Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Respond

Respond to the situation.

How well are you able to respond? How response-able are you? How good are you at responding to situations?

Not as good as you’d like to be, I’m sure. I know I’m not as good at responding to situations as I’d like to be.

And there’s a simple reason for this. Instead of responding, I start reacting. Instead of treating each situation as an individual incident, I treat it as an episode in an ongoing series.

Human beings are made this way. That’s how we learn things, how we distinguish patterns, how we form habits.

But if I want to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with my child, it would be worth it for me not to be a slave to my brain. I am more than my brain and habits, just as you are more than your brain and habits.

If I, as an adult, cannot respond instead of reacting, I have no right to expect my child to respond. I should be happy when she reacts – after all, that’s what I’m doing! So we both just keep reacting – to history, ancient history and patterns, till we are totally out of sync with the present, with reality. And we’ve thoroughly ruined our relationship.

Why? Because I’m not ‘grown up’ enough, adult enough, to respond instead of reacting!

I see my child come home with her lunch not eaten, and instead of enquiring why, I burst out: “Again! You haven’t had your lunch again! You should starve for a few days. Then you’ll know…”

If she’s in a good mood, she shuffles her feet and waits till the storm passes. “A few boys from my class broke some school property, so the entire class was hauled up during break. We were being scolded so we didn’t get a chance to eat. And I didn’t eat in the bus coming back because I’d rather eat fresh hot food at home than the food that’s been lying in my lunch bag all day.”

Sheepish silence from me. What can I say? I should have asked calmly why she hadn’t eaten. Then I’d have known the reason, and I could have responded (with a resounding: “Great! 🙂  I too, would much rather that you had hot fresh food at home than the food that’s been lying in your lunch bag all day!”) instead of reacting as I did.

I’m sorry,” I mumble, “I didn’t know…”

If she’s in a bad mood, she stomps off, and then we’re both mad at each other. I feel I am the injured party, and she feels she has the right to be in a foul mood (“I’m starving because I couldn’t eat, and now my mom’s freaking out without knowing what she’s talking about!”).

What we agree upon is: “She just doesn’t understand…” 🙂

Forget about whether or not I’m setting a good example for my daughter. Every time I react rather than respond, I create a barrier between us.

Every time you react instead of respond, you create a barrier between yourself and your child.

Your child feels:

1. Untrustworthy (“You don’t trust me enough to handle the situation well…”)

2. Misunderstood (“There’s a good reason this happened, if only you’ll give me a chance to explain…”)

3. Hurt (“Why is your first reaction the most unflattering one, as if I can’t be expected to do anything right?”)

4. Irritated (“Can’t I even make a mistake?”)

5. Judged (“One right or wrong response is not the final word on the kind of person I am…”)

6. Stifled (“Why am I always expected to come up with the right answer? It’s not the end of the world if I’m not ‘perfect’…”)

7. Burdened (“You expect too much from me all the time…”)

8. Distanced (“You’re not on my side; you don’t cut me any slack. If you say I’m a child, then you must make allowances for the fact that I don’t know as much as you do, so I won’t respond the same way you would have under the same circumstances.”)

9. Invalidated – (“You don’t care about me as a person – my interests, my feelings, what I want. All you want is a carbon copy of yourself, or a ‘perfect’ child so you can look like the best parent in the world.”)

It’s hard to respond. We’re all in a hurry. We simply don’t have the time and mindspace to consider each incident in detail. Also, we’ve learnt to make assumptions about things and people. And we act (react, actually) based on those assumptions. And we end up pushing our children away from us.

It’s time to pause, take a deep breath, give your child the benefit of the doubt, and ask gently, “Why did you…?”

This leaves room for your child to answer your question, for conversation, for explanations (from your child! 🙂 ). And you continue to be connected, and to communicate with your child.

***

Over the past few days, I’ve shared with you what I believe are the 5 cornerstones of parenting today:

1. Ask – ask questions.

2. Be – be who you are.

3. Do – do things with your child.

4. Explain – explain what is going on.

5. Respond – respond to the situation.

 I’m sure applying these basics will put the excitement and connection back in your relationship with your child. I’d love to hear the ideas you came up with and how they helped you get out of a rut you might have been stuck in. Do share! 🙂

Next: How to have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less! 🙂 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂

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Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Explain

Explain what is going on.

