The F-word Your Children Want to Hear from You

I enjoy solving puzzles – anything involving words, numbers, and logic. I don’t always get the answer, but I still enjoy the effort.

One morning, as I sent my 6-year old off to school, I told her, “I’ve got a FUN thing planned for this evening!” Her eyes sparkled at the prospect of a surprise.

That evening, she threw herself at me the moment I entered the house. “What’s the surprise? What’s the surprise? I want to do the fun thing now!”

I extricated myself, told her I needed 15 minutes to catch my breath – yes, we set an alarm – and sent her off to do her own thing. No sooner had the alarm gone off, than she was back.

O-kay! I asked her to sit at the table with her eyes closed, and I’d bring the fun thing to her, and then we could have FUN!

I sneaked the child-level Sudoku puzzle books out of the place I’d hidden them, took out colored pencils, an eraser, and placed them on the table. “Open your eyes!” I warbled, expecting to be overwhelmed with cries of delight, if not kisses and hugs.

She opened her eyes and saw what was on the table. Blank eyes looked into mine. “This is Sudoku. Where’s the FUN thing?

🙂 It’s funny when I think of it now, but I simply refused to ‘get it’ then. “This is the fun thing! You’ll be able to solve puzzles too! Just think of it! What amazing fun!” No change in her expression as I continue to go into raptures about the FUN of Sudoku.

I must say she was very kind to me. She let me explain the objective of the puzzle, let me demonstrate how to solve it, and even solved a few on her own when I prompted her. At the end of half an hour, she asked if she could read, and I let her go.

Over the course of the next 2 weeks, I would plan Sudoku puzzle time which never really happened, and I confronted her with ‘NOT having fun!’ (How blind a parent can be! :-)) I think she had reached the limit of her tolerance by then.

I was told in no uncertain terms, “You like doing Sudoku. I don’t. It’s not fun for me. I don’t want to do it. You can solve them, or give the books away.”

I hung on like grim death. “Maybe you’ll be interested in a year or so. I think I’ll keep the books.” She shrugged.

I kept the books for almost four years (! :-)) before I acknowledged that there wasn’t any point in doing so.

I know what you’re thinking. “We do lots of fun things together – me and the kids!” “We have fun all the time!”

Er – I’m sure you do. You take the kids out – for movies, to amusement parks, on vacation, treks, hikes, sight-seeing, museums. But those are planned trips, going-out fun.

What about every-day, around-the-house fun?

You don’t need fancy equipment or toys or a large space. It doesn’t need technology. You don’t have to spend a cent. It’s free, it’s always available, and it’s (your child’s idea of) FUN!

With small children, playing peek-a-boo, repeating silly sounds, splashing in the bath, clapping , jumping, scrunching up paper, tearing paper (if it’s meant for the shredder, you might as well have fun with it before it gets there!) – all of it can be fun.

Such fun is usually spontaneous, and we manage to have it just fine when the kids are young. Your daughter jumps on your back as you’re sitting on an armchair, and you hoist her up and bring her onto your lap. It goes on from there – you might tickle each other, or wrestle, or mock-fight or anything. You both manage to have a super time with each other, and the connection between you grows and grows.

But something strange happens as your child grows up. He doesn’t want to have the old kind of ‘fun’. And you don’t get it. Or maybe you’re not able to adapt.

For some children, at a certain age, fun is about them talking all the time – telling you what they think about people things and events (yes, there are no commas on purpose! 😉 ), what happened at parties school and stay-overs at friends’ homes (again, on purpose), what they want to do, what their friends are doing or saying or thinking,… – and having you listen.

All they want from you is to have you listen. Actively. To them. THAT is FUN to them.

Don’t think they’re fooled by your nodding your head and muttering “um-hmmh”. They know how well you’re listening, how engaged you are (or not). And if they feel your heart is not in it, they’ll stop talking to you after a while. No FUN, and more importantly (from your point of view), no communication.

Fairly obvious, isn’t it? They’d rather have fun telling you what’s going on in their heads and lives than give you a daily report in the format you’ve set up. (!! Chronological? People-based? Topic-based?)

Try putting yourself in their shoes. Would you rather tell your kids about what’s going on with you because you want to? Or because they expect you to report to them?! (“Tell me everything in 5 minutes – quick! Then I have to go hang out with my friends”!)

For a teenager desperate to flex his adult muscles and show his ‘doddering’ parents (you! – 🙂 ) a thing or two, being consulted in ‘adult’ decision-making might be FUN. If he’s fond of cooking, he might like to organize your next dinner party: plan the menu, shop for the ingredients, prep and cook the meal, decide on presentation – whatever!

Let your child tell you what’s FUN for him. You can choose to engage lightly or deeply. That is your choice. But the more deeply you engage, the more FUN it will be – for both of you!

Of course, if you HAVE to engage, it’s not really a choice, is it? More about this tomorrow, but in the meanwhile, you are a person in your own right, and if something your child finds FUN leaves you cold, tell him so. He will understand and respect you for your honesty.

But there must be some things he finds FUN that can be FUN for you too! Figure them out. And go for it.

Because FUN is what keeps your child connected to you from one day to the next.

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Letting Your Child Make You Happy, and Other Such Ideas

Some widely-accepted strategies to manage conflict are:

1. Separate the wrongdoer from the wrong.

2. Don’t accuse the person.

3. Talk about how the wrong action / words make you feel.

Okay, let’s dive in.

Your child is pushing your buttons. You’re determined to hold on to your temper. You say, “I get really upset when you hit your little brother. I wish you wouldn’t. You are his big sister, and you should be taking care of him, protecting him, not hitting him yourself. It would make me very happy if you stop hitting him.”

The next time she desists from hitting her brother, she will want your acknowledgement. “Dad is really happy you didn’t hit your brother. You made me very happy.”

Or else, “I get very angry when you throw your clothes and books all over the house. Please put your things away.”

