Who’s Spoiling Your Child?

If I asked you for a quotation using the word ‘spoil’, I’m sure almost all of you would come back with: “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.

We’ve got over our fixation with corporal punishment of all kinds (we’re fixating in the opposite direction now), but the principle still exists.

You don’t want to spoil your child – “spoil her rotten” is the phrase, as if she is an apple, and would rot from spoiling. 🙂

You want to make sure he grows up disciplined, knows how to behave in public and in private, learns how to keep house reasonably well, is focused towards achieving career and other goals… all the components that go into making a productive, successful and fulfilled adult.

It’s so difficult to ‘teach’ her the rules that the slightest loosening of the reins in your parenting hands makes you feel she’s in danger of losing the script. So you enforce your rules with an iron hand. NOs resound loud and often, all day long every day.

When a grandparent or an aunt or uncle sneaks your child treats, or turns a blind eye to his misbehavior, you intervene to say, “Don’t spoil him. It’ll take ages to get him back on track.” You keep a hawk’s eye on what he’s getting away with.

And yet, I believe it is essential that somebody spoils your child. I prefer the word ‘indulge’ to ‘spoil’, but yes, your child must be indulged if he is to grow well.

Why?

Because every child should know the feeling, the pleasure of having at least one ultra-indulgent person in his life. This person is the child’s bulwark, building his self-esteem, his self-belief, bolstering his conviction in his intrinsic worth as a person.

If there is no such person already, you might consider becoming that person in your child’s life. After all, who better to know when you need to snap the rules back in place? 🙂 

I ask you: “Who’s spoiling your child?”

My daughter was about 6 or 7, and we were on holiday with a whole bunch of people. I’ve always considered her fairly well brought up (yes, I know I’m immodest 🙂 ), and never found anyone to disagree with my assessment (There I go again! 🙂 ). Imagine my shock when one gentleman turned to tell me, “Your daughter is really spoilt.”

I gaped at him as I groped for a response. Eventually, I said: “Obviously! If I don’t spoil my own child, whom will I spoil – the neighbor’s kids?”

You must think I am very contrary. On the one hand, I say ‘too much love is not enough’, and on the other, I advocate it’s a good idea to indulge your kids!

When I say ‘indulge’, I don’t mean giving your child gifts of things – toys, clothes, sports equipment, accessories, vacations, expensive meals, movies and so on.

The indulgence I’m talking about has more to do with your attitude and behavior. Indulgence can take several forms:

  1. You might choose to be patient with your child when he is crotchety or throwing a tantrum.
  2. You might choose to hear out whatever ridiculous ‘great idea’ he has. (One child whose birthday is at the height of summer – we’re talking 45°C here – told his parents they could host a water-themed party for his friends in the bedroom. They’d throw water on each other right through the party! “And what about the furniture, furnishings and books?” We’ll empty the room, Mom. “And the walls, doors and windows?” Come on, chill, Dad – we’ll be careful. I promise! 🙂 )
  3. You might consciously bite your tongue to suppress a sharp retort when you feel she’s slow to understand what you’re saying.
  4. You might let her do things ‘her’ way – even if you know it is the ‘wrong’ way.
  5. You might choose to gracefully accept an apology he makes, without a single word of reproach.
  6. You might choose to withhold the “I told you so” that comes so naturally and quickly to you.
  7. You might choose to set aside the ‘urgent’ work, or news program or telephone conversation you’re having because your child is asking for your attention NOW! And you might choose to give her your attention immediately – without saying, “Just a minute, honey.”
  8. You might occasionally want to let him eat junk that is ‘bad’ for him, for no particular reason, but just because he is so special that rules can sometimes be set aside.
  9. You might let him tell you what to wear to a dinner, or at least to ‘help’ you choose. And yes, this applies equally even if you are a Daddy! 🙂
  10. You might choose to empathize with him when he is troubled and/or hurt by someone or something, without acting the adult and giving him a list of ways he could solve the problem. Give him a chance to share how he feels.
  11. You might choose to wake her up lovingly, even though she’s late, you’re stressed, and you both have to hurry through the morning routine to make it to wherever on time. Or you might decide you’ll set aside her sulking through the evening and wish her a warm, caring “Good night” as you close the day.
  12. You might ask her for an opinion or advice on some decision you have to make.

Of course, all this indulgence works only when you enforce the rules! 🙂

So long as your child knows your rules, he will know that you are indulging him – you don’t need to hit him over the head with it. He will appreciate your indulgence.

You will appreciate each other. You will enjoy being with each other. You will learn – she from you, and you from her – how to be more considerate to (and of) each other. What a lovely upward spiral! May it keep going up and up forever… 🙂

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Explaining to Your Child

I was sitting down to an early dinner with a friend much older than I. I was in my teens, and she had 2 children: an 8-year old boy and a 2-year old girl. It had been a few weeks since we’d met, but I knew that her major parenting project at that time was to toilet-train her daughter.

The girl, like any other 2-year old, was an enchanting bundle of mischief. (My friend was so taken with her daughter that she tended to ignore her son, who then had neither the social skills nor the personal charisma to help him with his relationships.) As a result, she had never yet been scolded or taken to task for anything she’d said or done. No matter what the transgression, a twinkle from her eyes, a slant of her lips, a cajoling lilt in her voice, and her mother turned to mush.

As we sat around the dinner table, I noticed my friend was pale with exhaustion. She was, in fact, regaling us with how she was pulling the weight of 2 workers at the office because of a colleague being unwell while a huge product launch was planned for the subsequent week. As her list of woes drew to a close, her daughter seated next to her turned and said brightly, “Mama, I have to go pee.”

The girl was beaming, delighted, expecting to be praised by her mom for giving notice so she could be taken to the toilet, instead of soiling her diaper.

My friend looked at her daughter and snapped, “Well, get off your chair and pee in my mouth. There!” as she held her mouth open.

All our mouths fell open. The girl couldn’t have looked more shocked if someone had hit her, the boy couldn’t believe that his mother had something to her darling daughter that was less than sweetness and light, I couldn’t believe my friend had said something like that, and her husband – well, I don’t know what he thought, but he was agape too.

