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Part 2: The Growing Years - From Infancy to Adolescence  >  Meeting the Emotional Needs of Children

PART 2: THE GROWING YEARS — FROM INFANCY TO ADOLESCENCE

MEETING THE EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF CHILDREN

To ‘lead’ the child into a happy state of mind, one must give due importance to her emotional needs. They are as important for the child as the so-called essential needs for food, shelter, clothing and medical care. 

The word L-E-A-D has these components:

  • Love 
  • Example 
  • Acceptance 
  • Discipline

Each of these deserves equal emphasis. Just because discipline is mentioned last, it does not mean that it is the least important. Furthermore, I firmly believe that it is a futile exercise to discipline a child in the absence of an atmosphere of love and acceptance.


LOVE
Love is one of the most important needs for a happy childhood. Paediatricians and psychologists would agree with the statement that ‘love is the most precious thing in the world’.


Love Is Intrinsic To Our Nature
Some parents love their children with the unvoiced expectation that their offspring will bring them credit or help them in their old age, and they feel let down, cheated and betrayed when this does not happen. They rue the fact that they went out of their way to bestow their love on her, and that the child has forgotten her duty and the fulfillment of their expectations! But love cannot be equated with a business deal. As parents, we must give love unconditionally and without expectation.

In such a loving atmosphere, the child feels secure. She is likely to rush into her parents’ loving arms whenever she wants to share her joys and troubles. 

Such parents are less likely to be upset if the child does not come up to their expectations. Armed with such an attitude, they are more likely to ‘listen’ to even the unspoken language of the child when she does not seem to be ‘behaving’ as they would otherwise expect.


Listening To Your Children
Active listening is important. A child must be given full attention. You must stop what you were doing, go over to the child and get down to her eye level. Use a gentle, caring voice to describe the feelings and situations you see. 


Listening From Within 
Let me now give you a personal example. My teenager, who was studying in another city, had come home over the weekend to get a book from my friend. As he was about to leave, I asked him if he had picked up the book. He replied ‘‘Where was the time, Papa?” I was furious and said, ‘‘You had time for your friends, time for the movies, time for a party, for television and for everything else except the book you had specially come for.” He left.

A few days later, a letter came from him addressed only to ‘Mummy’. In the past, it used to be addressed to ‘Mummy and Papa’. I was used to reading something inspirational daily and then listening from within. A week after my son left, I felt inspired to write him a letter. I disregarded the thought that told me that the rift was his fault. I wrote him the following letter.

My dear Sunil,

These last few days, you have been in my thoughts. I sometimes wonder if I am unduly harsh with my children. I have discussed this with your mother, my trusted companion. The answer, we both agree, is, ‘If you love your children, you have to be firm with them at times’. Sunil dear, when you come home next, do let me know if I should have behaved differently under certain circumstances. I say this because I am conscious of the fact that I am not right all the time. But one thing is certain, my son, that whatever I do, it comes out of the deep love I have for you. God bless you, my son.

Remember me to your roommate.

Your friend,

Papa
 

This letter was followed by a prompt reply: 

My dear Papa,

Thanks for your understanding letter. It is true that I was very mad with you on that day. But then, teenage is a fiery age . . .

I feel the best is yet to come. . . I love you.

Your son,

Sunil


From that day onwards, Sunil and I grew closer to each other. A problem had been converted into an opportunity. How did it happen? I did not have to apologise, but what I wrote revealed my genuine love for him, and so it probably struck the right chord in my son’s heart, and he responded positively. 


Giving Children Your Time
R. M. Lala, who wrote the biography of the late J. R. D. Tata, writes about his own father, “He always had time for me. The most precious thing Father gave me was himself.”

Parents must find time for their children. Picture a busy executive. He is often still asleep while his children leave early in the morning for school — because he had slept so late after an important business evening. He usually comes home late in the evenings when the children have already gone to sleep. When he comes early, it is only to start getting ready to go for a social engagement. He is even unavailable to his wife who needs his time and attention to discuss something personal. When the weekend comes, he can be found playing bridge or golf at the club.

Things are fortunately changing. When I started my practice in Mumbai about 35 years ago, hardly any fathers came with their children for appointments. They seemed to be busy climbing to the top of the ladder and it was usually the mother or a grandparent who brought the child. Today, I find many more young fathers coming to see me with their children and taking as much responsibility for looking after the children as the mother. 