You try to manage your child’s behavior from morning to night by telling him your reaction to specific behaviors of his. Some of his actions make you happy, others make you sad, yet others make you angry, still others disappoint you. This way, you try to teach him ‘acceptable’ behavior, and train him to live the way you’d like him to live.

What you might not realize is that you are also taking away all his power as an individual.

Look at the message he is getting: He makes you happy, or sad, or embarrassed, or proud, or confused, or hurt, or annoyed. And you? You’re just the puppet being jerked around at the end of a string. He’s the one making you feel all the emotions, so he has the power!

Hmm – maybe it’s the words; the words should change. Maybe you could say, “I feel happy or proud or furious when…” instead of “You make me feel…” But the message is still the same. Your child has the power to make you feel a certain way by behaving (or not) a certain way.

Very subtly, he is learning manipulation.

Why do children get away with throwing tantrums? (And tantrums of different kinds are thrown at different ages – this is not about the Terrible Twos alone. :-)) They do it in a very calculated fashion. They have calibrated, almost to the second, the moment when you will give in to them because you can’t take the tantrum any more. The tantrum might be yelling, spitting, banging, giving you the silent treatment, throwing things around, refusing to eat or go to school, not doing chores – whatever. But you let it get to you. So they manipulate you to get what they want from you.

Here’s an incident that always makes me smile when I think of it. 4-year old Lily, the youngest of the family, cried for minutes on end at the slightest impact. “It hurt!” she would wail, and only be mollified by large quantities of candy, cola and other ‘taboo’ foods.

One day, when she and Josh, her 8-year old brother, were the only ones at home, Josh heard a huge crash in the backyard. He was in the kitchen making a sandwich, and knew that Lily would be screaming in a moment. Surprisingly, there was no sound from her. He was just thinking of going out to investigate, when the door to the backyard opened, and Lily walked in, her knee bruised, blood dripping down her shin. Lily was startled to see Josh, and stopped mid-stride.

“You’re hurt? And you didn’t even shout once?” asked Josh, not really able to take in the phenomenon.

She said, “I didn’t know there was anyone around to hear me, so I didn’t yell.” 🙂 🙂

Kids are supreme manipulators.

Don’t let them get away with it. Just keep doing your thing. It won’t be easy, because they’ve trained you too well. 🙂 But you’re the adult here, and it’s time to take back your power. They may try to annoy you, but don’t be annoyed. You may be boiling, but try not to show it, and with time and practice, you’ll see how easy it is to stay cool.

She has a problem. She wants something. What if it had been someone else’s child? You’d just have left her alone and removed yourself from there. Well, go ahead and do it! The only one preventing you from doing so is yourself! Don’t play her game. Walk away. Do your own thing. It will take time, but she will slowly learn that she cannot ‘make’ you feel a specific emotion.

There are two wonderful results of not letting your child ‘make’ you feel a certain way.

For one, you will take back your own power. People and events have the power to affect you only so long as you let them. In the words of one anonymous person, if you’ve lost your job, your car has broken down, and you’re down with the flu, why make things worse by being depressed?

🙂 Okay, this is a clear exaggeration, but seriously, we make things a lot worse for ourselves than they need to be. You’re stuck in traffic. Worrying, abusing all and sundry, driving like a maniac – none of it will get you to your destination on time. It will take as long as it will take. Then why let it ruin your blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and mood? Why hold so much tension in your body that you’re aching all over when you reach? Only you know the answer to this one. But if you don’t have an answer, someday you might begin to realize you’re not playing it smart.

The other delightful outcome is that your child will also learn to be responsible for his emotions. Most importantly, he will learn to rely on himself for his happiness. Because you will have trained him, through your responses, that no one can ‘make’ anyone happy. People just are – happy or irritated or pleased or … This is a big one.

He will also be less likely to be manipulated.

The biggest immediate beneficiary is you. When you deny him, and he tries to give you the old: “I’m really sad because you aren’t letting me play my PSP”, you can give him the same logic in reverse.

“I’m not letting you play, but you don’t have to be sad about it. You’re just choosing to be sad.”

Your children will get it after a while, so long as you are consistent. They’re smart, you see! 🙂

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The Power of an Idea

Ideas are powerful. Saints, intellectuals, thinkers, philosophers, scientists, litterateurs – in short, achievers from all walks of life extol the virtue and power of an idea.

Who am I to disagree with them? I, too, believe in the power of an idea. But I want to show you the other side of the coin today. The power of an idea not to build, develop, encourage, support, construct – but to destroy.

A 4-year old classmate told my daughter, “I’m bad, and I’m stupid.”

Three years later, my daughter asks me, “Why does he say this about himself? Every time we ask him to come up with ideas for group work, he says he’s too stupid – his ideas will be no good. And you know, Ma, he comes up with great ideas all the time. He had a wonderful idea the other day. We built the entire project around it, and we did so well! But still, he says he’s stupid. I keep telling him he’s not, but he won’t listen!” (She meant he wouldn’t believe her.)

I told her maybe he was having a bad day.

“He’s been this way for years now, ever since we began to go to school,” she said. “But how can he say that about himself? It isn’t even true!”

The boy was an enfant terrible, and I wondered if ever he would think well of himself. Happily, he was given a position of great responsibility at school, and that was the beginning of his transformation. Today he is hardly recognizable as the wild child he used to be. Today, he believes in his intrinsic worth. 🙂

But what a colossal waste – of time, of possibilities! How much pain he has endured! How much more fun he would have had, how much more he could have explored his potential, if only he hadn’t started with the idea that he was bad and stupid.

I was at my daughter’s school to pick her up. I was surrounded by a bunch of her 5-year old classmates. One girl with a wistful expression came up to me, and I said, “Hello, beautiful!” It’s not like I didn’t know her name, but I sometimes address children this way.

She looked up into my face and said simply, “I am not beautiful.”

My heart missed a beat.

With most other children, such a statement would mean they were angling for more compliments – a sort of teasing, laughing game.

