Saturday, 27 October 2018

We are seven: Parents vs Siblings

How strong is the bond between your children?

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
Ages ago, William Wordsworth shared his dialogue with a little country maid adamantly denying to agree that they were just five siblings alive after the death of her one brother and sister each. She told him how she played around their graves in the church-yard and at times how she did her routine work next to them in different seasons. He wrote the poem titled “We are seven” to talk about death and how the young maid was unaware of its existence, which was otherwise felt in abundance in the plague-hit London of those dark times. 

But I chose to quote the poem to only emphasise another positive fact of life often neglected by us parents. The war between the parents and the siblings or you can say the bond between the siblings. In the recent Ayushmaan Khurana- starrer “Badhai Ho” we see the same war between the parents and their two grown-up boys, Nakul and Ghullar. 

While the two boys are not great pals always, when it comes to responding to important family matters, the boys are one team. They may be angry with each other, but the elder one runs to help the younger brother when he is in trouble at school. So when the parents are out of town for a marriage, they hang out together and the elder one even lets the younger one try a little beer. They share their thoughts and feelings about their mother’s unexpected pregnancy and their mis behaviour with their father.

 Similarly in real life too, we find the siblings learn and imbibe a lot of things from each other. Even if they are of same-age (as it happens in case of twins) or of different age groups; siblings believe in each other and rely on each other for many things in daily life. In my own case, I learnt more from my sister than my own mother who taught me in my school and at home too. And as shown in the movie, we both looked forward to spending that “WE TIME” whenever our parents went out of town. The time we were together was mostly spent on watching movies at home or in theatres, going out for trekking or a walk, waiting at the bus-stops or after-school classes or simply studying late at night. But it wove a special bond of love, affection and trust amongst us.

This does not mean we were not close to our parents or they were always against us or ill-treated us. Not just in our case, but otherwise too, in general, even if the parents are too close to the children, there is a stronger bond that exists between the siblings. This bond does come to the fore whenever there is something different that the children feel. For instance: in case of school fights, trouble with making friends or proposing to a girl; every new feeling is first shared with your sibling and then disclosed to parents. 

One can call this the result of generation gap too. Many times children fail to acknowledge the fact that their parents have also grown up in the same manner and environment as they. Or may be, in some cases, the very reason for the war between the parents and the siblings is the changed environment in which they and their parents have lived. If the parents have been brought up in joint families; the children feel their parents are not capable of understanding their joys or woes. Thus they find a true companion in their siblings who are also blessed with the same parents.

 Although there are times when one of the sibling tries to hide the secrets of the other one which sometimes amounts to severe damage to the family; as it happens in the end. Yet it is the bond of trust which overpowers and helps them to overcome even the strongest hurdle in their favour. And win the trust and respect of their parents too.

So we find in another Bollywood movie “Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander” the two brothers constantly working with two different attitudes towards life. But in difficult times both of them are there for each other’s help.  In the really perilous moments at the end, the elder one motivates the younger one with the most important advice based on his experience. He says, “Aakhri chand second hi toh haar aur jeet ka faisla karte hai, Munna.” (Victories and defeats are decided in the last few moments of any event, brother)

 This festive season, let’s try and make this bond of love and compassion stronger and ever-lasting rather than worrying over it.

 Happy Parenting!

Saturday, 20 October 2018

In Celebration of Good vs Bad

Festivals in India would mean holidays, new clothes, meeting relatives, eating delicious dishes, dance, decorated streets and houses. And once people come together elders tell lots of stories to the young ones. Folklore related to gods and goddesses, divas and demons and the war between the noble and the evil forces. Every time in these stories the evil spirits are defeated at last by the noble ones, for example, Ravana is killed by Ram; Hiranyakashyapu by Narsimha; Mahishasur by Ma Durga and so on. We feel children would understand the importance of being noble and abstain from their evil thoughts.

But life isn’t made of such clear BLACK and WHITE people. In fact even our stories too don’t have such clearly made good or bad characters. They all have qualities which with time and situation become good or bad. During a recent In-service course with teachers on storytelling, some of the teachers mentioned a fact which will further illustrate how children observe everything minutely and positively, if taught to do so. When one of the teachers asked the children about their favourite characters and the reasons for liking them at the end of a story-telling session related to Ramayana, many of them wrote they liked Ravana. And the reason for liking him was his perseverance. He loved Sita and wanted to keep her at any cost. For this he fought in all possible ways with Rama. Similarly, many children like Duryodhan and Mama Kansa too. 