Explain why you said or did what you said or did. Don’t hold it up as an example for your child to emulate. That is a different thing altogether; and one which will take you farther away from your child instead of allowing you to grow closer.

A friend always offered water to anyone visiting his home. He was training his children to do the same. One Saturday evening, his son opened the door to a couple armed with flowers and a huge gift bag. The college friends his parents had been awaiting had finally arrived.

As the child greeted them and ushered them in, his parents came out of their room, and there were effusive greetings on both sides. The boy disappeared into the kitchen. As he brought 2 glasses of water on a tray, his father entered the kitchen and said, “No water for them.” The boy was taken aback. For months now, his dad had been training him and his sister to seat guests, and offer them water. And he was now saying, “No water.”!

His parents got tea underway and he helped put out and serve the snacks. He sat for a while making polite conversation and then made himself scarce. The doorbell signaled the arrival of his sister from her tennis class. She walked into their room and he said, “Dad said not to give them any water.”

“Huh?” she asked, planning what to change into after her shower.  “I’m sure there’s a reason.”

The evening wore on. The children ate dinner and went to bed while the guests were still around. At the breakfast table the next morning, the dad said, “You must’ve wondered when I asked you not to serve them water. You see, they live in the UK, and they have just arrived. They need a few days to adjust to the drinking water in India. Till they do so, drinking even filtered water might make them sick. That’s why I asked you not to offer them water.”

The boy was at peace. He understood what was going on.

There are so many times when we tell our children to behave a certain way. And then, we seem to behave in the opposite way ourselves! There is always a reason for it. Share that reason with your child. Let her see that there is a method to your madness, a specific cause for your saying or doing something a particular way.

When you explain what is going on, you are helping your child in numerous ways:

1. Growing up – In childhood, all the world is in black and white. “This is good; that is bad.” “Do this; don’t do that.” “Be this way; don’t be that way.” But as your child grows, he realizes that these rules don’t apply beyond a point.

Telling a 3-year old not to talk to strangers is fine. Saying the same thing to your 10-year old before sending her off to camp is weird. You don’t want your 10-year old to talk to strangers either. But the definition of the word ‘stranger’ has changed enormously in the 7 years between the ages of 3 and 10. These changes are gradual and ongoing, and your child will be able to learn and deal with them only if you keep explaining the exceptions to her; if you keep adding the shades of grey.

This introduces her to the real world, and prepares her for a real life, where most things are uncertain and unknown, though we like to pretend that we have great control over things. (“If you are ‘good’, then ‘good’ things will happen to you.” Yeah, right! 🙂 )

Real life consists of hundreds of thousands of exceptions. Explain each one to your child as you come across them together.

2. Increasing his capacity to think – It is only when he learns that he needs to keep in mind many things that your child will be able to come up with appropriate responses; only then will he become response-able. Earlier, the rule was simple: guest, seat, offer water. Now, he needs to think about where this guest is from. That creates an acceptable variation in behavior: guest, seat, don’t offer water (if he knows they’ve just come to India from a foreign country).

Slowly, as more variables get added, he will learn to think of all the ifs-and-buts on his own. Is this someone who only drinks boiled water? Is this person recovering from a water-borne disease? Is it the dead of winter and the person is cold and sick, in which case, they’d prefer being offered a hot drink rather than water?…

But your child will think of other options, other factors, other responses only if you explain things to him.

3. Clear confusion – When you say one thing and seem to do another, your child is confused. This confusion will prevent her from following even the rules she ‘knows’. At every stage, if you can explain your reaction and behavior to her, she will be clear. She will appreciate that you are a person of integrity who follows your beliefs, even if they seem confusing to others at times. She will learn to be a thinking, considerate person, based on the example you set for her.

I have always been particular about speaking my mind to people. I won’t let them walk away with an ‘incorrect’ impression of me.

One day, I’d taken my daughter along with me to work. As we sat down to lunch, the client’s father, a gentleman in his 70s, joined us. He asked after my family, and when he learnt that I had only the one child, he told me, “That is why you women put on so much weight. (! 🙂 ) Women are made for child-bearing. Unless you have at least 4 children, there is no hope for you. Stop working. Go back home. Have a few more children…”

At 6, my daughter understood what he was saying. I’m blessed to have a tactful child, who barely paused in the act of eating as the old man spouted all this. Lunch got over and I got busy with the rest of my work.

