Violent Children: What if Your Child Hits You?

Yes, you read the title right: What if your child hits you?

I’m sharing two stories with you today – both true. The first took place in my presence.

A friend had invited me and my daughter, then 4, to his house for a leisurely Sunday breakfast. After a delicious meal, we sat in the living room. My friend on the sofa (couch), with his 6-year old daughter in his lap facing him, my daughter between my friend and myself. His wife and 4-year old son in two armchairs.

His daughter was trying to get permission for the children to play some game. My friend said emphatically, “No.”

She slapped him sharply on the cheek once and said, “Bad daddy.” I froze, and felt my daughter shrink into me.

My friend went very still and then said, “You don’t slap people. That was not right.” As she began to raise her hand again to repeat the slap and her message, he held on to her hands firmly, looked her in the eye and said, “You are not supposed to slap people when they disagree with you.”

She decided to try other tactics. “But daddy, I really want to – ”

He cut her off. “If you had kept your hands to yourself, I might have been willing to discuss it. But because you had to hit out, I will not listen to anything you have to say.”

That was a wise child, because she saw that she had pushed her father as far as he would let her, and she stopped trying to get her own way using wiles, tantrums or other things. In a few minutes, things returned to normal, the kids went to the play room, and the 3 of us drank our coffee.

***

The second incident I heard about from a counselor. He was approached diffidently by a couple whose only son was a year away from graduating high school. They needed to discuss their son’s behavior, they said.

They started off with a litany of praises – how he was so helpful, did all his chores without needing any prodding, was unfailingly polite and considerate, studied hard (I never cease to wonder at why this is considered such a merit; I mean ‘studied’ is enough, don’t you think? Why should everyone always ‘study hard’? But that’s just me… :-) ), did well at school, sports and co-curricular activities.

“Why are they here to see me, then?” my counselor friend was asking himself, but trained to listen, he let them go on.

The problem emerged after a half hour.

“The problem is -” the parents started hesitantly, and my friend, who’s attention had begun to wander, pricked up his ears. “The problem is that sometimes, he gets a bee in his bonnet about something. And then, if we don’t give in to him,” the gentleman choked up. His wife took up the sentence, “if we don’t give in to him, he beats us up,” she said, breaking down as she said the last words.

The counselor was shocked. “He hits you?”

“I don’t know. I would put it more like beats us up. You know, hits, punches, kicks – we get bruises from it. It’s like he’s been taken over by a raging beast. We’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to work. But he’s so sorry afterwards! He’s in tears and begs our forgiveness… he seems to mean it. But then it happens again.”

“And it’s not always about the same thing. Sometimes, it’s money, or permission to visit a friend, or sometimes he’ll let loose if we object to his spending so much time on the phone… We’re at our wits’ end. Please, please help us. And he is such a ‘good’ boy, but for this ‘quirk’!”

***

I was shocked when I heard of this incident from my counselor friend. You are probably shocked too. A boy who is otherwise well-behaved, an achiever, a regular ‘good’ guy – what would make him hit out – this way – at his parents? Enough to hurt them, bruise them?

And where were the parents while he was developing this habit? Because it is a habit. If he accepted their authority in all matters at other times (as his parents themselves said he did), what made him break out of that pattern sometimes?

And how did his parents accept the ‘being beaten’ pattern so completely that they felt unable to retaliate in any suitable way? Not physically, but in a way to make him get the message that such behavior was definitely ‘not on’.

Their son was a bully, the counselor told them.

They denied it vociferously. “No, no. Not always, only sometimes, and only with us. And he is really full of remorse afterwards. We have never received any complaints of his being physically aggressive with anyone else. Not once in all these years from either school or any other classes or lessons he went to, nor from his friends in the playground. He’s not a bully.”

I’m sorry, but I agree with the counselor.

To me, bullying is getting your way by force. Whether the force is physical (hitting, spitting, kicking…), social (ganging up on, ostracizing, poking fun at), or mental (humiliating…) is irrelevant. The fact that a person uses force to bend another to his or her will is bullying.

The counselor was a practitioner of alternate healing therapies, and suggested the couple learn and practise some of those therapies to solve the problem. His solution would change the energies of the couple, and therefore of their son, and all would be well, he opined.

They were more than willing to try it. Last I heard, they had practised successfully – so much so that their son stopped his abusive behavior towards them, decided to learn the alternate healing therapy himself, and became a ‘model’ child, to the undying gratitude of the couple – and the child. :-)

This is one way of tackling such a problem.

But not everyone is open to this method. Some might be willing to try it, but might not have access to someone who they believe is the right person or has the right method to help them solve their problem.

What solution might one suggest to them?

I’d say, “Draw up a contract.”

Since the child was otherwise sensible and coherent, and seemed sorry for his behavior after the fact, it should be relatively easy for him to see the wisdom of trying to stop this behavior pattern at the earliest. (‘Nip it in the bud’ is not the right term; it was way too late for that. This behavior had blossomed fully!)

  1. Let the contract take away privileges that mean a lot to the child. “If you hit out at either of us, you won’t be able to go on that hiking trip / school trip / vacation / you’ll have to give up tennis lessons…”
  2. Let the contract agree upon what are the danger signs and what to do when they appear. For instance, if the child’s nostrils start flaring when he feels one of these bouts of uncontrollable anger (and before the hitting begins), he should pay heed to his parents’ pointing it out, and maybe go for a run to let off steam.
  3. Let the contract offer alternatives. The simplest is to have a punching bag installed in the home, and he can hit it for all he’s worth. But this is a temporary solution, which doesn’t deal with the real problem. As a functioning adult, the boy will someday have to learn to deal with these unreasonable rages which overtake him, and there won’t always be a punching bag handy. I don’t want to think about who he will use as a punching bag then…
  4. Let the parents and the child forge a joint plan of action against anger. If yoga helps, go for it. If physical exercise helps, do that. Not just when the anger is building, but as a preventive. (My favorite example: we don’t brush our teeth only when cavities are threatening. We brush to prevent them. And if we brush assiduously, we do prevent them. Simple! :-) ) Similarly, use exercise, meditation and/or anger management classes as a preventive – to learn to manage the excess of emotion.

But all this is post-facto.

I think we can learn a lot from trying to see how this hitting behavior became ingrained into the second family.

What must have happened?

