Teaching Your Child EqualityPosted: October 17, 2011
In theory, you believe in the equality of all people. And you’d like your child to believe it too.
Deep down, you know people aren’t equal, and it is not possible to treat everyone the same way, but you’d still like to treat whoever you meet, wherever you meet them, with a minimum level of decency, courtesy – call it what you will. And you want your child to do this too.
I believe the best way to ‘teach’ your child anything is to let her experience the thing you want her to learn.
You’re showing her how to join Lego blocks to build a house. She interrupts you to say something, but you tell her, “I know how to do this, so you let me tell you how to build the house. Listen to me.” She hears you out, but continues to disagree. She is an architect in her own right and wants to build her kind of house, not your kind of house. She’s listened to you right to the end. Now, she wants to tell you how to build her kind of house. Time to practice equality. Stop flapping your gums and listen with all your might. At the end, you might still disagree with her house design. No matter. Let her build her kind of house, and you build your kind of house. That’s equality!
You’re teaching him to write the letter ‘K’. You demonstrate by first drawing the vertical line from top to bottom, then the top diagonal, then the bottom diagonal. Your son takes the pencil and draws first the vertical line from bottom to top, then the bottom diagonal, and finally, the top diagonal. At least look at the letter he’s written before you snatch the pencil from him and correct the way he’s writing! If he’s written a passable ‘K’, let him write it his own way. That’s equality.
This doesn’t mean you let your child run wild and do everything just the way he or she wants. (Children are great imitators, and will tend at first to do everything the way you do it. Later, they want to try doing everything the opposite way to how you do it! Both are just phases, and you can ride them out by staying cool, and being true to what you think.)
But let him first try it his way. If it doesn’t work, your child will drop the idea. If it works, how bad can it be? And you can always introduce a new way of doing something, or looking at something, or thinking about something. But he’ll be open to listening to your way only if you’ve been open to ‘listen’ to his way.
Even if he listens, it doesn’t mean he’ll do as you say. He might still choose to do it some other way. That’s fine! You continue to do it your way. That’s equality.
When my daughter was a toddler, lunch was usually rice with dal (lentil gravy), raw sliced cucumber and tomato, and a couple of cooked vegetables – say potatoes with cauliflower, and cabbage with peas. She would eat everything on her plate item by item. If she wanted the cucumber first, she’d eat all the cucumber, then pick all the peas out and eat them, then move on to the dal, spooning it into her mouth, and so on. As a result, she usually ate just plain boiled rice. Which appalled everyone but me.
“Mix some dal with the rice,” people would say. “At least add some vegetables to the rice. Even poor people add some flavor, some pickle or vegetable or dal – nobody eats just plain boiled rice. And how can you break up the cabbage-peas into cabbage and peas?”
She’d look enquiringly at me, and I’d say, “You eat the way you want.”
Today, for many years now, she mixes everything on her plate into one big pile.
“How can you taste anything in that mess? Mix rice with dal, then try rice with potato curry, then try some chicken without anything else. Eat things separately so you can get the flavor,” people tell her.
She doesn’t look at me for direction any longer (she knows everything, you see! 🙂 ), but if she did, my response would be the same as it was earlier.
You are a concerned parent, so you feel free to voice your concern (yes, your child calls it “nagging”, but only because he doesn’t know the depth of your love for him! 🙂 ). You may be blessed with a ‘concerned’ child! He may be concerned that he’s going to be late for wherever you are going to, and he may voice his concern over and over again till you get there. This may happen every time you go out – whether to drop him to school, for an activity, a party, whatever. If you’re practicing equality, he should have the right to voice his concern the same way you have the right to voice yours. (This time, you’ll be the one calling it “nagging”! 🙂 )
Especially in Asian cultures, parents are given a semi-god-like status, at least traditionally. Good manners dictate that you do not argue with your parents, you can’t imagine yelling at them (what to speak of actually doing so!), and in all matters, you seek to please them. You could try being this kind of parent, I guess, but you’d have to find another world in which to raise your child; because nowhere around him does he see such a parent-child relationship at work.
Maybe in the Ramayana or Mahabharata (Indian mythological epics), but he sees them as stories. And such stories are counteracted by innumerable other stories. Besides, you’re nothing like the parents in the Indian mythological tales, so it’s foolish to expect your children to be like the kids in those tales!
So if you shout at your kids and tell them what they’ve done wrong, and still want to ‘teach’ them about equality, be prepared to let them shout at you, and point out in excruciating detail what you’ve done wrong.
Of course, there’s a flip side. If you’re willing to listen, so will they be. If you give them some leeway, some space and love and acceptance to vent, they will reciprocate more than you can imagine. If you do things for them because doing those things gives you joy, they will do things for you – and find pleasure doing them!
It’s equality, after all; it cuts both ways! 🙂
P.S. As I scramble to post this, my daughter’s saying, “Why don’t you organize yourself better so you’re ready with things and not rushing till the last minute?” I think she’s echoing something I told her a couple of hours ago! 🙂
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