I’d barely turned the key in the ignition to go back home when my daughter burst out, “That man was so rude! He was crazy – imagine saying things like that to you! Why didn’t you say anything back to him? Why were you quiet?”

She’s right. In most instances, I’d have taken issue with what he’d said, so it was inexplicable to her how I ‘took it’ lying down – all the junk the gentleman was pushing at me.

“He’s really old, and that is the way he’s been brought up. He’s never going to change the way he thinks. There would be no point in my saying anything. He would merely have felt hurt and insulted that I ‘talked back’ to him, so I let him say his piece. At no point did I nod or indicate any kind of agreement. He realized that I didn’t agree, but I’m sure he appreciated that I was courteous enough to hear him out.”

I continued: “The funniest thing is that his daughter-in-law (my client’s wife) has only 2 children, and he knows that, and knows that I know it too! It would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to raise the fact saying he hadn’t even been able to influence his own daughter-in-law so why was he trying to give me his take on women’s health, but his age and lack of education shielded him from any such reaction on my part.”

She wasn’t happy that I had let it pass, but she understood my point. Sometimes, we let things go out of consideration for others. In my book, such consideration doesn’t make me less honest. In someone else’s book, it might do so. Each person has to decide for himself and herself, given the specific situation.

4. Avoid misunderstandings – If you explain things to your child, you minimize the possibility of misunderstandings. This keeps your relationship strong. It keeps you talking to each other through all the storms, troubles and alarms. It keeps you communicating through the hormonal rushes, the hot flushes and the mid-life crises. Not a bad thing, eh? 🙂

So simple! Explain what is going on.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Parenting: The Basics, Revisited in 2012 – Ask

Ask questions.

But of course you already ask your child questions! Questions like:

“How was your day?”

“What happened at school today?”

“What did you do all day?”

Only, you’ve learnt that there’s no point in asking questions because your child just mumbles something, or gives you the same sort of answers every day. Answers like:

“Okay.”

“Nothing much.”

“Just hung around.”

You ask and you ask, and there’s never a meaningful reply.

Maybe you need to change the questions…

You might want to try asking: “What was the most fun thing that happened at school?”

Your child is suddenly forced to concentrate, because this question needs a specific answer. He will think about was the most fun thing that happened at school, and will reply to your question. You will learn about the people in his class, how they talk think behave, what they think of your child and each other, what your child thinks of them. You will learn the oddities of various teachers, and how your child relates to them.

Suddenly, your question has opened up a whole world to you, and you find yourself inside your child’s world, looking at his life from his point of view.

What a wonderful thing to happen!

Earlier, you were a parent, doing his/her ‘duty’, asking after the child. But now, you’ve become a privileged person, taken behind the scenes to see how your child’s mind and heart work, to see how he is growing and developing.

Or you may choose to ask: “Who brought the most exciting food today? Did you get to taste it?” (In India, most children carry lunch from home, though they can buy food at school as well.)

She’s thinking, and telling you what her friends brought to school, who ate what from whom, who said what, what happened, how it worked, how the boys gobbled up some unfortunate’s food… Again, for as long as she’s answering your question, you’ve been included in her life, and you’re watching with her eyes.

There’s so much that goes on in school, in neighborhood playgrounds (you’ve been a child – you know!) on TV, at home – pick anything, and ask a specific question.

So why is asking questions such a cornerstone of parenting? Because:

1. You learn what’s going on in your child’s life – You learn whom he likes, whom he doesn’t like, you learn about situations he and his friends encounter and how they deal with them.

2. You see how your child is growing – You see how her mind works, and can think a little forward into the future to predict what problems of the mind and heart she is likely to have. You may find that she has very rigid ideas on wrongdoing being punished. But life rarely works so directly or obviously. You can clearly see that this is an area where you need to work with her to make growing up and dealing with the real world less difficult than it would be if she were to adhere to her rigidity. You can share stories, ask for her ideas, give her suggestions on how she can prevent or minimize troubles in this area.  

3. Your child will listen to you – When you say, “Sometimes people say something and do something else,” he will be more likely to connect with what you are saying because you will give him an example from some incident in his life that he told you about. And he told you about it because you asked questions.

4. You can guide/counsel effectively – Mostly, parents have no idea of what’s going through their child’s mind. (Obviously! Parents are not mind readers.) But we feel compelled to maunder on about values and principles and priorities and all kinds of stuff. No wonder children switch off. They just don’t see the point of all the endless lecturing/prosing on/ nagging.

