I was quite shocked and saddened by a FB status that one of my ex-classmates in Singapore posted a few hours ago. She said she had just caned her little daughter (who is no more than 3 years of age I believe) for waking up in the middle of the night throwing a tantrum. And she can’t go to sleep anymore after that with a sad emoticon.

I just felt very sad that she lashed out like that at a baby (well a toddler is still a baby in my eyes). My son who’s 4 still wakes up regularly once a night almost every night but I put up with it because I know he is just doing that because he’s very attached to me. He was never a good sleeper since the day he was born. I birthed him in a birthpool-in-a-box, planned homebirth, few years ago. The birth was fantastic, and I remember the moment I held him in my arms, his eyes just locked with mine and never let up. I felt the intensity of his gaze and it was just like that. Ever since then he would never let me do anything without him by my side. It was indeed a nightmare in terms of logistics… as I couldn’t place him in his cot to sleep without him throwing a right hissy fit. I have always been against trying the cry-it-out method but after 6 months of enduring broken sleep every single night since his birth, with him waking up every 2 hours to feed, cosleeping with him – sigh, I’m just not the sort of person who sleeps like a log I guess – I relented. I couldn’t deal with yet another night of broken sleep anymore.

But this little baby boy was relentless and determined. For some reason, he just cannot be “trained”. I remember enduring the first week of that cry-it-out ordeal and telling myself it will eventually get better, but nope… all it did was give me even more sleepless hours (as I’d literally spend ages sitting up with his crying patting him, leaving the room, coming back after a set time, leaving room, coming back, etc.) and he just wouldn’t give up the fight. He screamed till his voice was almost hoarse and he started looking bad during the day, like he looked really forlorn, miserable and lost his mojo… and he just wasn’t himself anymore but really tired and just… sad 😦

I felt so tormented by what I’d done that I decided to give up trying to “sleep train” him – he probably just isn’t the kind of child where such a regime would work… and went back to cosleeping again. Soon he was back to his normal, bright, cheerful self. He really is a very bright little boy, very witty… very lovable.

I will never forget the one night I left him with a babysitter together with my 2 other girls. She was an Irish lady who worked as a secretary and wore perfume, full makeup, red lips, high heels, nice office clothes. I hired her from a nanny agency who said she was experienced with kids and had been a live-in nanny for 2 little girls a while back. Well, when I returned from the concert with my husband, all the kids were asleep and I thought everything was fine. But no, a few hours later, my son woke up and he was just… weird. His voice had almost gone completely and he had that sick, forlorn look about him again (like how he looked when I tried to “sleep train” him before)… and I just knew what had happened when I was away. The babysitter must have been unable to sooth him or just left him to cry, and for his voice to go like this, he must have been crying for hours on end. I felt horrible. Just horrible.

It took me a good 9 months or so before I finally dared to leave him with a babysitter again – think of all those months when me and my husband never went out even for a meal just the two of us. This time though, I told the nanny agency I want a VERY EXPERIENCED babysitter. PREFERABLY SOMEONE WHO IS VERY GOOD WITH BOYS. And I told the agency about what happened with the previous nanny they sent me. They then got me another lady. A very friendly, casually-dressed lady of about the same age as me, who had 2 boys of her own and very experienced as a nanny too. With some trepidation, I left my kids to her that night. And returned home to a home with all my kids asleep once again and she was just reading a magazine on the couch relaxed. I asked her how was my son that night. She smiled and was jolly and said something like “Oh he was great! He went to sleep within a few minutes of me putting him down in his cot and I sang to him a little.” I was amazed, LOL He actually was happy for her to put him down in his cot when he hasn’t fallen completely asleep yet?? And he was happy for her to sing him to sleep? Haha… wow. She really is good. Not even I could do that, LOL No, seriously! He was never happy with ME putting him in his cot – he would kick up a fuss. Because he wanted to sleep with me in my bed! And me singing to him? Forget it. And hey, just a quick note here : I am a classically-trained musician and pianist and in no way tone-deaf or bad at singing, LOL

Anyway fast-forward a few years to today. My son is now happy for me to tuck him in bed every night after a story and a song. He moved into his “big boy’s bed” (i.e. toddler bed) a year ago and never looked back. I remember he was so chuffed the first time we carted his new bed and mattress back home. He has certainly grown up and changed a lot if I compare him to his younger days when he would never leave my side happily for any length of time.

He still wakes up once a night every other night these days. But he’s old enough to  understand that mummy wants him to try and stay in bed and sleep on his own unless he has some sort of “emergency” so he often comes to my bed middle of the night and claims he is very thirsty and needs a drink of water (to which he would only take a tiny sip off a cup of water I pour!), and sometimes, he tells me he wants to pee (which is great when it does happen – it gives me hope that one day he will finally not need to wear pull-ups at night and thus save me a small fortune every month on nappies! He is fully potty-trained now, but only during waking hours…)

On some nights, he throws a tantrum – just like my friend on FB, the ex-classmate I mentioned, whose daughter just did a few hours ago. But I’ve figured a way to stop that now. Or at least make him see sense at least… You see, he shares a bedroom with his older sis who is 6. And I always tell him (during waking hours that is, because you can’t reason with a toddler when they are grumpy and half-asleep in the middle of the night anyway) that it’s “not nice” to be screeching at the top of your voice (i.e. when he is throwing a tantrum) in the middle of the night when everyone else is trying to get some sleep. So there, I managed to give him a little lesson in manners as well. Win win 🙂