Researchers at the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development say that fathers who spend time with children, especially those below 3 years of age, and take responsibility for them, are more likely to be part of loving couples. They have a higher level of marital intimacy. So if a father wants to see a permanent smile on his wife’s face, he should spend more time with his young child and yes, learn to change the diapers. 


Touch
Children need to be assured of love from the moment they are born. A direct skin-to-skin contact with the mother soon after birth and feeding the baby on demand sets the right pace for mother-infant bonding and for the child to feel secure. All babies want to be talked to, smiled at, and cuddled. Touch is known to be essential for their healthy development. 

One may worry that we may spoil our little ones with such an approach. Love never spoils. Of course, if your baby is lying quietly by herself, let her be on her own for some time. One need not keep her in the lap all the time. Even grandparents must keep this in mind.

However, when a small baby cries because of hunger, discomfort due to an illness or otherwise, she must be picked up and attended to.


The Crucial First Few Years 
Loving parents spontaneously start cooing and talking to the child as soon as they hold her in their arms. They take her all around the house, allow her to touch the plants, show her pictures and make her feel that they are enjoying her presence. They realise that the nurturing and care given during the first few years of a child’s life are most crucial. 

When a child feels secure in her early years, she is more likely to grow up to be a caring and loving adult.

Prolonged separation of the child from the parent should be avoided in the first 5 years. On the other hand, a short separation of a couple of hours after the first 4 to 6 months of life is good for the parent as well as the baby. 

When the child is between 3 and 4 years, parents may even consider taking a short holiday for a few days, leaving the child in the care of a close aunt or uncle or a grandparent. However, the child must be prepared for their absence in advance and should not wake up one morning or return home one evening to find her parents missing. It can be a rude shock to the child, and leave her emotionally traumatised. Therefore, prepare the child and let her know beforehand that both of you are leaving for a few days and will return soon.


Leaving The Child At Home While Parents Go Out To Work
Should a mother leave her job if she is employed outside her home? This decision is up to the couple. When the mother needs a job for personal satisfaction or for financial reasons, she must not quit it. However, she may consider taking up a different kind of job that requires her to work fewer hours, so that she can spend more time with the baby and still feel productive.

The employer may agree to extend the mother’s maternity leave with full pay, half pay or without any salary. The point that needs to be stressed here is that the first couple of years of life are important for a healthy interaction between the parents and their offspring and that children who have a prolonged stay with grandparents or other relatives during the early years may become overprotected or even spoiled. Incidentally, I have often encouraged parents to take their infants or toddlers with them for a trip abroad. My experience is that they have mostly returned home happy after having done so.

However, under exceptional or unavoidable circumstances, parents may have to leave the child for a prolonged period in the care of others. Do not feel guilty if you are forced to take such a step. Let the child start getting used to a caretaker, say the grandparent, well in advance. Let her handle the child more and more while you are still around. Later, let her also sleep in the same room as the grandparent. Grandparents in a joint family system can provide the much needed care and attention to the child in such a situation. At times, even other relatives in our traditional set-up can be very helpful. I know of a woman who not only looks after her nephew but also breastfeeds him, besides breastfeeding her own baby.

Also refer to Working Women in the chapter on FAMILY ISSUES for more guidance on this subject.


Time For Yourselves 
While dwelling on the language of love, we should not forget our own needs for relaxation and creativity. One must remember that when the baby was born, the cord between the baby and the mother was cut. It signifies that one needs to develop some degree of detachment as well, even as we continue to bestow our loving care on the baby. This is essential, even for the sake of our babies. We do not want to ‘smother’ or ‘stifle’ them with love. We do not have to ‘sacrifice’ all that we have for the sake of our babies. Therefore, it is most essential, especially for mothers who spend most of their time during the day with their babies, to pay attention to their own needs.

If you are fond of music, find time for it. Spend time with your husband. Go out with him whenever possible without the baby.

When your baby is small and cannot be left in your absence, take her along to an evening party at a friend’s house. Do not be unduly worried about her getting an infection. If there is a good nursery school near your home, you may consider leaving your child, when a little older, to spend some time with other children while you get some time for yourself.