But now that you are asking specific questions, you can tailor your guidance to what your child really needs.

5. Your child begins to talk to you – Oh, bliss! 🙂 Yes, you might doubt that this will ever happen, but as you keep asking questions every day, your child will get used to sharing her life with you. The day will come when you get home to be deluged by “what happened today”. 🙂 Every life is a story, and if you have listened to the story for a while, even as audience, you become a part of the story. 🙂

6. You rekindle your connection with your child – Your child feels loved and valued because of the time and interest you show in his life. Suddenly, you go from being the parent held at arm’s length to someone who is ‘on your child’s side, in his camp, batting for him’. He will be much more likely to talk to you about the issues he is faced with, the problems he’s having, the plans he’s making…

So ask questions. But before you launch your question campaign, be aware (beware?) of:

1. Repeating questions – Don’t fall into the rut of asking the same questions all the time. If you formulate 5 questions and repeat them endlessly, they will assume the flavor of “How was your day?” You are a smart, interested, committed parent. You can come up with hundreds of questions. Please do so.

2. Judging your child’s answers – Your child shows you an empty lunch bag, but while talking, she lets slip that instead of eating her food, she gave it to her friend so she could show you an empty bag. Don’t jump down her throat. Relax. Let her keep talking. If you see this happen for a few days, you can ask her why she wants you to feel she’s eating her lunch when she isn’t – but till then, hold your peace. Don’t react to and judge everything that goes on. You are the audience. The audience gets to watch, is free to think, but can’t walk up to the actors and tell them what should be done. 🙂

3. Helping your child – There are numerous interpersonal issues that your child deals with, and as you ask questions, you will learn what they are. If you keep giving him instructions / guidance on what to do with whom in which situation to create a specific result, he will not develop these vital life skills. His body will grow, but his mind will diminish because he will become increasingly dependent upon you to provide solutions to his ‘problems’. You need to guard against your tendency to ‘help’ your child.

Ask questions. 🙂

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Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


How to Get Along with Your Child – Like, not Love

LIKE – such a lukewarm word, so tame; not strong, like LOVE.

You love your child; more precisely, you LOVE your child. Love comes naturally to a parent. Nature ensures it – your helpless infant needs you! He depends on you for everything – he can’t make it without you. And you (we all) love to be needed (there’s that ‘love’ word again!) – it makes you feel special.

Besides, after a short while, the helpless infant begins to respond, to engage with you, to smile and laugh and play with you, to connect with you. Love for your child comes easily to you as a parent, and once it comes, it stays right through your life.

But do you LIKE your child?

“Umm – what kind of question is that? I mean, I love my child – that is the main thing, right? What do you mean ‘like’ my child? Like is unimportant, it’s a small word. People like all kinds of things and people, but they love (LOVE) only a few things and people, and I’m telling you, I LOVE my child,” you say.

I agree – Love is the big one. But I believe LIKE is far more important, especially if you want to live happily with your child.

Think of your friends – people you want to spend time with. Chances are, you don’t love them; but you most certainly like them. Being with them, around them makes you feel good. Maybe because they are amusing, or agreeable, or ‘nice’, or warm, or friendly, or sympathetic – whatever the reason(s), being with them is something you look forward to.

It is very likely that the people you like like you right back. (Not on facebook – in real life. 🙂 ) For at least a couple of reasons. First, who doesn’t like to be liked? If you know that someone likes you, you tend to like them. Second, you are more agreeable, more amenable, more open to people you like than you are with those you may not like as much. This makes you more likeable.  

Essentially, you get along well with people you like. Of course there are differences of opinion – but the very fact of your liking each other gives each of you the space to air those differences without shaking the foundations of your friendship.

Back to your child. You LOVE your child, but most of the time, your love gets in the way of your getting along with your child. You have your own agenda “for the ‘good’ of your child”. 🙂 ! And your child has her own agenda (who knows what that is?), and love is buried deep, if not thrown by the wayside, as both your wills clash from morning to night.

Ah, but if you LIKE your child – what a difference that makes! Here’s a person you enjoy being with – never mind that she is your child. You like her for who she is, for the way she looks at the world, the way she speaks thinks feels. You appreciate many qualities about her – you forget that she is your child – you meet her and spend time with her as you would with anyone else that you like.