  1. It must have started innocuously – just like in my first story. The boy must have hit his mum or dad. They must have brushed it aside as a ‘passing phase’. (By the way, most children go through a violent phase as they grow up, but parents need to tell them every time they indulge in violence, that it is ‘not acceptable’. Ignore this suggestion at your peril. It goes without saying, that the parents have to be non-violent themselves, else you might as well save your breath…)
  2. The child learnt that he could get away with hitting his mum or dad – Is this why he never ‘bullied’ anyone else? I mean, what is the fun in bending children to your will if you can bend adults – and that too, your parents (those all-powerful beings of your childhood), to your will?
  3. The parents learnt that it was alright to be hit by their child - yes! This is learning too. With everything that happens, you learn something. Every time their child hit them, it became increasingly difficult for them to resist being hit. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But it’s true. All behavior is just learned patterns. Repeat often enough, and the learning becomes engraved in stone.
  4. The boy became increasingly violent – This one is predictable. As his emotions beome more volatile and his physical strength grows, what else would you expect?

Inevitably, it spiraled out of control.

What could they have done to prevent it?

  1. Say “NO”. Let the child know in no uncertain terms that you disapprove of the behavior.
  2. Take a strong stand against the behavior. “This is not acceptable.” Use punitive measures (taking away privileges) every time the behavior is repeated.
  3. No exceptions to No. 2! :-) Not even if the child is tired, hungry, cranky, in a strange environment, unwell. Some NOs have to mean NO in all circumstances. You might want this to be one of those NOs.
  4. Discourage the behavior, don’t disapprove of the child. “If you hit me, I won’t love you” is the wrong message. It will just make the child hit someone whose love the child doesn’t want! :-) “I love you. This is not the way civilized people behave. I love you. This is not acceptable behavior. I love you…”
  5. Repeat all the above as often as it takes for him to get the message. And he will. Incidentally, this is equally valid for girls, who can be also be bullies – yes, even physically aggressive bullies.

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Give Your Child the Reading Habit: 5 Ways

When the talk veers around to what children enjoy doing, I will invariably say, “My daughter enjoys reading - and that is putting it mildly.”

Almost immediately, the person I’m speaking with responds in one of 2 ways:

  1. “Reading is a wonderful habit! She will grow up well.” Typically, this will be followed by the parent’s lament that his/her own child doesn’t read at all. :-)
  2. “My child enjoys books too.” And there follows a discussion of the books our children are reading, if they are in the same age group.

What is so great about reading anyway?

There are many benefits to reading, but here are 3 practical reasons you might want your child to read more: 

  1. Your child communicates better – Your child’s large vocabulary allows him to express himself clearly. He can understand the nuances of what he hears and reads and respond more aptly than he otherwise would.
  2. Reading enriches the mind – Your child is introduced to new ideas, new cultures, new ways of living, all of which give her experience beyond her years. She learns – not just information, but also life lessons.
  3. Your child achieves more - Reading is the magnet that attracts success. In the ideas-technology-information age of the 21st century, there are no ivory towers. Your child needs to be plugged in to what is going on in the world for him to be an achiever. Reading is the easiest, most accessible, least cost, quickest way of accessing ideas and information. 

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Harry S. Truman

How can you get your child to read more?

  1. Read yourself – This is the single most-important thing you can do. It doesn’t matter whether you read in print or on the computer. Read anything - the newspaper, magazines, literary novels, comics, scientific journals, financial reports, bestsellers or whatever else takes your fancy. If your child sees you reading (don’t call it work, please), she will be more likely to read.
  2. Read to your child – Most children love being read to when they are young. As they grow up and begin to read themselves, parents abandon the ‘reading aloud’. After all, the child can read himself! But reading oneself is hard work, and often, the child gives up. Please keep reading aloud to him even after he can read simple books on his own. His understanding of language at this stage is far greater than his ability to read, so if you continue reading aloud to him, he can enjoy books that he is intellectually and emotionally ready for, but isn’t able to ‘read’ yet.
  3. Let her choose – You believe that your 6-year old should read fairy tales. Maybe she would rather read about how clouds are formed, or money is printed (in age-appropriate books, of course.) Let your child choose the books she wants to read. Even if they are comics. (I was brought up to believe that comics are not ‘real’ books. As a result, the first comic I ever touched was after age 11! :-) For those who are curious, the comics I first read were Amar Chitra Kathas which made Indian mythology and history accessible to children. No, not even Phantom or Archie comics happened before then.)
  4. Read the books he is reading – Children love talking about what they are doing (at least, till they find their parents aren’t listening). If you read the book your child has read himself, you can talk to him about the book. You might talk about his (and your) favorite character or scene, what he (and you) liked / disliked about it, a sentence / picture he enjoyed and why, what he would have done differently if he were the author – anything at all. This fuels his interest in reading, because it gives him an additional way to connect with you, his parent! :-) A win-win situation, isn’t it? :-)
  5. Treat reading as a ‘treat’ – Use books as a reward. Not just because she achieved some landmark. Be more creative. Rewards can include reading aloud to her – even if she’s a teenager. (Being read to even after your child can read has its own special pleasure, one very few children experience, alas! But I urge you to try it. Pick a book you know your child will enjoy, but is resisting reading herself, and begin reading to her. Write me a note to tell me what happened. :-) ) Another wonderful reward is to take your child to book-reading sessions. Most cities have such events at libraries, cultural centres, clubs and malls. If you can’t find any in the vicinity, get a bunch of kids together, and organize a book-reading yourself. When you treat reading as a ‘treat’, you make it a desirable, glamorous activity, rather than buying into the stereotype of the nerd buried in a pile of dusty tomes. And everyone is drawn to glamour – even your child. (Or maybe that should be “especially your child”? :-) )

Reading is a pleasure that lasts through life. It is a friend, an indulgence, a solace, an escape, a thrill, a journey – or more accurately, many journeys…

For those of you who are readers, you know what reading has given you. And you are eager to introduce your children to that pleasure – and share it with with them.

For those who are not (but you’re reading this! :-) ), you know you’re missing something. And you want to make sure your children don’t miss out too…

 “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

Jacqueline Kennedy

Happy reading! Bon appetit! :-)

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Whom Does Your Child Love Best?

When I was a child, one of the most popular questions adults asked children was, “Who’s your favorite – Dad or Mom? Whom do you love best?”  

By the time my child was little, this question had gone out of fashion.

Maybe because our generation found this question so inane that they decided to spare their children the trouble of answering it. It was almost as if parents tacitly agreed not to subject their children to the embarrassment of answering this rather impolitic question.

Maybe part of it was that it was a rather silly question anyway: each parent plays some role in the life of the child. Even in the case of the ever-absent parent, the other parent can be a hands-on parent only because the other is working to ensure a certain quality of life for the family.

Part of it might be that parents today are unwilling to listen to the answer…

My 4-year old daughter was asked this question by the judge in his chambers: “Whom do you love best?” At stake: who would be given custody.  

She smiled, “My aunt.” She was talking about my sister.

The judge didn’t get it. “Whom do you love the most in the world?”

“My aunt,” she repeated, wondering why this man didn’t understand such a simple answer.

The flummoxed man cleared his throat and tried another tack. “Who loves you best?”