A relaxed mind, quiet nerves and a centred soul make living happier, brighter and better, psychologist and family therapist Maya Kirpalani insists, not just for us but also our children.


EXAMPLE
Akhil, our grandson, was 3 years old. He had learnt some good habits from his parents and his nursery school teacher. In his school, there was a Thinking Corner; any child who needed to be reprimanded was made to stand in that corner for a while. 

One day, Akhil rightly felt that his teacher had herself not followed a particular habit he had been taught to follow while eating. He drew her attention to it and said that she should stand in the Thinking Corner. Behold, that exemplary teacher did just that— and in doing so, not only reinforced the importance of a good habit, but also helped Akhil understand that rules are rules and meant to be followed by all.

Always keep in mind that, for a child, your actions speak louder than words. If you tell your child to inform a telephone caller that you are not at home when you are, it is not fair to expect her not to lie otherwise. If you are unable to attend the call, ask your daughter to say, “Uncle, Dad is at home. But unfortunately, he cannot attend to your call just now. Could you please leave your phone number? Dad will ring you later.”

Our children observe us closely. They notice how we treat our servants, friends and relatives — especially those who are poor or those who do not wield much influence. 

If we treat people with respect, our children are likely to follow in our footsteps and show respect to all those they meet.

Parents can also influence their children adversely with their unhealthy lifestyle. 

Late nights, alcohol, smoking, unhealthy food habits, watching too much television, lack of physical activity, fights with each other, hatred, touchiness, greed, selfishness, illicit relationships — all these have a negative influence on the minds of young children. 

How a teacher conducts herself — both in class and in society — can also have an equally positive or negative effect on the lives of her pupils. 


Teaching Duty And Responsibility
If children grow up in an atmosphere that disregards rules — even occasionally — they start believing that they are above such restrictions. When adults break rules in front of children, it is particularly damaging.

Young Radha and Kishore are sitting in the back seat of the car; Mom is sitting next to the driver. The traffic signal is red. The children are late for school and the driver jumps the signal. Mom keeps quiet. The children get the message that it’s all right to break the rules when you are in a hurry. When they grow in such an atmosphere, they are likely to become accustomed to ignoring the laws of the land and get into trouble. It is then too late for regrets.

It is true that it is not easy to live with values like honesty and unselfishness in today’s world. However, when our teenaged children notice that we do our best to follow these values, despite the difficulties we face, they will see that it is worth tolerating such hardships because their parents are happy people.

What about younger children? Let us not forget that they too, are watching us quietly. In the example of the driver jumping the signal because the children were getting late for school, the mother should have told the driver firmly to wait for the signals. If he replied that nobody was watching and it was quite safe to ignore the signals, she was given a wonderful opportunity to tell the driver, and therefore indirectly the children, that the policeman inside each one of us was indeed watching. Such a dialogue would have two-fold benefits: One, the driver is warned that he cannot break traffic rules and so endanger the lives of both his passengers and pedestrians. Two, the children are directed to look within and refuse to be tempted to do something that may not be in their long-term interest. They then learn to make a conscious choice of their own. 

A word about people who have a burning desire to serve society. May their tribe increase! If you are one of those, my best wishes to you. However, please do not neglect yourself or your family. I am convinced that if you are at peace with yourself and with your family, you are in a much better state to serve others. Not only that, if the situation so demands, you are well equipped to face all opposition with an inner calm and poise and with the full support of your spouse and the rest of the family. 


ACCEPTANCE
All parents like their children to be happy and at peace with themselves. In order to achieve that goal, we should act in such a way that our children continually receive the following messages. 

  • Accept others as they are. 
  • Give others the right to differ. 
  • Effort is more important than achievement. 
  • It is honourable to accept our own mistakes. 
  • We are responsible for our own lives. 
  • We must be ready to accept the things we cannot change.


Accept Others As They Are
We should help children accept others as they are. Let them learn from the first 2 lines of the song, “When I point my finger at my neighbour, there are 3 more pointing back at me.” Let us never forget to find the good qualities in others before pointing out their faults.

The traditional Indian Namaste teaches us this; in saying Namaste, we say from within, “I greet the Divine in you.” It is Divine greeting the Divine — indicating that the same Divine is in both of us. So neither of us is superior or inferior to the other person.

