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“My child just doesn’t listen!!” Complain parents who consult with me.
“Of course children DON’T listen!!” I say
They don’t listen – simply because they SHOULDN’T listen.
If they listened to us - we would fill their lives with
“mustn’t” “don’t” “shouldn’t” and “can’t”.
We would undermine their courage and confidence and ensure that they never attempted anything that seemed impossible.
But nature wants children to achieve the impossible. Children are born believing that they are unstoppable. They are equipped to block our instructions and disregard our prophecies of doom.
Because they are armed with the ability to ignore us – children are able to march on and change the world.
Children are programmed to rebel.
When children don’t listen – they are not trying to insult us and purposely make our lives difficult. It is not personal.
Our job as parents is – not to wipe out the rebellion – but to tame the rebellion so that it is productive and not disruptive.
And we can make this happen. We can make our children listen to us – if we understand why they don’t listen.
Here is why children don’t listen
We don’t show our children how to listen – We ignore our children when they speak to us
Listening is learned behaviour. Children learn how to listen by watching their parents.
The clichéd “Don’t worry that your children are not listening to you – worry that they are watching you” Holds true here as well
We must be good role models and listen to our children when they talk.
If you ignore your child when he says something – he will ignore you when you instruct
We don’t give them enough attention – We pay attention only when they don’t listen
A helpless child can only resort to passive aggression to protest against what he doesn’t want or doesn’t like. And the easiest way to do that is to stop listening
Show your child that he is valued and important by respecting his opinion and wishes at certain times. Rest assured that he will respect your opinion and wishes at other times
We instruct children without ensuring that we have their attention – We don’t respect their work.
We adults are busy – as parents we have so much to do.
But are children free? No. They are busy too.
What they are busy with may seem unimportant and inconsequential to us adults – but it is important to them.
They are constantly working towards growing up and are engrossed and preoccupied.
Before we speak – we must connect with them by getting down to their level and looking into their eyes. Only then can we hope to be listened to
We use the wrong tone – We either drone on or shout
Children decide whether to listen or not from the way parents speak, and their tone.
When parents constantly drone on with instructions – the monotone prompts children to tune them out. It works best to not lecture, preach, or instruct them forever.
Children have short attention spans. Short crisp sentences that state exactly what they are expected to do – work best.
Shouting doesn’t help either. Anger is a threat to the child and he immediately shuts his brain down and begins to think of ways to escape instead of listening.
We use the wrong words
When we begin with an accusatory word like “You…….” a threatening word like “If…….” or a challenging word like “Why…….” Children feel threatened and go on the defensive.
The anger and fear generated by these words cause children to go into non-cooperation.
Think – before you speak
We are repetitive and predictable
When children don’t listen to us – we repeat our instructions over and over until they are executed.
Children are quick to realise that they will have multiple opportunities to do what they are asked. They know that their parents will ask them several times before they explode with anger
As smart as they are - they begin to wait for the explosion. It becomes their cue to listen.
They begin to listen for the angry voice. They ignore everything before that.
And this becomes a habit.
Don’t become a nag. Say it once. And then allow children to experience the consequences of doing or not doing something.
When talking to children remember that they were born to be in charge. Just like you.
Remember that they don’t like being told what to do. Just like you.
Have you ever felt like running away? I have.
I wanted to run away two days ago – when there was a huge pile of dishes in the kitchen sink. I often want to run away when there is a pile of laundry to fold. And every 6 months or so – when I am exhausted from being the brave working Mom – I feel like running away for a vacation.
Yes – there are times in our lives when all of us feel like running away.
Why do we feel like running away?
The thought of running away is liberating because the physical distance that we are able to put between ourselves and our problems holds the momentary promise of making us feel free.
Running away promises liberty. It makes us feel that not all problems require solutions.
When you run away you feel empowered. You are able to take your life back by putting distance between yourself and the parts of your life that displease you. You imagine that because you are in a new physical space you have left your problems behind.
When we leave we feel like we are in control once again. Leaving makes us feel like we are calling the shots – even in the midst of chaos
Why is it important to stay when we want to run away?
When we make it a habit to change our physical environment to solve our problems – we feel comfortable only when we are on the move. Moving away from discomfort begins to look like the only viable option
We begin to crave the comfort that comes from being in control. And since we know from experience – that the easiest way of taking back control is by leaving the place where the problem is – that is what we do.
