"Gwe madam!" a three-year-old boy rudely called out to his mother at a small family function.Then an uncomfortable silence until his bold aunt broke it.
By Vicky Wandawa
"Gwe madam!" a three-year-old boy rudely called out to his mother at a small family function. For a second, there was an uncomfortable silence until his bold aunt broke it: “Tim! You should never refer to your mother like that!”
His mother, Maggie, later said her husband often referred to her that way in front of the children. Each time she reminded him not to, a verbal exchange ensued.
The embarrassment that another mother bore due to a vice her son picked from his father was worse than Maggie’s. She was once summoned to school because her four-year-old son was punching and cursing his classmates.
Her husband, a soldier, who works abroad, comes home at least every four to six months. While on holiday at home, he loves bag-punching and saying the F-word. So, the boy always said the F-word while punching his classmates.
The boy’s mother punished him by applying pepper on his tongue and the word was no more. She said despite her husband’s shock on learning that their son often used the F-word, he remained verbally careless around the children.
So, are fathers more likely to pass on bad habits to the children?
Grace Bayiga, a mother of two and TV presenter, believes fathers are more likely to influence their children negatively.
“My ex-husband used to call me Grace and my four-year-old child did the same. I stopped him, but he asked whether it was not my name after all,” she notes.
Like Bayiga, Ronald Ssebanenya, an endorsement officer in a clearing and forwarding company, says men are careless around children, hence passing on ill behaviour.
“Most men do weird things in the presence of children, especially if they have a serious misunderstanding with their partners. Others beat up their spouses and utter vulgar words in the presence of children,” says Ssebanenya.
Similarly, Theresa Mbiire, a businesswoman, concurs: “A man goes home drunk and perhaps fights his wife. When the children witness that, they go to school thinking fighting is the solution to all problems. Nonetheless, there are men who are careful around their children.”
Mbiire, however, observes that some mothers also exhibit bad behaviour in the presence of their children.
“Today, young mothers go home drunk and also dress indecently in the name of freedom. When a mother wears a mini-skirt, her daughter will wear something even shorter,” she notes.
When they are in other environemnts, children will attempt to replicate what they have seen and heard at home.
Who takes blame?
Joy Tumwesigye, a relationships counsellor, says the mother is to blame if the children pick on their father’s bad habits.
“A woman of noble character puts her husband on the right road. If you notice an undesirable habit, calmly talk to him about it, before the children pick it up,” she advises.
Tumwesigye warns against ignoring the behaviour. “You ignore him at your own peril because it is your family that will be embarrassed.”
Calmly talk to hubby
Tumwesigye advises: “Do not rebuke him in public or in front of the children. Talk to him in a calm tone. Ask questions like, did you know that children pick on the curse words that you always use?”
‘‘He may not want to accept blame and even label you a nagging wife, but do not despair because you will have communicated and he will think about it.’’
Similarly, Joseph Musaalo, a counsellor at the Uganda Christian University, says: “Talk to him when he is in a good mood. Do not wait for him to exhibit that undesirable behaviour in front of the children and then whisk him off for a scolding.”
Bonita Birungi, an early childhood care and development expert at Save the Children, says: “Children often fine tune the skills they acquire before the age of five. Therefore, depending on what behaviour the parent/caregiver exhibits, they are in ‘the teaching process.’
Be a role model
Birungi says parents need to consistently exhibit good behaviour as role models.
“As a parent, you cannot start lying on phone about where you are in the presence of the child or ask him not to hit/abuse other children while you continuously fight or abuse your spouse in their presence.”
She also advises rewarding positive behaviour among children and recommends being candid and communicating the expectations clearly, and consistently. The ‘rules’ should be clear and consequences, both negative and positive, explained.
Who is teaching your child bad manners?