He was also the first one to recover. “Er, why don’t I take you to the toilet?” as he matched the action to the words. There was complete silence at the table. We were frozen. When the father and daughter rejoined us, he urged his children to eat, and we all began moving cutlery around on our plates.

In a while, hunger reasserted itself and the meal was consumed. As the chairs scraped the floor, I offered to make coffee. When I emerged with the coffee, the children were playing in their room while the adults were in the garden, watching the sun set. We drank our coffee, and my friend seemed to have recovered her equilibrium. The incident at dinner was not mentioned.

The following week, she called me. “Something’s been bothering me. I think what I said was wrong, but it was perfectly justified given how aggravated I was because of all the pressure… What do you think?”

I told her she should talk to her daughter about it. Even though the child was only 2, she should explain why she’d acted as she had. It would help the girl make sense of things. It would help her understand that sometimes people say and do things which are out of sync with who they are. It would help the child understand what happened, and make her peace with it. I urged my friend as best I could.

My friend disagreed – mainly on 2 counts:
1. The child was only 2 – there was no way to explain something so complicated to her. It would involve too much explaining – work pressure, losing one’s temper, frayed nerves…
2. She (my friend) was the Mom, and as such, she was the authority. If she explained the incident to her daughter, it would seem like an apology for what happened, and as the mother, she shouldn’t have to apologize. (!) “But you yourself feel you made a mistake,” I cried in disbelief. “Still, I don’t want her to think that every time I make a mistake I should explain or apologize. How will she learn to respect my authority? How will she learn to obey me?”

I met the children a few days after this conversation. The girl was wary, watching her mother. Even at 2, her natural, impulsive nature had suffered a check. With everyone else, she followed her impulses. So if she raised a hand at her brother, the hand would hit him unchecked and only then come to rest beside her. When she wanted a second, not-allowed helping of dessert, she would drum her fists on the table, stamp her feet and raise her voice with her dad and me and her grandparents.

But with her mother, things were different. She was different: she would often start saying (or doing) something – only to stop, and then either edit it before speaking, or fall silent.

A few months later, my friend reminded me of the incident at the dinner table, and said, “I’m glad I didn’t explain the incident to my daughter. Have you noticed that she’s become much better behaved? She’s less impulsive; she weighs her words and actions. Earlier, she was all over me all the time, but she’s become a lot more considerate since then. It might be a natural result of growing up, but whatever it is, I’m glad of it.”

As a teen, I didn’t have the words or the finesse to tell my friend what I really thought. That instead of becoming more considerate, her daughter had become more watchful, more cautious, but only around her mother. It was only her mother she was so circumspect with; as if she didn’t trust that lady’s reactions. With everyone else, she was her unadulterated self. Around her mother, she walked on eggshells (or its equivalent for an exuberant 2-year old).

In the 20+ years since then, the girl has learnt to better disguise her reactions around her mother. She herself has never spoken to me of that incident. But her brother and dad have. She is still living the reality of one momentary lapse, a tiny, off-the-wall comment made by her mother under extreme stress.

An incident that was not explained.

When I look back at this entire episode, what strikes me is that instead of enforcing her authority (!) as a mother, all that my friend achieved was to insert a wedge of mistrust between herself and her child. She herself failed to recognize what had happened, while it had colored all the years of her child’s life.

If obedience is important to you as a parent, and you want your authority to be recognized by your child, explaining yourself is the best way to achieve it.

It is only when your child understands why you insist upon certain things and forbid certain others that he is most likely to ‘obey’ you. And he will understand only if you explain to him – every gory detail. Let him absorb your explanation. He might have questions that need clarification. “Tell me again why…” “What do you mean by…?” “What does … have to do with …?” Clarify. Explain. Give details.

Obedience is not very important to me as a parent – probably because there are very few things I insist on, and I’m open to discussion on pretty much everything else. But still, I explain. To show my child that there are ways of thinking which differ from hers, but are still valid. To show her that different doesn’t mean ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’ or condemnable. To give her a wider range of options from which to choose a response to future events. To help her understand why sometimes ‘good’ people do ‘bad’ things, or ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people, and so on.

You are so patient with people at work, with strangers. Why not with your child, whom you profess to love the most?

Why can’t you take the time, summon up the patience and interest to help him understand a few things? If you do, you will find your child has it easier than most in his journey to becoming an adult.

It is no less rewarding for you as a parent, for it cements your relationship with your child. 🙂

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Should You Share the Blog with Your Child?

Carefree Parenting: clearly a blog meant for parents, to make parenting easier, carefree.

Then, the other day, a friend wondered if it would be a good idea for him to share one of my posts with his child. He shot off a mail to me. “Why don’t you consider recommending to parents that they share some of your posts with their children? You know, suitable for ages above…”

“Great idea!” was my response. I honestly believe much of the information on the blog would be useful to children as well. They would get a chance to see (and hopefully appreciate 🙂 ) their parents’ point of view objectively. They would get a glimpse into what their parents think and feel about their offspring’s speech, behavior, actions.

They’d see how other children and other parents behave. They might even find new ways to reach out to you, their parents.

But recommend the blog? I think that would be out of line, inappropriate. It is not for me to say whether or not you should share a post (or some or all of them) with your child. Only you, as a parent, can take a call on that.

You might want to share the stories that the blog is peppered with; try them on for size, maybe, with your child. “Today I read about this kid who… What do you think the parent / child should have done? What would you have done? What do you think I would have done?” That’s one way of sharing too, without either reading out the post to your child or reading it with your child or getting your child to read it and then discussing it with her.

And it’s a great conversation starter between you and your child – especially if you’d like to talk about topics or issues that you are uncomfortable around each other with. One mom I know told her son to read my post on when to talk to children about sex etc., and then asked what he thought about it. It became a great way for her to introduce the topic between them without the discomfort of reading the post with him.