But that didn’t come easy… well, not as easy as I thought. A few weeks ago he was still waking up crying and tantrum throwing in the middle of the night about once a week. And my poor daughter was woken up. And I went into the bedroom and told her to go to MY room as I dragged her bed mattress, pillows, blankets and soft toys away into MY room at the same time. And then I let her sleep in MY room for the night. My son then realised what I had done. I went back to the room where he was crying still, and I told him he had been really rude to his sister by waking up and making so much noise, because if all he wanted was just to see me, he could just have gotten out of bed by himself and walked to my room peacefully and asked for a drink or whatever it was he wanted of me. But to throw a hissy fit in his room in the middle of the night, a room which he shared with his elder sis, was just WRONG. He got even more upset at what I said. He kept insisting that he wanted to come to my room to sleep too, and that I was “being mean” to him by doing what I did. Well I didn’t give up. In the end though, we came to an agreement where I would give him water/whatever, sing him a song, kiss him, tuck him in, etc… but his sister will remain sleeping in my room. There was no way she was coming back in to sleep in the same room as him for the night. And he was still upset about it but he knew my mind was set, and he didn’t resist anymore and quietly fell asleep after I tucked him in again, kissed him, said goodnight, and went out.

I felt like at that time, I had done something really momentous in all these years of trying to “sleep train” my son. It was just… groundbreaking. I thought to myself if that worked then that may end the tantrumming at night that he had always been so good at  since birth.. but of course it didn’t take just the one time to let the idea sink into him. The same sort of incident had to be repeated about 2 or 3 times over the course of the last few weeks before he finally seemed to have “got it” for real. So nowadays he would walk quietly to my room to ask for something. Never would he wake up tantrumming again.

I know some might think how the hell can I put up with all these antics from my son when he’s already 4. Well, I just do. I do because I truly am against spanking. I believe there are ways to get round that without teaching him that violence is okay in any situation. And I’m glad I did because he is naturally a rather spirited boy. He gets quite aggressive and can be quite short in temper. It isn’t really that different from the baby he was, even when newborn. I remember he couldn’t even be left crying for more than a minute before his cries became literally tearing-the-house-down sort of horrendous screams. I remember asking myself why, what have I done during my pregnancy perhaps, to have given birth to such a hot tempered fiery child. But now I accept its very much part of his personality. He is fiercely loyal, spirited, clever, affectionate and thoughtful. Sometimes his emotions get the better of him. But I can handle it.

I do realise that, having lived in the West for more than a decade, perhaps I have become too far removed from my Asian roots to be in touch with what is still normal practice in Asia. I cannot begin to tell how many fellow Singaporeans – friends and non-friends – I’ve interacted with over the years online and in person, who openly admitted to caning their children, most of whom are still very young children whenever their children just plain got on their nerves. Coincidentially, this afternoon I had just had a little exchange with a Singaporean male blogger online about spanking. He wrote an article which basically affirmed his attitude towards spanking being good for the development of character or something along that line. And I responded by saying that I simply do not buy any of that. He quoted the AAP and I quoted AAP back at him. Basically he said that spanking out of anger is wrong and he would never do that, but otherwise it is fine and good for the child. I was trying to tell him that there is a very fine line between spanking out of anger and not out of anger in real life. In fact, is there really such a clear distinction? And how would a child interpret an episode of being spanked by the parent? Would the child know whether their parent is spanking them out of anger, or not? Would it matter anyway to the child?

And then cue a few hours later, said FB status of ex-classmate totally upsetted me big time. She has proven to me that she is one of those parents who do spank out of anger. And that is just what I meant when I said to that guy – I still believe there should be legislation in place to ban spanking in the home just like Sweden had done since 1979. Because there are parents out there who are not conscientious enough to know the difference or keep to the distinction between spanking out of anger, and spanking with control”. Because if there is no legislation for this, some parents will never awaken to the realisation that all spanking is unnecessary. That spanking is a quick, temporary and potentially harmful solution to a child’s misbehaviour. That a bit more time spent with the child, getting to know the child well, knowing what makes them tick, what the child really wants and needs, will actually prove to be better and more effective arsenal at a parent’s disposal when they have to think out of the box as they encounter situations with a difficult child, trying to come up with non-violent solutions that can work just the same. In fact, if not, more effective than spanking.

And people DO change. People CAN be awakened through legislation. If you look up the entry on Wikipedia on “Corporal Punishment In The Home”, you’ll see… there was a survey done on Swedish parents in the early days when the legislation on banning all corporal punishments in schools and homes was coming into effect. At the time, most Swedish parents said they thought it was impossible to discipline kids without spanking. Cue recent survey done where Swedish parents now – the overwhelming majority of over 80% of them – agree that spanking is completely unnecessary when it comes to disciplining children.

So my thoughts on this are…

Well I’m not going to have a go at said friend for what she said on FB.

I believe people can change, and the fact that she actually felt bad after caning her child shows she somehow could have groked that what she did didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do.

I was brought up in Singapore under very authoritarian parents who would use corporal punishment on me… Indeed I used to think a swat down the backside was “okay” when my eldest, who is now 10, was still in Reception class. In fact I vividly recall myself swatting her butt once when I was walking her to school and she was fighting it. Well yes, she hated school but I made her go anyway – those were the days before I realised that homeschooling WAS an alternative. And how I changed.

So I believe people CAN change.

And in the very unlikely possibility that said friend of mine is reading this entry – well I do link this blog to my Facebook page though I often wonder how many of my friends actually do bother to read anything I blog about, lol – I don’t blame you for what you did. We are all somewhat products of our upbringing and experiences. Some people manage to completely break away from the parenting examples they experienced as a child. Some don’t. And that’s fine. I just hope you and your daughter both will be happy. No matter what happened today.