Our automatic response to fear and discomfort – becomes to run away.
But fear must be overcome - by challenging and embracing it. Not by running away
The only way to win where others have lost – is to refuse to run away when we are afraid
And this is what we need to model in our lives for children to replicate in theirs
Unfortunately however – with our Parenting we often teach children the exact opposite of what they need to learn.
We teach them that they can and should Run Away
We teach our children that we are powerful when we leave
“If you don’t come – I am leaving without you”
We threaten our children like this all the time. In the park, at a birthday party at the mall.
What this teaches children is – that leaving is the easiest way in which we can exert and exercise power and control.
From us children learn – that the easiest way to terrify and blackmail someone who loves you and coerce them into doing what they don’t want to do – is to leave – to walk away.
They learn first hand how terrible the desperation being left behind is – and when they have the opportunity they skilfully engineer this desperation and use it to their advantage.
In what they know of as the sure fire way to cause desperation - they leave home – they run away
We teach our children how easy it is to escape problems by changing environments
“Don’t go down to play – those children fight with you – just stay home and play Xbox”
“That teacher is terrible – I am going to change your school”
“If you don’t like the dinner that’s served – just eat Maggi”
“It’s really hot – go switch on the A/C”
These are instructions that we give without thinking – because they are the easiest solutions. And with these instructions we teach escapism.
Children are sponge like in their ability to absorb, learn and do exactly what their parents are doing
As parents, we are the role models in our children’s lives. We have to show them – not tell them - how to navigate the problems that the world throws up.
With our thoughtless everyday actions however – often what we teach them is escapism.
Instead - we must teach them that they need to stand up and fight to get comfortable
We teach our children that fear can just be wished away – we need not face our fears
“Stop crying! There is nothing to be scared of! It is silly to cry like this”
On the first day of school…. at the swimming pool..... whenever things go wrong and our children encounter unhappy feelings – we brush them off immediately.
We teach them that fear is something to be ashamed of. And that no one else is afraid other than them
We convince our children that they are not feeling what they are feeling. As a result they never learn to tackle their feelings and instead learn to constantly run away from them
It is infinitely better in such situations - to say something like this
"I know you're scared, but I will stand with you and together we will face what you are afraid of – until you are no longer scared.”
It is important to embrace the truth and help children work through their confusing feelings.
It is important to overcome our fears and use them as the rungs of the ladder to grow.
We overreact when our children make mistakes
“How could you do such a thing? What will people say? What will happen now?”
Yes - many of us say things like this when our children go wrong
We forget that mistakes are a part of life. And that a lot of what we learn in life – we learn by making mistakes.
Our reactions to our children’s mistakes determines what our children learn from their mistakes.
A balanced reaction can serve as a learning experience.
An unbalanced reaction can make the child angry, resentful and afraid.
Panicking when our children make mistakes teaches them that making mistakes is not acceptable. And when mistakes happen – instead of owning up to them and trying to rectify them – we must run away from them - otherwise there is chaos.
This is what we must teach our children
The primitive defence mechanisms of our body and mind will always prompt us to run,
but it is important not to do listen to the run commands that come down to us .......because
We can run away whenever we want to - but we can never escape
Freedom is magical
Nothing makes you feel as powerful and alive as freedom does. When you are free – you feel like there is nothing that you can’t do.
As parents we want our children feel invincible. We want them to feel powerful.
And for that we need to set them free.
Every child – at every age wants freedom – demands independence and seeks autonomy
What sort of freedom should we give our children?
Freedom is so easy to demand and so difficult to give - especially when you are a parent.
Letting go of that little hand. Or letting that little face go out of sight, wrings out our hearts and squeezes out our consciences.
It is terrifying to allow our children out into the big bad world and we are scared of letting them out of the fences that hedge them in.
Contrary to what we imagine however, setting children free does not require us to remove all boundaries.
Children in fact do not feel free when they are let out of all boundaries.
When there are no boundaries – children feel exposed and constantly fear for their safety. Their anxiety keeps them from feeling free.
Children feel free – when we define large but firm and inflexible boundaries (depending upon the age of the child) for them.
The railings of the crib for example give a baby the freedom to dream and roll to his heart’s content because he knows he will not fall out. Similarly, children feel free in the park because there are walls that keep them out of the danger from moving vehicles – unlike when they are compelled to play on the road.
