A few weeks ago, as I waited to pick up my nine-year-old from school, I overheard his football teammate’s mother worry about her son’s sudden change in behaviour. “He is such a good student! And he scored the winning goal for his team at their last inter-school match,” she started. “But I just can’t understand why he would suddenly shut himself up in his room and refuse to go out with his friends,” she said. She wondered if he was struggling with a subject and needed to study more.
Something about this conversation didn’t sit right with me. I remembered the boy being extremely social and popular with his teammates. On my drive back home, I asked my son about his team practice and generally enquired about his team mates. I soon realised that the boy was not falling behind with studies or on the field— he was struggling with body image issues.
As nine-year-olds suddenly become acutely aware of their bodies, it cannot be easy to deal with excess media exposure and peer pressure to ‘fit in’. This makes this period extremely painful for many children. However, these are not quantifiable issues that one can identify on report cards or playing fields. As a parent, you can only discover these issues through conversations — especially those that are not layered with bias and pre-determined expectations. The entire event left a lasting impression in my mind. It made me wonder how often I may be missing these important but subtle cues of my child’s struggles and triumphs as he makes sense of the chaos.
As millennial parents, we can pride ourselves on being more involved in our children’s curricular and co-curricular lives but, unwittingly, we may have become a generation of parents that know it all but are hardly aware what actually matters to our children.
Is it enough to tell your nine-year-old to make you proud without acknowledging his doubts and fears as he steps into competitive sports? Is it enough to simply review your child’s report card and find a tutor for the one subject that she scored less than 90% in, without understanding what she actually enjoys learning? Is it enough to be at the dinner to ensure your 12-year-old has a tasty, healthy and nutritious warm meal, when you’re actually on your email?
Have we confused the role of a ‘provider’ with that of a ‘nurturer’?
How often do we sit with our children to simply talk to them? A chat could shine light on how they see their lives. Maybe the big award ceremony for a scholar’s badge might not be as important to him as the finals of the cricket championship with friends in the neighbourhood. But rarely would the child find a way to talk about it.
Before you complain that your child doesn’t talk to you anymore, do ask yourself when you last allowed your child to simply talk and express his thoughts however insignificant they might seem.
“(Seemingly) mundane and nonsensical conversations with your young child are important in order to have a say in those more serious and complicated conversations as they grow older,” says Mansi Zaveri, founder Kidsstoppress and parent to a pre-teen daughter. “Children need to feel heard and not judged. You cannot suddenly walk into your daughter’s room to discuss a serious emotional issue, if you don’t build that connect through less serious and even mundane conversations,” she adds.
As parents, we also tend to pre-decide for a child the importance of their life’s events, even attaching the emotion that he or she must feel at them. All of this only adds to, or in some cases starts, the loop of miscommunication.
“…it is our responsibility to keep our children safe; connect with them; expose them to different things as well as encourage them,” says psychologist Devanshi Choksey Jalan. “I often see parents mistake the aforesaid responsibility with accolades, and derive their personal self-worth from their child’s grades and success. When the child does not live up to their expectation of success, parents often resort to screaming and shouting. A parent’s disappointment can impact the way the child begins to view himself. When children feel they are not good enough, they often stop listening or focusing on their own needs and inner voice; and instead start focussing on pleasing the parent or simply rebelling. Both situations are equally detrimental,” she adds.
She asks parents to ask themselves if their children feel safe to share their mistakes with them, or if they are scared. “It is important and healthier to understand what your child needs and not what you need,” she notes.
Jalan further notes: “I am loved when I act in ways my parents want’, is fear-based parenting. While, ‘I am loved for who I am’ is connection-based parenting. Connection based parenting most often leads to better regulated, secure and stable adults. As a parent it is important to ask yourself if you are fulfilling your own needs for meaning and purpose through your child, and correct course while you still have the opportunity.”
Yes, we have evolved as a generation of parents that is extremely concerned about providing the ‘best’ for our children – best education, best facilities, best opportunities and the list is endless, but unfortunately the one thing that we are far from being the best in, is listening to our children and accepting and acknowledging them for who they are. They aren’t projects we need to shape and show-off; they are individuals who need to be heard. Do ask yourself this simple question: do you talk to your children or at them?
Samridhi Shroff Sancheti is a communication consultant and a parenting influencer, @mommytimesblog, on Instagram.