But the way she said it, I couldn’t say another word to contradict her. I genuinely felt she was beautiful. And she genuinely felt she wasn’t. There was nothing more to be said – at least, not at that moment. I held her to me in a hug, which she fervently returned, and told her, “You’re a wonderful, special girl, and I think you’re lovely.”

Over the next seven years that I have known this child, I have tried to tell her at odd moments, overtly and covertly, that she is beautiful. One fine day, recently, she said to me, “You may think so, but I know I’m not.” It took seven whole years for her to believe that one person thought her beautiful! And this: a child who would leave her ‘friends’ and be with me every time she saw me!

In those seven years, I have seen her systematically destroy relationships with children. I have seen her strike out blindly at anyone who was happy or contented. I have seen her being underhanded, cruel and unbelievably vindictive when she did not get her way.

Even as I counseled other children with how to deal with the trouble she was creating for them, I could not bring myself to denounce her. Instead, I tried to explain to the others that she was coming from a place of pain (where she was supposed to conform to some specific idea of beauty – but did not, though I didn’t share this with the other children). And this lack of acceptance colored her entire life.

Imagine explaining this to 6-, 7- and 8- year olds! Understandably, they weren’t interested. “She has no right to behave this way! Why can’t someone talk to her parents? Why are they not told what she’s doing – how she is (mis)behaving?”

Her parents… Trust a child to hit the nail on the head!

I ask you – where do you think she got the idea she wasn’t beautiful? Right first time – at home, from her parents.

An idea is a scary thing.

Don’t worry about watching your words around your children. Don’t try to hide from them what you really think. Doing so is a waste of time and energy. Instead, revisit your ideas about them.

Because no matter how careful you are, your ideas will color your attitude, your body language, your mannerisms, your words, your expectation, your tone… – your ideas will create (or destroy) your relationship with your child.

And since the human mind focuses more on what ‘is not’, the idea you focus on will invariably be a negative, destructive one.

So you think she’s lazy. I’m not saying you’re wrong. Maybe she is lazy (according to you! :-)). Well, is that all there is to your daughter? Is that the only thing you can say to yourself about her? That she is lazy? There must be something else to her. Some quality of mind or heart that you believe is desirable?

Why let the negative (lazy) idea take over your mind? And hers too!

In any case, who are you to decide what lazy is? A snail might look lazy (slow) to you, but it is probably going as fast as it can! Who are you to judge?

Maybe she’s an early riser. Why not pick that up as an idea? Maybe she’s caring, well-mannered, an achiever, a sportsperson, an artist, neat and orderly. There has to be something.

Don’t do this when you’re tired or irritated. Do it when you’re overjoyed with her. What about her has you elated? What do you celebrate about her?

I have met some parents who, over more than a decade, have been unable to find a single positive thing about their child. To them I say, if you were to write your child’s obituary, what would you write? Identify a positive idea.

And stick with it.

An idea is a powerful thing – wield the power cautiously, wisely.

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Are You KISSing Your Child Enough?

KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

As an adult, you know the value of preparation. Whether it is an exam, a presentation, a job interview, a new project, an athletic endeavor – whatever you want to do, it will go off better if you prepare for it.

And what is preparation? It is anticipating what might happen in the future, and working towards a result accordingly. You know you would like to drive, so you apply for a learner’s licence, learn how to drive, memorize road rules, and then appear for a driving test. In short, you prepare for it, because at some point in the future, you want to drive.

Same goes for a career. You want to work as a doctor. You find out what you need to do to become one, and then you do it. Even at work, when someone joins your team, the first thing you do is get to know them, and tell them what they need to do, how, and so on. You prepare them.

All your life, you prepare for events, people, and situations (fire drills and so on).

As a parent concerned about your children, you prepare them too. “Study hard,” you say. “You need to develop good work habits.” “You must cultivate discipline – without it, you won’t get anywhere.” “If you think this is too much homework, wait till you get to college! There won’t be enough hours in the day for the work you have to do.”

We try to Keep It Short and Simple. Well, simple at any rate. (Ask the kids – not one will say we keep it short 😉 )

But I’m convinced we could do a lot better. With KISSing, I mean. We draw grim pictures of the future, issue dire warnings about what will happen if they don’t do as we say or take our advice. But we don’t KISS in the most elemental ways.

What is the one thing we can ALL successfully predict? Change. Good or bad, it will all pass.

And yet, we don’t prepare our children for Change. When they are little, and think the world of us, we know that it is a mere phase. They will soon begin to question us. But do we ever let ourselves realize it? Do we prepare ourselves for it? More importantly, do we prepare them for it?

When my daughter was 3, we were very lovey-dovey with each other. Kissing (not KISSing 😉 ), hugging, playing – we had a lot of fun together. And I’d tell her occasionally that she would dislike many things about me when she grew up a bit. She was always nonplussed when I said this. “No, I won’t ever dislike anything about you. I really like you!” she would protest vehemently.

Let’s move forward to about 4 years later. For some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, she was becoming very difficult to be with. Things we did together earlier didn’t satisfy her, and she seemed to want something from me that neither of us could figure out. We were scrapping a lot. A normally cheerful child, she’d become a walking, talking complaint book. As I got into the car to drive her to a birthday party, she was being her fractious self, when it struck me between the eyes.

This was exactly what I’d been predicting! The only problem was, she was too young to know it, and I’d forgotten I’d predicted it. I smiled to myself. My daughter, in the middle of a litany of complaints, caught that smile and stopped mid-sentence. “What? Why did you smile? What’s so funny about what I’m saying?”

My response: “Remember how I used to say you’d not like me so much when you grew up? That you’d be upset with me and we’d argue and fight about things? Well, that’s what is happening now.”

It disarmed her completely. And me too.

She smiled into my eyes, “Oh! This is what you were talking about? I didn’t know…”

Those few sentences allowed us to find new ground on which to build a new kind of relationship. A much stronger one, if you ask me, because now we were also dealing with the reality of two different individuals who felt and thought and reacted differently to the world around them – but still managed to live with love and respect. Bonus: it bolstered the trust between us.