“My aunt!” she was beginning to lose patience.

My daughter smiled at me as the judge gaped at us both. I smiled back at her and told the judge, “She’s answered your question.”

“Does she understand the question?” he was concerned at my lack of concern.

“Yes, she does, and yes, she feels her aunt loves her best in the world and she loves her aunt best in the world.”

My ex-husband’s lawyer, who was expecting my daughter to say, “Mom!” and who was ready to interject with all the vituperative force at his disposal, was completely unmanned. :-)    

“But – but-” the judge couldn’t credit his hearing.

“Yes, it’s true. I’m a far second,” I said.

In those months (maybe even years), as my life spiraled out of control on every front, I spent all my time and energy on myself. My sister was my daughter’s parent in every sense of the word. So my daughter’s response was both natural and obvious – to me.  

As I knit my life back together, my sister took a considered decision, one of the hardest she has ever made. In the interests of my daughter, she deliberately stepped back, and put me at the forefront of my daughter’s life as her ‘parent’.

Some years passed. One day, as we were playing, my daughter, then 8, put her arms around me saying, “I love you best, Ma.” It sounded and felt great! :-)

But I thrust her away from me and said, “No.” This was sufficiently unusual for her to ask me what was wrong with her loving me best.

“The person you should love best should be yourself!” (Yes, I know – ‘should’! I try to minimize my use of the word – I try to forget it exists, but this was a long time back, when I was governed by many more ‘shoulds’ than I am now! :-) )

I struggled to explain myself to her. “If you love me best, you will do things to make me happy.”

“I like making you happy, Ma. I like seeing you happy.”

I smiled and tried to find the right words. “I like being happy too! And you make me happy more often than you know. But I don’t want you to ‘do’ things to ‘make me happy’. I don’t want you to love me best.”

“Why not? What’s wrong with it? Don’t you love me best?” she persisted.

I sat her down next to me. I tend to do this when I have important things to say, so the very act of getting her to sit next to me must have got her attention. She stopped fidgeting.

“See, if you love me best, you will try to make me happy. That means my happiness will be more important to you than your own happiness. Suppose you want to buy a doll for a present, and I want you to have a board game instead. If you want to make me happy, you will smile and agree to buy the board game. You will feel bad that you couldn’t buy the doll, but because you value my happiness more than your own, you ‘give in’ to my wish. Right?”

“Yes.”

“You already do things like this, isn’t it?”

“Ma, I thought you didn’t know! How do you know that sometimes I do things even if I don’t want to only because I think they will make you happy?” She was astonished.

“Well, I do know. If you do things for my happiness once or twice, and then stop, it doesn’t matter. But it becomes a habit. You’ll find you are doing everything ‘for my happiness’ and you will then feel sad, unloved and neglected, because you are not doing things to make yourself happy. It’s already happening; I can feel it sometimes.”

She gave me a speaking look.

“The other problem is that my happiness becomes your job – at least, you feel that it is your job. So you have to keep worrying about my happiness all your life. Every time I’m sad, you’ll feel you’ve done something wrong, or not done something you should have done. Maybe I’m sad for some completely unrelated reason, but you will feel responsible – as if it is your ‘fault’ that I am sad.”

I looked deep into her eyes for emphasis. “This kind of thinking is nonsense. It is ‘wrong’. It creates a lifetime of misery and trouble. That is why I don’t want you to love me best. I want you to love you best. All your life. Always. Never mind what people say. Never mind what they think. My happiness is my job. And your happiness is your job.”

“Whether or not someone is with you, you are always with yourself. So you can happily entrust your happiness to yourself. Don’t leave the job to someone else. Don’t leave it to anyone else!”

“Whom do you love best, Ma?” she asked, getting to the crux of the matter.

“Myself,” I replied. (Yes, I should be hung, drawn and quartered. I should be shot. Boiling in oil is too good for me etc. etc. What kind of useless example for a parent am I? But I have to be myself – who I am – if I have to be any good as a parent. And this is me: I believe in each person being responsible for his and her own happiness.)

“I love you more than words can say,” I explained. “But I don’t do or say stuff to ‘make you happy’. There is no end to this kind of thinking. Here is how it works. You ask me to make you a Spanish omelet. I don’t have the time, or don’t feel like spending the time, so I refuse. Instead, I offer you scrambled eggs or a fried egg. You’re not delighted, but you choose one of the two, and I make it for you. I’m ‘happy’ because I’m doing things to make me happy. You’re not so happy, but you got a choice, so you could be less happy than you are. I could have refused to make you any kind of eggs, for instance.”

She smiled.

“But over time, you find that every time I cook something for you, I do it with great joy, and I enjoy seeing you enjoy it. I feel good. And you feel good. If I were to keep cooking things to ‘make you (and not myself) happy’, after some time, I would lose the joy of cooking for you. I would resent the effort it took. And that would come through in my words, on my face, in my body language. I would be annoyed at you and frustrated, and the irritation would flare out at other times. You would wonder what was wrong, and we would both be unhappy and irritated without ever getting to the root of the matter.”

“Trust me, it’s miles better this way. Just do what makes you happy. Have you got it?”

She nodded.

“All this talking has made me thirsty. Could you please get me a cup of coffee?” I asked her.

“Ma, I don’t feel like making you coffee. Maybe you should make it yourself,” said the cheeky minx. ;-) 

Yes, I’d say she understood what I was saying. :-) 

P.S. It’s been years since then, and we’re doing fine; in large part because she loves herself best. Just as I love myself best. :-)

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Teach Your Child Discipline – What to Say

If you are looking forward to reading this, I’m guessing you’d like your child to be more disciplined. He, on the other hand, probably doesn’t care much for discipline. He would rather choose ‘freedom’.

What freedom? The freedom to do as he pleases, when he pleases, with whom he pleases, how he pleases, as much / little as he pleases. Your child is looking forward to ‘complete’ freedom! :-)

This is why you need to explain the concept of freedom to him. For starters, you might want to tell him that ‘complete’ freedom doesn’t exist alone. It comes with a sneaky partner called ‘consequences’.

He won’t believe you.

