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Saturday, 31 July 2010

A sneak peek into your child's world

The pursuit of chuckles and smiles entails embarking on an explorative journey with your children as co-passengers and looking at people, processes and activities that surround us through their eyes. It’s about appreciating the individual differences of children and treating them as unique and distinct entities with varied characteristics, needs and requirements. Nature promotes diversity, aberrations and deviations. No two individuals look exactly the same. That’s nature's way of appreciating the innate variations amongst individuals. We don’t want children being manufactured like standardised products in industrial units. We want to retain and savour their individuality and want them to blossom into what they were originally designed to be rather than imposing a restrictive structure on them. We are mere facilitators in the process, providing them a stimulating and safe environment where they feel secure enough to explore and launch into areas that they feel driven towards. We are here to recognise and appreciate their exclusivity, provide them security and comfort and assist them to navigate on their path of chuckles and smiles.

Ice breaking with your child

So now that you have decided to take the plunge, lets jet start our discovery and exploration. A lot of parents, particularly mothers spend significantly long hours with their children on a daily basis. Does this necessarily guarantee their understanding of their children? Well we could miss out on the basics as we leap forward into explaining the intricacies of phonetics and number system to our children. We tend to miss out on collecting and retaining the primary facts about people with whom we develop deeper and closer relationships. I might not remember details like my father's favourite movie, actors or sitcom. On the other hand, I had collected a lot of such basic data during an ice breaking session from a course mate who I met just yesterday at summer school. Interestingly we have never had such 'getting to know each other' sessions between parents and children unlike most other relationships like friends, spouse, co-workers etc. Let’s create the introduction phase with your children and see how many of these facts, you already know about them. Try to collect information on the following dimensions from your child

1. What is your favourite:-
Cartoon character
Television show
Playground/market area/other places of interest

2. Who would you share your secrets with?
3. If you could become somebody or something else, who would it be and why?
4. Which household chore do you enjoy helping out with the most and the least?
5. What makes you happiest/saddest?
6. Where would you go to if you were given a chance to visit any place?
7. If fairy god mother came to you, what three wishes would you ask for?
8. If you could change something about you, what would you change?

This list is not exhaustive. This is merely a structure to guide your exploratory travel through your child's mind. You could add new questions and hypothetical situations depending on your child's age and clarity of such concepts. If your child is old enough, he/ she could do a similar questioning and reporting of your likes and dislikes too so that the flow of information is mutual and both parties get to know each other much better.

Childwise praise

No matter how many accolades a world famous artist has received in his life, any further positive appraisal is always desirable and welcome. Children are no different, they need reassurance and approval at various stages as they try to decipher the world around them. How many of us recognise our child's talents and appreciate not merely their achievements and accomplishments but applaud them for just being what they are. Its cardinal to compliment them not just for mighty feats but regular patterns of behaviour that they demonstrate. I remember being at a family gathering where I saw my four year old niece walking around confidently with a digital camera and clicking everyone's pictures. In my opinion, it was a significant achievement for a four year old to hold the camera still and capture everyone in the frame. Another friend's daughter swung around from one ride to another in the play area while other kids around her moved more hesitantly and cautiously and I thought that was commendable. These are everyday instances that escape our observation and we miss acknowledging them to our children .Lets make a conscious attempt to make our children feel special and precious. Let’s get going. Let’s try out this activity.

Every weekend choose one member from your family to be the focus person for the week. Every person gets a turn. The child/ adult lies down on a piece of chart paper while the other family members draw out the outline of the focus person's body. Once that is done, all members of the family scribble around the person's outline putting down various things they like about them or positive comments on activities or tasks performed by the focus person over the week. Similarly over the next four or five weeks depending on the size of a family each member would have a body outline chart with appreciative remarks on them .Have them pasted on the walls on the children's rooms and it would just be a gentle reminder to all members to recognise positive attributes and communicate the same. It not only allows the children to feel good about themselves but also promotes desirable behaviour by reinforcing it.

Carry this out as a regular exercise. It is done best when it’s done in quick succession after the task has been performed by the child. Put down comments immediately on the child's chart while also applauding the child verbally and explain to him why you wrote what you did. Comments have to be communicated in lucid and clear language so that the child gets to understand the cause effect relationship and recognises the connection between his task and the positive remarks. This would enable them to thereby use it as an internal guide to direct their actions and behavior.Try to always praise the act and not pigeonhole the child into a certain bracket for e.g. instead of saying you are a great singer, try saying you are really good at singing. It’s an exciting exercise to go through the comments and I can vouch for it from personal experience. I maintain a task list which I have my husband comment on after I have finished a particular task. It just makes mundane tasks more exciting .As much as I am keen to have certain tasks checked off my list, I also look forward to knowing what my husband has to say about his perception of how well, quickly or sincerely I finished a particular task. Most of the time he doesn't exactly know the nature or the details of tasks I am involved in but this activity just helps us get a collective experience of tasks that are otherwise individualistic in nature hence bringing us together and converging , making us more involved in each other's lives.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Deciphering the shy child

Do you often worry about your child being a chatter box when he is at home among his primary care givers and refusing to interact and open any channel of communication with someone he isn't completely familiar with? Though extroversion is considered as a more desirable trait, not all children possess this attribute. Each child is designed and structured with certain orientations and inclinations. Instead of being pushy and forcefully thrusting your child into various areas they resist, let’s accept them as they are, appreciate them for what they are and ease their transition and exploration into the outside world. Do not label the child into a certain category. Chances are that once he has been classified as shy, the self fulfilling prophecy might play its role and actually result in continuation of the behaviour pattern. Children vary in the amount of time they require before they mix around with strangers or strike a conversation with people they already know well. Don't push your children into activities or interactions; let them take their required warm up time to observe things, people and activities around them before they venture into it. Be the secure base your child can return to. Winnicott the paediatrician turned psychiatrist and psychoanalyst propounded the object relations theory. According to this theory, the 'good enough mother' eases the transition of her child into this world where the child functions as an autonomous being while still being connected to his primary care giver. The child finds it comforting to have a constant secure base he can return to as he goes exploring things around himself in the world. This becomes increasingly important in the initial phases where parents can provide the comfort and the reassurance a child is seeking out before moving into the vastness of the unknown around him. Praising small accomplishments is important , say for a painfully shy child even maintaining eye contact could be a challenge and when he accomplishes it, do try to acknowledge and praise by mentioning ' I was impressed how you maintained eye contact when your aunt was speaking to you'. Do not let your friend or family classify your child as a shy kid, instead rephrase and say 'Wait till he gets to know you and starts chatting '.However it’s important to note that shy children have positive attributes too like they don’t keep getting into trouble at school, don’t normally pick up fights with people etc. Walter Mischel, an American psychologist conducted the marshmallows experiment to study delayed gratification. A Marshmallow was placed in front of each of the four year olds and they were promised that they would get a second marshmallow if they waited for twenty minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait while others could not. This just reflected their ability to control their impulse and delay gratification in anticipation of bigger rewards in future. Greater ability to delay gratification was found to correlate highly with positive outcomes.When these children grew up, they achieved better scores on Scholastic Aptitude tests, demonstrated better adjustability and social, emotional, cognitive competence as adults. Shy children due to greater sense of inhibition show more self control which according to this study predicts better adaptability when one grows up, good management of stress and frustration, lower vulnerability and better academic performance. The shyness cloud definitely has a silver lining and a bright one on that.