Here, let us also mention about the first child, the middle child and the youngest child. Parents often tend to indulge the first child, consequently overprotecting him. To correct the balance, they may overlook the second child, and again spoil the youngest one.

Most parents are overprotective towards an only child. Even a minor illness may make them over-anxious. If they panic, they may not be objective enough to provide the best possible care during an emergency. 

Children brought up in the absence of their parents by other relatives (say grandparents) or by a single parent, may also not be provided with the freedom that they deserve or may not be handled firmly when the situation so demands.

Additionally, writes Maya Kirpalani, children born with a congenital illness or a physical deformity may be either shunned or overprotected by their parents. Guard yourselves against both these tendencies. Respect and love your child for what she is. Remember, she is more than the deformity or the illness. Help her discover that, too. She is a child of God, given to you so that you may love, protect and care for her. In rearing such a child, you will be able to invoke, rediscover and nurture precious qualities within yourself, which you might never have known you had — more love, more patience, and more forbearance.

Acceptance does not mean that we forget to give the required stimulation to the child. Children need stimulation. They need to be encouraged to realise their full potential. Under-stimulation is as bad as over-stimulation. Avoid pushing your child too hard; try to discover what special interest she has and encourage her in the same. This is possible if parents spend enough time with their children in the early years of their lives.


Give Others The Right To Differ
Let your child know from your behaviour that everyone has a right to differ with another person. Tell her, “We accept that  you may differ with us on certain issues. We grant you thatright. But if we happen to be around, we would like you to give due consideration to our experience and our love for you.”


Effort Is More Important Than Achievement 
E
very year, a few students commit suicide the day the Std. X board examination results are declared. These young  children feel they have not met their parents’ expectations, and take the extreme step of ending their precious lives.

A teenager staying in the college hostel received this note from his father the day before his final examination: “My dear son, I know you well; you have worked hard. You could not have worked harder. Sit for the examination with peace in your heart. Answer as much as comes to your mind. I will not be upset if you fail in any subject — or in all the subjects. Believe me, I mean it. Your friend, Papa.’’ The young man later told his uncle that the one factor that helped him excel was that note from his father.


It Is Honourable To Accept Our Mistakes
I returned home one evening after a hectic day to find my two sons fighting with each other. While I was scolding the older boy, my wife took me aside and told me that the younger fellow was to be blamed for that particular squabble. I went in again and said to my older son, ‘‘Sunil, I am sorry. Your mummy tells me that it was not your fault and I unnecessarily scolded you. I am sorry.’’ Wide-eyed, Sunil looked at me and said, as if from adult to child, “It’s all right, Papa. It’s all right.” 

A few days later, I was driving my sons to school. I bought something on the way and asked Sunil to keep the change in the glove compartment. In the evening, I needed some coins and did not find any in that compartment. I rang home and asked Sunil about the change. “Papa, I kept it in the dashboard,” he said. “It must be there. I will find it and give it  to you.” When I came home later at night, the boys were already asleep. When I went to wake Sunil up the next morning, as I always did, he was already awake. He came to me and said, “Papa, I am sorry. I did not keep the change in the dashboard. Both of us ate something with that money. I am sorry.” I hugged him, kissed him on the forehead and said, “I am so glad, my son, that you told me exactly what happened. Please give me back that money out of your and your brother’s pocket money.” “Sure, Papa,” said Sunil, feeling relieved. 

Such incidents reveal that children find it easy to own up to their mistakes and say ‘Sorry’ in a home where adults are ready to own up to their mistakes. Our children must gather from us that, while it is important to learn from our mistakes and make amends when required, we need not carry a load of guilty feelings all our lives.


We Are Responsible For Our Own Lives
Sometimes, people say, “I wish my children were more responsible. I wish my wife was more understanding. I wish my husband was like the guy next door. I wish I had got admission into that junior college where the teachers are so good. I wish . . .’’ Let us keep in mind that life is like a game of cards. In this game, you play the cards that you get; you are not allowed to throw them down. You have to make the best of what you have and play to the best of your ability. In this same spirit, help your child to grow to become an adult who takes responsibility for her life, for making or marring it; an adult who does not blame her parents or society if things do not seem to go the way she thought they would, an adult ready to accept any outcome. 