It depends on your child’s age. Do you already read things with her? Then go ahead, but the decision of which posts to read, and how much of them to read has to be yours.

She will listen (at least to begin with 🙂 ) when you start reading something from the blog. But it might not make sense to her, she might not see the point of it – you need to be prepared for that as well.

If your child accesses the internet on her own, you need to take an especially considered decision, because once you introduce her to the blog, she could visit it anytime, without your permission, or even knowledge. Would you be comfortable with that? Unless, of course, you set up Net Nanny or other programs to block free access to specific websites. But you can do that only at home. What if she accesses the blog at school? Or at a friend’s place? You won’t have any control over that.

All my writing – the subjects I talk about, the examples I use, the language I use – is stuff I am comfortable talking about as well – with adult and child alike. Even with a very young child, though I’m sure I’d tailor my examples and vocabulary to his understanding. But I don’t know your child individually, which is why I feel that sharing parts (or all) of the blog with your child is best left to your discretion.

My daughter was 12 when I began writing the blog, and she had access to the internet, so I knew that she could access it. I had no clearly defined idea about whether or not I wanted her to read it. I was more concerned about writing, and getting the writing onto the blog! 🙂

Once I’d done so, she asked if she could read what I’d written. “Sure – go ahead! And tell me what you think,” was my response.

I think she liked it, though I don’t specifically remember her complimenting me on it or anything like that. (Again, this is my kid, so I’m sure there’s a huge bias in my favor. 🙂 )

She asked me if she could read what I’d written a couple more times. And before we knew it, she’d sit down once every week or 10 days and read through everything I’d published in that period.

And that’s how it continues to this day. She tells me what she thinks of my posts, and sometimes we talk about some incidents or share ‘should-have-beens’ and ‘might-have-beens’…  

There is one thing I am particular about: her right to privacy. Whenever I think an incident might be ‘too personal’, I check with her if I can write about it. Thus far, she hasn’t found anything too personal (in fact, she’d even forgotten a couple of the things I’ve mentioned!).  

Personally, I am fine with her reading everything I write.

You might feel that way too – because the truth is, once your child is old enough, it is impossible to control, or even supervise his environment. You might lock up his books, disconnect the TV, not allow radio, ban the newspaper, even homeschool him, but all it takes is one other individual (a playmate?) for him to be exposed to ideas you have no control over.

But then again, my relationship with my child is open enough for us to talk about all kinds of things. And she initiates issues as often as I do. It is this that gives me the confidence to exert a relatively low level of control – especially over what she reads.

But when she was younger (till about 7 or so), there was no book she read or movie she watched that hadn’t been fully vetted by me.

Like I said, it’s your decision – it has to be. And you have to make the decision anew every time.

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The Book: Have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less!

It’s finally here! Now, you can turn around your day-to-day experiences with your child – from surly to excited, from listless to energetic, from moody to even-tempered.

With the e-book Have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less!, you have access to solutions that encourage, enable and empower you to help your child be happier – in 7 days or less! 🙂 No exaggerations.

The solutions are easy, instantly applicable, practical, and free-of-cost – once you pay the $12.95 price of the book! 🙂

Add to Cart

I’m waiting to hear your experiences as you apply the solutions and begin to Have Happier Children 🙂

 

 

 

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When Your Child Tells You She’s Done Something ‘Wrong’

 

What if your daughter greets you one evening saying she broke your favorite crystal vase by mistake? You want to scold her for her carelessness, tell her how precious the vase was to you, how expensive / rare it was, how things need to be taken care of, how she must learn to handle things carefully – Oh! I said that already, but this is where you go into a loop repeating yourself, till a major scene erupts. An evening gone down the tube. If your daughter is lucky. Else, it’ll be a week gone down the tube! 🙂 

Your reaction is natural. (!)

If your son tells you he crashed the car, and he’s not even supposed to be driving (he’s 13, for crying out loud!), you lose it and lose it big time. “Who taught you how to drive? Where did you learn? When? Is this the first time you’ve taken the car out? You could have killed someone – even yourself!”

Your reaction is justified – it springs from your concern for his welfare, from your fear that he may injure himself or another, from your horror of being responsible for your underage child driving, worry about how much it’ll cost to fix the car, your suppressed thoughts of what else he’s getting up to that you are not aware of… and on and on.

I want to suggest another kind of reaction.

My daughter was about 7, and we hadn’t been getting on too well for some time – a rare situation. One of the reasons was that she had begun to display a tendency to violence. If I were teasing her about something, she would hit me – lightly, but she would hit me. I observed it for a couple of weeks thinking it was a phase, but then I noticed it took less and less provocation for her to hit out, and she was hitting harder. From being her last response, it was becoming response no. 2 (after protesting verbally). Not good.

I have a deep-seated horror of violence, and I was torn between letting her express herself freely at home, and letting her know that any kind of violence was taboo – one of the few taboos I have.

I broached the issue with her, telling her how violence was not the way to resolve any disagreement or conflict. She was very upset that she was doing something ‘wrong’. I explained that it didn’t matter so much that she was doing something wrong; what mattered to me was that she understand why I believed violence was wrong.

Violence is disrespectful of a person’s space and dignity. Instead of resolving conflict, it makes it more complicated, introducing roles that drag both the aggressor and the victim to the lowest denominator of humanness (yes, humanness, not humanity). Most important, if once you give in to violence, you are more likely to be violent (and more violent than before) the next time around – till violence becomes your first response. Or maybe your only response. And that is no way to live.

I know this makes me sound like a prophet of doom, like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but it is the little things that we need to be vigilant against; the things that slip past us, and suddenly loom before us as huge problems only because we didn’t catch them when they first occurred.

It took some talking it through and around and about and in and out, but I thought we’d finally got there. She understood that hitting, pushing and so on were Not On.

I picked her up from school one day to find her very quiet. Sensing something was up, I stayed quiet. During the seemingly interminable drive home, I kept waiting for her to tell me what the matter was, but she kept mum. Finally, I asked her.

