For Arthur Ling, a member of Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships and his wife Chang Chee Siah, building a warm and trusting relationship with their three teenage children, aged 18, 17 and 13, start from building connections with them in daily life.

Chee Siah, a marriage and parenting coach and counsellor, gave an example. She said, “Because our kids each have different personalities, we have different waking and bedtime rituals for them since they were young. I make sure that they wake up and go to sleep happy. And that adds to the relationship richness because they know we are there for them at the beginning and at the end of the day”.

Added Arthur, “Another good way to cultivate a bond is to reach out to them when they are down. Sometimes, when my kids encounter friendship problems – such as being left out of group activities – that’s when us parents can come in to offer a listening ear and a sense of comfort”.

Picking out the good, not the bad

Chee Siah cautioned parents against imposing their own expectations on their offspring. Often in their anxiety for their child to do well in life, parents may neglect their child’s strengths and focus on their negative traits or getting rid of bad habits.

She suggested that parents do the reverse: “Instead of picking on the bad, try pointing out the good traits that are already there. Your child may not be very disciplined in his studies, but he could be a very good student leader. When you reflect the positive, your child feels ‘seen’ and affirmed by your acknowledgement”.

Arthur advocated being sensitive and looking out for suitable moments to connect with your child. The right environment will encourage children to relax and open up. However, parents have to ask and listen with empathy during those conversations, instead of lecturing and giving advice.

Parent with intent

When dealing with kids who insist on having their own way, Chee Siah points out that while it is important to set boundaries, it is just as crucial to hear them out and understand their reasons. For older children especially, shutting them down with a clear “No” may get them defensive and lead to a battle of wills. Parents who exercise some flexibility by negotiating with children may find the outcomes more fruitful.

The couple proposed that parents should strive to be a “gardener” and not a “carpenter” when raising children. As Chee Siah pointed out, “Instead of trying to mold him or her into your ideal child, give them room to grow. Sometimes you don’t really know the full potential of the child until they are given the space to explore. Your child is like a seed, and our job as parents is to provide the best environment for them to reach their potential”.

Arthur shared two simple pieces of advice for parents of wayward children: Do less of the actions that will trigger your child, and more of the actions that will make your child feel loved. Do that enough, and over time you may start to see a real difference in your relationship.

The content of this article was adapted from a Facebook Live session that Mr Arthur Ling, Chief Executive of Fei Yue Community Services and his wife Mdm Chang Chee Siah, a marriage and parenting coach and counsellor, had with Minister of State Sun Xueling.