Doctor diaries. Counselling for parenting??



This week, I had a rather unusual request. I have worked with new parents who are flustered over post partum issues, or parents who bring their children for sorting of behavioral problems. Contrary to what I was expecting, the client I spoke to had none of the above. Instead, she had come to enquire whether she was “fit” to be a mother! She wanted to know whether she was making the right decision at this point of time and needed someone to validate it. This was so new and so unexpected, that it got me thinking and back to my books.

In the Indian setting, one of the main reasons behind a marriage happens to be to have children. Within a year of the marriage, the couple tends to answer stray questions about “good news”, which become insistent as the years pass. Though the scenario seems to be changing (for the good) in many cities across the country, a large amount of the population still seems to be stuck on the fact that the most important goal of a marriage is to have 2.2 children and hence a complete family!

Children (even the ones yet to be born) are considered the messiahs to a number of problems which exist in the family. If the couple are fighting- “Have kids, it’ll be ok”, would be the sage advice. Relationship issues with the in laws- a grandchild would solve all the problems. Irresponsible husband- “Hand over a child and see him change over to a new leaf!”. Though repeated examples prove that in issues such as these, the problems seem to complicate further with a child, the urban legend still seems to go strong.

Hence, this client of mine, made me wonder at her maturity.

A parent child relationship is central to a child’s moral development, social behavior and ultimate attainment of adult independence. In the age of joint families, children would have the additional advantage of knowing how to deal with a lot of people at a young age. Also, the amount of input they used to receive would be more. But in today’s scenario of a nuclear family, with one or both working parents and part time availability of grandparents, bringing up a child and remaining relatively stress free seems to be a tall order. Coming to think of it, planning parenting seems to be necessary for every couple. But most of the time, the planning would involve financial issues, and little else.

We live in a time where stress is a part and parcel of everyone’s life. Unfortunately, stressed out parents are not good for the healthy development of the child. Though advertisements show hoardings of happy roly-poly babies and their benevolently smiling, content mothers, most post partum experiences do not behave like it. Painful episiotomies, worries about adequate milk, sleepless nights and post vaccination fevers do take a toll on the mother’s mental health. Hence, planning a stress free parenting experience would be advisable.

  1. Knowing what happens.

Traditional thinking puts the onus of pregnancy and baby care completely on the mother. This puts a lot of burden on the mother, especially if she is working. A working woman handling a pregnancy and child care has not been without conflict, as they feel the pressure to stay at home as well as to return to work. Employed women feel guilt above leaving their child behind and worry about the competence of the child care that they have painstakingly chosen. Those who stay at home feel a loss of independence and social standing.

Societal predispositions do not help much. If Cheryl Sanders (the COO of Face book) was trolled for going back to work within the first few weeks of her delivery, many other work places, make maternity leave as short as three months, causing much distress to the feeding mother. There are only few workplaces which have child friendly services which the mother can avail.

Therefore, before becoming pregnant, plan the pregnancy and post partum period with an almost clinical precision. Discussing  each partners’ share of child care responsibilities beforehand makes life easier. Talking to the employer about how to manage post partum work period would also help.

  1. Prepare sensibly.

There is a lot of literature out there regarding pregnancy and the post partum period. Pick the ones which are written by qualified doctors or specialists. Make sure not to believe everything that is put out on the internet. Listen to the voice of experience (which includes grandmothers, mothers and well meaning aunts), but also learn to sort the myths from the truth. Talk to your Ob Gyn regarding the doubts that you have regarding your diet, precautions and work pattern. Keeping fit and eating healthy makes a huge difference too. The traditional “eating for two” concept probably needs to be discarded asap.

  1. Life changes. Learn to accept it with grace.

Child birth is a life changing experience. You suddenly become responsible for a very helpless person, who depends totally on you for his/her well being. For the next so many years, the parents have to automatically think about the baby before making ANY decision, be it as simple as going to the movies or making a move from one city to the other.

First time mothers also need to understand that babies are whimsical creatures who dance to their own tunes. They come loaded with personalities which take time to understand and accept. Be prepared for change and accept it as the norm. Only then, can the post partum blues be kept at bay.

  1. Recognize post partum depression.

Sleeplessness, decreased appetite, irritability, extreme frustration, sadness, fatigue, inability to feel happiness and any such symptoms during pregnancy or post delivery should not be considered as normal. Mothers need to consult their obstetrician or a counselor to rule out post partum depression, which happens to be quite common, though poorly recognized.

Having children can be an invigorating experience. Watching them grow and growing with them is definitely fun. But it does not discount the fact the first few months(or years) can be taxing for the mother.  Going by the idiom “Well begun is half done”, it would be sensible to prepare for parenting than to take it as it comes!

As Benjamin Franklin famously said “ By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, the client who came to me made me wiser and better prepared for the next one!



The family culture.


Parents are worrywarts. We worry incessantly about our children. Especially when it comes to their future. We worry about how they will handle school, friends, education and a career.



We wonder how we can prevent them from making the wrong decisions when they are under pressure and have no one around to guide them. Will they do drugs? Will they choose the wrong life partner? Will they give up a meaningful job offer for a lucrative one? Will they care about their health once they live on their own?

We end up relying on the hope that somehow we have raised them well enough to make the right decisions. With a son on the threshold of his teenage years, my worries too, nudge me now and then. As a working mother, I cannot spend a limitless amount of time with my children or keep a hawk’s eye on them. So, do I wait for something to go wrong or is there something I can do before that?

Rather surprisingly, I got the answer, when I was a reading a book about managing companies! The book “How will you measure your life?” by Clayton Christensen, espouses lessons from some of the greatest businesses and applies them to life.

It describes a rather novel concept called “Family culture”.

The dictionary describes culture as “a way of life, especially the general customs or beliefs of a particular group of people at a particular time”.  Mostly, we use the word ‘culture’ in different contexts. For example, if we follow certain religious rules and traditions, we are called cultured. If someone displays a high level of intellectual sophistication, he is called cultured.

But what if we create a person who is “family cultured”?

Think about it. In business, a company’s culture is a way of working together towards common goals that have been so frequently and so successfully used that people don’t even think about trying to do things the other way. Each company underlines its culture when starting off, so that the employees have no doubt about the higher goal they are working towards.For example, google promotes a culture of “working how you want”. Understanding that creative people cannot be restricted to a desk, it allows its employees to work from a beanbag or a tree house or a swing! As long as you deliver what is expected.

If we apply the same to families, and evolve a family culture – a set of general rules and goals for our families to abide by, the same becomes a part of life as we practice it endlessly.

Whether we want it or not, cultures are evolving within our homes. If we plonk ourselves in front of the television and binge watch on the pretext of being tired after work, unconsciously, we are sending signals to our children, that this is what we do in the family, when tired. If we speak to our house help disrespectfully, the same carries over.

So, whether we know it or not, we have already developed some cultures within our families! If you want to develop an alternative, robust and well defined one, the priorities for your family need to be clearly and proactively designed and spoken out for all to know.

This is easy to say, but difficult to put in action. Firstly, you and your spouse come from different families with different cultures (both conscious and unconscious). There will be a lot of things which the both of you cannot agree on. To this equation, we add kids who are born with their own personalities and attitudes!

It is therefore important that both the parents strategize and plan a culture for the family to follow, whatever the consequences. For example, if a family has decided on a culture of having dinner together, helping out in the house chores and being kind, then each member of the family needs to follow it.

At first, it feels like discipline, but over time, it becomes ingrained. It becomes an unconscious choice to get up from the couch and sit with every one for dinner, pick up a mop when there is a spill or help a friend in need!

As parents,being consistent with a culture is both trying and tiring at times, but well worth the trouble taken. For example, teaching your kids to resolve fights amicably  may take a lot of time and energy at first, but that’s the behavior that the kids will will carry on, even when they are with their friends.

We like to believe that we make most of our life’s decisions by intent and consciously. But there is ample amount of research to show that this is not the case. There are many unconscious instincts at play during decision making. Like the time you sleep on a problem, and the answer appears almost miraculously the next morning. That is your unconscious at work. Scientists looked into what happened before the conscious mind made decisions. It was seen that the unconscious had made the same, seven seconds beforehand!

Hence, what better way to train the brain’s unconscious by putting in the right culture? So that, decision making comes by instinct and usually leads to the right choice?

Between busy schedules and too much homework, most parents let this chance of setting family cultures slip by them. Then we wonder, why our children made wrong choices as adults.

There is no time too late to start penning down your family’s culture. Grab your chance to make sure that your children grow up into genuinely good adults who set examples for others.


What do you want to be when you grow up?


I am currently working with a 16 year old who has a severe case of school refusal. Through many sessions of counseling, one of the most constant thought patterns I observed in the boy were ones of being utterly de motivated. He says that he is bored at home, but does not “feel like” going to school. When asked to imagine himself a few years down the line and tell me what he foresees for himself, he responds by saying that he would probably be continuing his father’s granite business. He also flippantly mentions that he is sibling-less and hence, the huge assets made by his parents were sure to help him continue his current lifestyle!

This got me thinking. Growing up, one of the most common questions asked of a child must be “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Parents, random uncles and aunts, neighbors, teachers… everyone seems to want to know what aspirations a child has. In my professional life too, I have asked this question to many of the kids who come to me. It has been a useful tool to start a conversation with a child that I know nothing much about, or to steer the child in a direction that I want.

But recently, I saw a vlog by Vishen Lakhani, an author, entrepreneur, and the founder of Mindvalley, a forum for the world’s smartest to speak on.  He eggs us on to change the way we ask this question. Rather than the routine “What do you want to do when you grow up?” he opines that it would be a better option to ask “How would you want to contribute to the world?”.  This he feels, changes the way the child thinks and gives him/her the feeling of being responsible, even in a tiny way about the world that we inhabit.

Children of today, at least in our country, are largely the products of second or third generation literates. Our parenting systems make sure that the child is supported through his education, both financially as well as emotionally. Even young children are smart enough to know that they are well off and that their parents would have made for them, a comfortable nest egg. The guilt of being rich belongs to an era bygone. The children of this generation take to their parents’ wealth and its offshoots of foreign travel, posh schools and techno tools with the ease of a fish taking to water.

Now, when you have everything, or almost everything handed to you on a platter, why would you have the motivation to work hard and best it? The easy gratification which comes with being handed a cell phone with internet, probably tops all the happiness that you get when you work really hard to get a measly A+ in the exams.

As the rural urban divide grows, children from cities do not get to meet their less fortunate peers on a daily basis. As we globalize and become materialistic, our kids lose sight that there is so much more to do, than sit stuck to a video game in a virtual world. Parents do have a hard time making their children conscious of the value of money and hard work.

In such a scenario, how do we make our children grow up as people who are responsible, goal oriented, conscientious and hardworking ?

The only way is probably by making them aware that they have a responsibility to the world that they live in. To make it a better place than what it is today.

In the process, maybe there is a lot we can learn from them. Because, when children dream, they dream big. They do so without fear. They are more imaginative. And to kindle their passion at a young age would probably give us thinkers and doers who have the power to change the world. Now. Rather than wait forever till they lose their passion for life and become addicted to mind numbing television.

It reminds me of this Ted talk by ten year old Ishita Katyal from Pune (who, by the way is an author already and the youngest Indian to speak at a TEDx event ) who directs her talk to asking why we adults ask children what they want to do when they grow up? “Why not now?” she wonders.

Hmm….something to ponder upon indeed.

So, the next time you spend time with a child, and are likely to pop this question, you know what to ask. Maybe if my client were asked the same, probably, he would have been a teenager with a mission.



The infallible logic of a five year old.


A week into her kindergarten year, I had this conversation with my daughter, all the while trying unsuccessfully to stuff a spoon full of food into her mouth!

Five year old : Amma, I have twins in my class. P and P. Both are boys.

Me: That’s great.  (happy that she now knows what twins are!).

Then I wonder and ask….

Me: How do you know they are twins? Do they look similar??

Five y o: No, they don’t.

Me: Do they dress the same?

Five y o: Amma, everyone wears the school uniform! Everyone dresses the same.

Me: Oh, sorry, I forgot. Then how did you find out?

Five y o: Well, they bring same same snack in their tiffin box! So.

Go figure.

Trying to get the better of her, I prod: But they may be brothers, don’t you think?

Five y o: Yeah, but then they would’nt both be in the same class, would they?

Logic accepted.

