Archive | January, 2012

Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Do

Do things with your child.

I don’t mean that you don’t already do things with your child. I know you do. You help her read and do homework, you do chores together, you drive her to school sports activities parties…

But the things I’m talking about doing with your child are the things that your child wants to do – that you probably don’t want to do.

Like when your 2-year old wants to play ball, and all you have energy for is sinking into bed. Or when you have a deadline looming and your child is determined to lay out all her dolls and have an elaborate fashion show.

If I were faced with either of the above situations, I would beg to be excused. “I’m too tired / tense, so it wouldn’t be much good my playing with you right now, but I will definitely play with you …” (I’d mention a specific time).

And then, I’d make sure to do what I said I’d do.

Whenever your child asks you to do something with him, you may be willing and able to do it – or not, but know this: what your child will remember is how often you put him off. So you need to make a conscious decision each time your child asks you to do something – will this be yet another instance that he ‘remembers’, or will you both have a great time doing something together?

But maybe only your child has a great time doing the thing – you don’t!

When she was little, my daughter loved imagining stories with dozens of characters, each of whom she named. She described each character’s traits in detail, and if the name didn’t match the character sketch, it was changed. As a result, a 2-hour marathon session of ‘playing’ could result in a hundred-odd characters which were related to each other in some way, whose names and personalities were defined, but no story had been finalized – there was no sequence of events.

And every time we began the game, we played it from the beginning; or at least so close to the beginning, that we never really got the story off the ground. I love imagining games too, but it was a terrible strain trying to remember what the fifth daughter’s smallest doll was called, and how she looked! 🙂

My daughter would accuse me of not being interested, of having a bad memory, and of not ‘playing’ properly. I told her I simply couldn’t remember so much detail, especially since some of it changed every now and then. And what was the point of going on about all these people (and animals – but there I still tremble to go! 🙂 ) when the story just didn’t move forward?

But she was adamant. “You don’t play properly. And if you don’t play properly, I’ll be very angry with you and when I grow up, I won’t let you come to my house to visit me.” I was being threatened by a 2.5-foot high piece! 🙂

She loved the game and I didn’t. From my point of view, I was being the loving parent, sacrificing so much time and mind space towards utter banalities, indulging her, and she was threatening me because she didn’t appreciate what I was doing for her. Impasse.

This is a trap most parents tend to fall into. We do things ‘for’ our children, things we would rather not do if left to ourselves, and then we resent it when our kids don’t appreciate that we’re doing all this ‘for’ them.

Hmmm – time to introspect. I stepped away and told her I needed a few days of not playing the game to see what we could do to make things better.

I realized that my daughter didn’t care two hoots about my playing the game with her. What she really wanted was that I should ‘enjoy’ the game as much as she did. My playing the game was no good unless I got into the spirit of it. She didn’t want a martyr-type attitude from me – which is what she was getting.

I, on the other hand, wanted to put in the least possible effort towards playing the game to get the maximum parental mileage out of it: “My mom plays with me all the time! We have a great time!” And it wasn’t happening.

So which was more important to me?

I decided on a compromise. I told her I’d love to play the game “properly”, but I couldn’t play it as often as she wanted me to. So I could either play “not properly” 4 times a week, or “properly” twice a week. The ball was back in her court.

She chose (predictably) “properly” twice a week. And so, I put my best foot forward and really got into the spirit of the game. She was delighted, and I was thrilled too – because my ‘doing’ things with her was finally getting me the brownie points I wanted as a parent.  

The lessons I learnt about ‘doing’ things with your child?

1. Do what your child wants – This is his game. Let him set the rules (but not change them to his convenience if he’s losing! 🙂 ). Let him decide what kind of game it will be. Let him be in the driver’s seat. Don’t tell him how to play; it is his game – you’re just playing it.

2. Concentrate on enjoying yourself – Unless you are clearly enjoying yourself, your child doesn’t register your ‘doing’. Get into the spirit of the game. Just as eating requires that you chew every mouthful to get the maximum flavor, apply yourself to every move, concentrate on every roll of the die, deliberate on every swing of the bat… Discuss the game afterwards – this is a big one. Usually, you only discuss things afterwards if you’ve had ‘fun’ doing them. 🙂

3. Ignore winning and losing – Do not play to win, but don’t play to lose either. The first is competitive, and remember, you’re ‘doing’ because you’re trying to make parenting easier on yourself and your child. The second smacks of ‘lying’, and though your child may appreciate your effort in the beginning, in the long run, the falsity of what you are doing will far outweigh any potential (if at all) benefits of such ‘playing’.