So, is this a sign of the rising tendency of the clear BLACK and WHITE characters fading into shades of grey? I can’t say. But what I can definitely say is that children have a lot of potential to understand where the love and compassion resides. They would definitely like the righteous one, if they see one. This means, a lot depends on us parents and the way we tell them these stories. For instance, when we tell about lord Shiva cutting the head of child GANESHA, many children ask how can a God kill an innocent child who was just following his mother’s orders? It is for us to co-relate it with how anger can be destructive for anyone, be it God or a Demon. Still the reason for worshiping him as a God even after this is his struggle to make Ganesha alive once again.

When we tell stories to children revolving around the festivals, we need to relate them with the contemporary world too. We need to make them understand why we practice certain rituals as a representation of the past and leave it to them to make them relevant in today’s life. If a child feels happy burning fire crackers or chanting mantras, they need to be given the freedom to do so at least once so that they can understand the effects of their actions. Do not kill their excitement by not letting them try anything at all. Be there for them. Blindly following traditions would definitely mean end of the relevance of these festivals. Instead if the children understand and then decide to follow or leave certain rituals, there are more chances of your community growing in future. 

Similarly, the most important practice to be followed in today’s world is the respect for other religions and communities. Due to globalization and open economies, a lot of foreign practices have creeped into our country too. As a result, we find more publicity throughout our country being given to celebration of festivals such as Ganesha Puja, Chath Puja, Kawar Yatras, Halloween or Thanksgiving which were earlier specific to only some parts of the nation. Again, as parents, is this good or bad for us? What stand should we take? Do we preserve our roots and remain concerned about our religion and practices or do we welcome the onset of new practices? As a nationalist definitely, we must preserve and promote our national interests. But at the same time, as a citizen of the world, we must respect other religions too. The extent to which we want to participate and introduce these other festivals to our children will depend on us.

So, once again let me emphasise the fact that parents must look at these festivals as an opportunity to not just celebrate the victory of good over bad, but also to make children understand and accept that good and bad co-exist in the world and that there cannot be only good or bad within us. Everyone has some inherent qualities which become good or bad based on time, space and people with whom we live. And what is most important is to identify this good and bad as early as possible and make it our strength.

 Easier said than done, I know. But let’s make a beginning this year.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Taming of the Shrew

“One tight slap and my kids start behaving for the remaining time of the day.” I heard a mother telling her friend at the park while her bundle of joy went running around his friends. 

Instead of using a pep talk to instill discipline in the minds of the young guns, Indian parents often equate it with physical or verbal abuse. While my daughter grew up to understand the meaning of Right to freedom of expression and became aware of her rights as a child, she often tells me how I would have ended up in jail  if we were governed by the European laws of child care and protection of child rights. In India, we commonly find parents beating up their children if there are any complaints about the child’s behaviour in the schools during the PTMs too. But unfortunately what leads to this public display of anger and frustration is often the complete absence of a disciplined routine at home. 

In India, under the name of gender superiority or distinction, often the male child is never scolded by the mothers. Also, the fathers do not indulge themselves in the daily affairs of raising a girl-child. Due to this, the children, irrespective of gender, find themselves free to behave in manners which they find convenient when they enter a social peer group say at the birthday parties, parks or schools. That is when you find some children jumping all over the show-cases and drawing rooms at other’s houses. 

When the parents suddenly find their bundles of joy turning into unguided missiles causing severe damages to their vanity and the host’s purses, they resort to the fastest and easiest solution: TAMING of the SHREW.  Although the term was used to signify the taming of a unruly, bossy, dominating wife in one of the Problem Plays of William Shakespeare, I am using it to signify the similar animal-like process we use with our children. All the motherly love, fatherly compassion is replaced with a firm push/pull by the arm and the kids are taken to a corner for a tight slap on their face. All kinds of articles ranging from red chilies to ghosts to the ferocious hound next door to the policeman are used to frighten the free Willy with some success at the end. And if parents are really lucky, the child goes to sleep quietly. Or, in some other cases, the next moment everything is forgotten and the unguided missile is again set to play havoc. 

