Last Saturday, we had a workshop on Parenting at the children's school. The first reaction when you hear that you've got to spend two hours on a Saturday learning how to 'better parent' your kids is usually something along the lines of 'Aarrghhh!' and indeed it was mine too. But then I realised that this would be an interaction with a gentlemen that we had met some months earlier in a session at the time of Nursery Admissions.
The good Dr. V.S Ravindran is described as a renowned Educational Psychologist, Counsellor Trainer and Teacher Educator, involved in the training of people in leadership positions in educational institutions, corporates and government organisations for more than two decades. What this impressive description fails to highlight is how brilliantly funny and incisive he is, with his anecdotes, examples and dramatic re-enactments of scenarios that he has witnessed between parent and child during his career.
'Entertainment and education all in one go' I thought to myself and trotted off to the session happily on the designated day. I was not to be disappointed in the least. I sat in the front row beaming up at him, assiduously taking notes and occasionally cringing at the disastrous parenting mistakes that he highlighted during the talk, especially because I could relate to so many of them. I thought it would be a good idea to share the few key points that he spoke about, and to that end, I wrote to him and received his happy consent for the same. Here they are, therefore -
1. On Anger and Scolding:
- Dr. R started off by drawing a picture of the human brain ( he checked if there were medical doctors in the room and asked them to keep mum about the technical correctness of his diagram). The basic point that he made here was that there was a Learning System in the brain vs the portion where Emotions take place, and when you scold a child with anger, it causes the Emotional part of the brain to take over completely, and this means that No Learning Can Take Place in such a situation. Essentially; anger and punishment do not help correct a child's behaviour, and therefore are for all practical purposes useless. There just isn't any point at all. Therefore, his advice was that when you're angry, do not even attempt conversation with the kids. Just withdraw.
Note to self (and husband) : We never do this in our home. We react immediately and many times, angrily when there is a transgression, especially if one of the kids hits the other. And we have to do this repeatedly. It makes sense now that it hasn't actually stopped the aggressive behaviour. However, with so many good things in life, this one is easier said than done and will take loads and loads of practice. As the doctor said, though - patience and practice are pretty much the only things that work with kids, and it's no different for us. Our score on this: Zero.
2. On Unconditional Love:
- This was, according to Dr. R, one of the most important things that any parent can give to a child. And while he said we all claim to love our kids unconditionally, we fail to implement this one practically by not separating our children from their actions. For example, he said, even saying 'Good boy' or 'Good girl' after something nice is done by them can lead kids to think 'I'm only good when I do this or that.' The assumption, instead, has to be that the child is instrinsically good but sometimes can lapse into incorrect behaviours. Therefore, both in praise and in censure, the principle of commenting on the action should be followed.
The other thing that he mentioned was No Trading of Love to get work done - which can have serious consequences in terms of raising kids who think that this is the way to get things done in life - and therefore turn out manipulative.
Note to self: The number of times we say 'Good boy' in our household is ... uncountable. The issue is how to ingrain these same things with all the help that we have - those ladies haven't attended a Dr. Ravindran workshop and it beats me how to explain exactly why we should say 'Good job' or 'Good work' instead of 'Good boy/girl.' Similarly for the negative. Will have to figure this one out.
3. On Discipline:
- Babies, said the good doctor, are not born with impulse control - it is something that they have to learn. Till six years of age is the best time to teach kids the skill of impulse control ( although he assured some distraught-looking parents that it's not too late even after that age.) It's an important life skill, and the way that we build it is through consistent explanation and behaviour. For example - if there's a tantrum for a toy; either we don't give in at all; or we just go ahead and give in right in the beginning. The mid-way path which so many of us seem to follow ( No...no...I said No...I SAID NO...OH ALRIGHT TAKE IT AND SHUT UP) teaches the kids a very unhealthy pattern.
Delayed gratification is a critical life skill that needs to be taught to children; having them wait for something is a good idea - so that they learn that not everything in life comes instantly on-demand.
Teaching No for an answer is a good idea too - ideally with a reason though. And bluffing is a bad idea - example 'I have no money in my purse to buy you that lollipop' and later conveniently pulling out money to pay the sabzi-wala.
And in general for tantrums - ignoring is the best idea. While keeping an eye on the tantrumming kid and removing all sharp objects such as knives and chainsaws from the vicinity.
The most important thing he mentioned here was to do with Consistency; he said a lot of parents give in to things when they're in a good mood - the same things that they would not allow in case they were in a bad mood.
'Be Predictable' - he said; kids need us to be predictable, it gives them a sense of stability in their lives. Especially when they're small and we represent a huge portion of their world to them. This principle of Consistency also applies between parents - Mom and Dad contradicting each other a lot of the times results in very confused kids. Where grandparents are actively involved, this can be even more of an issue, but has to be managed for the sake of the kids.