Teenage is the big one! Again, tell them what to expect. Let them know that it’s normal for them to feel that you don’t love them, that you don’t understand them, that the main purpose of your life is to make theirs a living hell. (Normal? It’s practically a rite of passage! 🙂 )

Do you think I’m exaggerating? If you don’t have a teenager, you might think so. In which case, think back to when you were a teenager. All these emotions might have been felt or buried; they might have been shared or not – but they definitely existed in some measure.

Because teenage is a time of growing up – more accurately, a time of growing away – from one’s parents. It is a time when your child will begin actively to search for his own identity. He will try on different personalities, depending on what he’s reading and watching, and who he’s spending time with.

It is a fantastic time for you to be a loving parent – by letting him know that his repudiation of you and everything you stand for is not ‘wrong’; that he is not ‘bad’ or ‘immoral’ or ‘ungrateful’ or ‘wicked’ or ‘worthless’ if he feels rebellious. Take away the guilt and shame of these emotions.

It is a gift only you can give your child. It is reassurance that will work only if it comes from you.

Tell her that things will swing back into perspective by the end of teenage, when she has a better sense of who she is. She’ll probably snort at that too. 🙂 Tell her that ‘growing’ is a lifelong process: a sapling becomes a plant and then a tree and then an older tree. Growth is ongoing – it is we who close ourselves to it.

Try KISSing – another way to enjoy your child. 🙂

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Where are YOU in Your Priority List?

You are a loving parent. You may not be the perfect parent you want to be, but you’re certainly trying your best. At least, you think so.

I disagree. You are busting a gut trying to set a good example to your children, but in a very important way, you are failing them. Yes, you’re failing – failing to set them perhaps the most important example of all: the example of loving yourself.

When your children are tired, you feed them, bathe them, and hustle them into bed. You let them sleep late on weekends to make up sleep deficit accumulated over the week; you let them take the day off school if they’re sick. You let them get away with some ‘bad’ behavior if you know they are stressed. Their activities are sacrosanct – you ensure they get to practices and events. You ensure they have access to nutritious food on time.

Of course you do all this and more. You love them!

And what about yourself? You probably don’t do all this for yourself, which means you don’t love yourself. Don’t deny it! And this lack of love for yourself causes all kinds of problems for you.

You’re perpetually rushing around doing things for others. You are in self-sacrificing mode (why??), which means over a period of time, your nerves are on edge. You are tired (exhausted is more like it), frustrated, stressed, and trying to juggle all the demands on your time and energy. Eventually, you begin snapping at the least provocation or even without any provocation at all.

Your children are left wondering what they’ve done to get an over-the-top reaction from you. They are confused. You end up feeling guilty, and then swing between overcompensating to manage the guilt, and letting off steam. You feel worse about yourself so you do even more to make yourself feel better. Life swings more out of control.

This is only one fall-out of ignoring your OWN needs – for time, rest, fulfillment, quiet, nutrition, exercise – whatever does it for you.

There is a much deeper malaise it creates with our children. This malaise takes root at two levels.

Firstly, it teaches your child not to value your needs. Children learn by copying speech, behavior, mannerisms. After all, if you yourself don’t value your needs, why should your child? But you continue to value his needs, so he does too! As you do this over months and years, the attitude of valuing himself, and under-valuing or not valuing you becomes ingrained. You know what happens next. You complain. You protest. You accuse him of being selfish, of not caring for you. “After ALL I’ve done for you!” 🙂 In short, you even stoop to blackmail. But to no avail.

How can you blame him? You are the one who has taught him this attitude. Think back to the number of times your son told you over the years, “Why don’t you go to bed if you’re not feeling well?” He was just echoing what you said to him. And in all those years, how many times did you actually go to bed? Try and think. Did you? Or did you say, “I should go to bed, but then who will do all the work…” Of course he’ll treat you like a drudge later on. You’ve taught him to do so!

Look at what this does to your relationship with your child. You feel ill-used, under-appreciated, and resentful. Your child, meanwhile, is mystified by all the fuss. He can’t understand why you suddenly want things to be different from how you’ve wanted them all these years.

Since he’s going through (or almost going through) puberty by this time, he has enough to deal with already. And your behavior has him convinced you’re going through a mid-life crisis. (At the very least – most of them think we’re completely gaga [and that’s not Lady Gaga ;-)] by this time.)

Your relationship with your child goes into a tailspin at the very time you need it to be strong so he can be relatively grounded through the turbulent times ahead.

The other level at which putting yourself last affects your child is that it teaches her that ‘good’ people (adults) don’t value their own needs; that they put others’ needs before their own. It teaches her that this destructive relationship with oneself is called ‘loving someone’. Obviously, someone other than oneself!

When you put yourself last all the time, you are teaching her to shortchange herself for the rest of her life. It prepares her for a life of less joy and fulfillment than she is capable of, and definitely less of it than she deserves.

She will be manipulated by people all through her life. “If you love me, you would… / you wouldn’t…” Once again, I must specify that this is as true of men as of women, though on average, women tend to be less respectful of their own needs than men do. Must be the nurturing gene…

Do you want this for your child? Why not empower her to live a free, fulfilling life?

So why do you do it? No, don’t say “who else will take care of things?” You mean if you take the day off sick the office will close down? Really? If you ask your child to be responsible for his own breakfast on Sundays so you can sleep in, will he think Dad and Mom don’t love him anymore? That you are selfish? Nonsense! Who taught you all this? Look back. Where did you learn this? Revisit your childhood. Do you see how you got to this point?

Do you see what a terrible legacy you are handing down to the child you love?

I don’t know your child personally, but I’m sure of one thing: your child is smart. Actually, that’s SMART in capital letters. As you go about your life putting yourself last, and trying hard to convince her you are happy, the only one you are fooling is yourself. She knows at all times when you are really feeling something, and when you are only pretending to an emotion you do not feel.

If you are not at peace, your child will not be at peace. Your pretending will only make things worse between you. Take the time and space you need to be yourSELF.