We forget that parenting and education are two life-long processes. They start the minute you become a parent and end maybe only when you breathe your last breath. The so-called Taming of the shrew is not a momentary process. The process of making your child well-mannered and disciplined is a long and continual one. It has the same principles as that of man-management. It needs daily practice. Children will need to be reminded of certain rituals such as greeting others, thanking people daily. 

Similarly, they will follow these manners only when they find you doing the same. That is, if they see you walking past familiar people on the roads without a word, you cannot expect them to wish their teachers in the school corridors. Also, the most important principle to be always remembered and practiced while teaching discipline to children is not to shout at them nor flank them in public or in front of their peers or teachers. Whatever form of advice you have to offer to misbehaving children needs to be firm, positive and not at all demeaning them in public. 

Many parents do not get into the business of teaching their children discipline as they feel it would kill their child-like curiosity and individuality. Here we need to understand the meaning and importance of discipline in ensuring a happy and healthy childhood. The first thing we as parents need to understand about discipline is that it definitely does not mean saying NO always or limiting the pure joys of childhood curiosity. It just means knowing one’s boundaries and respecting other’s existence. 

So when we deny a child to touch a precious curio in a shop, are we trying to restrict the child’s joys
of discovery and exploration? Not exactly, but we are trying to politely teach the child that we cannot possess everything that exists in the world. Some things can be seen while some others can be felt. It is similar to cautioning the child about the heat of the red hot charcoal burning in the fire-place because we know that the charcoal will burn his/her hands. Maybe this is how we teach them in a very rational way to handle rejections and denials in their future life too.
And one last word of caution for all: Do not in fact, equate the process of teaching discipline to the children with the process of taming the shrew or domesticating the pet animals, at all. The process of teaching the manners of human life to children is a process of creating wise, rational human beings who think, understand and respect the essence of being a HUMAN and not a savage as an animal.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Break the Silence

One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is to have a happy childhood and a loving home.” Agatha Christie

Who would have been better than the mystery writer herself in stressing upon the importance of a loving home that good childhood needs? Every now and then when the millennials (the new generation children) are subject to stranger dangers, it is of utmost importance that the child gets love and compassion at least at home, if not in the company of friends and teachers. This would also prove fruitful in breaking the silence about many subjects which are otherwise considered taboo in our society. 

With the recent Supreme Court verdicts we find the social fabric of our nation changing. With the changing social rules, we find the moral standards of people are also changing. This makes the job of us parents tougher than our parents. In addition to the Mobile Menace, we also have to deal with this Morality Menace. Some parents find it especially difficult to establish day to day conversation with their children. I can only imagine what would be their reaction when their tiny tots ask them all sorts of questions related to families with two daddies and no mommies in their vicinity.

Propagators of Indian social morality blame the openness enhanced by the social media for the increase in pornography related crimes in India. They say that undue openness about sex education has led to the arousal of curiosity of the adolescents in India. Children have started using their parents’ mobiles to seek sexual pleasures through stalking, cyber bullying and viewing pornographic sites. And with the recent legal verdicts in matters related to same-sex marriages, adultery and so on children would find it easier to accept the perversities!
In all this blame-game, we have forgotten the very fundamental reason for a child to turn to a mobile rather than members of his/her family or peer group. It is us, the parents who introduce the child to the menace, be it a mobile or immorality. It is because we keep silence at home at times when the child wants to break out that the child turns to the perversities. 

There is a lot of talk these days about how to handle sexual abuse, how the child should be equipped to handle such an incident. In most of such cases, it is an understood fact that the perpetrator /abuser are someone more powerful than the abused may be because of his/her age, physical or emotional power or influence over the other. Are we as parents ever ready to introduce a talk related to the child’s sexual preferences? Have we ever observed the child’s behaviour in a group? Are we as a parent ready to accept that our child might be the abuser at times and not the abused or the bully and not the bullied?

What happens if our child turns out to be the bully? We all teach children to behave, to not inflict pain on others, to not hurt anyone through our actions. But still there are times when children hurt each other, abuse each other, bully each other or even kill each other! This only means that we are not ready to actually “Break the Silence” when it comes to the issues related to the sexual preferences of children. 

