Every child is wired differently with his or her own set of likes and dislikes, and parents are at a constant loss trying to figure out how to raise children mindfully. A portrait of the modern family is almost always marred by issues such as how to connect with your child and have effective communication, how to ensure that values like honesty, compassion, humility and forgiveness get inculcated in them, and how not to be judgemental if children err, which they will.
The question is, do we need to reinvent the wheel? Yes, parents need to have that self-talk with themselves and lead by example rather than expecting the child to change. They need to realign themselves to understand what children really need, and not expect them to be picture perfect all the time. These and some other insightful observations form the basis of paediatrician and Group Medical Director, Apollo Hospitals Group, Dr Anupam Sibal’s book titled Is your child ready to face the world? Based on observations of parent-child relationships during his practice of 20 years, and through his experience as father to a 22-year-old son, Devaang, Dr Sibal, 47, stresses upon the need for positive involvement of parents. He says this is the most essential key to a child’s success. “We all have flaws and we are not perfect, yet we expect our children to be perfect. If we want them to change, we need to change ourselves first,” he says.
Be a dreamer
Unlike many adults, children like to dream. When adults see their dreams unfulfilled, they lose enthusiasm. Children are different. At the Delhi launch of his autobiography Play it My Way, Sachin Tendulkar spoke about the importance of dreams. He said, “Dreams are really important. Many times we work hard and stopshort of the last bit of effort we need to realize our dream…When I saw India lift the World Cup in 1983, my dream to win the World Cup was born. It took twenty-eight years to see my dream come true. Every child should have a dream.’ Often, when I interact with families in my clinic, parents make comments such as ‘My child is a dreamer. She doesn’t understand that to be successful, you have to plan and study hard. Dreams cannot take you far’. ‘Dreams, dreams and dreams; that’s all I can get from my son’. ‘My daughter doesn’t understand the harsh realities of life. Life is not about dreams’. In India, parents tend to drive home the importance of success in discussions with children at a rather young age. All of us would agree that dreams alone cannot guarantee success. However, everyone needs a dream; a dream to motivate; a dream to excite; a dream to visualize success; a dream to experience the high of achievement and a dream to live by.
Does compassion require a super human effort? No. Each of us is capable of compassion. Often, we underestimate the power of small acts. A kind word, a kind action, a kind gesture or a kind letter can make a big difference to someone’s life. Children demonstrate compassion in their own simple manner, far removed from the complexities that adult display. For the acts of compassion, they expect no recognition or reward. Children by nature are compassionate. Adults can, in fact, unknowingly discourage that compassion by trying to control how their children interact with other children, adults and animals. A child may want to feed a stray dog but a parent out of concern for his or her child’s safety might stop him. A child might want to part with the most expensive toy he or she has, but a parent might say ‘Do not give away that toy; it is too expensive. Give a chocolate instead.’ Children do not understand the materialistic ways of the world that are an integral part of adult life…We could do our children a big favour by not interfering with their acts of compassion. We could go a step further and encourage them when we see them do their best to be kind and thoughtful. In fact, we could learn from our children.
We often talk about honesty. At work and at home, we lecture one another about the truth. We want our children to be honest. We parents often forget that young children are honest. They do not lie. They do not steal. They are not dishonest, as they have not been exposed to it. As they grow up, they see examples of it around them. One of my little patients, Aadil, has such a beautiful smile that it can turn anybody’s regular day into a special day. Whenever Aadil enters my room with that smile, he brings along so much joy. On one visit, when I was about to say bye to him after the consultation, he whispered something into his mother Smita’s ear and then said, ‘injection’. I was surprised to hear that, as Aadil was not scheduled to receive a vaccine that day. I asked his mother why was he mentioning an injection. What Smita said made me smile. Smita said, ‘Aadil has become a fussy eater, and I had warned him that if doesn’t start eating better, he will get an injection from the doctor.’ When Aadil realized that the examination was over and his mother had forgotten to ask the doctor to give an injection, Aadil reminded his mother. At the age of four, he knew very well that injections hurt, yet he reminded his mother about the injection. I have rarely seen an act of such pure honesty. We as parents need to remember that while we cannot always prevent exposure to dishonesty outside our homes, at home, we need to be role models. We need to nurture the value of honesty through our conduct. We need to encourage a discussion on what is honest and what is not as often as we can. Asking for medical leave from school so that a child can go for a family function is dishonest. Getting someone else to do a child’s homework is dishonest. Neither can happen without the approval or support of parents.
Forgiveness is a virtue that is very hard to practice. Each one of us has had bitter experiences, and the pain, suffering and hurt vividly stands out. It is just so hard to forget, let alone forgive…Children need help to realize the power of forgiveness. I remember the case of a 12-year-old boy who was brought in with complaints of tiredness. He had no other physical symptoms. Children are often brought for consultation for a physical manifestation which turns out to have a psychological cause. When I asked questions pertaining to psychological health and well-being, the parents mentioned that boy was unable to complete his homework, did not enjoy games and seemed unhappy. The boy got angry often and just seemed disinterested in everything, including studies. On probing further, it became clear that the behavioural change started after an incident at school. The boy had a fight with a classmate and the teacher had taken the fighting duo to the head master. The boy was reprimanded and had since developed problems. The boy felt that while he had not started the fight, he was held equally responsible. He was angry at the child who started the fight, the teacher and the headmaster. This incident had taken place two months ago…The boy could just not get over the incident, and it started seriously compromising his life. Over a course of three consultations, the boy realized that it was only he who was suffering, and for him to move on, he needed to forgive his classmate for what he had done. It took considerable counselling for the boy to finally agree that forgiveness was the answer.
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