“Something happened at school today,” she said. From what I now remember, there was some sort of group project, and this boy had brought a newspaper that they were all to work with. My daughter had apparently asked him for it a few times, because she needed to cut out an article from it. He was having fun, teasing her by pretending to offer her the paper but pulling it out of her reach at the last minute. She kept telling him to give her the paper because time was running out and the group had to submit the project before the bell rang, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on him. My daughter began to get worried that they wouldn’t finish in time.

“And then – and then –” she stopped.

“And then?” I repeated.

“Stop the car,” she said, and I pulled over. “And then –” the tears coursed silently down her cheeks. I undid our seatbelts and held her.

Choking over her tears, she said, “I pushed him.” She was broken-hearted that she had committed an act of violence.

Before you wonder if I’m making a big deal out of a little thing, I must add that she understood that the push she gave the boy was not the ordinary friendly, play kind of push, but one that intended him harm. It didn’t do him any harm, but that is beside the point. She intended harm, and that was bad enough.

I agree with her. If we don’t learn to put the brakes on ourselves – our thoughts behavior words – what will the world be like? Sort of out-of-control like it is right now, don’t you think? But probably worse – much worse.

“I’m so sorry, so very, very sorry that I pushed him. I realized the moment I’d pushed him – but I’d already done it.” My heart was full to breaking – upset that she’d given in to violence, but tremendously proud that she realized what she’d done was wrong. And both overwhelmed and humbled that she had shared this incident with me.

I just held her silently. Sometimes words get in the way.

After a bit, she seemed to collect herself and pulled away from me.

I told her it was sad that she’d given in to the impulse to violence – there was no need to point out how it was easier to be more violent the next time, since she knew it herself.

But I also told her what a rare and special thing it was that she had realized her mistake on her own. I told her how it was a person in a million who would be so scrupulously honest and admit they did something wrong (considering she didn’t really ‘do’ him any harm – he neither fell over nor bumped against anything nor hurt himself in any way – I called the teacher the next day, told her about this and checked back. The lady said the children horsed around all the time and not to bother myself about it.) – especially when there was no way I’d have learned of this unless she’d told me herself.

“You’re a person of sterling character,” I told her, “and that alone will ensure that you’ll win through, you’ll beat this impulse to hit out. You’ve made me more proud today than I can say. Bless you.”

She did beat the impulse, and told me that she thought she was free of it a few weeks after this incident. “I don’t feel the need to hit any longer,” she said.

The impulse hasn’t come back to this day (she’s a teenager now).

When your child tells you he’s done something ‘wrong’, hold your breath. Hold your breath so that you don’t say a word. Don’t move. Spend a moment to acknowledge the precious, fragile gift he has handed you.

 He has told you that he shares some of your values about what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ – values you have worked hard to teach him.

He has shown you that he believes in your commitment to his welfare – that you will guide him correctly to live his life well.

He has displayed the utmost trust in you – you might chew him out in the harshest possible manner, but he has still come to you to admit his wrongdoing.

Get down on your knees. Kiss the ground. Thank your lucky stars or your good karma or your ancestors or whoever. Count your blessings. 🙂  

You might not realize it, but in the moment that your child admits voluntarily to you that he’s done something ‘wrong’, you’ve reached the essence of your relationship with him. Parenting doesn’t get more meaningful than this.

And it’s up to you not to ruin it.

 

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How to Threaten Your Child

I’ve been told that I’m shameless – appallingly so, sometimes. Maybe you’ll agree when you’ve read to the end of this anecdote:

I was in high school. We’d been given a week to write a paper towards our History evaluation. Sometimes, I would be so excited about a topic that I’d research the hell out of it and present a college-level paper. This was one such occasion. I resolved to do a great job.

Unfortunately, I picked up some wonderful books from the library later that afternoon, and all my good intentions fell by the wayside. In fact, when it came time to submit the paper the next week, I found I had forgotten all about it!

The teacher couldn’t believe I was one of the defaulters. (I was considered a ‘good’ student, one who submitted reasonably good work on time…) “I’ll give you another week. By then, you must submit your assignment,” he yelled at the few of us who hadn’t done our work.

Good intentions renewed, I decided I would present a paper that would impress my teacher. Alas! More books happened, and for the second Wednesday in a row, I hadn’t done my work.

“I am amazed, shocked, grieved by you, Vinita,” his eyebrows waggled in emphasis. “Next week, you will definitely write out your homework and give it to me, or I’ll give you a ‘zero’ (we were marked out of a maximum of 10 marks). Got it? If you don’t give me your assignment next week, you’ll get a zero!” he thundered.

I nodded my understanding and sat down.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. The next Wednesday came, by which time even the good intentions were beginning to bore me, and I decided I’d settle for the zero.

At the beginning of the History period, the teacher called my name. “Stand up, Vinita. Where is your assignment? You are the only one who hasn’t submitted it yet.”

“I’m sorry, Sir. I haven’t done it,” I replied.

He couldn’t take it in. “Not done it? Not done it? But I told you last week that I’ll give you a zero if you don’t give me your homework, didn’t I? Don’t you remember? Tell me, what should I do?”

I was sure this was a rhetorical question, so I held my peace.

But he kept on at me. “Tell me, what do you want me to do?”

It didn’t look like he would let go of the topic, so I told him calmly and truthfully, “Give me a zero, Sir.”

The man turned purple, his eyes bulged out, the veins stood out on his forehead, and he exploded, “You shameless girl! You stand there and tell me to give you a zero! I can’t believe it! You – you of all people…”

I’m sure he said stuff beyond this, but I had switched off by then.

I was thinking, “Here’s this teacher who tells me I have to make a choice. Either I submit the paper or I get a zero. Well, he’s asked me, and I’ve told him. I’m choosing the zero. What is there to get so excited about?”

By the time my mind came back to the classroom, he was raving in earnest.

I have an often inconvenient sense of humor, and it chose that moment to surface. I found the entire situation so utterly hilarious that I burst out laughing. You can just imagine what that classroom looked like! 🙂  

The teacher almost on the verge of a stroke, and me laughing so hard I was bent double and guffawing. My classmates must have been frozen. The next thing I knew I felt a tug on my skirt. The girl next to me said through clenched teeth, “Shut up and sit down.”