Here are some things you might want to say to your child to help him believe:

  1. When she was born, she was completely free. She didn’t understand clothes, toilet training, cleanliness, neatness, order. Of course, she also didn’t understand nakedness, diapers, dirt, mess, disorder. She would still be ‘free’ if you had not toilet-trained her…
  2. Language has certain rules. Things have specific names. In English, if you want to say ‘pencil’, you have to say ‘pencil’. You cannot say ‘curtain’ or ‘princess’ and mean the word (or article) ‘pencil’. That is one level of rules. Next, words need to be strung together in a particular order. If you want to say “He went to the grocery store”, you must say precisely that. You cannot say “the store went grocery to he” and expect to be understood. Your child is free to create his own rules, but then he has to bear the consequences – people might not understand what he’s saying…
  3. Your child wants the love and approval of the people in his life. As a baby, he has everyone’s unqualified love and approval. As he grows, more is expected of him. If he uses his freedom to stab your hand with his fork (he is trying to invent a new game) using all his strength, he will not get your approval for this act. The price of this freedom is the admiration of others. (I hasten to clarify that this type of thinking should be minimized – the minute you teach your child that seeking for approval is a valid aim in life, you are making him vulnerable to lifelong manipulation by others, and the misery it brings. Better to steer clear of approval and aim for “feeling good about oneself”.)
  4. Your child wants to do well at school because she takes pride in her ability to use her brains and talents, and to work hard to achieve a goal. (This is an example of doing things to “feel good about oneself” rather than “to gain the admiration/approval of others or to show others how smart/brainy/’good’ you are”.) She is free to choose the actions that will help her do well and steer clear of others that will hinder her performance.  
  5. Your child wants the freedom to keep her things the way she’d like them, even if that means all her belongings are strewn around her room. Sure, she’s free to live how she wants, but she’s paying a price for her freedom. She has to keep looking for things, meaning wasted time, additional stress, lost / damaged possessions, being late to events, and the famous ‘not having anything to wear’ – this time, literally, because she simply cannot find all the elements of one outfit! :-)
  6. Your child wants the freedom of risky sexual behavior. He will pay the price – in disease, impotence, life-threatening illnesses, unsatisfying relationships, financial hardships (time lost due to illness, medical bills etc.), emotional and physical hardships… the list is looooooooong.
  7. Your child wants the freedom to ‘not study’. She will not do as well as she would have performed if she had applied herself to her books. But it’s not the end of the world. However, she might discover, much too late, that she needs a minimum passing mark in her school exams to even be considered for that program in Animation Design (her only dream and driving passion) at the Ivy League college she’s set her heart on. Is she willing to pay the price of her freedom?

Be firm with your child. Teach him, from the beginning of his life, that he is free. But if he is free to choose, he must also bear the consequences of the choices he makes.  

Tell your child this truth repeatedly. Give her practice in experiencing this truth. Don’t protect her. Don’t cover up for her. If she gets enough practice in little, daily decisions, she will steer relatively clear of the big mistakes.

Let him watch TV till all hours. Consequence: you won’t wake him up. He might miss school (not all children feel this is an ‘undesirable’ result :-) ), miss a competition, a performance, an outing; play time with a special friend…

Let her stuff herself with a favorite food. The resulting distress will probably help her regulate her appetite for a long time to come.

The short, sharp lessons that life delivers are invaluable. Enrol your child today.

Eventually, your child will solve the conundrum of freedom: that discipline is the only way to enjoy freedom. Because discipline is what keeps our life ticking, what gives it order; it is what helps us make sense of ourselves, others and the world around us. And when there is order, there is the space – physical, mental and emotional – to enjoy freedom.

As a parent, you are equally free! Free to make your choice about teaching your child discipline. Of course, there will be consequences to your choice… :-)

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Teach Your Child Discipline – When to Begin

Discipline (verb)   : to train by instruction and exercise;

                             : to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control

 When I was at university, I met a piece of advice I liked so much that I implemented it right away. And I’ve never stopped. It is this:

Start as you mean to go on.

But we don’t really apply this in life, do we? Usually, we start out formally.

  • Your first day on the job, you are correct, careful, punctilious.
  • Your first date, you might be so careful to impress and to avoid offending that your date has no idea who you really are.
  • The first few weeks of your marriage, you cover your mouth when you yawn, say “Excuse me” every time you sneeze. And this with someone you are so intimate with! :-)

So we start carefully, correctly, trying to ensure nobody can find fault with us or with what we do.

Over time, we relax.

  • On the job, you start cracking jokes – maybe even risqué ones.
  • After a few dates, you might feel free enough to go for a walk (with your date) on which you crunch every single dry leaf underfoot. You’re not worried about looking silly or childish any longer.
  • After you’ve been married a while, you don’t even think twice about yawning in your spouse’s face even if you’ve just eaten a garlicky meal. :-)

But there is one exception to this rule. It is an exception that proves the rule.

With your child, you start out all goo-goo ga-ga. You pet her, indulge her, spoil her, fulfill her every wish, wipe her every tear, battle her every fear, take up arms on her behalf whether she insists on a new toy or on ‘revenge’ from a playmate who didn’t give your darling her turn on the swings for long enough.

As she grows cosseted beyond belief, a niggling voice at the back of your mind says “Start now. She’s old enough to learn some rules, some discipline.” When you begin to listen to the voice, you are taken aback by your child’s reaction. The sweet, loving child is transformed into a mulish, sulky, rude monster that doesn’t care what she says and how she behaves so long as she gets her way.

You back off quickly. “Let’s deal with this tomorrow. Maybe she’s too young to understand – that’s why she’s behaving like this.”

Guess what? You’ve just allowed yourself to teach your child indiscipline. Yes, the opposite of what you intend! Here is how it happens:

Every experience your child (or anyone) goes through teaches him something. And what he just went through taught him 3 things.

  1. When things are not going his way, he can rearrange the situation to suit him better if he makes himself unpleasant.  
  2. The more unpleasant he is, the quicker you give in.
  3. The more unpleasant he is, the more extravagantly you give in.

As you read this, you might wonder: “But if he loves me, and knows I dislike his spoilt behavior – that it annoys me – why would he continue to throw tantrums? He should be trying to make me happy instead!”

Your child loves you – probably more than you love him. :-) But love doesn’t enter into the picture when he wants to get his way. So instead of your teaching him discipline, he teaches you to bend to his will.

Practice makes perfect, and in a short while, every struggle of wills with your child sees you battered into submission. You give up. And his learning (and yours) is reinforced: he demands; you give in.

Why not try another way? It is a way you know extremely well. Except that you have never thought of using it with your child.

Start out formally, correctly, punctiliously – from day one. Yes, day one of your child’s life. Stay this way for the first 4 or 5 years. Then, s-l-o-w-l-y, you can relax.

This doesn’t mean you don’t cuddle, laugh, play, have fun, jump around, make noise. You can do all this with your child, and still teach her discipline.

The first time she does something you’d prefer her not to do, tell her. Clearly. Explicitly. In no uncertain terms. Explain exactly what you are objecting to. Tell her why you object to it. It doesn’t matter if you feel she is too young to understand your words, or language. Your tone, facial expression, gestures, body language – everything will tell her that you disapprove of that behavior.

Repeat this every time your child does something you’d prefer her not to do. Then go back to doing whatever fun things you were doing together.