4. Go with the flow – As your child grows older and his interests change, the game may change rules, players, or it may be a completely different game. The little girl who only wanted to play with dolls may be fixated on chess now. And then it might be video games. Whatever it is, do it.

5. Let your child teach you – This is perhaps the most difficult thing for parents to do. I don’t know anything about dance, and my daughter lives, breathes, eats and sleeps dance (and a few other things). She’s always telling me about the new moves they learnt in class or exercises they do that will help me get fit or asking me to watch dance movies and videos with her.

So much of the joy we get is from sharing the things we love with the people we love. Even if it is not your ‘thing’, let your child tell you about how to animate a character, or play golf, or play a tune, or write a software program. When we refuse to participate, when we turn our face away, we deprive ourselves of shared joy and love; we extinguish the spark in our children.  

You’ve spent your life showing and teaching him things. Let him experience what it feels like to be in your shoes, and let yourself be the one taught. Go ahead and let him teach you about the things that excite him. Learn actively, eagerly from him. If you pay attention, it will open up a whole new world of communication and connection with him. 🙂 

Do write back and share your experience as you try out these parenting basics – I’m sure you’ll find you’ve put the zing back into your life with your child. Happy carefree parenting! 🙂

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Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Be

Be who you are.

I can almost see you wrinkle your forehead in perplexity. “Be who you are?” What could I possibly mean by that? I mean, who else could you be but yourself?

But there are so many times when you don’t let yourself be who you are. Here’s what I mean:

1. You hide your real emotions – Maybe you are feeling upset because of something your child did or did not do (forget to wish you for an important date, ignore your request that she keep quiet because you are unwell, say hurtful things to get back at you for not being ‘nice’…). Do you hide that you are upset? When your child asks you if you’re okay, do you manufacture and flash a false smile at her to signify you’re alright?

Or do you tell her you’re not feeling so good and need a little time and space to recover? (This is very different from telling her: “I’m upset because you misbehaved with me.” When you say this, you are telling her that she is responsible for how you are feeling. She will learn not to be responsible for her own feelings. You are also trying to influence her behavior, which will encourage her to manipulate others and be manipulated by them.  But letting her know that you are feeling not-so-good is neither manipulative nor false.)

2. You are afraid that you will not live up to the image of the ideal parent – If you have an image in your head of how an ideal parent should behave, you try to be as close to that image in real life as possible. But you are not that image – and so, you end up being who you are not.

You may believe you are not attractive, not attentive, not loving, not educated, not rich, not talented, not smart – in short, you may believe that in some way or other you are not a ‘good’ parent. To reduce the pain of not being ‘good enough’, you deny your natural instincts, ruthlessly suppress your nature and personality, and set out to be the image of what you believe is the ‘perfect’ parent.

A friend of mine had an obsessive-compulsive mother. If a single t-shirt in her closet was out of place in the pile, the mom would pull out everything from the closet. No, I’m not exaggerating. At the end of a few minutes, the closet would be empty, and everything in it would be strewn all over the floor. My friend would then be asked to rearrange every single article of clothing back into the closet, making sure to get it right with no folds or creases, no clothes folded ‘out of line’, and all folded clothes arranged in perfectly ordered piles.

When she told me this, I smiled and remarked that she must have spent a lot of her childhood (re)arranging closets. She said she’d sworn then that her kids could be as messy as they liked and she wouldn’t utter one word of reproach. I stayed with her a few years ago. Her son was then a boisterous 7, and I was impressed to see how clean his room was. As he showed me his new toy and replaced it before going out to play, my friend called out to him: “Come and put your car back properly in the pile of toys. The way you’ve done it now, the box is tilting off the pile.” 🙂

I reminded her of her childhood decision (it had almost been in the nature of a vow) to let her kids be messy. “Oh! I’m nothing like my mom. When my son sits on the bed and the sheets get creased, I don’t throw down the bedclothes and ask him to make the bed again. He keeps sitting or reading or playing. All I ask is that when he gets up, he should straighten the bedclothes. But I have to ask him to keep the closet neat, or how will he find his toys?” There wasn’t any point telling her that the difference she was trying to point out was so negligible as to hardly exist.