We Must Be Ready To Accept The Things We Cannot Change
Mrs. X used to work with children who were slow to learn. Yet, when she was told that her own newborn had Down’s Syndrome, she was dumbfounded and could not accept the fact at first. Gradually, with her husband and parents’ support, she came to accept the diagnosis. Her paediatrician was also finally able to convey to her that such children could also be treated as ‘normal’. With her acceptance of the situation and her acknowledgement that she could not change it, ‘miracles’ started taking place. She felt that God had given her the child because she was trained in his care. She started reading more about the subject, spent as much time as possible with her son and kept in constant touch with her paediatrician. The latter supported her plan to go abroad with her son to learn more about such children. On her return, she started a society for the parents of children with Down’s Syndrome. Her son, though slightly slow as compared to other children, started attending a school for ‘normal’ children. People who were not aware about his condition, did not think that he was different from other children. Mrs. X became an epitome of courage, fortitude and patience for mothers of other children with a similar condition.


DISCIPLINE

  • Can children manipulate their parents? Of course, they can! 
  • Do children need discipline? Yes, they do! 
  • Do children like to be disciplined? They do! 
  • Can too much love spoil a child? No! 
  • What sorts of parents do children like? Loving, firm, consistent parents!

Children are very clever. They can manipulate and do manipulate parents who allow themselves to be manipulated. Parents of so-called ‘precious’ children are more likely to succumb to their manipulation.

All children need discipline. Unfortunately, some teachers and parents literally follow the dictionary meaning of discipline — ‘orderly or controlled behaviour’. Children do not like such an approach. They like discipline that is just and based on reason.

Of course, an infant or a toddler may not understand all this. She should be praised more often for her actions that we approve of and occasionally asked not to do something that is undesirable. However, school going children are more likely to follow the rules we lay down, if we set a good example and if they understand why it is important for them to follow certain rules and imbibe certain values, in their own immediate and long-term interest.

While some parents still believe that sparing the rod will spoil the child, others are over-solicitous and afraid to say ‘No’ to their children. But children do not like ‘soft’ parents or ‘soft’ teachers. They prefer a loving but firm and consistent caretaker who assumes the role of a democratic leader.

Recently, a young boy died in a car accident. He did not have a driving licence. Neither did his friend, whose father’s car was taken out in the middle of the night without the parents’ permission. Five friends went on this illegal spree that resulted in the death of one of them - the only child of his parents. It is not uncommon to see parents allowing their children to drive inside the compound of their building without a licence. They do not realise that such laxity on their part could prove fatal.


The Definition Of Discipline 
Howard* has given a good definition of discipline: “Discipline is the structure that an adult sets up for a child’s life. It is designed to allow him or her to fit into the real world happily and effectively. 

“The discipline set up by parents is the foundation of the child’s own self-discipline later. It is within this structure that the child has real choices for behaviour that take into account other people and are within the child’s control.”

This definition indicates that adults cannot abdicate their responsibility to discipline children. They must set up the structure for discipline - not for exercising their authority over children, but to allow them to fit into society happily and ably. Ultimately, the children develop a sense of selfdiscipline. Later in life, when they are at the crossroads with different options, they keep the interests of others in mind, before deciding upon the final course of action.

* Howard BJ Discipline in early Childhood. Ped Clin North Am 1991; 38: 1351-1369.


The First Step Towards Discipline 
Allow the child to grow in a loving atmosphere from birth onwards and let discipline follow as an extension of love. When you comfort your crying baby, she begins to trust you. As she grows, she comes to realise that you want only the best and what is right for her. She now wants to please you with her actions. This lays the foundation for self-discipline. A time may come when she finds that you are directing her against her wishes. In such a situation, if she is convinced that her interest has always been uppermost in your mind, she is more likely to follow your directives even though she may find them painful. 

If instead, we force a child into submission, we may succeed in making her follow our orders out of fear and hatred, but if she has not been brought up in an atmosphere of love, respect and trust, she is likely to rebel sooner or later and may fail to develop the self-discipline that we are aiming at. 


