Modern family life sometimes is complex and tense just like being in a battlefield. Parenting can be stressful and for parents who are so busy and can hardly relax, mutual support and understanding among peers become priceless. Ying, troubled by familial issues and inferiority complex because of low education level, once lacked self-confidence and social life. Thanks to the companionship of Wah-wah and Jojo, her fellow parent friends in The Salvation Army who are parent counsellors, Ying found a proper way to express her emotions and slowly opened herself up to these two friends.

Opening up to peers

‘My daughter was diagnosed with brain tumour when she was two. She would have cramps a few times a day, sometimes the whole body and sometimes just the feet. By that time she was too young to have operation so she could only take medication to control the cramps. I was so worried that she might be unable to wake up again any day.’ Her daughter’s medical condition also made her progressed slower than other children at school. Constantly worried about her daughter and how the others think about her condition, Ying felt intimidated by social situations, which in turn made her even more stressful.

One day, Ying was invited to join a stress management group co-hosted by the Social Welfare Department and Chuk Yuen Children and Youth Centre of The Salvation Army (The “Centre”). In the group, she met Wah-wah, a peer counsellor who acted as the facilitator of the group. Their friendship began when Wah-wah initiated a conversation with Ying. When Ying was too timid to try certain thing, Wah-wah would first demonstrate a few times to show Ying how to do it, and then encourage Ying to try when Ying gained enough confidence. Since both of them have a daughter, Ying felt the connection and was willing to share her own concerns and worries with Wah-wah. Later, when Ying asked to learn Zoom in order to help her daughter having online lessons at home during the pandemic, the Centre matched her up with Jojo, another peer counsellor. Jojo taught Ying with great patience how to use Zoom, which help Ying’s confidence grow as she was able to teach her daughter the Zoom skills she learnt when she was home. ‘I appropriate their enthusiasm and attentiveness very much. They never mind that I took so long to learn. They gave me a sense of security and strength.’ With the companionship of her peers, Ying’s confidence grows gradually and she is willing to step out of her world.

Helping self and others

For Wah-wah and Jojo, the experience of being peer counsellors is not just one that can help fellow parents with difficulties but also one that can help themselves. Before becoming counsellors, both of them were required to finish the ’ Walking with you – Peer Parent Counsellors Programme’, from which they have learnt a lot. According to Wah-wah, “Every lesson we learnt something useful. I remember particularly that one time our instructor asked each of us to read the instruction written on a card word by word, and yet we found that we all had different interpretation of the instruction. From that I understand that people can have different interpretation even on a same thing, and that’s why we need more time to communicate and clarify what we mean. We also need to learn how to see things from other people’s angles to better understand them.” Now, instead of scolding, Wah-wah’s new approach with her daughter is to first listen without judgement, and then further communicate with each other after understanding the matters.

As a member of the parent teacher association, Jojo found what she learnt from the Programme has allowed her to deepen the relationship with other parents in the school. She became more active in listening to other parents’ concerns which allows them to release emotions. Her relationship with her son also improved. “Last year, due to the pandemic, my son’s international school switched to online teaching. He hated that so much that he was angry all the time, feeling he was trapped at home, which was “as suffocating as in funerals” according to him. Being a teenager in puberty, he refused to listen whatever I said and I felt so uncomfortable about it. Then I remembered what I have learnt from the Programme, that we should treat young people as equals and really listen. With the change of attitude, I finally found that the reason he being so unwilling to take online learning was that he worried the camera might make him look fat. So, we gave him space to take in the situation, and with reasoning and encouragement, he gradually got used to this lesson format.” With their relationship improved, the mother and son would share hugs and become much closer to each other.

Walk with you – Peer Parent Counsellors Programme

The Programme believes in peer support among parents, which is precious for the community. It encourages peer counsellors to stay by the side of those parents in need, supporting each other to overcome difficulties in life and grow together. The training programme consists of basic level and advance level. Basic level includes theories and techniques, and the advance level focuses on identification of emotions, parenting and stress management. Those having finished training will be included in the parent peer counsellor network, from which they will be invited by the Centre to be volunteers and be matched up with other parents in need, and provide immediate support to the families.

More stories: