently but he still loves them and wants them to be safe and that they should talk openly about how his response makes them feel – perhaps this may sway him to change his behavior. May Allah make the matter easy for you and be aware that children are very resilient and as long as you implement changes soon there should be no lasting effect inshaAllah. The key thing to bear in mind is to ask yourself what message your response is giving the child given their understanding of the world at those ages. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact me with details inshaAllah.
With salaams and duas for a united and successful future for you all.