Put yourself right at the top of your priority list – yes, No. 1!  And your child will find she has the best parent ever! 🙂

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When the Boredom Bug Bites

You are a busy person. You have multiple responsibilities and obligations. There are many days when you feel you haven’t had a moment to yourself. But finally, you have some leisure. Ah!

What do you do with your leisure time? Do you slow down and savor the change of pace? Spend time on a hobby? Do things you’d like to do but normally don’t get around to doing? Take a nap? Watch a film? Meet friends? Explore a subject of interest?

Or do you pull out a few more things from your list of Things to Do, and try and accomplish them?

Or do you sit in front of the TV?

There’s nothing wrong with television. It is a convenience which offers us wonderful opportunities to rediscover the wonder of our lives – if we choose to do so. There are hundreds of hours of programming that will open your eyes and mind and heart, that will enrich your life. But do they?

It’s not the TV: it is us. We decide how to engage with the TV. We decide to sit in front of it for hours every day, not knowing what else to do with ourselves. We don’t acknowledge this as leisure time – maybe because we multi-task as we watch TV. But mostly, we don’t consider it leisure because our brains are still in ‘work’ mode. We are thinking or worrying about various things that need to be ‘done’. Do you ever really switch off?

You’re meeting someone at a café or bar, and the person is late. This is an unexpected gift of time. What do you do with it? You’re outside, so you can’t work (though many of you will whip out your iPhones, Blackberrys and Tablets). You can’t catch up with people on the phone, because it’s noisy. What do you do?

And therein lies the rub. This is the real reason our children are able to manipulate us with “I’m bored”. You try, desperately, to fill this free time.

Stop for a moment to think why. What is wrong with just sitting there doing nothing? Why don’t you deserve to ‘do nothing’? Especially considering your kids often ‘do nothing’ and get away with it? 😉

You do have the answer to this question. If you’re doing ‘nothing’, you will be spending time with yourself. And that means looking at your life: what works in it and what doesn’t, why things don’t work in your life (we are more oriented towards the negative, so you will typically look at the ‘not working’ part of your life, not the ‘this works great! :-)’ part of it), who is responsible for things not working, and so on.

These are tremendously uncomfortable thoughts to have. It is far better to be busy ‘doing something’.  It is also much more comfortable.

What thoughts are you trying to push to the back of your awareness? Why can’t you spend time with yourself without any external aids like your i-whatever, cellphone, tablet, laptop, book, magazine?

At the café where you’re waiting for your friend, try to just sit there. Keep sitting there, doing ‘nothing’. No, you won’t cut a ridiculous figure. Nobody is going to spare you a thought – while you are worried about what others think of you as you just sit there, they, in turn, are worried about what you think of them.

If you can be at peace with yourself, if your child can see you sometimes just be-ing, he will learn – almost by himself – how to spend time with himself.

Your son has just finished something, and comes to you saying, “I don’t know what to do now.” (A polite way of saying “I’m bored”. 🙂 Lucky you!)

Don’t give him options, ideas of what he can do. Just let his statement dangle in mid-air. He might want to join you in what you are doing (if he can). He might hang around while you do whatever you’re busy with. He might wander away and find something to do. Or he might choose to just sit.

And he will choose this if he has seen you choosing it. Children are eternally curious. “What are you doing, Dad?” “Mom, what are you doing just sitting there?”

If you can answer “Nothing” and not explain further, he will accept that ‘doing nothing’ is yet another way of spending time. And if he can’t think of anything to do, then he will simply choose to do ‘nothing’! And once he learns this, he will never be bored. There’s a blissful thought for you! 🙂

But there is so much more to doing nothing. Look at the possibilities: you are doing nothing and your daughter joins you. As you sit together silently, each perhaps absorbed in your own thoughts, you create a special space to communicate with each other beyond the mundane. She might share an idea she has, or ask you about something that’s been troubling her. You might get a peek into something that happened at school.

You might be equally surprised to find yourself sharing parts of yourself or your life that she doesn’t know.

This is conversation, a place where you both connect with each other. This is time spent together where neither of you has an agenda. You are not trying to teach or advise or moralize or explain or inspire or make an example of anything. She is not trying to cajole or coax or defy or shock or rebel against or prepare you for anything.

You are both there – doing nothing. It is time that doesn’t count, in one sense. And because there is nothing at stake, nothing either of you is trying to achieve, it can create many meaningful moments. And you get closer to your child. Both of you can just BE with each other.

I urge you to give it a shot. It is tough to disconnect from the endless “To Do’s” we’ve created for ourselves. But if you have ever done it (and I’m sure you have, even if just for a moment!), you know the value of doing nothing.

In fact, there is a word for it. A ‘good’ word – one which makes ‘doing nothing’ a desirable thing, a goal to work towards, an achievement to aspire for. Yes, ‘doing nothing’ is also called r-e-l-a-x-a-t-i-o-n. 🙂

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The Two Words Every Parent Dreads Hearing

I guess “I’m pregnant” (at the wrong time) would top the Dreaded Words’ List, but given their frequency and sustained onslaught throughout childhood and teenage, “I’m bored” wins hands down as the words that make you go “Not again!” as a parent.

It’s interesting to see how this starts. Initially, your baby is fascinated by everything – she can sit in her pram looking at the blue sky, at the table leg, at people milling about her. She can lie in her crib staring for hours at the mobile hanging above. She can spend days trying to stuff her toes into her mouth or chew the button-eyes off a teddy bear.

She has no time to be bored when she begins toddling – she’s everywhere at the same time: touching, falling, pushing, standing, tumbling, bumping into things, knocking them over. She’s too busy experiencing the power of being able to reach things and people to be bored.

Then you begin training her to sit still on her own with crayons, or a pencil. She can do this for a bit, but then she wants you, or she wants to move on to something else. Like the furniture, floor, walls, bed linen, closet doors, fridge. You walk in and start hyperventilating when you see what she’s done.