But I couldn’t because I was laughing uncontrollably. Besides, the teacher had asked me to stand, and I wouldn’t sit down unless he gave me permission to do so – anything else would have been a breach of etiquette.

So there we were – he screaming and I laughing fit to bust a gut.

By this time, much of the humor had left me, but I must have been having hysterics, because I simply couldn’t get myself to stop! 🙂

He shouted he couldn’t believe my audacity and my lack of manners, that he would take me to the Principal right away, and asked me to follow him. I did so, still unable to stop laughing. My classroom happened to be on the way, and he barged in, assaulting my classteacher’s eardrums with his complaints of my (mis)behavior. I was still walking – ten feet behind him, and still laughing.

My classteacher took in the situation at a glance. She invited him into her room and made him sit down. Then she came out, told me to get to a water cooler, drink as much water as I could, and make myself scarce till I was sure I wouldn’t laugh any more, no matter what the provocation. “And then come back here,” she instructed.

I ran away thankfully.

When I got back to her room, the History teacher’s volume was significantly lowered, but he was adamant about reporting me to the Principal immediately. He led me down to the Principal’s office, where we waited in an ante-room.

After 20 minutes, we were told that the Principal was too busy to meet us that day. All the way back to the classroom, he continued to give me a earful about how disappointed he was in me and so on and so forth.

I didn’t make any response.

At the end of the day, I was told by many classmates, “I was sure this was the end of you. First you didn’t do the assignment, then you told him to give you a zero, and then you started laughing! You’ve lost it – completely!”

More than 20 years later, here’s what I feel about the entire incident:

1. The teacher gave me a choice and I made my choice. He shouldn’t have given me a choice if he didn’t mean it. (“Don’t say things if you don’t mean them” is the rule. It’s also known as ‘telling the truth’ in many parts of the world.)

2. There was nothing wrong with my choosing a zero over submitting the assignment. The kind of excitement it generated, somebody would’ve thought I’d picked death over life on my wedding night!

3. My getting hysterics was unfortunate, but lots of unfortunate things happen in life. I didn’t mean anything by it, and as an adult, the teacher might have taken the whole thing less personally.

4. I was perfectly willing to present my case to the Principal as well, and take whatever ‘punishment’ would have come my way.

And that brings me to how to threaten your child. 🙂  How to do it effectively, I mean.

1. Don’t threaten all the time – Nobody likes to feel like they are the puppet at the end of a string. “Chew each morsel 15 times or else…” “Put your books away or else…” “Stop watching now or else…” “Do as I say or else…”

I’m sure your child feels like saying, “I wish I were the dog – I’d have more freedom and get my way more often!”

It would work much better if you threaten for only one or two things – I don’t mean every day, but I mean generally, for one or two NOs which your child is going against.

2. Make specific threats – “Finish your homework or Mom will have something to say about it when she gets back” won’t work for long.

Look at it from your child’s point of view: “Mom always has things to say about everything! And she goes on saying them – day in and day out! 🙂  (And it doesn’t bother me any longer, because I’ve gotten good at tuning her out… 🙂 )”

Much better to threaten: “If you don’t finish your homework today, I won’t take you for the movie we were planning to watch this weekend.”

“If you miss the bus, I won’t take you to school.”

Again, choose only a couple of issues, and keep the same threat for the same issue each time.

3. Beware of exceptions – “Okay, your cousin came in to visit, so this once, it’s okay if you didn’t do your homework” has a funny way of becoming the line you repeat every day. If at all there are exceptions, make sure that they are exceptions.

4. Follow through on your threats – Be uncompromising about this.

Once, when my daughter was about 7 or 8, she was reading like a glutton. She has always been (and still is) a voracious reader, but those few months scared me. Any time I turned around, she was sitting surrounded by piles of books. She’d pick 40 or so books out of her bookshelf (even then she had well over 2000 books – our one indulgence –, and she loves re-reading her books, so –), and would sit unmoving till she had read through the entire pile. It might take hours, but she wouldn’t move till she’d read every last one. The only exceptions were if she had to go to the toilet, or if she fell asleep while reading. Then she’d replace the pile neatly and pull out a few dozen more books!

After a few months of this, I warned her that she had to stop being the way she was (being), else I’d lock away all her books. I told her I’d remind her 3 more times, after which one morning she’d wake up to find all the books locked away in the loft.

That is what happened.

It is the only time in my life that she stopped speaking to me. It was like I didn’t exist any longer – at least, not for her. It lasted 3 full days, during which she didn’t even make eye contact with me.

On the 4th day, I was pleading, “What is the matter? Why won’t you talk to me? Say something. Tell me what’s bothering you. What have I done wrong?” She finally looked into my eyes and then looked meaningfully at the loft doors. I was a little slow.

“I locked up your books?” I asked in disbelief. “That’s why you stopped talking to me? But I told you I’d do that! I told you clearly, and you said you understood!”

Still not a word from her. Her eyes filled with tears.

I couldn’t take it; I started bawling. I put my arms around her and we both cried as we held each other. “I’m sorry,” I gasped, “but I’d told you you couldn’t go on reading like that. You had to develop some control over yourself.”

She hiccoughed, “How would you feel if someone locked away your family and didn’t let you meet them? How would you feel if someone locked me away and didn’t let you meet me? They are my family. Don’t ever lock them away again.”

We renegotiated. Some books came down. She got a grip on herself. More books came down. All the books came back to the bookshelves. Peace was restored.

***

That’s how I threaten my child.

I’m waiting to hear how you do it! 🙂

 

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Rain, Rain, Go Away

The complete nursery rhyme is:

Rain, rain, go away

Come again another day;

Little Johnny wants to play.

***

“Mom! Dad!” my 6-year old cousin burst into the room screaming.

My uncle and aunt jumped up. “What happened? Are you alright? Why are you yelling? Have you hurt yourself?”