Teens constantly push the boundaries that hold them in – but only to make sure that the boundaries are impossible to breach. Only when they know that there are boundaries that will keep them safe – are they able to confidently dream and create.
Children are fully aware of their battle against their own impulses to do things they know are not safe. They know that the odds are stacked against them when they are alone. And when they push against your boundaries – all they are trying to do is, ensure that they are safe.
How much freedom can you give a child without compromising safety?
As we go about parenting our children – every day – almost all the time - we are compelled to choose between what may be good for them (namely safety) – and what may be even better (namely independence).
Should we choose to keep them safe by locking them away from all danger?
Or should we set them free so that they are able to build the skills they require to face and overcome danger?
How do we cultivate our children’s aspiration for independence and autonomy – while keeping them safe?
That is every parent’s daily dilemma.
And when we are faced with this dilemma - it is important for us to remind ourselves that
Only freedom is can ensure safety
We cannot keep children safe by physically attaching ourselves to them.
It is only through engaging with the world that children gain the resources to manage risks. It is only when they encounter the dangers of the world first hand – that they develop strategies to deal with these dangers and learn keep themselves safe.
Overcoming danger and coming out safe – is the only way to develop confidence.
Just telling children about the dangers of the world is useless and counterproductive. It can either terrify them or make them dangerously curious and eager to get into dangerous situations.
The only way in which we can ensure safety for our children – is - giving them lots and lots of opportunities to engage with the world.
The 3 Skills your child needs – to stay safe without you present
The ability to make good decisions – Stop telling children what to do
Decision making is an art that is perfected with lots and lots of practice.
In our enthusiasm to have trophy children who are “perfect” in all that they do – we often constantly instruct children in what they should do and how they should do it.
This results in children shutting down their brains because they get used to instructions.
A child who is unable to think will be not be able to think his way out of threatening situations and this can be dangerous
Allowing children time for free play is one of the most important ways to help them learn and practice decision making.
What do I want to do now? Whom do I want to play with now?
Making such small decisions every day helps the child learn how decisions are made and also that decisions have consequences.
A well-defined personality – Allow children to be themselves
In our enthusiasm to see our children as our own mirror images, we sometimes forget that our children are born unique and different from us.
It embarrasses us to see qualities in our children that we don’t understand. And it prompts us to constantly prevent children from doing what they want to do and saying what they want to say. As a result of this they grow up with grave doubts about their own thoughts and opinions.
It is important to allow children to grow separate from us. We must allow children to be different from us. We must encourage them to be themselves and have no doubts about who they are, what they think and what they want to do in a given situation
Your child will face challenges that are very different from the ones you faced because he has a different personality and is growing up in a different era. He will have to come up with solutions himself. And this will be possible if you have allowed him to grow into an independent person whose personality is not tangled with yours.
An degree of immunity to peer pressure – Stop comparing and competing
One of the greatest sources of danger is peer pressure. Children feel pressured to do things that they would otherwise never have done – because they feel compelled to be like their peers.
The seeds of peer pressure are sown by us parents from the moment the child is born.
We compare our child’s behaviour, his skills and everything else to every child we encounter. We tell children that they need to be like everyone else. We convey to them that if they don’t do what everyone else is doing they are inferior and not good enough for us.
It is this habit of comparing that makes our children prone to peer pressure and makes them do things that would never have done otherwise – all because they aspire to be like everyone else
Allow children to craft their own definition of success. Support them when they succeed and also when they fail
Remember the Golden rules of giving your child Freedom
Teach your child not to fear the unknown. Encourage them to explore, discover and conquer the unknown
Infuse confidence and courage in your child. Teach them to be bold. All the freedom in the world is useless unless you have the courage to use it to your advantage.
Long long ago – before we started equating Independence Day with sleeping in late and pushing through the crowds at sales………in a small town called Jamshedpur……..this is how we celebrated Independence Day …the Tata way
A sleepless 14th August night in the heavily surcharged atmosphere of expectation - was the norm when I was growing up. Independence Day always left me breathless with its promise.
I didn’t know much about what independence meant in those days, but I could feel the tears that were just beneath the surface in my mother’s eyes as she spoke about that day in 1947 when they listened with disbelief as the news of freedom travelled to them many hundreds of miles in distant Kharagpur from Delhi. As the long play record of patriotic songs trilled on continuous replay she told us about how the streets were filled with a joyous madness when independence was announced.
