|Posted by Naveen Kini on March 28, 2013 at 11:05 PM|
2013 marks the completion of 20 years in practice as a paediatrician for me, and along the sometimes stressful, but mostly fun filled journey, there have been a few lessons I have learnt. Many of these were not taught during my training to become a paediatrician, though I frequently wish they were. A few tips are from friends and books, but most of them have been picked up on the job from the children I have seen, interacted and treated, and from my own two children. I’m sure these points will help parents in deciding what is good and what is not for their children, and help them become more ‘child friendly’ and less 'stressed out’
The important lessons that I have learnt, and those that each parent should know are:
• Firstly, and most importantly, acknowledge and respect your child as an individual in his/her own right, and recognize, nurture and develop any unique talent and ability from early childhood. It is unfair to compare the child with any other, especially siblings and relatives, and even more so, to do it in public. Accept whatever shortcomings the child has, and encourage the strong points.
• Do not burden the child with expectations. It is incorrect to expect a child to be a genius at maths just because the father and grandfather are mathematicians. Children who are not strong in logical (mathematical) intelligence may be rich in other forms like musical, visual, verbal, interpersonal and kinaesthetic intelligence; identify and support it early, and gently guide them in the field they want to pursue. Deciding for them beforehand may condemn the child to a lifetime of boredom and dissatisfaction in the wrong career.
• Complaints like ‘stomach pain', ‘headache’, ‘lack of appetite’ are very often stress-induced, related to the anxiety that the child feels in situations where he/she finds it difficult to cope. Always keep a lookout for such symptoms, and immediately take steps to help the child de-stress and relax. See that a minimum amount of time is allotted for play and physical activity, even while preparing for examinations, as this gives the child much needed mental relaxation and enjoyment.
• Accept and respect the feelings of a child. It is OK for a child to have feelings like jealousy, dislike, anger, sorrow etc. Instead of saying “you should not feel that way” or “don’t get angry” or " why are you scared of such a silly thing" etc, find out why the child feels so, and give the child an opportunity to explain his/her emotions before passing hasty judgement. Respect the child’s feelings, and the respect you will get back will be tenfold! Similarly, never ridicule a child's opinion, however silly it may seem. Your opinion matters immensely to the child, and a harsh negative comment can trigger insecurity and resentment.
• Many parents get stressed out on complaints like “my child does not eat” (the commonest), “my relatives are scolding me because my child is thin”, “my child is not yet speaking, while my neighbour's child of the same age is” etc. This can be avoided by getting rid of certain stereotypes and beliefs about child rearing that are fixed in your mind. Remember that all advice and suggestions given by well meaning relatives and friends, sometimes followed for generations, need not necessarily be correct. Advice such as ‘bottle feeding a child is a must’, ‘a child who does not want to eat should be force-fed’, ‘skinny children are unhealthy’ etc. are incorrect and should not be believed. Do not hesitate to ask ‘why?’ and ‘why not?’ before you actually follow someone’s advice.
• How many parents actually talk to their children, and try to get to know them better? Most of us are so busy with our work and personal interests that we have hardly any time to spend with our children. Remember the many instances when your child has pestered you to play with him/her, wanted to show you something or wanted you to read a book? The stock answer probably was “not now, I’m busy” or “ask mummy/daddy to do it”. This is just an attempt by the child to communicate with you, to tell you his/her feelings and to feel wanted. Do not push them away, or postpone the act for later, for these are not moments that you will get back! Talking, or more importantly, listening to the child (communicating) reassures the child that the parent cares, and as the child grows he/she will feel free to ask questions about sensitive topics like puberty and sexual behaviour, and also bring to your attention instances of bullying, abuse etc. if the need arises.
• “My child does not listen to me, doctor, it’s like talking to the wall!” is a common complaint. Children may appear to not be listening to what you say, but they do observe you keenly. Parents are the role models for kids, and everything the parents say or do is believed by the child to be true or correct. Set good examples for your children, be it in behaviour, personal hygiene, habits or attitude towards servants and subordinates. The child will always ‘do as you do’ and not ‘do as you say’
• Temper tantrums are common especially in infants and toddlers, and many parents usually give in to them to avoid embarrassment or sometimes believing that the child will soon outgrow the behavior. What you need to do is to stress on basic discipline from a very young age. Make a few rules and then stick by the rules consistently, and see that the rules are followed by all members of the family so that the child gets the right message. Learn to say "NO", and stick to it. Do not give in to emotional blackmail, especially while dealing with a child with a weight problem, or overuse of electronic media. At the same time, give clear reasons for any refusal, and not “because I say so”.
• “Doc, my child is impossible to manage, and I end up whacking him many a time!” is another common concern. Rest assured that it is OK to punish a child when the situation demands. Only make sure that the child understands that you are only punishing the act, and not the child, and that you will continue to love the child in spite of the act. Unconditional love is the best gift that parents can give a child, and does wonders for the child’s confidence and self esteem. Never say things like “I will not love you” or “I will send you away if you don’t behave” even casually or jokingly; the damage done on the child’s psyche will be very difficult to undo.
• “Doctor, I’m scared to allow my children to go outside and play, or (in the case of older children) to go out with friends. I’m scared that they may get hurt, or get into bad company.” Over-protectiveness is one trait that parents should control and suppress. Let the child make some mistakes, and learn from them. Give children some ‘space’, and refrain from doing all their chores, constantly checking on them, and hovering over them when they are with their friends (helicopter parenting). Tell the child that you trust him/her completely, and the child will work hard to maintain that trust. Interfere with the child’s activities only if you must, and be more of a ‘friend’ than a parent to the child.
• Care less for what others will say about your child, and more about how your child will feel about what you say, and how you say it.
• Lastly, stop comparing your childhood with that of your child. The children just ‘switch off’ when they hear the words “When I was your age…..” or “You should be thankful for………” Accept that the world has changed rapidly and that the things that were considered ‘luxuries’ during our childhood are ‘necessities’ now. Do not stop your child from using social media, mobile phones etc. but rather explain to your child the need to be careful and discrete when using these mediums of communication.
Move with the times, adapt and be a parent your child will be proud of! And remember, it is never too late, and you are never too old to change.
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