They stopped when they saw his face flushed with excitement. He was grinning so widely he could barely form the words, “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.”

His parents’ heartbeats came back to normal.

“You shouldn’t yell like that. We thought you’d hurt yourself…”

The boy ignored them. “I know what I want to be when I grow up!”

“Well, what do you want to do when you grow up?”

“I want to drive a garbage truck!” he jumped all over the room.

“What?! You’ve got to be kidding me!” my aunt couldn’t believe her ears.

“No, Mom, listen to me. I’ll drive this really cool truck and empty all the garbage cans into my truck. And most of all, I’ll get to see what people put in their garbage!”

You can imagine that my aunt was neither impressed nor enthused. She sat him down. “Listen to me now. You can do a great many really interesting, worthwhile things. You are so strong – you might want to become a soccer player or a tennis player. You might want to become an astronaut. You might write wonderful story books, or build bridges or manage a business or become a chef. Being the driver of a garbage truck is no big deal – it’s just – well, it’s just rubbish! You can do much, much better than that.”

I hasten to clarify that I have nothing against driving trucks carrying garbage or anything else. But if you look at it from my aunt’s and uncle’s point of view; if you look at it as a parent, it seems fairly obvious that you wouldn’t like your child to set her sights on becoming a garbage truck driver. She might still choose to do so eventually, but it seems like a waste of the enormous potential that every child – especially your child – has to have that as an ambition. 🙂 

How did my cousin react to this ‘lecture’ from his mom? “Aw, mom, don’t be a bore. You just don’t get it, do you? It would be so exciting – to know what people put in their garbage cans! The other day my friend’s mom put his purple dinky car in the garbage because it had lost two wheels. What a pity! I wanted that car for so long, but he refused to swap with me, and now that purple car is in somebody’s garbage truck…”

***

You are the rain.

Your child is full of enthusiasm about some idea and pours it out at you. You listen, and immediately start:

1. Telling him why it is not a ‘good’ idea

2. Telling him why it won’t work

3. Giving him other, ‘better’ options

Stop. Stop raining on your child’s parade. Stop being a wet blanket. Stop ruining her fun.

The simple thing to remember before uttering a single word in response is: Thinking is not doing. Just because your child thinks of something doesn’t she will do it. Just because she thinks of something doesn’t mean it will come to pass. (This seems like the right time to tell you that 25 years down the line, my cousin who wanted to be a garbage truck driver has a thriving practice as a dentist. 🙂 )

Say your 8-year old comes to you saying, “My friends and I have decided we’ll go on a week-long camping trip to a location fifty miles from home – just like the Famous Five (is there any parent anywhere who reads English who is unaware of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series? I doubt it. 🙂 ). We’ve decided we’re going next week. My friends’ parents are sure to give permission. I hope you won’t be the one who spoils it for me by saying ‘No’.”

Your first reaction to hearing this might be anything:

“That’s fiction.”

“These stories were set in the good old days when kids cycled all over the place. You try this now and you’ll get killed before you go five miles.”

“Those were safer days. I’m not sending you anyplace unsupervised.”

“You can’t even put your clothes in the laundry or your dishes in the sink and you think you’re going to organize food and sleep and travel on your own? I’d like to see that!”

“No way, Jose! Not on my watch. You do all this when you’re on your own, not as long as you’re living under my roof.”

Or your reaction might be something else.

The one thing I’m pretty sure of is that you are not going to be in favor of the proposed camping trip. Your child simply doesn’t have the skills to deal with it, besides being completely out of sync with the real world situations she would encounter during such a trip – mainly because you are a fairly protective parent.

The point I’m making is: Why voice your first reaction? Why rain on your child’s parade? Why not just hear him out? Remember: planning a camping trip is different from going on one.

Let him tell you everything he’s thinking – in as much detail as he wishes to. He’ll probably throw out lots of disjointed stuff, and you can clearly see how it is all wildly impractical. But hold your horses – indulge him.

Once he’s got it out of his system (by telling you – he hasn’t given up on the idea yet! 🙂 ), talk it over with him.

“Wow! You’ll cook all your meals on a little stove like the Famous Five? You’d better get some recipes together, then. What would you like to eat over the week that you’ll be camping?”

Your child will feel thrilled – you are ‘on his side’. You’re ‘getting’ it! What you are actually doing is ‘playing’ his game.

As you work with him to fine-tune his camping plan by introducing real-life details like meals, packing, carrying loaded backpacks and so on, he and his friends will in all probability reach the obvious, natural conclusion themselves: that they are not ready to undertake the kind of camping trip they’d planned.

But there’s so much joy to be had just from the fantasy of going on that trip! Let your child experience it.

There are enormous rewards you reap as a parent if you can hold back from raining on your child’s parade.

1. She feels encouraged to share her thoughts freely with you. She will communicate with you – as long as you let her do so. Let her! Whatever wildcat schemes she’s hatching, she’ll share with you. And that’s what you want, isn’t it? 🙂  

2. He will learn to factor in practical considerations even in the wildest of his fantasies. If you had given in to your first reaction and come down heavily against his idea, he would hold it even closer to his heart than before – more as a measure of defiance against you, as a way of asserting his independence, ‘adulthood’ and ‘maturity’. But if you indulge him, if you truly open your mind to his idea (instead of pretending to do so), he will be open to listening to what you have to say about it. Don’t think you’ll couch your objections as ‘reality checks’. Your child is too smart to buy that. He knows right away when you really mean something and when you’re just posing. So pulling a fast one won’t work – at least, not beyond a couple of times! 🙂  

 So the next time your child comes to you saying she wants to proselytize people into telling the truth or saving water or donating their organs, give her your best attention. Help her take the next step (in thought) towards making her idea a reality.

One of two things will happen: Either your child will learn that the idea is not practical right now. Or you will learn that this might just be the idea that changes the world! 🙂 

Rain, rain, go away.

And if you have to come back, save it up for something really worthwhile. 🙂

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Have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less!