We have to accept the fact that certain children enjoy violence, hatred and other vile things.  None, or let’ say, most of the parents do not teach their children violence of any sort. It always starts with a friendly mischief, a silly prank which children enjoy in the beginning. But the minute, parents put restrictions; it becomes a Secret to be shared by only a few of the family members. Then with time, the silence increases and the silly pranks turn into dark secrets, thanks to our silence and social media’s complete success. Therefore at times, we need to address these issues at home with the child. It is alright if the child is not a saint, but what is more important is how s/he deals with his individuality without harming others. 

If you feel uncomfortable trying to talk about certain issues openly with your children, you can take the help of photographs, books, animations and, the best; counselors. You can make it clear to the child before and after such a session that you want them to know about some things which you can’t explain them properly but which are important for them to know. So, both of you are going to take the help of some experts. And, after one such session you can always ask them what they understood, what they liked/didn’t like about it.

That would definitely be a great way to start to break the silence and make way for a happy childhood.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Off to Playgroup

As the child approaches the age group of 3 years, parents start looking for a play group or a pre-school for the child. There are various questions that come to every parent’s mind while deciding which pre- school the child should go to, such as:

      1.      Fee structure,
      2.      Reputation of the school
      3.      Transport provided  by the school
      4.      Other children from the neighbourhood going to the school
      5.       Performance of the staff

     Finally what motivates the parent to put the child in a specific pre-school is so subjective that it cannot be universally applied to the whole community. But, in general, the benefits of putting a child in a nursery/pre-school can be the same in most of the children, such as:
     1.      The child learns to get along with other children
     2.      S/he learns to share and take turns while doing daily routine activities.
     3.      S/he gets used to new /unfamiliar adults and learns to listen and follow their instructions
     4.      S/he learns to respect and value all people.
     5.      Most importantly, the child becomes prepared for school.

Every pre-school has a wide range of activities for the children. These activities give the child a chance to try out physical activities and challenges in addition with helping him/her socially and educationally which may not always be possible at home. The pre-schools provide for some large attractive equipment such as the swings, slides, climbing frames, tunnel, large size blocks, balance beams and various toys such as scooters, tricycles and /or hoops. There may be musical instruments and dance sessions.

The child will get opportunity to play all sorts of games and activities that will improve his manipulative skills such as peg boards, shoe-lacing, beads and thread sets and the most popular cut and paste construction activities. There is scope for more frequent and large-scale messy play with sand, water paints and or clay/dough in comparison to what the parents might allow /bear to put up at home. The open play spaces in the play groups are also a big attraction for most of the tiny tots.

Children become more confident and disciplined once they start going to a pre-school. While they come to know about their physical limitations, they also come to know about what all they can do at their age. For instance, they start enjoying the walking in a line exercise; they can hold hands and run, bounce, jump slide and hang around in the playground. They enjoy this freedom and as a result their self-esteem gets built up.

 Although there are some children who are still not prepared for learning through a structured approach at the early age of three. For such children, parents may start with a daily scheduled visit to a nearby park or play-ground. And then, they can slowly shift the venue to the pre-school. Parents can also try some ‘soft play’ activities such as bouncing, jumping, running, jogging on the spot with the tiny pre-schoolers at home if they are fussy about not going to school.

Children will be benefited from a session at a pre-school only if the parents see this as just a step in their personal development rather than making them some show-stoppers from the very beginning. While choosing the play schools, one must weigh up the relative merits of different activities these pre-schools provide. Most importantly, one must ask as to what my child is likely to enjoy most in a particular school and then consider the cost of the school. Parents must consider how convenient it will be to get to the class and how long will it take for the child to get there and back. What is available will definitely depend upon the distance between the school and your residence and the safest means of transport to reach there on a daily basis.

But, in India, one of the most important aspect must also be, what is the ratio of students vis-a vis teacher in the classroom. If there is close supervision and children have to wait less for their turn during mid-day meals or using the wash rooms, it is definitely a blessing for the child. But then, such services would also mean extra economic burden on the parents. So while deciding the pre-school the,most important factor needs to be the actual learning and enjoyment that is on offer for you as well as the child.

 Take the child along to the schools and let then decide based on where the child enjoyed the most. Repeat the visits, for two or three times before finally deciding to pay the fees and other charges. Children are sometimes the best judges and they may help to make the decision easier and faster.