When Should We Start Disciplining The Child?
Spoil with love, if you will, an infant below the age of one year. At the most, you may take away something that you do not like her to handle at that particular moment. But after she has celebrated her first birthday, start getting her used to the word ‘No’. You must mean the word when you say it, but there is no need to make an issue of it at this age. If the child persists in doing what you do not want her to continue with, try to divert her attention. Most children can be easily distracted at this age.

After the age of 15 months or so, the child will enter into a phase of ‘negativism’ when she will tend to do the opposite of what you want her to do. She will want to assert herself. She will not eat when and what you want her to eat. Yet, soon after, she will want to pick food out of guests’ plates and eat it. Once you become aware of this temporary phase of negativism (which may last until the age of 3 or 4), you are likely to handle it with sensitivity. 

At this age, she will also start constantly asking questions. Answer the ones that can be simply answered. Ignore the complicated ones; she is not really interested in your answers at this age. However, do listen to her with respect to assure her that you appreciate her curiosity to know more about the world around her. 

Don’t worry if she refuses to share her things with others at this age. The rudiments of unselfishness and a desire to share with others often come after the age of 3 or 4 years.


Setting Reasonable Limits
Children like parents who can guide them; they feel more secure with parents who set reasonable limits, keeping in mind their age and maturity level. 

For instance, if a 2-year-old child wants to eat by herself and spills the food on the table in the process, make sure that her spoon is easy to handle, that her bowl is wide enough, that the chair is placed near the table and is of the right height.

She must then be encouraged to eat by herself even if she makes a mess.

If a child wants to write on the wall of the living room, make sure that she is instead given paper and crayons or chalks and a slate on which she can draw. Tell her in a language that she can understand, “Please use this paper or the slate. You draw on this paper or this slate.” Say it firmly without anger or threat in a matter-of-fact voice. If the child still insists on drawing on the wall, take away the chalk, crayon or the pencil and keep it out of her reach. She can be given the materials again as soon as she is ready to accept the limits set by you.


Consistency
Both mother and father should jointly set rules or limits for the whole family. Make sure the child understands the rules and make sure that she is always made to follow them. If you become lax on certain occasions, she will take advantage and try to disobey you and create a scene the next time. Once the rules are made, both the parents and all the other elders at home should see that they are followed. A tired father must guard against letting the child have her way against the rules jointly made by both the parents. The grandparents too, should not let the child go against the limits set by the parents. Do not laugh, even when your very young child refuses to obey. If you do, the undue attention will encourage her to repeat her ‘performance’.


Discipline In School
The child has to learn at home and from her teachers the art of living a happy and productive life. Before the age of 5, a child may readily accept the difference between right and wrong from her parents, but as she grows older, she starts questioning the moral codes set by the parents. This occurs more frequently when the values followed by her peers are at variance with those that she has learnt at home.

Now is the time for parents and teachers to explain the value of the magic words ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Sorry’. Remember, values are best imbibed by those children whose parents and teachers lay the foundation for nurturing these values by themselves acting as role models and setting correct examples.

One of my teachers could not stand the wastage of even a drop of water. When the tap was left open due to someone’s carelessness, he would close it immediately and bring it to our notice. If he saw a paper lying in the school compound, he would pick it up and put it into the waste paper basket himself. His exemplary behaviour had a deep impact on my memory; I follow his actions to this day.

Teachers, like parents, must be good listeners and treat their students with love and respect. I once came across a child who was, unfortunately, the victim of a teacher who developed a dislike for her. The girl, a brilliant student, suddenly started faring poorly and was even afraid of going to school. It was then learnt that the teacher was constantly scolding her and putting her down in front of the whole class. The determined father did not take the matter lightly and wrote a formal letter to the school authorities. It then came to light that that particular teacher was creating problems for many children in the class and that parents were too scared to bring it to the notice of the school authorities. Ultimately, the teacher was expelled from the school.

In general, parents should make sure that the children give due respect to the teacher. When my children were small and I was waiting in queue with other parents to see my son’s class teacher, a mother was making all sorts of remarks against the teacher in the presence of her child. The same teacher, in fact, was an adorable person and very good with the children. It was obvious that the problem lay with the mother’s perception of the teacher and her attitudes rather than with the teacher.


Never Insult Others
Nobody likes to be insulted, especially children. Yes, parents can get angry. We are likely to get angry with the toddler who spills the only milk left at home. In such situations, label the act, not the child. Say “What you did was naughty!“, not “You are naughty!” Such labels can have a very damaging effect on the child’s personality. Instead, help her clear up the mess and then teach her how to carry a glass of milk safely.