Your child has become irritable for no particular reason. He is grumpier than usual, moody. He sits around doing nothing. Nothing interests him. No, he’s not sick. No, he’s not coming down with a bug.

You’ve tried your best to figure out what’s wrong, why he is this way. You’ve tried being nice, sarcastic, encouraging, ignoring, authoritarian, dictatorial, friendly, secretive, interesting, boring, mysterious. You’ve done everything you could to draw him out, but nothing seems to work. You’re getting desperate. What could possibly be wrong?

You have examined her minutely or examined her and questioned her closely (depending upon her age) and can find nothing wrong with her physically. “It must be some emotional / mental issue,” you wonder. What emotional / mental trauma could she be going through that you haven’t been able to put your finger on?

To make matters worse, as you are trying to identify the problem and find a solution, your child refuses to cooperate. She is sullen, withdrawn, and refuses to be drawn into your experiments.

You are beginning to lose sleep.

Don’t panic!

It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. There is a hidden factor that is responsible for these changes in your child.

No matter what his age, what his personality, what his interests, in over 95% of children, it is this hidden factor that accounts for your child’s loss of cheerfulness.

No matter what has taken place in your child’s life or yours, no matter how good or bad her relationship is with you or with other family members and friends, it is this hidden factor that accounts for your child’s strange moodiness. It is this factor which makes her ‘not herself’.

Have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less! reveals:
1. The hidden factor responsible for your child’s change of manner
2. The 15 ways in which it makes your child moody, irritable and withdrawn
3. Solutions to invigorate your child and restore her to general good humor

These solutions are:
 Easy
 Instantly applicable
 Free-of-cost
 Practical
 Guaranteed

Remember, this has nothing to do with your child’s age, sex, innate personality, history, abilities, relationships or anything like that. It has nothing to do with your age, income, education, profession, geographical location, parenting skills…

Beat the hidden factor responsible for your child’s irritability, and win at the parenting game. 🙂 

Have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less!
Available soon!

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Respond To Your Child – Parenting: The Basics, Revisited

Respond to the situation.

How do you respond to your child? How response-able are you? How good are you at responding to situations?

Not as good as you’d like to be, I’m sure. I know I’m not as good at responding to situations as I’d like to be.

And there’s a simple reason for this. Instead of responding, I start reacting. Instead of treating each situation as an individual incident, I treat it as an episode in an ongoing series.

Human beings are made this way. That’s how we learn things, how we distinguish patterns, how we form habits.

But if I want to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with my child, it would be worth it for me not to be a slave to my brain. I am more than my brain and habits, just as you are more than your brain and habits.

If I, as an adult, cannot respond instead of reacting, I have no right to expect my child to respond. I should be happy when she reacts – after all, that’s what I’m doing! So we both just keep reacting – to history, ancient history and patterns, till we are totally out of sync with the present, with reality. And we’ve thoroughly ruined our relationship.

Why? Because I’m not ‘grown up’ enough, adult enough, to respond instead of reacting!

I see my child come home with her lunch not eaten, and instead of enquiring why, I burst out: “Again! You haven’t had your lunch again! You should starve for a few days. Then you’ll know…”

If she’s in a good mood, she shuffles her feet and waits till the storm passes. “A few boys from my class broke some school property, so the entire class was hauled up during break. We were being scolded so we didn’t get a chance to eat. And I didn’t eat in the bus coming back because I’d rather eat fresh hot food at home than the food that’s been lying in my lunch bag all day.”

Sheepish silence from me. What can I say? I should have asked calmly why she hadn’t eaten. Then I’d have known the reason, and I could have responded (with a resounding: “Great! 🙂  I too, would much rather that you had hot fresh food at home than the food that’s been lying in your lunch bag all day!”) instead of reacting as I did.

I’m sorry,” I mumble, “I didn’t know…”

If she’s in a bad mood, she stomps off, and then we’re both mad at each other. I feel I am the injured party, and she feels she has the right to be in a foul mood (“I’m starving because I couldn’t eat, and now my mom’s freaking out without knowing what she’s talking about!”).

What we agree upon is: “She just doesn’t understand…” 🙂

Forget about whether or not I’m setting a good example for my daughter. Every time I react rather than respond, I create a barrier between us.

Every time you react instead of respond to your child, you create a barrier between yourself and your child.

Your child feels:

1. Untrustworthy (“You don’t trust me enough to handle the situation well…”)

2. Misunderstood (“There’s a good reason this happened, if only you’ll give me a chance to explain…”)

3. Hurt (“Why is your first reaction the most unflattering one, as if I can’t be expected to do anything right?”)

4. Irritated (“Can’t I even make a mistake?”)

5. Judged (“One right or wrong response is not the final word on the kind of person I am…”)

6. Stifled (“Why am I always expected to come up with the right answer? It’s not the end of the world if I’m not ‘perfect’…”)

7. Burdened (“You expect too much from me all the time…”)

8. Distanced (“You’re not on my side; you don’t cut me any slack. If you say I’m a child, then you must make allowances for the fact that I don’t know as much as you do, so I won’t respond the same way you would have under the same circumstances.”)

9. Invalidated – (“You don’t care about me as a person – my interests, my feelings, what I want. All you want is a carbon copy of yourself, or a ‘perfect’ child so you can look like the best parent in the world.”)

It’s hard to respond. We’re all in a hurry. We simply don’t have the time and mindspace to consider each incident in detail. Also, we’ve learnt to make assumptions about things and people. And we act (react, actually) based on those assumptions. And we end up pushing our children away from us.

It’s time to pause, take a deep breath, give your child the benefit of the doubt, and ask gently, “Why did you…?”

This leaves room for your child to answer your question, for conversation, for explanations (from your child! 🙂 ). And you continue to be connected, and to communicate with your child.

***

Over the past few days, I’ve shared with you what I believe are the 5 cornerstones of parenting today:

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.

I’m sure applying these basics will put the excitement and connection back in your relationship with your child. I’d love to hear the ideas you came up with and how they helped you get out of a rut you might have been stuck in. Do share! 🙂

 

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Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Explain

Explain what is going on.