Over the weekend that I stayed with her, I watched her seesaw between letting her child ‘be messy’ (!) and straighten up obsessively after him. As for the boy, he was afraid to move a muscle in his own house lest he disarrange something. What a terrible way to live!

So – whenever you next catch yourself living up to some ‘good’ or ‘approved of’ or ‘ideal’ notion, do yourself and your child a favor. Drop it. Flawed as you are (and we are all flawed 🙂 ), you are of infinitely greater value just as you are, than pretending to be someone you are not. Your pretence will increase your anxiety and confusion, bewilder your child, and encourage her to be who she is not. Why perpetuate the misery?

Set yourself – and your child – free. Free to be who you are. This is the only way you will ever have a real and meaningful relationship with your child.

You may be convinced that you are not ‘good’, but the truth is that you are ‘good enough’. And that’s enough. Now all you need to do is believe it and carry on from there.

***

As Ingrid Bergman said, “Be yourself. The world worships the original.”

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Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Ask

Ask questions.

But of course you already ask your child questions! Questions like:

“How was your day?”

“What happened at school today?”

“What did you do all day?”

Only, you’ve learnt that there’s no point in asking questions because your child just mumbles something, or gives you the same sort of answers every day. Answers like:

“Okay.”

“Nothing much.”

“Just hung around.”

You ask and you ask, and there’s never a meaningful reply.

Maybe you need to change the questions…

You might want to try asking: “What was the most fun thing that happened at school?”

Your child is suddenly forced to concentrate, because this question needs a specific answer. He will think about was the most fun thing that happened at school, and will reply to your question. You will learn about the people in his class, how they talk think behave, what they think of your child and each other, what your child thinks of them. You will learn the oddities of various teachers, and how your child relates to them.

Suddenly, your question has opened up a whole world to you, and you find yourself inside your child’s world, looking at his life from his point of view.

What a wonderful thing to happen!

Earlier, you were a parent, doing his/her ‘duty’, asking after the child. But now, you’ve become a privileged person, taken behind the scenes to see how your child’s mind and heart work, to see how he is growing and developing.

Or you may choose to ask: “Who brought the most exciting food today? Did you get to taste it?” (In India, most children carry lunch from home, though they can buy food at school as well.)

She’s thinking, and telling you what her friends brought to school, who ate what from whom, who said what, what happened, how it worked, how the boys gobbled up some unfortunate’s food… Again, for as long as she’s answering your question, you’ve been included in her life, and you’re watching with her eyes.

There’s so much that goes on in school, in neighborhood playgrounds (you’ve been a child – you know!) on TV, at home – pick anything, and ask a specific question.

So why is asking questions such a cornerstone of parenting? Because:

1. You learn what’s going on in your child’s life – You learn whom he likes, whom he doesn’t like, you learn about situations he and his friends encounter and how they deal with them.

2. You see how your child is growing – You see how her mind works, and can think a little forward into the future to predict what problems of the mind and heart she is likely to have. You may find that she has very rigid ideas on wrongdoing being punished. But life rarely works so directly or obviously. You can clearly see that this is an area where you need to work with her to make growing up and dealing with the real world less difficult than it would be if she were to adhere to her rigidity. You can share stories, ask for her ideas, give her suggestions on how she can prevent or minimize troubles in this area.  

3. Your child will listen to you – When you say, “Sometimes people say something and do something else,” he will be more likely to connect with what you are saying because you will give him an example from some incident in his life that he told you about. And he told you about it because you asked questions.

4. You can guide/counsel effectively – Mostly, parents have no idea of what’s going through their child’s mind. (Obviously! Parents are not mind readers.) But we feel compelled to maunder on about values and principles and priorities and all kinds of stuff. No wonder children switch off. They just don’t see the point of all the endless lecturing/prosing on/ nagging.

But now that you are asking specific questions, you can tailor your guidance to what your child really needs.