A Few Important Components Of Discipline
I quoted Howard to define discipline. The author stresses the need for parents to provide special uninterrupted time for the child; reward positive behaviour; ignore minor transgressions; set routines for meals, sleep and chores; and offer choices whenever practical.

Howard also deals with praise, rewards and punishment. “A smile, increased attention, praise or material rewards, all serve to reinforce a child’s actions. Rewards should be small, immediate and appropriate to the situation. “At the same time, children need protection from their own impulses. For example, they should not be allowed to hit their parents. Firmness demands that, if the child does not move to do as requested in 18 seconds, the parent should go towards the child, grasp an arm if necessary, and shepherd him or her to the task without speaking further.” 

Howard rightly cautions that one parent should not interfere with how the other has already started to handle a given situation. 

I am against physical punishment. However, parents need not be filled with remorse if by chance, they hit a child in response to the latter’s indiscipline. However, physical punishment should not be consistently used in a bid to modify the child’s behaviour. A ‘time-out’ is a better substitute to physical punishment. If the child is 2 years old, then the timeout must be for 2 minutes. A 5-year-old can be given a timeout for 5 minutes. For 2 to 5 minutes, the child is placed in a comer or a room in which there are no other attractive or interesting alternatives present to amuse her.

It is true that parents who have had problems in childhood or who were brought up in an atmosphere of marital discord may find it difficult to discipline their children. But Howard refers to recent studies that have shown that mothers who have had troubled upbringings, but have recognised and accepted them, have children with normal attachment, while mothers who remain bitter, have children more likely to show an insecure attachment pattern.


MANIFESTO FOR A HAPPY FAMILY*

*From a conference for families titled ‘Come Together, Stay Together’, held at Panchgani, Maharashtra, in May 1997.

Every couple should keep these points in mind:

  1. A family is an organisation of people who live together and support each other for the realisation of a common goal.
  2. A sound family is the only real basis for a sound society.
  3. The common goal of a family is to create overall hope and happiness amongst all who come within its sphere of influence. Securing this objective whilst unfolding the creative potential of each individual is the main objective of the family.
  4. An ideal family would be one:
  1. Where there is unconditional love, in which every member is accepted and respected for what she/he is, without any comparisons.
  2. Where there is communication and empathic listening to the said and the unsaid in an atmosphere of peace and harmony.
  3. Where being home means to be in a haven where one need not be anxious for one’s physical and emotional well being. Where every member can repose unconditional trust in the other. Where one is not alone in joy or in sorrow.
  4. Where children are free to share their joys, fears, thoughts and perceptions in all their innocence and purity.
  5. Where every member finds time to be there for the others.
  6. Where we receive our first lessons in what is good and not so good. Where WHAT is right is more important than WHO is right. Where sharing and caring is a habit.
  7. Where reprimands and corrections spring from a foundation of love. Where people learn by example. Where rights go hand in hand with responsibilities.
  8. Where dignity and division of labour are respected and accepted.
  1. That, in order to make happiness the crown of a family’s activity, its members need to bring about an inner transformation by taking this solemn pledge: 

That I shall do my best to inculcate, imbibe, nurture and cherish all the above stated ideals in myself and my family, and thereby reaffirm my commitment to society. That, from time to time, I shall refer to the above ideals in order to remind myself of the goal that we have together decided to reach, and to assess my progress in that journey.


HAPPY FAMILIES FOR A HAPPY WORLD
Exhorts Maya Kirpalani, “Pause! Think! If an individual can realise and actualise his own potentialities to their maximum to make himself and others happy, to create a better world, can one then envisage the dynamic influence and impact of a  family wherein the various family members can pool their individual strengths and assets to make the world a better place to live?

“Progressively, what if all the families in the whole world began to live with a common goal of merging and coalescing their efforts, strengths, values and ideals to create a more compassionate and humane world? Idealistic thinking? Maybe so! But I strongly believe that even if 50% of the world’s families came together and nurtured this worthy cause, only positive forces would emanate from Mother Earth and our Loving Father shall shower His blessings on mankind.”




9 November, 2014

 
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