Explain why you said or did what you said or did. Don’t hold it up as an example for your child to emulate. That is a different thing altogether; and one which will take you farther away from your child instead of allowing you to grow closer.

A friend always offered water to anyone visiting his home. He was training his children to do the same. One Saturday evening, his son opened the door to a couple armed with flowers and a huge gift bag. The college friends his parents had been awaiting had finally arrived.

As the child greeted them and ushered them in, his parents came out of their room, and there were effusive greetings on both sides. The boy disappeared into the kitchen. As he brought 2 glasses of water on a tray, his father entered the kitchen and said, “No water for them.” The boy was taken aback. For months now, his dad had been training him and his sister to seat guests, and offer them water. And he was now saying, “No water.”!

His parents got tea underway and he helped put out and serve the snacks. He sat for a while making polite conversation and then made himself scarce. The doorbell signaled the arrival of his sister from her tennis class. She walked into their room and he said, “Dad said not to give them any water.”

“Huh?” she asked, planning what to change into after her shower.  “I’m sure there’s a reason.”

The evening wore on. The children ate dinner and went to bed while the guests were still around. At the breakfast table the next morning, the dad said, “You must’ve wondered when I asked you not to serve them water. You see, they live in the UK, and they have just arrived. They need a few days to adjust to the drinking water in India. Till they do so, drinking even filtered water might make them sick. That’s why I asked you not to offer them water.”

The boy was at peace. He understood what was going on.

There are so many times when we tell our children to behave a certain way. And then, we seem to behave in the opposite way ourselves! There is always a reason for it. Share that reason with your child. Let her see that there is a method to your madness, a specific cause for your saying or doing something a particular way.

When you explain what is going on, you are helping your child in numerous ways:

1. Growing up – In childhood, all the world is in black and white. “This is good; that is bad.” “Do this; don’t do that.” “Be this way; don’t be that way.” But as your child grows, he realizes that these rules don’t apply beyond a point.

Telling a 3-year old not to talk to strangers is fine. Saying the same thing to your 10-year old before sending her off to camp is weird. You don’t want your 10-year old to talk to strangers either. But the definition of the word ‘stranger’ has changed enormously in the 7 years between the ages of 3 and 10. These changes are gradual and ongoing, and your child will be able to learn and deal with them only if you keep explaining the exceptions to her; if you keep adding the shades of grey.

This introduces her to the real world, and prepares her for a real life, where most things are uncertain and unknown, though we like to pretend that we have great control over things. (“If you are ‘good’, then ‘good’ things will happen to you.” Yeah, right! 🙂 )

Real life consists of hundreds of thousands of exceptions. Explain each one to your child as you come across them together.

2. Increasing his capacity to think – It is only when he learns that he needs to keep in mind many things that your child will be able to come up with appropriate responses; only then will he become response-able. Earlier, the rule was simple: guest, seat, offer water. Now, he needs to think about where this guest is from. That creates an acceptable variation in behavior: guest, seat, don’t offer water (if he knows they’ve just come to India from a foreign country).

Slowly, as more variables get added, he will learn to think of all the ifs-and-buts on his own. Is this someone who only drinks boiled water? Is this person recovering from a water-borne disease? Is it the dead of winter and the person is cold and sick, in which case, they’d prefer being offered a hot drink rather than water?…

But your child will think of other options, other factors, other responses only if you explain things to him.

3. Clear confusion – When you say one thing and seem to do another, your child is confused. This confusion will prevent her from following even the rules she ‘knows’. At every stage, if you can explain your reaction and behavior to her, she will be clear. She will appreciate that you are a person of integrity who follows your beliefs, even if they seem confusing to others at times. She will learn to be a thinking, considerate person, based on the example you set for her.

I have always been particular about speaking my mind to people. I won’t let them walk away with an ‘incorrect’ impression of me.

One day, I’d taken my daughter along with me to work. As we sat down to lunch, the client’s father, a gentleman in his 70s, joined us. He asked after my family, and when he learnt that I had only the one child, he told me, “That is why you women put on so much weight. (! 🙂 ) Women are made for child-bearing. Unless you have at least 4 children, there is no hope for you. Stop working. Go back home. Have a few more children…”

At 6, my daughter understood what he was saying. I’m blessed to have a tactful child, who barely paused in the act of eating as the old man spouted all this. Lunch got over and I got busy with the rest of my work.

I’d barely turned the key in the ignition to go back home when my daughter burst out, “That man was so rude! He was crazy – imagine saying things like that to you! Why didn’t you say anything back to him? Why were you quiet?”

She’s right. In most instances, I’d have taken issue with what he’d said, so it was inexplicable to her how I ‘took it’ lying down – all the junk the gentleman was pushing at me.

“He’s really old, and that is the way he’s been brought up. He’s never going to change the way he thinks. There would be no point in my saying anything. He would merely have felt hurt and insulted that I ‘talked back’ to him, so I let him say his piece. At no point did I nod or indicate any kind of agreement. He realized that I didn’t agree, but I’m sure he appreciated that I was courteous enough to hear him out.”

I continued: “The funniest thing is that his daughter-in-law (my client’s wife) has only 2 children, and he knows that, and knows that I know it too! It would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to raise the fact saying he hadn’t even been able to influence his own daughter-in-law so why was he trying to give me his take on women’s health, but his age and lack of education shielded him from any such reaction on my part.”

She wasn’t happy that I had let it pass, but she understood my point. Sometimes, we let things go out of consideration for others. In my book, such consideration doesn’t make me less honest. In someone else’s book, it might do so. Each person has to decide for himself and herself, given the specific situation.

4. Avoid misunderstandings – If you explain things to your child, you minimize the possibility of misunderstandings. This keeps your relationship strong. It keeps you talking to each other through all the storms, troubles and alarms. It keeps you communicating through the hormonal rushes, the hot flushes and the mid-life crises. Not a bad thing, eh? 🙂

So simple! Explain what is going on.

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