With increased complexity of our life styles and increased orientation towards careers, we hardly take quality time for raising a child. Rather, we focus more on having them run with us from morning till bed time. As parents, we have our busy careers or schedules where as our kids are competing equally with us with 7 am to 7 pm school hours and after school activities. On the weekends, we are tired and drained from the week, while our kids are either busy with coachings or extracurricular activities. Then the only time spent together (leave alone teaching/disciplining a child) would be in front of TV or watching movie or eating out in a restaurant. This is the story of almost all nuclear families these days.
When these kind of routines are considered as normal to our family environments, what about families where there is a special child or a child with special needs to care for? What if there is a child or another family member with a medical illness to care for? The flooding of the market with newer gadgets and our need to replace our emotional support with materialistic needs, expensive school admissions, expensive vacations are additional aspects that look exciting but need to be carefully considered for their benefits or potential harm. The grass on the other side is not always greener. Children spend a lot of time playing with their gadgets (play stations, computer games etc) and often at the cost of their sleep and food. Eating healthy food at appropriate times takes a backseat with “snacking” the preferred food. Comparisons with the peer group abound on who has the most material things, low tolerance and high frustration levels, a reducing respect for human and emotional relationships, and an attitude of “It is alright, what is the big deal?” are more common these days.
As adults, are we able to identify the early signs of diversion from the education they are supposed to receive? Are we able to take time to work on these possible issues before they become more problematic? Are we able to be firm or discipline or direct the child towards an acceptable path? Or do we end up crying over spilt milk while consistently refusing to see the signs of impending trouble? Do we assuage our feelings of guilt or convenience by giving more materialistic stuff at our children that sort of drives them farther and farther away?
Anything that is recognized early can be worked at systematically. What should we focus on?
- Healthy eating and sleep habits is of prime importance. Starting earlier is better. Help yourr child to eat and sleep at the right times. Teach the importance of eating all the food on the plate.
- Boundaries with regard to their behavior of exploration and experimentation. A young child of 2-3 years will try to follow or model their parents. As an adult, you need to work at yourrself to improve them. Your ability to be sensitive, flexible and thoughtful in human interactions will be picked up by the children. Your behavior towards your fellow human beings and animals, use of material, the limits of acceptability, empathy, leadership and positive authority are important. Setting boundaries need not always be restrictive or negative..it can be a positive enriching experience.
- Be organized and use material appropriately. Stop blackmailing your child by repeatedly reminding them of how much you sacrificed for them or how much effort you put for them. Instead, focus on reinforcing the positive actions of the child that has helped earn your respect and rewards for the child. Set a limit for what material you provide to your child, try to provide material that can be useful and constructive. Do not hesitate to discuss these with your children or to explain your choices to them. Do not hesitate to listen to them.
- Let us not carry our baggage to our children. How your parents treated you is not necessarily the basis for how you treat your child. Your child is an individual in his/her own right. Changing societal values over time have to be taken into consideration. What was considered routine decades ago may not be considered appropriate now. You need not focus on fulfilling your dreams or desires through your child. Learn to understand your child and see them as an individual in their own right.
- Focus on education. It is important to understand as a parent that the purpose of education is not just to earn money or fame but to develop into a thoughtful sensitive fair human being. The focus on investing or spending on materialistic things should instead be shifted into providing the child skills to take independent ethical decisions. Help the child to grow continuously and develop the skills to learn on their own making informed choices.
- Focus on values/ethics. The values that are important as an individual, learning to respect all schools of thought, understanding the reasoning behind rituals such that rituals are not just routine are all important aspects. Some of these are imbibed, some have to be reinforced. Your child observes keenly the values and ethics you practice. You have to work on yourself to improve them.
This is an incomplete list but brings about the need to first look at ourselves as a parent before we try to chaange our children. The challenge can be pleasant and something that can be worked together with the child(ren) building long lasting bonds. We, as parents, have to be open to growing and learning with our children.