As you repeat yourself, the message gets reinforced. Now, your child  is going through a different kind of experience, one which teaches her different things:

  1. She upholds your laws (these are the big YESes and NOs you’ve set).
  2. Misbehavior and tantrums won’t help her get her way. She is most likely to do so by behaving reasonably.
  3. It is a pleasure to keep to the rules.

And as easily as that, you’ll find you have taught your child discipline! :-)

But what if your child has already trained you to bear the brunt of her tantrums? Look for answers in the next post.

 

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“I’m Smarter than You Think, Mom and Dad!” : BOOK REVIEW

Considering that most parents think their child is the smartest being that ever walked the earth, I was intrigued when asked to review the book: “I’m Smarter than You Think, Mom and Dad!”. Piquing my interest further, was the book’s tagline – ‘How to Raise Responsible Kids’.

The author, Mridula Agarwal, a best-selling author with four books to her credit, got my attention from the word go when she quoted Michael Levine in her Note. Michael Levine is an American publicist, best-selling author and motivational speaker.

“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

The author emphasizes that parents need to realize their responsibility – as parents. They should know how deep and lasting is the influence they have on their children; an influence the kids will never outgrow. This lays the foundation for the book, which deals with some of the issues parents are faced with today, and how they can deal with them to raise responsible, caring children.

The book tackles 5 issues:

  1. The fussy and naughty child
  2. The demanding and defiant child
  3. Disregard for parents
  4. Jealousy and sibling rivalry
  5. The effects of excessive TV and movie-watching

The book is sprinkled with examples of children exhibiting various behaviours, and the author points out what is wrong with each of these behaviours. She contends that it is primarily parents’ expectations that are at fault. And parents’ expectations are faulty because of their incorrect thinking.

The book rightly points out that today, parents seem to misread their children’s wilful, selfish and thoughtless behavior for intelligence, confidence and assertiveness. Parents believe that their children’s self-expression (even if it is at the cost of everyone’s peace of mind) is the only way kids can prepare for both success and happiness. And it is this belief that unwittingly ensures that parents encourage their children to behave badly.

The book introduces parents to new ways of thinking and behaving so that they can have the kind of children they claim to want.

That said, the book could definitely be an easier, more enjoyable read.

Parenting concepts are introduced by Almighty (yes, this is supposed to be the Almighty) when his assistant Farishta (angel) goes on fact-finding missions to Earth to see why “parents are unable to bring up their children to be caring and understanding human beings with proper values, even though the little ones are so receptive, truthful and understanding”.

Having Almighty (it is used as a name; the ‘the’ is missing) and Farishta pilot the book seems contrived, as if readers would accept the ideas given in the book only if they came from ‘on high’.

Using these characters also justifies the presence of numerous repetitive descriptions of the natural beauty of the world, which was made in the image of where Almighty and Farishta reside. These descriptions are unnecessary and detract from the point being made.

The text is wordy; its structure meandering. Sentences are involved, drooping from the weight of too many needless phrases.

The weakest point of the book is its moralistic tone. It tells parents what they ‘should’ do, but doesn’t give them any incentive to do it, beyond ‘raising responsible children’ who can be happy in the future.

I think parents need more immediate rewards for raising responsible children than the satisfaction of doing their ‘duty’ and fulfilling their ‘responsibility’.

All in all, the book is worth going through for some of the ideas, but you’re more likely to scan than read it, and I doubt you’ll reach for it a second time.

“I’m Smarter than You Think, Mom and Dad!” was published by Zubaan in 2008.

 

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How Your Child Protects You

You can understand parents protecting their children. Parents protect their children out of love. And children need this protection because:

  1. Children are weak – they are physically uncoordinated.
  2. Children’s immune systems are not well-developed – they are only slowly exposed to different environments to prevent infections and the resulting diseases. In fact, there will be many environments they will never encounter throughout their lives, if you could have your way.
  3. Children’s minds are a blank slate – they are learning so much at such a rapid pace that you want to keep it simple for them. Let them learn the basics. There is plenty of time in their lives for them to learn how complicated life can be.
  4. Children are innocent – their innocence is a source of joy to you and to them. You are unwilling to have this innocence corrupted too soon. You’d rather they ‘grow up’ to the harsh realities of life later, when they have enjoyed a few (or more than a few  :-) ) years of innocence.
  5. Children cannot protect themselves – in a world where adults are all powerful, children can be (and often are) ill-treated, manipulated, used and abused in numerous ways. So parents become their shield, taking the roughest of the blows dealt, acting like shock absorbers for their kids.

But children protecting their parents? The very idea seems absurd! Yet, the truth is that children of all ages protect their parents all the time.

  • What do parents need protection from?
  • Why are children protecting their parents?
  • How do children learn to protect their parents?

What do parents need protection from?

Believe it or not, your child is protecting you from knowing how ‘grown up’ she is. To you, your 6-year old is a sweet little rosebud, as innocent as she was the day she was born – well, almost. But –

At 6, she knows words you don’t know she knows. She knows facts you have no idea she knows. She knows about behaviors and situations that you would be horrified to know she knew. She has had experiences you wouldn’t believe she’s had.

Why are children protecting their parents?

Your child protects you for the same reason that you protect him.

He loves you.

And out of that love emerges his wish not to shock you (this is before he reaches teenage :-) ), not to  disturb the image of him that you carry in your mind.

You would be upset, disturbed, shocked if you felt he had acquired knowledge before he was ready for it. So he plays the young innocent – not to defraud you – but for your peace of mind.

He knows what that f-word means (he even knows the wide panorama of alternative words you use when you want to say the f-word but are censoring your speech ‘in front of the children’ :-) ), but you’d never know it to look at him. He’s pretending not to know for your peace of mind – because you don’t expect him to know ‘at such a young age’.

When the love-making scene borders on the steamy and you glance furtively at him, he’ll be watching with angelic innocence. He probably knows what’s coming next – he might even have seen it in movie trailers, on book covers, hoardings, computer screens, in magazines and countless other media – but he’ll pretend as if he doesn’t know what’s going on. He might even ask you a question about it just to reinforce the idea (your idea) of his innocence.

How do children learn to protect their parents?

Children learn from their parents!

So when somebody is turning the air blue with abuses, and you pretend not to hear anything wrong, or just usher your child into another room, she gets the message: this is something that will not be acknowledged; it didn’t happen.

But your child meets many other people, is exposed to the world in many other ways. She will get to know another way, through someone else. So she will know. But she will also retain the message. As far as you, her parent, are concerned, she is not supposed to know. She can’t un-know what she knows, so she will pretend not to know in front of you. All this only to minimize your discomfort – that’s how much she loves you. :-)

At different ages, there will be different things that you feel it is too early for your child to know about. Accordingly, your child will ‘protect’ you from knowing about her knowledge in these areas.