You may scream, scold, exclaim, explain. Or Not. But it’s clear that you feel the need to Do Something About It.

After telling her why what she’s done is wrong (if you think so, and that’s a topic for another post), you experiment with colors again. Maybe you decide to let her color for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, come and check on her, praise the work she’s done, encourage her to move to another page or draw something else, check on her again in a while, and so on.

There will come a day when you get impatient – you need to complete some chores, and you need a clear 30 minutes, which your toddler won’t give you. So you switch on the TV (if you haven’t already done so), plonk her in front of it, and disappear, secure in the knowledge that the moving pictures and sound will ‘keep her busy’ till you are done with your work.

And she sits still and ‘keeps out of trouble’ till you get your work done. In fact, when you switch off the TV, you’re likely to be visited with a major tantrum, because she wants to watch more!

And she’s addicted. It’s as simple as that.

As a parent, you are under pressure from two sources: one, your child throws a fit because he wants to watch more TV; two, your own need for time in which to accomplish tasks.

Or maybe your child is a fussy eater, and you’ve come up with TV as a way to distract him from the fact that he’s eating. With all his senses tuned to the absorbing story on TV, he opens his mouth like a robot when the spoon reaches his lips. You prod him a few times to chew what’s in his mouth. You remind him to swallow. Then you give him the next bite. Of course, the eating is happening on the sidelines. The action is elsewhere.

Whatever the reason, you find you’ve given in to more and more TV, till your child gets used to being entertained. He has to do nothing – just sit there, and be entertained.

Countless studies have shown that television blunts the intelligence of a child. It leads to cognitive and behavioral problems, retards children’s development, encourages violence – the list goes on and on.

But we turn to it as the simple, short-term solution to our needing a small chunk of time when we don’t need to actively engage with our children. And it becomes a monster that threatens to gobble us up.

One fine day, you decide enough is enough, and you won’t give in. He’ll have to learn to do something else. He throws the ball back into your court. “I’m bored!”

Uh-oh!

Initially, you play. “Why don’t you try reading a book? This one? That one?” “Play with your blocks.” “Solve a jigsaw puzzle.” “Draw / color something.”  (This could go awry, but you’re firm about keeping him away from the TV.)

After a bit, you find it’s no good. He’ll pop up like the proverbial jack-in-the-box, and say, “I’m bored.” And each alternative you suggest to him will be shot down as unsuitable. You feel that short of putting on a clown’s costume and breaking into a circus jig, there’s nothing left for you to suggest as an antidote to boredom. You’re actually contemplating driving right back to work to get away from the litany of “I’m bored”. Of course, he’ll call you to tell you he’s bored, but he’ll only do it every half-hour, not every 2 minutes!

How do you break the vicious cycle?

If your children are young enough to accept your authority, tell them, “Here’s a Bored Box. I’ll put pieces of paper in it. Each paper will have a chore listed. The next time you tell me you’re bored, you have to pick a paper from the Bored Box and do that chore. If you do it, great! If you don’t do the chore, you choose a piece of paper from the Correction Box. “You only get one bed-time story read to you – not two.” “You get a shorter-than-usual playtime.” Enforce. Enforce. Enforce. (You said they listen to you! :-))

Here’s another approach. “I’m bored,” she says. Grin delightedly (alright, I know you don’t feel it, but parenting comes with its own share of drama, as you well know :-)) and say, “Great!” Not one word more.

She will keep hitting you with the two dreaded words till you want to scream, but do not respond. Harsh on you, I agree, especially when you’d give a lot to get her off your back, but this is the only way to break the cycle.

She’ll sulk, scream, throw a tantrum – whatever it is, just grit your teeth and bear it. She’ll just have to settle for being bored, till she can come up with some way to amuse herself. Let her take responsibility for herself. Eventually, she’ll find a way out. It may take a week or a month, but you’ll find “I’m bored” flung at you far less frequently.

Of course, there are far pleasanter ways to avoid relentless assault by the “I’m bored” missile. Until the next post!

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You Mean You Don’t Want to Save Lives?

I was at my daughter’s school for an event. The school was plastered with posters encouraging parents to participate in a blood donation camp being held at the same time.

As I was leaving the school, a student hailed me. “Ma’am, there’s a blood donation camp going on. Would you like to volunteer to give blood?”

I declined.

“It won’t take time, Ma’am, it’s very quick, and the organization doing it is one of national repute so you don’t need to worry about hygiene and safety.”

I refused.

“Do you have any disease, Ma’am? Anemia? Diabetes?”

I denied suffering from any disease.

“Then why don’t you want to give blood?”

I repeated that I didn’t.

“Ma’am, do you know, by giving blood today, you could be saving the lives of three people?”

I agreed that that might be so.

“So you’ll donate blood, Ma’am?”

I refused.

Disbelief. Incredulity. Shock. “You mean you don’t want to save lives?”

I said I didn’t want to give blood.

Her voice rose by many decibels. “Ma’am, you mean you really don’t care whether these people die?”

I smiled and told the student, “Those are your words. What I am saying is that I don’t want to give blood.”

And I walked away.

She didn’t draw blood. (Pun intended. :-))

But I was slightly uncomfortable. And that made me think.

If I, as a thinking adult, could be made uncomfortable by a child asking me questions from a script she’d been made to memorize, about an issue she had no clue about (except what had been taught to her), how would a child handle such manipulative tactics?

And why was I uncomfortable?

It was (and is!) my blood. I’m supposed to volunteer it, if at all I decide to do so. If I don’t, that’s my choice. So why the pressure? Why was I being forced to ‘volunteer’?

We all like to think of ourselves as ‘good’ people. And we are good. But we’re not ALL good. We know that. And that’s okay.

But when it comes to others, we want the world to think that we’re GOOD – we’re ALL good. There’s not a mean bone in our bodies. We’re sweetness and light and selflessness and …

Have you ever met a person who seemed to be all good? At least initially? If you have, then you’ll know that there can be just 2 opinions about such people.