Note - We do a lot of the 'giving in after resisting'; but we're pretty good at delaying gratification; on Predictability and consistency, however, we score low - especially me, I must admit. Vijay is usually an ocean of calm and I'm the windy storm. We've become better over the years at supporting each other and maintaining a united front ( Anyone who's read my first book 'Just Married, Please Excuse' would see a big change on this part if they could peek into our home now). However the fact remains - this area needs most work for me.
4. On Controlling Aggression:
We're looping back and forth a little on this, but here's what he had to say on the topic of actually managing a kid who's hitting out -
1. Ensure you show no anger
2. Explain that you understand the feeling of anger that the kid is experiencing. This validates the feeling of a kid which he may not have the vocabulary to express.
3. Explain then, however, that hitting is wrong because it causes hurt. This is crucial because it says to the kid that while the feeling may be valid, his reaction is not the appropriate one. Separating the two is important, so that feelings aren't suppressed and self-awareness can be inculcated in the kid.
4. Round it off by suggesting an alternative - example, encouraging the kid to speak about the issue rather than using his hands.
What we're doing, Dr. Ravindran explained is trying to ensure that we do not cause our children to swing either to the aggressive or the submissive - but stay within that healthy zone of 'assertiveness' - which involves, for example in the case of dealing with issues such as bullying by speaking out and/or seeking social support.
Note - yeah, I've already said we're zero on this, so moving quickly along...
5. On Television
Ah, the most cringe-worthy session for me.
The careful selection of programs, the man said... the NOT using of the TV as an electronic babysitter...the need to sit with the children and supervise their viewing and commenting upon inappropriate scenes to reinforce values.
Note - I cannot, cannot, cannot sit through that Chhota Bheem fellow. The only solution in sight seems to be to drastically reduce TV time, which in our case can happily exceed an hour a day. I can see that this will be a real challenge going forward, especially since this also applies to the use of technology, the Ipad, the internet and so on.
6. On Physical Exercise
Dr. Ravindran stressed this one a great deal. The importance of physical exercise to release energy, create a calming effect, increase focus and attention spans.
Note - considering my children go bouncing through walls and crashing through windows in their general zeal for life, I think we're okay on this one as of now. Also, I'm delighted that all three of my kids will probably start Tae-kwondo lessons next week!
7. On Rewards
Distinguishing between rewards and bribes is very important, stated Dr. R.
'Finish your homework and you'll get icecream'' as a solution to the initial resistance from the kids will simply result in reinforcing their negative behaviour. If they resist, Mommy'll offer a reward. Cool.
Instead, he said, catch them doing something good, and give them unexpected rewards - which means, they can't be given continuously - doing this once in a while will result in better behaviour on a general basis. However, more important is that transition we're trying to make for the kids - moving from tangible rewards to intangible ones (such as praise) as they grow; and eventually leading them to being intrinsically motivated - for example, by reinforcing 'Hey, you've tidied up your room on time. Doesn't that make you feel good?'
Note - for me personally, this one is really important. Loving the work you do and being intrinsically motivated by it, focussing on the journey and not the destination. Whoever thought it begins with how conscious you are about offering them an unexpected ice-cream? They should have parenting licenses just as they do driving licenses, I tell you...
8. On Values
This section was as simple ( and yet, not easy) as : Guys, just Walk the Damn Talk. Practice What you Preach. Do as you say. And so on. You get the drift, right?
9. On Child Sexual Abuse
Since CSA affects 53% of Indian kids - isn't that a truly shameful and shocking number? - it is critical that we as parents be aware. A few things to keep in mind:
- Do not call Private parts by their nicknames - a Penis is a Penis is a Penis, dammit. As Dr. R said - would you really want your child to be struggling to tell his teacher that someone 'touched his nonu?' which might be misunderstood as just being a toy? Good point.
- Promote the No-touch policy as much as possible - the number of people allowed to touch your kids should be kept to a healthy minimum. Even when you have to touch their private parts, it's a good idea to ask for permission.
Note - it so happens that it's Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. You may want to head on over to this online resource, run by my friend Kiran Manral (amongst others) and educate yourself on various matters. Also, I think it's never early to have the talk with your kids about CSA and here's a truly fabulous video that I've shared before. Now's a good time to let your kids watch it too. Seriously. This one may really, really help educate them ( and you). Great work, Childline.
10. On Time
Dr. Ravindran rounded off his talk ( where he had us spellbound for two full hours, not an easy task when you're talking to a roomful of busy, tired parents) by saying he had talked about Unconditional Love and Discipline being two extremely critical offerings that we make as parents to our children - the third happens to be the gift of Time. Listening to them. And making sure that the time we give them is about THEM and not for us - agenda-less time, not time we're forcing them to bond with us or trying to improve upon them.
As he said - the moments that they will remember when they grow up are only those little ones when you held them by the hand and walked around a mela or a park. Parks and Walks, he said, if they're not a part of your relationship with your children - you're missing out on something.
Simple but profound.
Let me therefore end this really long, but hopefully worthy post and go and check on what the kids are doing. It's already 8.30 p.m. But it's never too late for a walk in the park, right?