***

The Dangers of Playing the Protection Game

The result: it becomes an elaborate, orchestrated game. You know, but don’t want your child to know; at least, not now. Your child knows, but also knows that you don’t want him to know now. So he pretends that he doesn’t know.

This might make you happy (you are a ‘good’ parent, able to regulate the rate at which your child is exposed to the real world !).

At times, you might suspect that your child’s ignorance is a charade – after all, there’s school and friends and TV and the internet (Net Nanny notwithstanding)… But you’re unwilling to rock the boat. Again, your child takes his cue from you. He’s unwilling to rock the boat too.

You might choose to play this game, but know that it has insidious results:

  1. The game teaches your child to ‘not tell the truth’ – he learns to pretend and makes-believe that the pretence is the reality.
  2. The game reduces communication between you and your child – she is unwilling to talk to you about incidents, issues, questions she has. You might think them inappropriate. Rather than risk your discomfort or your displeasure, she simply won’t bring it up with you.
  3. The game builds distance and distrust between you and your child – he will always evaluate if it is ‘safe’ for him to share information with you. As a result, you will know only the ‘cleaned up’ version of what’s going on in his life. You will not know what conflicts, troubles and issues he is facing. If you don’t know, you can’t help him or advise him. Also, he will be turning to someone for advice – whoever that person might be and whatever the advice he/she might give your child.

What is the alternative?

Should you start explaining the missionary position to your 3-year old?

No way.

Like every other parent, I believe there is a time and a place for children to be introduced to ideas and knowledge, though it might not always be the time and place of the parents’ choosing.

If inappropriate behavior, content, visuals, language etc. come up, simply tell your child, “I think you are too young to understand this. But if you have heard / read / seen something like this, then we’ll talk about it.” And then, explain to your child in the simplest way possible what it is about.

If your child hasn’t been exposed to something like this, or if you are unwilling to discuss it at the time, tell your child when you will discuss it.

My then 5-year old nephew was a sponge. He soaked up children’s encyclopedia. When he asked me how the baby got inside his pregnant mother’s stomach, we had a very interesting conversation:

Me: Do you know what a cell is?

He: Yes, it is the smallest unit of life.

Me: Great! There are special cells in the mother’s body and the father’s body which make babies –

He: What are they called?

Me: They are called gametes. When the gametes of the Mummy and the Daddy meet, they make one combined cell which is the baby. This cell grows into an embryo which becomes a fetus, and then the baby is born.

He was so delighted with learning so many big and important words that he didn’t ask me how the gametes met! And if he had, I’m sure I’d have found a way to tell him.

With another child who was 8, I said: “I will explain everything in detail to you, but let’s wait a couple of years, alright?”

In a couple of years, I raised the topic. Yes, she remembered that I’d said we’d talk about it in a couple of years. I told her how babies were made, and she was grossed out! I laughed: “Wait till you’re older, and you’ll wonder how you could have found it yuck!” :-)

Avoid brushing things under the carpet. Deal with what’s happening around you – it is one of the best ways to stay connected to your child. It is also one of the best ways to ensure your child gets your interpretation of whatever it is – which is what you want, isn’t it? :-)

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What Parents Need to Tell Children about Growing Up

“No! I don’t want to sleep.”

“Why not? You’re tired and sleepy. Look! You’re rubbing your eyes. Come, get into bed.”

“No! I want to stay awake.”

You’ve had this conversation with your child. If you haven’t yet, you will have it sometime in the future – it’s a rite of passage for parents – like diapers, cuddling and teen behavior. :-)

Eventually, you understand why he resists going to bed. Your child thinks you’ll put him to bed and then do ‘fun’ things behind his back. He doesn’t want to miss out on the fun, so he’s refusing to sleep. Also, staying awake longer is a ‘grown up’ thing to do.

Show me one child who doesn’t want to grow up, and I’ll give you a million dollars. (Where I get the money is my problem, where you find the child, is yours! :-) )

Children are always in a hurry to ‘grow up’. To them, grown up means:

  1. Physical power – the strength and dexterity to push, pull, lift, bend, run, dress, bathe, drive, cook, read, write, type, draw, garden, knit, play games well…
  2. Decision-making power – Grown-ups decide everything! What to buy, when to buy, when to sleep eat play bathe work, how much to sleep eat play bathe work, how to sleep eat play bathe work…
  3. Self-determinism – Adults don’t need anyone’s permission (or so it seems to the child) to do the things they want to do. Parents seem to ‘do as they please’. Some parents are whimsical, inconsistent and arbitrary in their behavior, at least some of the time. But even when they are not, children feel grown-ups are self-willed, especially since the child cannot understand the reason for many of the decisions adults make.

But it is sad that children are in such a hurry to grow up that they miss the joys of being the age they are.

This is where you step in as a parent. Children need to know that every age has its fun, its joys, and its trials and tribulations.

A 3-year old needs to know that it’s great to be 7, but he won’t be wheeled around in his stroller; he will have to walk himself, even if you’re spending the entire day going from store to store. At age 7, the only alternatives to his walking all day with you will be to stay home or at a daycare.

A 5-year old who’s eager to enjoy the ‘freedoms’ her 11-year old sibling has, needs to know that she won’t be able to sit on her parent’s shoulders to be (literally) head and shoulders above the crowd to enjoy the magic show in the mall atrium.

Your 12-year old needs to know that it’s great to be 16 (or 18) and have a driver’s license, but he’ll miss the spontaneous hugs you share with him today. At the ‘grown up’ age when he can drive, he’ll want to hug you and be hugged by you, but won’t do so as often as he’d like to because he will feel embarrassed; he will feel he’s ‘too old’ for such childish behavior. (! :-) )

And so on.

The other thing parents need to share with their children is that growing up is not as cool and untroubled as it looks. There are difficult choices, complex decisions, complicated personal relationships, demanding schedules, challenging situations, testing times.

And they all lie ahead – in the area where ‘grown up’ is.

How do you make sure your child gets this? Explain. Give examples. Even with a 2-year old, you can always give examples. Here are some examples I have used over the years to calm eager beavers who can’t wait to be older:

Very Young Children

“When you were a baby, you just peed and poo-ed at will. You want to be grown up, so you’re trying hard to learn when you need to ‘go’. You pay attention, and rush to tell Mom/Dad to take you to the toilet. But sometimes you forget, or realize too late, and soil your diaper. And then you feel bad. There’s no need to feel bad – it takes time to learn what your body is saying, but still, you do feel bad.  Do you see? You are ‘growing up’, but it has its uncomfortable, ‘bad’ moments too!”

Primary School aged Children

“You were in such a rush to begin going to school so you could read and write like your elder sister. You would keep snatching her books and pens to do your own ‘studies’. Now that you’re in school, you get tired, and feel you have too much work. Do you understand why she would snap at you asking you to get out of her way and let her get on with it? You’re growing, and growing well :-) , but isn’t all fun and games. Do you see that now?”