Her sentiments would probably have remained alien to me had it not been for the Tatas who even thirty years later managed to inject the same mad enthusiasm and patriotism into this national holiday. If you lived in Jamshedpur it was impossible not get swept up in this wave of patriotism.
In our little town this was not a day for sleeping late. We would patter out in our pyjamas at 4 AM to watch the Prabhat Pheri as senior school children paraded the roads of the town. As the Prabhat Pheri permeated our sleep drenched eyes it would dawn on us that the long awaited day was finally here. Frenzied fights would ensue as we fought to get to the bathroom first in our rush to be the first ones to be dressed for the Flag hoisting and our faithful record player would be silenced in deference to the patriotic songs now booming all over the TELCO Colony. Even the worst cynics would be forced to sing along.
As we threaded our way through the sea of people on the way to the stadium, we would buy armloads of paper flags and wave them high in the air. Then inside the stadium, my parents would have to struggle to keep us in our seats through the flag hoisting and the march past of the twenty odd schools and ten departments of Tata Motors. They would finally relent and lift their restraining hands as the crowd favourites – the canine section and the live band went past.
There were no televisions to drag us home and a palpable sense of regret pervaded as the ceremony wound up. Reluctant to go back to the mundane, little groups would crowd into friend’s houses and breakfast with more tales of those years before 1947.
Now – so many years later – when my eyes cloud with tears every time I hear the Jana gana mana my heart fills with gratitude for those lessons in patriotism that the Tatas taught me.
Let’s give our kids a small peak into what patriotism means today.
Do you get upset when your child doesn’t listen to you?
I can’t blame you if you do. It is inconvenient to have a disobedient child.
But as we enforce rules and discipline – it is important to remember that it can be dangerous and damaging to raise a child who cannot disagree and is unable to revolt and rebel when required.
A child who cannot say "No" is an easy target for bullies
A child who cannot say "No" is an easy target for abusers
A child who cannot say "No" will not be able to stand up to and resist peer pressure.
Suffering through the consequences of bullying, abuse and adverse peer pressure can be much worse than suffering through the inconvenience of being disobeyed.
And therefore – it is important to teach children how to stand up for themselves, for their thoughts ideas and principles.
Children must be taught how to disagree. They must be taught how to say no.
They must be taught how to think. They should be able to argue their point of view in their own minds so that when they say “no” they are taken seriously. They must learn how to argue without being abrasive and how to convince without being crude and discourteous.
When two people – whatever age they may be – live together – they are bound to disagree on certain points. It is a normal, natural consequence of living together.
A two year old who refuses to move or refusing to eat is expressing dissatisfaction and demanding change. A teenager who locks himself in his room or dresses inappropriately – is doing the same.
When we don’t teach children how to express themselves – they resort to socially unacceptable ways of expressing themselves. When children express themselves like this – they often damage themselves – without achieving the change they desire.
Imposing our will on our children by demanding compliance or using brute force saves us precious minutes on busy days but it also discourages thinking. It hampers the development of essential communication skills that are vital for the safety and well-being of our children.
When children are dissatisfied with a particular situation and want to change it – they must be able to express their dissatisfaction and disagreement in a way that will bring about the change that they desire.
They must learn how to speak and express themselves in words
Children model themselves on their parents. They learn how to tackle life situations and deal with disappointments and dissatisfaction from their parents.
If you are a parent – here is what you should do
Lead the way - explain your reasons for making rules
Children must learn how to express themselves in words. And they learn how to use words effectively from their parents.
When children say “Why” or “I won’t” – they are asking us to explain our reasons.
And when they ask for a reason and we say “Because I say so” – it is the equivalent of your teenager slamming the door in your face
Make an honest attempt to explain the reasons behind the rules you make. State all the facts – practice openness in communication. Argue your point until your kid is convinced.
It is only when children learn how to put their point of view across convincingly - can they actually swing adverse situations in their favour.
Allow your child to explain his point of view
Listening is a very important part of effective communication. As parents we rarely listen.
Listening is hard work but if we want our children to listen to us – we must listen to them.