They are annoying. And they are boring. That’s it.

If you haven’t met a person who is all good, thank your lucky stars you’ve been spared one of the more irritating experiences of life.

Knowing this, we persist in trying to make the world believe that we are ‘good’. Incredible! On top of that, we pride ourselves on being intelligent! How delusional can we be?

And our children? Manipulated every which way by everyone they meet till they don’t know whether they are on their head or on their heels.

The fact is that nobody’s thinking about you.

That student wasn’t thinking about me. Rather, she thought about me only because I didn’t do what she wanted of me. If I had agreed to ‘volunteer’, she’d have thanked me prettily, and dismissed me from her head immediately. Her sole concern was to get as many ‘volunteers’ to donate blood as she could. She used every means at her disposal to get me to do so – short of saying I killed three people (or would, in the future) because I refused to donate blood!

Every day, you come across different types of manipulation. People simulate admiration, awkwardness, anger, shame – the entire range of emotions to get specific reactions from you. Left to yourself, would you have acted the same way? Would you have responded the same way? Would you have made the same choice?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The more you get in touch with yourself, the more time you spend finding out what you believe, what is important to you, the easier it is to live happily.

Just imagine it! Here’s the world, trying to get you to do all kinds of things and you go your merry way. After a bit, they’ll drop the shocked reactions. They’ll realize you’re not playing their game.

Freedom! Unutterable joy! And as you wallow in this joy, you can share it and pass it on to your children. You can give them the ultimate gift – an unfettered life. Sure he’ll ask you lots of questions. “Why didn’t you give that beggar money? You say we should think of people less fortunate than us. Why didn’t you give her something? You ask me to share. Why didn’t you?”

Take the time to answer his questions. You might answer them over the course of many conversations over weeks. But the very fact that you are willing to engage in a discussion with him will reassure him. Your confidence will comfort him. The ease and poise in your eyes and voice and body will hearten him.

You see, he doesn’t care what others think. He cares what YOU think. And if you can show him that there is a method behind your ‘madness’, a reasoning behind your attitude, he will be at peace. Equally important, if you have taken the time to sort out how you feel about an issue, you will be clear. And you will be consistent in your response. Each time, your behavior will stem from the same logic. If you make an exception, you will consider it well before you do so. And you will make it a point to explain to your child why you have made an exception.

You believe in something. You live by it. Your child learns too, to believe in something (though you have to be prepared that it might be something different from what you believe in! 🙂 After all, he is his own person). He too, lives by it.

A sane, happy life. A carefree life. A fulfilling life.

The student asked me, “You mean you don’t want to save lives?”

I didn’t answer her, but I’ll share my thoughts with you. I believe I can make a difference. Everyone can. But saving a life?

My ego isn’t big enough to let me believe I’m so important I can save a life. Nobody is so important. Not even the super-specialist doctor. She can make a difference, but thinking that she’s saving a life is the beginning of a disease I pray I don’t fall prey to.

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Introducing the Best Parent in the World: Part 2

You are the world’s best parent – for your child.

At the beginning of your parenthood, you’ve got your attitudes and your thoughts sorted out. You’re supportive and encouraging, and as your son keeps asking questions, you experience delight in many ways: his wide-ranging curiosity, your ability to answer all his questions, your willingness to repeat each answer many, many times, his pleasure in your answer, the questions your answer gives rise to – all of it gives you joy. Actively so.

As he keeps growing up, the questions change. It’s not quite so easy to answer them. You conduct research. You find out – either on your own, or both of you together, and you’re still happy.

Some more growing up, and your child’s questions change yet again.

By this time, she’s begun to get the point that you are not an extension of her. You are a separate being. You love the fact that she’s understood this. You can finally tell her, “You’re fresh after your nap, but I’m tired from doing chores, so I can’t play ball with you outside right now. Let’s play something less strenuous till I feel rested.” And she will understand and give you the down time. Because she’s finally begun to get it that you are your own person, separate from her.

But the questions! They become uncomfortable, prickly. Instead of asking you information-type questions, she begins asking attitude- and behavior-type questions.

“Why do you and Dad argue every time you both have to go to an office party?”

“Why are you so rude to Grandpa and so gentle with Grandma?”

“Why did you say/do that mean thing?”

She’s asking out of the same curiosity that you once celebrated.

But now that the questions are coming closer to the core of who you are, you become defensive.

The questions she asks you now cannot be answered immediately – if at all they can be answered. (If you are in an abusive relationship, how will you explain that to your 6- or 7-year old? And men can be in abusive relationships as often as women can, so this is not gender-specific.) Nor are they easy to answer.

You might not have observed these things about yourself. Or you might have noticed them, but not considered them. You may have dismissed them as stemming from stress, exhaustion, having an ‘off’ day – whatever.

And now, here’s your child putting you on the spot. Typically, you will hit back – by shutting her out, asking her to back off, giving her some half-baked, untrue explanation.

“We don’t argue every time” or “We’re both tired after a full day at work and now we have to go out again instead of being able to relax”. (But that’s not true. She said you argued only if you had to go to an office party – not otherwise.)

“I’m not rude to Grandpa! Grandma has a heart condition so we have to be careful with her…”

“I shouldn’t have said /done it, but I was really stressed because Mom was unwell / there was so much work / I’d had a bad day / …”

Initially, she’ll accept all your answers. After all, she’s been doing it all her life, and she’s come to no harm. But after a while, she’ll realize you have no clue what you’re talking about.

Your child will find out that you are a sham. You’re giving her answers which don’t ring true; which change, depending upon the situations and people involved.

Suddenly, you stop being the best parent in the world – not from your child’s point of view, but your own. You know things are spiraling out of control, but you don’t know how to get back on top of them.

Consider continuing your term as the best parent in the world.

When he asks you a question that makes you all hot and bothered, consider it. “Do you think we argue every time we go to an office party? I hadn’t noticed that. Let’s see…” Think about it. Maybe the next sentence in this conversation could be, “I’ll have to think about it before I give you an answer. Why don’t we talk about this another time?”