Pre-teens

“You always thought it would be great to be a teenager! You would hang out with your friends, wear cool gear, do cool stuff… Now that you’re a pre-teen (and this is when the changes begin), you’re seeing how difficult it can be. You have these crazy mood swings – up one moment, down the other, and you can’t understand why you feel this way. You wonder if you’re the one going crazy or it’s the others who have lost it.

You don’t want to talk about this to your parents because you feel they’ll get worried, or you might be making too much of what you feel. You feel alone, and afraid. You might talk to your friends about it, but they’re in the same boat as you are, so you wonder how much good talking to them does you. At least you feel lighter for having shared how you feel. But then you wonder: what if they tell somebody else? Something else to worry about…

Your voice is breaking, you’re wetting the bed in strange ways, your body is sprouting hair in all kinds of places (for boys); your body is sprouting hair in all kinds of places, you’re developing breasts and hips, you’ve started having your period (for girls).

You’re supposed to look cool about all this around your friends, as if it’s normal, and you’re fine with all these changes. But inside, you’re not comfortable; you’re worried, you wonder what’s going on, you have so many questions and nobody to ask – it’s a horrible mess. You didn’t think this is what you’d signed up for when you wanted to ‘grow up’ did you? If you’d known, you might have had second thoughts!” :-)

Teenagers

“It looked so easy – having this cool boyfriend or girlfriend to hang out with, to kiss. But it’s a miserable, sorry business.

Trying to catch somebody’s eye, wondering if he/she likes you, dressing talking walking sitting standing doing eating – heck, breathing! – right to impress him/her, looking cool while doing all this, not sure if you really like the boy/girl or have given in to peer pressure (all your friends are ‘with’ someone…).

If, by some chance, you manage to hook the boy/girl of your choice, keeping him/her is another chore. It’s fun, but it’s a hell of a lot of work too, and it’s not always worth it. And there’s nobody to talk to!

Your friends – you wonder about them sometimes. Your parents – they will go ballistic if they had any clue what was going on with your life. A sibling? Maybe, only if you get on with him/her. But he/she might split on you if you guys have a fight… Ugh!”

***

My daughter had been having a difficult time for a few weeks. She felt a friend had betrayed her confidence, and didn’t know how to deal with the hurt, the friend, and how to handle herself.

We talked the situation through almost every day, and I felt she was slowly beginning to make her peace with it, and see things more clearly so that she could make better decisions about how she wanted to deal with the issue. Eventually, it was resolved.

That weekend, she asked me, “Why is growing up so hard? And when is it going to end anyway? When will I be all grown up?”

I chose to ignore the first question and said, “Never. It just goes on.”

Welcome to growing up; or rather, to ‘more growing up’. :-)

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Fault-finding: When Things Go ‘Wrong’

This scene comes to you from my earliest memories as a child.

I am at the playground or in someone’s house. A child (not I) falls down – maybe while walking or running. Or maybe a child bumps into a table, door, chair, tree – any stationary object.

The child begins to cry. An adult rushes over to soothe the child. Their conversation goes like this:

“What happened? You hurt yourself? How?”

The child tells the adult what happened.

“You tripped over the stone? Which one? This one?”

If the stone has been correctly identified, the child will nod.

“Bad stone! Very bad stone to make the baby fall down. Let’s hit the stone. There! Let me scold it also. You are a very bad stone to make the baby fall down! You’d better not do it again, okay? Otherwise you’ll be in big trouble. Very, very bad stone!”

The child watches and listens in fascination as this is enacted. The adult turns to the child.

“Did you see me scold the stone? I’m sure it must be very sorry to have made you fall down. Now that I’ve told the stone not to make you fall down, it won’t do that ever again. And if it dares to, I’ll scold it so badly that…”

Then the child is taken into the adult’s arms and the place where she was hurt is petted and soothed and maybe kissed. The child herself is cuddled and kissed. “Bad stone! We’ve punished it for making you fall. Feeling better now? Great!”

And the child scurries off.

In this way, innumerable pieces of furniture, doors, corners, walls, counters are hit; the ground, stones, leaves, twigs, mounds of earth, grass, leaves are stomped on; and all of them are scolded roundly because ‘they hurt the child’.

I suspect this might be true only of Indian / Asian families, but it is rampant here.

Cut to 10 years later.

“Mummy, I couldn’t do my homework because you didn’t make a tasty lunch.”

You can’t believe your ears. “What?!”

“Yes. The lunch was so bad – none of my favorite dishes. I kept trying to eat it but I couldn’t. Then I decided not to eat it. But I was hungry, so I had to find and eat some snacks. I had to eat a lot of snacks to fill me up. All this made it really late, so there wasn’t enough time to finish my homework. And then it was time to go and play… So you see, it’s your fault that I didn’t finish my homework.”

You’re furious enough that you could shake him till his teeth rattle. What nonsense! He could just as well have gone to play later, or come back earlier. What does he mean by “it was time to go and play”? The time isn’t exactly set in stone, and at age 12, he should know better.

I guess you can see where I’m headed. You can’t blame your child. You cannot find fault with him.

From day one, you have been blaming other people or things for whatever goes ‘wrong’ (more accurately, whatever happens that is not in accordance with your child’s wishes).

The ceiling was ‘bad’ because it bumped his head (he wasn’t being careless with a low ceiling); it was too cold for him to have a bath (he wasn’t being lazy about undressing in a cold bathroom); you were late because the traffic lights were against you (not because he woke up late or threw a tantrum or lost track of the time).

When your friends came in for a quiet supper as she was going to bed, your 7-year old’s refusal to say “Good night” to them was not churlishness; she was too sleepy or tired to observe the basic courtesies.  

If he falls, it not because he’s not looking where he’s going. The kite flying in the sky distracted him. When he hits out at someone, he’s being playful and spontaneous, but when someone else hits him, they’re bullying him. When he gets the star role in the school play, it is because he is so talented. When he doesn’t, the teachers are playing favorites.

Are you shaking your head? You’re not this kind of parent. You get after your child all the time, asking her to be responsible for what she does or doesn’t do. I agree. You are working towards teaching your child responsibility.

But you have her earliest memories (her most basic understanding of how the world works) warring against your efforts. Because these earliest memories blame someone or something else for whatever goes ‘wrong’. And you, or someone in your family, has helped create these memories.

It is unreasonable to expect that your child will forget the ‘learning’ of a lifetime of holding people and situations to blame; that he will suddenly ‘become responsible’.

If you want to raise a child who is happy – who is capable of happiness – you have to stop playing the fault-finding game.

