Independence and encouraging autonomy in children has always been my parenting philosophy. But this year, as we play vigorous Kendo, trying to keep the virus and everything bad at bay from our children and homes, here is another one we need to watch out for.
For the last six months, children have been studying and playing at home, with a glass of milk being handed to them, their dinner laid, the plates picked up, and the rooms cleaned up after them. And they have a lot of help with homework from parents and other family members. Also, from parents reminding children to brush their teeth to grandparents constantly reminding them to practice traditions, there are micro instructions on almost everything.
Constant supervision, micromanaging and spoon feeding have become part of our parenting style in order to get things done on time, reduce further mess and to ensure health and safety. It is totally understandable.
However, taking over the reins of every aspect of your child’s routine prevents them from applying themselves and this may arrest exploration and learning. It instills a dependency that can cost them self sufficiency, ability to problem solve, cope with boredom and independent decision making. In my opinion, this is too big a price for getting things done and getting them done now!
As parenting expert and author Adele Faber put it, “When we give children advice or instant solutions, we deprive them of the experience that comes from wrestling with their own problems.”
Exposure to problems, struggling with solutions, trial and error, memorising by repetition and practice are critical to formation and elimination of neuronal connections in childhood and adolescence.
Allow them to engage with and deal with hurdles. And if they haven’t done it before, that’s even better, as it provides novelty. Encourage accountability for small chores related to family, home and school work.
The environment in some homes might be infused with stress, despair, anxiety or loss.
Children may also be exposed to family and parental conflicts or certain habits of parents that they were earlier not exposed to, for example cigarette smoking, drinking or domestic abuse. Or adults in the house may be struggling with mood swings or simply be overwhelmed. Again, that is understandable.
Where on the one end there may be neglect and general apathy due to depression, boredom, exhaustion and despair, on the other there could be over parenting and constant hovering, resulting from anxiety and stress. Being around edgy, vulnerable parents 24X7 can influence kids in more than one negative way. To cope with this, I would suggest the “put on your seatbelt first” rule. Ensure that you stay healthy, take some time out for yourself to unwind, rest and relax. Talk to friends, family or a therapist to sound off stress. As author L.R. Knost said: “When our little people are overwhelmed by big emotions it is our job to share our calm, not join their chaos”.
Choose play over perfection. Statistics state that play is the best form of learning for children. Play house and get that room cleaned or play school and get that homework done!
Use humour. A note stuck on the mirror saying “remember to brush, and don't rush” or one on the bed saying “stinky feet keep out”, will get the job done, without us having to recite it over and over, often leading into consequences and conflicts. Interesting neuroscience research reveals that humour activates the brain's dopamine reward system, and dopamine aids goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory. Educational research indicates that content related humour can improve both attention and retention in children and adolescents.
Honestly speaking, none of us mind parenting 24x7. We just need to ensure that while intending to provide and protect, we do not take away their learning opportunities. While being the perfect parent, we do not take away stimulation and fun for both, us, and the children.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.