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.