Of course your child loves you! He has no choice – children know no other way to be than to love their parents. It is we – the parents – who teach our children non-loving ways of relating to us. But does your child like you? (Does this sound like blasphemy? I bet this question hasn’t struck you before! 🙂 )

If you find things to LIKE about your child, your child will be able to like you right back! He will accept you as you are – he will appreciate many things about you – things he may or may not have in common with you.

He will talk to you and you will listen, because you enjoy spending time with him. You will speak and he will pay attention, because he enjoys being with you. You will find things to do that you both enjoy. And you will also agree to disagree on many issues without your making heavy weather of them (in the sense of pulling rank: “I’m your Mom/Dad and I say so, therefore you have to…”). You will look forward to spending time together.

You will get along with each other – and be able to live in relative happiness from one day to the next.

Figure out what you like about your child. Identify the qualities you appreciate and enjoy no matter who you find them in. You like honest people? People who make you laugh? People who are enthusiastic? People who are creative? People who are active? Well, your child has some of these qualities too! Forget that he is your child. Focus on the qualities that you like in him.

If you don’t LIKE your child already, teach yourself to do so. And as you begin to like your child, you will find that life goes much more smoothly for you. Here’s to carefree parenting – by you! 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Know Your NO-s

Alright, let’s be the loving, logical, practical adults we want everyone to believe we are.

You want the best for your child, and you want your child to be the best – in at least one area of achievement. You’d like to help her take the correct path and avoid obstacles. This means a formidable list of Do-s and Don’t-s (creative grammar, I know 🙂 ).

What if you got just one option – your child can go with either the Do-s or the Don’t-s? Hmmm.

Lots of parents would choose the Don’t-s. For instance, if you’re talking about food and nutrition, it is probably easier (and definitely more valuable!) to say “Don’t do drugs, don’t smoke, don’t have more than 2 pegs of alcohol a day (if this is what you want to say)” than it is to say “Be sure to eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables (these should include all color families…, eat both raw and cooked vegetables except for … which should not be cooked and … which should not be eaten raw, remember tomato is technically a fruit, avocados can’t be included in greens, and…), 3 servings of dairy,…”.

You know your child won’t remember a tenth of what you’re going to tell him. Might as well make it short, so you decide to stick with the Don’t-s.

Great! Why don’t you begin making a list right now?

If you’re anything like me, you’d probably have 50 things on your list in less than 10 minutes.

My daughter would faint if she read the above sentence. She’d faint, because she and all her friends believe I am one of the most easy-going parents around. I agree with her (and them). 🙂 I can make the list, but I’m also very good at editing this list down to one or two things.

These one or two things are my NO-s. I have them down pat, and every time I’m tempted to say NO (or “Don’t!”), I go back to my list and cross-check:

–          Has been eating sugar through the meal, and is looking to overdose on chocolate for dessert. Asking for permission. Say NO? (Does it go against my NO?) No. “Sure – go ahead!”

“Oh, Mom, you’re the best!” (I’m rolling my eyes.)

–          Has gone ballistic over some ridiculous detail. Screaming so loudly I can’t hear myself think. Follows me so she can vent fully (and I can’t get away!). Give her a piece of my mind? No point – she ain’t listening anyway. So I duck till the storm has passed. In a bit, she’ll calm down, come over and apologize. And I’ll tell her she doesn’t need to be sorry.

I really think she doesn’t need to apologize, and here’s why I think it:

1. I’m her mom – if she can’t acknowledge and give in to how she’s feeling even when she’s with me, what’s the point of being family? If I don’t give her the space and time to vent, where will she get it? This time and space is what makes a bunch of people in a house a family.

2. Venting is good for health – she’s letting it all out safely and she will feel better after having done so. Suppressing how you really feel creates all kinds of physical and mental problems – simply not worth it. And if I’m listening, I’ll get a chance to understand what she’s thinking and feeling.

3. She learns – each time she blows something out of proportion, I am matter-of-fact about it. I don’t ask her to stop throwing a tantrum, I don’t yell back at her… As a result, when she cools down, she herself thinks about what happened and why it happened. We might talk about it or not. And the next time around, she has more perspective. The result is delightful and twofold: if she freaks about the same thing, the intensity is lower than it was earlier; and she freaks about bigger, more important things. Either way, she’s growing, and growing well. Oh, joy! 🙂

4. Love in action – It’s easy to be loving and accepting when things are going well. If you can be loving and accepting even when your instinct is to run screaming from him, he’s experiencing love in action. He will notice this. And it will give him the confidence to be who he is – assured that he is no less worthy of love because he is not all ‘good’. He will be less vulnerable to manipulation by people and circumstances. That’s what I want for my child. I’m sure that is precisely what you want for your child.