Allow your child to make some decisions
Children rebel and revolt when have no say in what happens. The rebellion may be active and include shouting and aggressive behaviour. Or it may be passive where the child gives up on dressing well, keeping his room clean and not getting school work done.
Be gracious and say “it’s your decision” in some areas of his life. For example - let him make decisions how he would like to spend his pocket money without offering any guidance. Let him learn from his mistakes
Give in sometimes – don’t make everything an ego issue. Some things are not worth an argument
Because we are parents – several times – we insist on being obeyed. We demand obedience on trivial issues that we could easily let go.
Children pick up on this and begin to equate obedience with a loss of face and an injury to their pride and ego
If we want our children to give in to our wishes – we must model gracious surrender for them.
It is important to show them that giving in is not something to be ashamed of – so that they can obey us with their pride intact
Also allow your child to speak and when your child manages to convince you – give in with good grace. Say “I didn’t agree at first but you convinced me”
Focus on presentation – avoid slander. Speak with grace
Treat arguments like organised debates. Speak in a calm composed voice and do not resort to bad language or character assassination.
The way you speak when you announce something – sets the stage for how the rest of the conversation will evolve. Don’t be dictatorial. Your child will learn to speak in the same tone that you use to address him.
Encourage healthy debates on family issues and don’t forget to pause and look at the humorous side of situations
Once a decision has been made the matter should be dropped
Debates should be closed once a decision is made.
Needling a child with an error of judgement made in the past is a mistake and prompts a communication shut down in the future
Encouraging children to express themselves in the safety of their homes is an important step towards letting them know that their opinions matter.
Children must understand that they do not always have to agree.
They need to know that they do not have to do what others say.
All they have to do is – to be able to justify what they want to do - to themselves and to the world – by arguing it out in words.
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I don’t want my child to be bullied. Nor do you.
We are afraid of bullying. We are afraid because we know how terrible it feels to be bullied.
We know this because at some stage or the other of our lives – all of us have been bullied.
Childhood bullying is a much talked about topic and so we focus on bullying in schools and playgrounds. But you know as well as I do – that bullying does not end with childhood.
Bullying happens at the workplace, bullying happens in marital relationships. There is the possibility of being bullied in family relationships, in friendships and in every situation in life that involves another person.
No parent ever plans to rear a child who will become an easy victim for a bully. But in many cases without ever intending to – we weave the very characteristics that bullies are looking for into the inner fabric of our child’s personality.
Bullying is a mind game. And if we don’t want our children to be bullied – we must fortify their minds against bullies.
As parents we wield immense power. With our words and actions – brick by brick, we build our children’s personalities.
Be careful not to say the following things because they can create cracks in your child’s personality.
“What is wrong with you? Can’t you ever do anything right? You are useless!”
When we demean and criticise our children like this, criticism becomes their inner voice. Such children begin to believe that there is so much wrong with them that they become easy targets for anyone who wants to bully them. With our unthinkingly uttered words – we destroy their self-esteem.
Make sure you build your child’s self-esteem by emphasizing that life is fun only when we embrace and overcome difficulty and that failure is a part of the journey, not its end.
“Why can’t you do this? Everyone else is able to do it.”
Comparisons that we make with the intention of motivating our children to do better – only makes them feel inferior because they are different. Bullies target those who are ashamed because they are different. And a child who believes that he is inferior because he is different is easy prey for any bully.
Every moment of every parent child interaction must focus on how unique and special children are – because they are different from everyone else
“How could you do this – what will other people say” or “How could you do this – what will other people think”
Bullying is a mental game and one of the commonest ways a bully threatens and coerces a victim into submission - is by playing on his fear of what others will think or what others will say about an incident or a characteristic. Bullies use this fear. But this fear is created and established in the minds of children by their parents.
It is impossible to read the thoughts and minds of others. And teaching children to torture themselves by imagining what someone else is thinking is useless. It is impossible to know what someone else is thinking and even more impossible to change that - so why bother.
Do your bit to eliminate bullying
Bullies are cowards. They never target the strong or the brave.
We can prevent and eliminate bullying. And we can do that by bringing up our children to be strong and brave. We must tell children to love themselves and take pride in who they are and what they have.
Let us teach our children to accept, acknowledge and take pride in their flaws and differences before a bully comes along and convinces them that they should be ashamed.
Let us eliminate bullying by ensuring that there are no more victims.