He will accept this as an answer – for the moment. He will learn that there are questions that need time before they can be adequately answered.

Then work on your answer. Yourself, and with your partner, if need be. (There’s a transformation here, waiting in the wings! :-)) And get back to your son, talk to him one-on-one. See where that explanation goes.

Your child is growing up. Well, you need to grow up with him! Even though you’re an adult already. Growing up means learning that black and white are concepts for children. Your child needs to learn that there is no black and white – life is a spectrum of grays. There are no absolutes (well, this is one! :-)).

And who better to teach this than you – the best parent in the world? Which better example to use than your own? Share with your child the choices you are faced with, how you evaluate them, how you need to keep working on yourself as new situations arise, how you are sometimes (or often! :-)) unsure of the choice you make, but you go through with it anyway. Share your vulnerability with him.

You will no longer be his hero. You will no longer be the most powerful being in your child’s world. But you couldn’t have continued in that role in any case! Because as he grows, he will see the contradictions between what he knows to be true (from you) and the way you are living your life. Also, since he’s separated his identity from yours, you are the person most under scrutiny, because you are still the center of his universe.

So share yourself – yes, the right way to read that is your SELF – with him. Magic moments result from such sharing.

He will see that you don’t need to be perfect to be worthwhile. He will learn that wonderful people can have flaws, and it doesn’t make them any less wonderful. He will know that life is about constantly adjusting to change.

You will build and share a relationship you will both treasure forever. After all, you ARE the best parent in the world! 🙂

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Introducing the Best Parent in the World: Part 1

Since I’m introducing the best parent in the world, it will take a bit of time, so this is Part 1 of the Introduction. Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to the best parent in the world. In fact, I’d like you to take a moment and meet this person.

YOU are the best parent in the world. For your children. Your children might not think so (! :-)), but it’s true. The best person to parent your children is you.

Your children may or may not believe this, but the real question is: do you believe it? Do you really believe you are the best parent in the world? In all probability, you don’t.  And you’re right not to believe it.

No, I’m not contradicting myself. Stay with me while I clarify what I mean.

Like I said at the beginning, I’d like you to take a moment and meet the best parent in the world. Take a moment to meet yourself.

When you tell your child “You shouldn’t lie”, where are you coming from? Do you truly believe that telling lies is undesirable? If you do, you probably don’t tell lies yourself. (I’d like to meet you and shake your hand!) But if you spout these homilies to your child because that is what a ‘good’ parent should do (teach “values” – a highly misused word), then you are coming from a false space.

Think for a bit. Why do you tell your child to tell the truth?

Is it so that you should look good to yourself? So that you should look good to others? When someone says “tell the truth”, your little one immediately pipes up and says, “That’s what my Dad and Mom always tell me.” And the listener will think, “Wow! What wonderful parents!” Come on – pull the other one!

Do you say it because you think you are being a ‘good’ parent by teaching ‘good’ values (there’s that word again!) to your child? Do you think it will help him to become a ‘good’ or ‘better’ person? Do you think it will help him be happier? More successful?

Just for a split second, let’s make believe that you really do believe that your child should tell the truth, and you drum it into his head all the time. Great! Your child is now telling the truth:

“Grandpa, I don’t like eating with you because your false teeth click as you eat and the sound makes me feel sick.”

“Aunty, Mom disliked your present so much that she threw it in the bin.”

“Mr. Policeman, Dad only drank a little bit today because he didn’t want you to catch him while we were driving home.”

How do you react to your child telling the truth?

Little children are literal. They see the entire world in black and white. They won’t understand the fine nuances of truth-telling that you mean to teach them.

What you probably want them to learn is that they should always tell YOU the truth, tell the truth to the world-at-large most of the time, agree verbally or tacitly when you lie (bowing to your superior knowledge of the situation), and keep shut  the rest of the time.

Ha! Fat chance! You know it doesn’t play out that way. At least, not when your child is little. With time and experience, and by watching you “tell the truth”, he will learn. But that comes later.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that “telling the truth” is a bad idea. Nor am I endorsing lying.

The point is: What do you mean by the truth? Have you worked out for yourself what “telling the truth” means to you personally?

So meet yourself. What does the truth truly mean to you? Have you bought into some societal concept without believing in it? Are you spending your life trying to live up to beliefs that aren’t really yours? Beliefs that have been thrust on you by society? By your family? By your religion?

When we push ideas and beliefs that are not really ours onto our children – that is when we stop being the best parents in the world to them.

No matter what your belief, no matter how weird, no matter how contrary to popular ‘wisdom’, no matter how much it is against the ‘good values’ accepted by society, when you go against your own beliefs, you stop being the best parent in the world. Yes, I mean your OWN beliefs – the beliefs that you own.

We are all so anxious to look good to others, that we keep jumping through hoops without ever stopping to think if the criteria by which others are judging us mean anything at all to us.

Besides, people are capricious. They are as liable to praise you for an action as they are to criticize you for it. It’s not your action they’re responding to – it’s their mood, their day, how they think and feel at the time of the response that governs their response.

So you’re telling your child she should “tell the truth”. And then she sees you “not telling the truth”.

Are you really surprised when she starts giving you ‘trouble’? When she stops ‘listening’ (obeying is what you mean) to you? How could you be? Be reasonable. You’re an intelligent adult. If you don’t believe in what you say, if you’re not following through, why should she?

If your daughter asks you this question, you fob her off. “You won’t understand.” “It’s different for grown-ups.” “Don’t ask questions.” “Children should tell the truth.” “Good children tell the truth.” “You should tell the truth because I’m your parent and I say so.” “You must learn to tell the truth.” (Why? So she can un-learn it later?)

Of course your relationship with her is going down the tube! She’s lost and confused, and instead of helping her make sense of things, you’re pulling rank.

She’s your kid, and yours is the final word, but know that if there is enough discrepancy often enough between what you say and what you do, she will stop trusting you. And that is a road you’d rather not walk down.

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