5. Someday, somewhere, it will out – If your child doesn’t vent at home, he will vent somewhere with someone. Who knows what might come of this?

6. Risk avoidance – I have seen so many children – and adults – leading heavily controlled lives: always making the right noises, having the right reaction in the right proportion, doing what is expected of them. Till one day, the smallest trigger completely derails them, and then it takes a good long while for them to get back on track – if at all they do. Better by far to let off steam as one goes along, and chug along the track of your own choice.  

So she doesn’t need to apologize for losing her temper. For the longest time, she didn’t believe me when I said it. But over the years, as we’ve lived the reality of it, she’s beginning to get it.

I gain in innumerable ways from having very little on my NO list:

I. The list is easy to remember – and abide by! 🙂

II. She shares freely with me – her thoughts, ideas and what goes on in her life, because she doesn’t need to worry about which NOs she has transgressed. Our communication is based in reality.  

III. When I say NO, she listens – no, not obeys, but it’s enough that she listens! 🙂 (She must make her own mistakes and learn from them – one of the hardest lessons for a parent.)

IV. We share a great relationship – both of us actively choosing to spend time with each other. And we enjoy ourselves!  

V. I can go up in smoke too! 🙂 And I do.

Well, what are you waiting for? Make your list of NO-s, edit it, communicate it, and then sit back and be a carefree parent…

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Teaching Your Child the Meaning of NO

I was in high school, having a conversation with my English teacher on parents hitting their children. She had two kids, the younger of whom was 2 years old.

“I would never, ever hit my kids,” I said, sure of my stand. (I was a teenager, so it’s obvious I knew it all! 🙂 )

“Vinita, when your child is putting her finger in a live electrical socket, and doesn’t heed your warnings to be cautious, the only way to get through to her is to smack her hard. Do it a few times, and she’ll learn.”

I still disagreed.

“Well, how would you go about ensuring she doesn’t get an electric shock?” my teacher asked.

“I don’t know exactly how, but I will never, ever raise my hand to my child,” I reiterated.

She wasn’t convinced that I’d be able to get through to my child, and I was adamant that I’d find a way that didn’t involve hitting.

About a dozen years later, I’d just put a mug of piping hot tea on the living room table for my husband, who hadn’t yet entered the room. My 8-month old was trying to pull herself off the floor into a standing position using the table as support. Yes, the same table that held the piping hot mug of tea. She stood up, and reached a hand out towards the mug from which the steam curled enticingly upwards.

I don’t think any parent I know would do what I did next. I held her hand, and dipped the tip of one of her fingers into the hot liquid – just for a split second. As I did it, I said, “Hot! NO!”

Her hand was out of the tea and she was in my arms as I rushed her towards a cold water faucet before she even realized the pain fully. She looked into my eyes, hers wide with unshed tears. “That was HOT tea,” I repeated. “We don’t touch hot things. NO!”

I think she was fine after I’d put enough cold water on her finger. At any rate, I don’t remember any ill-effects after the event.

But there were numerous ‘good’ effects. Madam (thus respectfully do I allude to my almost-teenager who checks out my posts and is overwhelmingly generous with her comments 😉 ; which are mostly some variation of “Mom, you’re crazy!” 🙂 I told you – she knows everything! 🙂 ) never tried to fling herself off staircases, windows and balconies, or insert various parts of herself into electrical sockets or gadgets (microwave, toaster, vacuum cleaner etc.).

I didn’t child-proof my house. I had delicate crystal all over the place, and it stayed there. She learnt that there were places to play and places not to play. Some people feel that this might be because she is a girl (“Girls listen, but boys are so naughty! They simply run wild, you know!…”), but I’ve discovered that’s not true.

I have friends, men, who were as athletic and devil-may-care in their childhood as any boy could be, whose parents even today proudly display delicate china and crystal they have collected over decades – just as they did when the kids were little. All because they managed to teach their children the meaning of NO. 🙂

I thought of my conversation with the English teacher years after the hot tea incident. I’m not so sure any longer whether I proved my point or not. I certainly did not hit my daughter, but dunking her finger in hot tea is also violence of a kind, so I don’t know what to think.