Initially, blaming people and circumstances gives your child an ‘out’ – a feeling that she is a success, or could have been, had it not been for… But eventually, the habit of finding fault only gives her excuses to fail. To teach your child to find fault is to set her up for failure.

Look around you. Despite the millions of ‘reasons’ for failure, there are people who have amazing achievements to their credit.  They must have fallen too; they must have met food they didn’t like; they must have been sleepy or tired or unwell or unwilling or all of them at the same time; they must have had bad days or bad relationships; but still, they had worthwhile achievements.

What your child achieves is not as important as the fact that he achieves something.

If he enjoys studying and gets good grades, getting straight ‘A’s may not count as an achievement for your child. He wants to be at the top of the tree in all subjects – that would give him a sense of accomplishment.

For a sick child, getting out of bed and getting dressed to sit up for an hour might be an achievement.

If he’s very shy, making eye contact with a stranger may be an achievement for your child.

But she will not achieve anything, she will not succeed, if you are on a fault-finding mission when things go ‘wrong’. Fault-finding takes away your child’s power to determine her life. It makes her powerless.

You know what ‘powerless’ feels like – every adult does. Think back to the times in your life when you felt powerless. Feeling powerless is disheartening, hopeless, debilitating, paralyzing, and in its worst form, it leads to severe depression, if not worse.

Why would you want to teach your child to be powerless? But, in an effort to ‘make her feel better about herself’ in the moment that her wishes are thwarted, that’s exactly what you do! And the pattern begins.  

How to break the cycle? One thought can break it – abruptly and effectively.

Why find fault?

When something goes ‘wrong’, rather than figuring out who or what was at fault, why not simply try and understand why it happened?

“You fell down? Hurt yourself? How? Tripped on a stone? That’s okay – people trip on stones sometimes. You need to watch where you’re going. You need to lift your feet when you walk.”

Soothe, cuddle, kiss, off you go.

“Didn’t get the star part? Well, others have to get star parts too. You think you can do it better? Maybe the last time when you got the star part this child thought he could do it better. It’s alright. You can’t be the star every time.”

Your child can’t win at everything, not all the time. Things won’t go his way always. And that’s okay. It’s nobody’s fault. :-)  It’s the way things are, the way the world is. Even at the poles, where the polar night lasts for months at a time, it only lasts for months – not through the year. :-) 

Why find fault?

Try, instead, to help your child find understanding – so that he can be happy, fulfilled, so that he sets himself up for success (with some failures along the way :-) ) .

Understanding is about ‘if-then’.

  • If you work, (then) you will do better.
  • If you are kind to people, (then) you will have better relationships.
  • If you are selfish, (then) you may not have true friends.

But wait a minute! These ‘if-then’ situations aren’t always true!

That’s called Growing Up – in the next post! :-)

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Laugh with Your Child

When your child was little, you laughed all the time. The ‘you’ I’m talking about is yourself, not you and your child. You laughed with abandon, celebrating the sheer delight of being with your child. As his antics grew, your laughter grew alongside.

Not that the mischief he got up to was always funny; what made you laugh was the pleasure he got out of whatever he was doing.

Crumbling biscuits and throwing the crumbs around? Not funny. Messy, wasteful, and he should be taught not to do it. But he has so much fun grinding the biscuits to crumbs and trying to strew them as far as possible in all directions that the smiles and laughter spill out of you – almost against your will. :-)

You let him be. He is ‘only a child’. There is still time enough for you to teach him about proper behavior, what is done and not done. And you laugh.

Inevitably, you begin the teaching: ‘good’ children say this, do that, behave one way and not another… You need to do this – otherwise, your darling will grow into a little savage. Atlas could not have undertaken his responsibility with greater diligence.

But you are so intent on your ‘teaching’ role, that you forget there are other facets to being a parent. It’s almost as if once you switch on the teaching mode, you are unable to switch it off. Slowly but surely, you squeeze the spontaneity out of your child.

“Don’t sit like that.”

“Don’t laugh so immoderately.”

“Why don’t you say ‘Hello’ properly when I introduce you to my friends?”

Sometimes, you hear yourself and wonder: “Am I going too far? Am I taking away his breathing space?” But the next moment, ‘sanity’ re-asserts itself. You need to reinforce the lesson so that your child learns it well.

And slowly, the laughter drains out of your life – your life and your child’s life. Your child’s life because she feels like she’s on stage every moment – every action word gesture thought is evaluated to help her become a ‘better person’ so that she can ‘fulfill her potential’. She doesn’t feel free to be herself. After a bit, she might even forget who she is, because she’s so busy trying to fit the mold you’ve fashioned for her.

You lose the laughter because she no longer enjoys what she’s doing – not the way she enjoyed it when she chose what to do and did it her way.

It was her enjoyment in what she was doing that made you laugh. Now, her enjoyment is gone, and so is your laughter.

What makes it worse is that you have put on the mantle of an adult – you have got over your rash youth, and are now seriously into the business of life: reaching and surpassing milestones at work (whatever the work might be, including running the house), raising your children to be responsible human-beings, planning for your retirement and the children’s education, performing social, community and other roles… the list goes on.

Even if something is funny, you feel it compromises your dignity to burst into loud guffaws – after all, you are not an irresponsible person any longer – you have ‘important’ things to do; a smile, a chuckle – that’s enough, and then you can get on with your work.

It’s not easy to make you laugh. Er – have you noticed? Nobody’s even trying any longer to make you laugh. Why should they? You have your proper, professional business-like image of yourself as an adult, getting on with the serious, heavy-weight task of life – who are they to mess with it?

Your connection with your child becomes more remote.

What if you forgot your dignity for a moment? What if you forgot you were an adult? What if you forgot about the image you’re creating?

If it’s funny and you feel like laughing, just laugh. (I feel ridiculous even writing this. It’s almost as if I were saying: “Now that your head is finally out of the water, breathe in order to stay alive”.)

If propriety is so important to you, laugh just at home, only with family and friends who make you feel ‘safe’.

Don’t worry that your child will think you out of control.

Don’t worry about setting a good example for her.

Don’t worry about how your face looks when you laugh, or that your teeth will show, or your face might turn red, or you might laugh too loudly or sound strange, or begin to gasp for breath.

Don’t worry about whether others are laughing or not.

Don’t worry about what others will think of your sense of humor. (I had a friend who accused me of having the most awful sense of humor. “Tell me when the joke is over and it’s time to laugh,” was his constant refrain, but it didn’t deter me. :-) )

If you feel like laughing, just laugh. (aka “if you feel like breathing, just breathe” :-) )

Are you shaking your head and thinking: “What rot! Of course I laugh!” Well, great! :-)  Laugh more! :-)

If you keep the laughter alive, the ability to laugh with your child alive, you will be able to live through the difficult times because you will always find a point of connection, however unwilling you or your child might be to connect at that time! :-)

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