The other day while supervising my daughter at a park I heard this exchange between a mother and daughter. The daughter was around 5 years old and was scared to come down the slide. The mother was telling her that even little babies were using the slide and everybody is going to laugh at her for being such a sissy. Now I firmly believe that every parent-child situation is different and there is no one solution fits all scenario but I found this just very wrong.
Sadly this kind of parenting style is very common in our society. How many times have u heard parents scaring children of Allah babas (the bogey man) to get them to behave. Or telling them that everybody is going to laugh at them if they do not do a certain thing, or comparing them to other children or telling them how good babies do not do that and how he/she must be a very bad baby!
I feel this kind of fear based parenting is the reason our children only follow rules when we are around them. We as a society have failed to raise a responsible and self motivated generation. We will gladly throw garbage out of our car windows here because we know there are going to be no repercussions. But the minute we step on foreign soil we become law-abiding citizens. This is because positive parenting is really missing from our society. We raise our children through intimidation, threats, bribery.
So what exactly is positive parenting.? It is gently guiding your children to the right path through listening to them and setting clear, consistent rules. Many people in our society confuse positive parenting with permissive parenting thinking being gentle with children is going to spoil them.
Now let us discuss the most common desi parenting pitfalls:
1. Using fear and threats.
This is a very common approach, scaring them with cockroaches, lizards or Allah baba to get them to behave, stop a tantrum or make them eat dinner. Please stop. Instead of scaring them, look them in the eye and say your rule in a clear, firm voice. Once you have repeated your rule, there are two approaches. For very young toddlers, 12-18 months, distraction is the best disciplining strategy. For older ones, explain the consequences to them. For example if you hit your brother with a toy car, I am going to take away your car for the evening. It is going to not have any effect for the first few times and your child will howl and cry. Let them cry but do not give in. After a few times your child will know you mean business. Scaring them will surely lead to quick results but will leave them under confident for the rest of their life.
2. Did you see that baby/boy/girl, she is so well behaved, you should also be like her.
We desis are forever comparing and judging. See that person’s bahu, she works and then cooks a 3 course dinner too. You should also do it. See that person’s children, their mother disciplines them so well. You should learn some tips from her. How many times have we listened to such comments. Innumerable. Unfortunately we do the same thing to our children. Comparing them constantly with other kids. This is wrong because it undermines their self-esteem and makes them feel that they are never good enough for their parents. This leads to life long insecurities. Instead of saying look at how nicely behaved that little girl is, you should be like her, say Mama is going to be so happy if you sit and quietly play with your toys.
3. You are a bad/dirty baby because you threw your dinner/ cried or whatever.
People are never bad, their actions are. And children are intrinsically innocent, calling them bad makes them develop negative self-image for life. Each time we call them bad, they internalize it and think they can never be good. Instead if your 2-year-old throws all the salt out of the shaker, tell them that was a bad thing to do and all the salt is wasted now and mama is unhappy. Do not tell them that you are such a naughty bad boy for throwing the salt. Those of you who have studied economics must know about self-fulfilling prophecies. Same is the case with children. Call them bad and they will turn bad. So choose your words carefully.
4. You are such a smart/good/pretty baby.
You guys must be thinking that if it is not ok to call children bad it must be good to praise them by calling them smart, good etc. But recent research has shown that excess praise and non-specific praise can actually damage a child’s self-esteem and turn them into people pleasers. So how do we praise our children then? Praise effort, not the end result and be very specific. For example you saw that your child studied hard for a test but was not able to score good marks. Instead of reprimanding him for not getting good marks, tell him that I know you studied very hard, next time you can show me what you are studying and we will go over your study material together so you can do better. Or if your preschooler shows you her drawing, instead of saying good job, ask her a question like ok you have colored the banana yellow or say I like the way you kept in the lines. Or if your toddler cooperates in getting her clothes changed, instead of saying good boy, tell her mama is feeling so happy because you changed your clothes. Praising effort makes children realize that they can always change their life outcomes by trying hard or trying a better approach. This leads to more successful and emotionally balanced adults.
4. Big babies do not cry.
Every time I hear this statement I want to retort, excuse me, then do adults cry if not children. Let children cry. That is how they express emotions. If you tell them not to cry you are essentially telling them to repress their feelings. Then they are those parents who would give in anything to stop a major crying tantrum. If you give in to their crying it teaches them that you will change your mind if they cry enough. And believe me each time they will cry more :p It is essential to be firm, gentle but firm 🙂
5. No spanking.
Many of us desis especially the older generation feel that spare the rod, spoil the child. Of course we all have had really bad days where we lose it and end up maybe swatting our child. And then feeling horrible later. But using spanking as a discipline strategy is totally not acceptable to me. If we use physical violence we are telling our children that physical violence is the answer to problems and a means to express anger. The way we behave when we are angry is the way our children will learn to behave. I strongly feel our children must obey us out of respect and not fear.
Learning to parent positively is an ongoing journey, one baby step at at a time. As our children grow, so do we grow in our ability to be a better parent.