But I am sure about 2 things: I feel bad that she had to suffer that momentary pain, and I am convinced I did the right thing. You may wonder at my ability to reconcile these apparently conflicting ideas, but it makes perfect sense to me. I saved myself – and her – a lot of trouble, heartache and conflict by getting her to understand NO so simply and directly.

I have no guilt about it; quite the contrary – I’m rather pleased I solved a potential problem before it even arose! I am not rationalizing the incident saying, “I did it for her – so that she wouldn’t hurt or injure herself in the future…” That was a side-benefit.

I did it for me. I did it because there was no way I could parent one kid and one puppy, cook, clean, run a household for us, and stay married to a husband with health issues and insane hours at work. But even if I’d been having a cushy life with ‘nothing’ to do, I’d still have chosen to do what I did. It was short, simple, direct, and effective.

If you’re still reading this, you might be appalled, and trying to come up with your own way of teaching your child the meaning of NO. That’s great! 🙂 The only way that will work with your child is the way that comes naturally to you – the way that you feel is right for you.

The ‘hot tea’ kind of one-time teaching obviously works when your child is really young, too young even to remember such an incident.

But what if your child is past that age? How can you teach him the meaning of NO?

The best time to start is now.

The best way to start is to pick only one NO. Suppose you want to cure your child of 15 ‘bad’ habits he has. Add to these 6 ways to ‘improve’ him or the way he does things. (Look at yourself! And you expect your child to listen to you! Get real 🙂 ) Of these 21 possible projects, pick only 1. That is your NO.

Maybe you pick ‘NO TV at dinnertime’. It has to be iron-clad; it has to be repeated and reinforced endlessly; you have to live it; you have to be the role model – no exceptions. Oscar Awards live on TV? Move dinner time so you’re done before the telecast begins. Wimbledon finals? Move dinner time. Not possible? Switch off the TV when a commercial break starts, serve and eat dinner, and begin watching after dinner is done.

They’re showing a documentary you’ve been trying to get hold of for years? Record it; or do dinner at a different time. No exceptions. Not if someone is ill. Not if there are guests over. (What kind of host are you anyway to have people over for dinner and then plonk them in front of the TV while you all eat? 🙂 )

After all, you’re teaching your child the meaning of the word NO. You’d better demonstrate that you know the meaning yourself!

An open secret about the word NO: the more sparingly you use it, the more effective it is. More tomorrow…

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Questions It’s Okay Not to Answer

The days of old-school parenting are long gone, when children were seen and not heard. Today’s children ensure that it is their parents who are (barely) seen and not heard, at least by the kids themselves! 😉

A vital cornerstone of new-age parenting is the willingness of the parent to answer questions. As parents, we’ve had it dunned into our heads: encouraging children to ask questions will ensure they know more, retain their curiosity, and therefore study and achieve more (there isn’t necessarily a very high correlation between having knowledge and achieving more, but that’s what we’ve been brought up to believe)…

So we let them ask all kinds of questions and try and find suitable answers to those questions.

But there comes a point when the questions begin to bother you. The questions will usually bother you for only 2 reasons: either they are uncomfortable questions, dealing with issues you’re trying to ignore, or they are intrusive questions, which infringe on your privacy.

Uncomfortable questions make you think about your life, your beliefs and your relationships. They highlight the lack of congruence between what you say or show on the one hand, and what you think and feel on the other. The greater the discrepancy, the more discomfort you experience, and the more you want to sweep the issue(s) under the carpet. You don’t want to deal with it, and here’s your child, asking you questions. What can you do?

If you’re avoiding answering a question to duck the discomfort, think before you do so. Your child won’t know the answer to her question, but she will certainly know if you are trying to avoid answering it. When you do this, without meaning to, you teach your child to be dishonest. She sees you make an excuse to avoid an answer, and files the incident away as one way of dealing with unpleasant issues in her life. When something sufficiently uncomfortable comes along, she’ll repeat your response. Not because she thinks it’s the best response, but because this is what she has seen and learnt from the beginning – from you.