5. Your child begins to talk to you – Oh, bliss! 🙂 Yes, you might doubt that this will ever happen, but as you keep asking questions every day, your child will get used to sharing her life with you. The day will come when you get home to be deluged by “what happened today”. 🙂 Every life is a story, and if you have listened to the story for a while, even as audience, you become a part of the story. 🙂

6. You rekindle your connection with your child – Your child feels loved and valued because of the time and interest you show in his life. Suddenly, you go from being the parent held at arm’s length to someone who is ‘on your child’s side, in his camp, batting for him’. He will be much more likely to talk to you about the issues he is faced with, the problems he’s having, the plans he’s making…

So ask questions. But before you launch your question campaign, be aware (beware?) of:

1. Repeating questions – Don’t fall into the rut of asking the same questions all the time. If you formulate 5 questions and repeat them endlessly, they will assume the flavor of “How was your day?” You are a smart, interested, committed parent. You can come up with hundreds of questions. Please do so.

2. Judging your child’s answers – Your child shows you an empty lunch bag, but while talking, she lets slip that instead of eating her food, she gave it to her friend so she could show you an empty bag. Don’t jump down her throat. Relax. Let her keep talking. If you see this happen for a few days, you can ask her why she wants you to feel she’s eating her lunch when she isn’t – but till then, hold your peace. Don’t react to and judge everything that goes on. You are the audience. The audience gets to watch, is free to think, but can’t walk up to the actors and tell them what should be done. 🙂

3. Helping your child – There are numerous interpersonal issues that your child deals with, and as you ask questions, you will learn what they are. If you keep giving him instructions / guidance on what to do with whom in which situation to create a specific result, he will not develop these vital life skills. His body will grow, but his mind will diminish because he will become increasingly dependent upon you to provide solutions to his ‘problems’. You need to guard against your tendency to ‘help’ your child.

Ask questions. 🙂

Make sure you get all the parenting basics of 2012 by clicking on the “Sign me up!” button on the top right of the webpage – it’s free! 🙂

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Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012

It’s that time of the year when we all look inwards and try to re-orient our lives based on our values and priorities. It is a good time to go over the basics and see how we’ve been doing.

Everywhere you turn, there are numerous guides, reviews, books and articles with long lists of what you must do and what you mustn’t to be (or become) a ‘good’ parent. Confusion abounds.

But parenting isn’t really all that difficult – you’ve been doing it for a bit now, and for all that you think you are doing some things ‘wrong’ and need help, you must acknowledge that there are many, many things that you’re doing ‘right’! 🙂  It’s just that you tend to devalue the things you do ‘right’ while focusing on the things you need to work upon. This gives you a falsely prejudiced view of yourself as a parent.

So maybe one of the goals or resolutions you need to add to your list for the year 2012 is that you will have a greater appreciation of yourself as a parent. You will admit to yourself the numerous times you’ve done a great job: whether it was handling your child’s misbehavior, answering a difficult question, helping him resolve a dilemma, supporting her through the heartache of broken friendships… :-).

As you triumph over adversity and tackle problems, you wonder if there is some way to focus on just a few things and still manage to get the most from parenting your child. I am convinced that this is not only possible but also desirable. When you focus on many things, there is a greater chance that you will either lose focus or get confused or just tire of the enormous effort it takes to keep track of them.

So I decided to inaugurate 2012 with a series on what I believe are the basics of parenting. I’ve tried to distill the basics into 5 Do’s.

1. Ask – ask questions.

2. Be – be who you are.

3. Do – do things with your child.

4. Explain – explain what is going on.

5. Respond – respond to the situation.

Over the next 5 days, I will share with you the details of how you can use these 5 basic actions over and over again, in multiple situations, to make a real difference to your parenting experience and your relationship with your child, no matter what his or her age might be.

Of course, there are hundreds of other things besides these 5 that you need to do as a parent. But I feel that these 5 easy-to-do things will go a long way to make parenting a fun experience for yourself, and your child.

Ensure you get to know more about these parenting basics by clicking on the “Sign me up!” button on the top right of the webpage – it’s free! 🙂

I look forward to hearing from you – your concerns, your stories, your experiences – whatever you’d like to share.

Happy 2012! I wish you a year of carefree parenting! 🙂

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