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Parenting expert pens Khmer guides

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Hoeur Sethul, a counselling psychologist, took time during the school closure this year to write a book about how families can cope with the challenges of raising adolescents. Hong Menea

Parenting expert pens Khmer guides

Adolescence is an age of critical brain development that marks the beginning of the shift in children from being dependents to independence. Many parents worry that their children are on the wrong path and are afraid to allow them to make this transition.

Hoeur Sethul, a counselling psychologist at a special education school, has spent his free time during Cambodia’s school closures writing a book about raising adolescents.

His second volume – The Family and Adolescents (131 pages, Khmer-language) – will be published this September and sold for 20,000 riel ($5.00) per copy.

It centres on the challenges faced by parents and adolescents ages 11 to 24 years old and helps with finding solutions for parents that will assist them in raising their children into adulthood as positive and productive members of society.

“This book is mainly focused on adolescents. They face problems related to communication among family members, misunderstanding about their psychological issues and parents are often confused about the best way to raise the adolescent,” said Sethul, founder of KCPS Counselling and Psycho-Education Services and president of the Cambodian Association for Counsellors and Psychologists (CACP).

As a counselling psychologist who has a lot of experience working with children, adults and adolescents, Sethul has frequently received reports from local schools of parents, teachers and administrators all worried about their teenage students.

The Family and Adolescents represents nearly two years of work by Sethul and it tells the stories of adolescents and their families in a relatable way that offers warm-hearted advice to parents about the difficult task of raising children in modern society.

Sethul, who has a master’s degree in counselling psychology from De La Salle University in the Philippines, told The Post that “Firstly, it reveals their problematic experiences without mentioning specific people. Secondly, we talk about family – as in types of families and formalities of family and how families can make healthy environments for teenagers.”

He said readers will gain an understanding and knowledge of how to organise their family in a way that is good for their adolescents in order for them to have a warm and nurturing family life while also exploring their independence as they become adults.

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Teachers and autistic students at special education school KCPS in 2019. Hong Menea

“I also examine parenting types because some of them are too nurturing or caring, some are far too strict and others are carefree and without any boundaries, but ideally parents should try to strike some kind of balance. I try to answer common questions like what type of parenting can help adolescents be better communicators. I like to say our goal is ‘modernised children who are raised using verbal communication to educate them, to love them and to give warmth to them’ and this book is about how to accomplish that,” he says.

In the book Sethul also explains the process of an adolescent’s emotional, mental and physical development. He says he answers questions like: What is adolescence? How do they develop physically? How do they develop mentally? And how does their biopsychology develop?

Moreover, it also answers questions about what types of mentalities that teenagers face and how to best ensure that they will eventually know how to overcome challenges by themselves independently.

The Family and Adolescents can help teenagers use all of their potential during this period of bio-psychological development because their brains are in a critical period of rapid growth.

“Adolescence is a transitional period that begins the change from dependent to independent. If we fail in training them, they will remain dependent. But some parents are afraid of their child’s independence.

“In fact, when we see that they are going out with friends, we feel uneasy and worried. We hesitate to let them explore society. Those parents’ thoughts are correct in a way, but they are also an obstacle that blocks the way to independence for their children,” he writes.

Before sending it off to the printing house, The Family and Adolescents was read in advance by some parents Sethul had selected.

“I believe that the book will be a useful tool for parents in raising their children because after finishing the book I invited some parents to read it and I asked them if it was understandable and interesting or useful and we got a lot of great feedback,” Sethul says.

As a rookie author, his book will need to be self-promoted rather than automatically distributed widely to markets or in libraries and book shops by a publisher.

“I am not a full-time author but I love writing and it’s a part of my profession. Many libraries and book shops won’t be interested in selling my books because they don’t trust new writers so I will try to promote them and sell them my own way.

“However, for my first book ‘Lovely Little Kids’ I printed 3,000 copies and it sold out. More parents asked for more copies, so I decided to do a reprint by updating it with additional information and it went from 60 to 140 pages,” he explains.

Sethul said that book, first published in 2017 and reprinted in 2021, is about raising young kids between ages 2 and 10 years old in a positive way and according to the best practices suggested by psychologists.

Another book Sethul was involved with publishing but didn’t author is Parenting Autistic Children, a slim 40 page volume written by a teacher at KCPS named Sok Sokunmelea.

“She has great talent working with autistic children and I encouraged her to write a book because for more than two years since the special education school launched she has been researching a lot by reading various sources and through hiring international coaches,” said Sethul.

He said that the key for parents is to understand what autism is and how to recognise it through observable behaviours.

Autism is part of the counselling psychologist’s priorities because his special education school, KCPS, focuses not only on teaching autistic children but also on creating resources for the educational community in Cambodia through teachers’ training.

“I want this school to be a resource centre that provides knowledge to parents, children and those who want to be autism educators including psychological therapists and adolescent educators,” he says.

He explains that during the pandemic many autistic children have been experiencing additional stress and their parents have been calling him for help and advice. KCPS was technically full even for remote learning, but he created additional space for some of the more difficult cases.

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Book covers of The Family and Adolescents and Lovely Little Kids. SUPPLIED

“Many children feel stress and anxiety and in some cases hurt themselves. Their behaviour then becomes more uncontrollable because they are forced to stay at home and their parents’ push them into a corner. Most parents learn to understand their autistic children well though they often can’t speak just by observing their outward behaviours,” Sethul said.

He said that when their child is under heightened tension they should find time to spend with them and try not to leave them alone because they need as much communication, understanding and caring as other children do even if they express it differently themselves.

For negative behaviours in children including those who are hurting themselves, Sethul advised parents to make sure their child is in a positive environment and observe what they like and respond to positively and try to provide that along with taking precautions for safety.

He said that if they observe that their child is feeling said they should try to do something to help them. The child might need to go outside and jump and climb and play. The most important thing is for parents to find time each day or week to engage with their children in activities that bring them joy while preventing harmful behaviours.

“Autistic children also have their own thoughts but they think differently and sometimes live in their own world. We try to be in their world as much as possible so that we can understand more about them. Don’t enter their world using our adult point of view, but try to see it from their point of view,” said Sethul.

Sethul explains that some children love physical activity because chemicals in their brains such as endorphins are released through activities like jumping or climbing so it is important to find the time and space to let children play and not to prevent such play excessively because it will lead to an increase in negative behaviours.

“We have one autistic child who loves playing in water and when he comes to school he immediately takes off his clothes and run in to the water. So we prepare the water for him and we let him play for 10 minutes before class. When the time is up we take him out, even though he does not like it and he cries. Then, day by day, he begins to understand that he can have his fun each day – but within certain limits – and he stops crying, knowing that he will be able to return to the water again,” Sethul explains.

Sethul is thankful for all of the parents who support his books because every purchase will help towards creating human resources in Cambodia and improving Cambodian society.

“I don’t publish these books for my own profit. I take back my costs and then share the profits with some schools by buying study materials for students in rural areas and I contribute some to Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital and Angkor Children’s Hospital,” Sethul explains.

For more information on Sethul’s books, school and counselling services find KCPS on Facebook: @KHMERCPS or at https://www.khmer-cps.com

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