There’s nothing wrong with dishonesty. It has its rightful place in the world, just as honesty does. The problem is that any value perpetuates itself as you practice it. If you give in to dishonesty once, it is that much easier to do so the next time around, and that much more difficult to make the honest response the next time around. As you keep responding the dishonest way, you might end up looking around yourself and realizing that you’re living a false life.

So there’s your child’s question, staring you in the face: “Mom, why did you tell Dad that the bottle of whisky broke when actually you and your friend drank it all one afternoon?” There could be any number of reasons why you did what you did. The question has been asked, and it needs to be dealt with.

You need to make up your mind about a few things:

Do you want to answer the question? If not, tell him, “I don’t want to answer this question.” But be prepared for him to come right back at you with, “Why not?” If you want him to keep talking to you, if you want to retain his trust, you’d better come up with a better answer than either, “Because I don’t want to”, or “because I’m your Mom and I’m telling you so”. The first answer has you behaving in a stubborn, childish way, while with the second, you’re pulling rank. No fair – your child deserves better.

If you want to answer the question but can’t figure out the best way to do so, ask for time. Simply say, “I’m thinking about why I did what I did, and when I’m clear about the answer myself, I’ll let you know.” Commit to a specific time. “I’ll let you know by Sunday / by 10th November / before you go on the school picnic”. And then get back to him with the answer.

If you have a great relationship with your child, she may actually ask you a question like, “Dad / Mom, when did you first have sex?”

Uh-oh!

Maybe you were in your early teens when you did, the same age she is now, and you don’t want to tell her the truth because you’re afraid she’ll treat it as a green signal for her to go ahead and have her first experience with sex – something you know she is not ready for, and which you’d like to help her avoid.

You might choose to tell her a lie – that you first had sex in your twenties, or after you were married (if this applies), or whatever. But know that she will carry the answer in her head, and in an unguarded moment in the future, you will give the truth away, and she will note the difference in both answers. Once she does, she will re-visit every single thing you’ve told her, and wonder if it is true or not. Not the best thing to happen, which is why I’d suggest you avoid it.

Maybe you first had sex when you were 22, and are comfortable sharing this information with her.

Whether you want to answer the question or not, the truth is that this information is personal to you. No matter how much you love her, this is your personal life, and she really has no right to expect an answer to this question from you.

Tell her so. You don’t need to be apologetic or defensive about it; just matter-of-fact.

Believe it or not, I learnt about not answering questions from my daughter. One day (she was then 6), her teacher and I met at school. I’d been through a grueling divorce, lasting 3 years of courtroom drama, and was just beginning to emerge from its shadow.

The teacher accosted me: Hi! I am so impressed with your daughter!

Me (smiling): Why?

Teacher: The other day, I heard a classmate ask her, “How come we never see your dad; only your mom?” And your young lady turns to the child and says, “It’s personal”. I was so impressed! Really an amazing response! I must compliment you – you’ve raised her so well!

My head was in a whirl.

I disclaimed all responsibility for my daughter’s response. In all the years I’d been going through the break-up of my marriage, it had never struck me to answer people’s intrusive questions with a crisp “It’s personal”.

“What happened?” “Was he bad?” “Did he hit you?” “Was he having an affair?” “What went wrong?”

To each of these questions from some well-meaning people and mostly prying gossip-mongers, I would make various responses, but it never struck me not to respond, not to answer the question.

And here’s my daughter’s response coming to me through her teacher. Talk about learning from your child!

I waited impatiently for her to get back from school (she was on the bus).

“Did you say…?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

“Where did you learn to say it?”

“Oh! I heard someone ask the teacher about something, and she said it was personal. That’s where I learnt it.”

Well, I don’t use those words at all – not even now. But I certainly do give that response – and I learnt it from my daughter! 🙂

Most of us are blessed with near and dear ones, and because they are so near and so dear, the lines separating them and us are often blurred. But there are many places where the line needs to be drawn.

The line that defines your right to your life, to your thoughts, to your SELF.

Don’t jump to answer the next time your son asks, “What were you thinking, Dad, just now? You had such a strange expression on your face!” Maybe the answer is innocuous, but it is vital that your child learn that he cannot enter your head on demand and tumble around in it. Tell him, “You don’t need to know what’s going through my head every moment of every day. Stay in your own head; live your own life”.

Needless to say, not answering some questions will teach your child to be her own person. And it will take away from you the right to ask her questions like, “Are you in a physical relationship with someone?”

Because she has the right to her own life too! 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