You have doted on your child from the start and looked after his or her every need. You have cuddled and read in bed, invented games, pointed to the natural world and tried to stoke a sense of wonder.
Your child responded marvellously, cherished the bond, and looked forward to the moment you entered the room.
And then, things changed. Tears, tantrums and demands had to be countered with discipline, firmness and the setting of boundaries.
This is where a calm, studied approach can help your relationship immeasurably.
“You are not allowed to have the lollypop,” a helper-didi told a five-year old girl on the street, “because mummy said so!” The child looked miserable, denied by mummy, didi and the rules.
It sounded like a bossy, uncaring, simplistic way of dealing with a situation. It also undermined the child’s will and intelligence.
Her mummy is right to hold back on sugar, but if she’s trying to raise a self-confident, thinking and aware person, she and the helper would do far better to take the time and explain the logic. “The lollypop is all yours. Save it for after lunch, and rinse out your mouth after. This way, you will enjoy your treat and your teeth will remain healthy!’ Calm, well-reasoned advice is taken on board and has a long-lasting effect.
One of the greatest challenges of our times is setting a limit on screen time for our children. It’s a tussle that could turn nasty with nagging, repeated warnings and punishments. Establishing trust is key. Explain the fact that computer games can become a slippery slope and gobble up precious time. That they will miss out on playing with their friends outdoors, or getting enough sleep, or learning other fun skills such as baking brownies, learning an instrument, playing football, or getting into fun board games such as Set, Rummykub, Tribond or Pictionary. This is where one or both parents setting/creating a nice atmosphere of fun and games can be positively alluring.
It’s important to remember that the behaviour is the problem, not the child. It should be isolated and dealt with as its own entity.
Do make allowances for the type of person your child is, and don’t assume he or she has the same desire to socialize or achieve highly as you might have done. Their talents and interests will evolve over time. Be the life-coach, not the drill sergeant.
Maintaining an even tone is the golden key to staving off agitation and escalating fights. The toughest things, said calmly, without shouting, have the best effect. “I had a call from your school, they said you and your friends left after the morning assembly. Remember, we are both on the same team. You would be smart not to ruin your long-term prospects by breaking the rules.”
Our son is a keen musician. He’s a self-taught guitarist and drummer, and at a party I once heard him say, “music is my life”. In school and college, he had been a part of a band, and his first summer in university was spent doing gigs in Los Angeles. There came a time when we had to assess if music could indeed become his livelihood. He also had a good head for economics and finance, with plenty of work experience.
We had a chat as we walked along a beach, and I explained that his choices were like a valve. If he made music the next few years, and found it didn’t quite work, he would have lost the opportunity of a job in finance, for firms recruited from colleges. The valve would be blocked. If he got going in finance, and didn’t like it, he could always go back to making music. The valve flowed just fine. The logic of this resonated with him. He interviewed, got going in finance, and actually loves what he does. He also manages to play music and deejay on weekends.
More recently, he spoke of his desire to learn to fly. A tough one for parents to say, “Go ahead, with bells on!” Now it’s our turn to trust he has done his research, found the right school, and will be as alert and careful as possible. It has been another long-standing passion of his, and we simply have to be his tail wind. Fires rage near Sacramento, California, as I write this piece. They are creating ash storms as our young man takes to the skies in a Cessna 702. It’s unsettling, but as parents we must put our store in one thing alone…trust.
On a light note, I will leave you with an amusing quote on sassy children: “I told my mother to get out of my private place and she reminded me that I came out of her private place.”
Geetika Jain is the author of the children’s books Delightful Delhi and Wonderful Wildlife, published by Roli.