As parents, we take parenting for granted. Kids get born, grow, go to school and then they are adults. Though we care for them, most of it is restricted to knowing whether they have had their meal, finished their home work and are not watching too much Doremon.

But kids seem to live in a parallel universe where every single moment is a discovery. Everything is a mystery which has to be unraveled, solved and sorted. They are keen observers. And connect the dots available in front of their curious eyes. Slowly put two and two together. And most times come up with two hundred and twenty two!

They are inquisitive and eager to learn. For us, sharpening a pencil, choosing the correct footwear for the correct leg, coloring between the lines, the symmetry of the picture they draw or strapping on the velcro of a shoe feel like the most simple thing in the world. But when I watch my kids grow, I can feel the mental effort and intense concentration it takes for them to understand and complete any new task. It takes all my effort to stop myself from helping them, and allow them to try till they succeed.

It takes situations such as the one mentioned above,to understand that the world must look different from their point of view. We hardly have time to explain the working of the world to them, and they simply have to make sense of it! Hence, probably they create their own sweet logic which is refreshingly simple, even if incorrect! Never mind the stuffy adults!

In the little time I get to interact with my little ones, I get nuggets like these which I want to store away in the recesses of my mind, so that I can tell them to my grandkids. How I wish I could get more time with them, so that I could learn the way they did. Simple, and all sorted.

Sample this:

Five y o: Mamma, do cars jump? Can they drive in the sky?

Me: Why? Have you ever seen them do it?

Five y o: Then, why is the traffic light pointing skyward???

Have you had experiences like these??

traffic light 2


Are we parents killjoys??

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I remember reading “The battle hymn of a tiger mother” by Amy Chua, with mixed reactions and thoughts. The parenting methods described in the book seemed to me, quite harsh and rigid, with no thought whatsoever for the child’s needs, wants or attitudes. All that mattered was the parental opinion about what was good and what was not!

Last week,I had a difference of opinion(which is my label for a small tantrum) with my son regarding his badminton coaching. He was preparing hard for a tournament, and had just finished his written school tests. I knew he was worn out. But his coach had promised a practice session.

I am genuinely non pushy  in terms of achievements, but was desperate for him to go because I felt that the only way to reinforce his waning interest in badminton (after three years of practice sessions which weren’t leading to anything much)was to see other players and learn to be competitive.

Unfortunately, he did not feel so. He kept whining constantly that it was a Saturday, and he needed to read something and play football, that he would practice everyday thereafter, and why was the tournament on Children’s day(November 14th),one of  the fun days in his school and so on. And on. And on. Which finally got on my nerves.

And made me switch to my emotional blackmail mode. Of saying that if he was not interested , it would be better to quit rather than whine. And how I hated listening to his complaints after a hard day’s work. And we had given him so many opportunities,that so many other children did not have etc.

I caught myself. These were the exact things I advice parents coming to my consulting room not to do. And the path which I swore I would never ever take. And there I was, switching to autopilot blackmail parenting,  as soon as things did not go my way!

Parenting over the generations may have changed significantly, but there are certain things that have still remained the same.Especially, in Asian countries, parents still pride themselves in the achievements of their children, take credit for pushing them in the right direction and praise sparingly for fear of marring the motivation of the next achievement.  (Do read Arnab Ray’s(<; )

At the other end of the spectrum, are parents who believe that the sun rises and sets for the sole purpose of making their child rise and shine in this world. Their achievements are glorified, gilded and put out for display,making the kids paranoid about losing. Children who swing between this spectrum end up lost and confused.

Childhood memories of mine comprised of playing on the roadside, inventing a new past time for every summer holidays, and imaginative play when I would be a sari seller to bank manager to a film star-(all with the help of a battered yellow purse, a box full of tattered monopoly bank notes  and a pen).

But my children do not share the same freedom of time for free play. By the time they come back from school and their hobby classes, its time for homework, dinner, tv and bed. They no doubt play in school, but is that enough? I remembered reading a term called the “over scheduled child syndrome”, which pressurizes the child to over perform and kills its creativity.I did not want a tired child!

At the same time, as both my husband and I work and live in the heart of the city, we absolutely cannot let our kids loose on the roads without supervision. And the live in maid quits without a cable tv connection, so we cannot prevent excess tv time either.

So, how do I as a parent, make sure my child is well scheduled but not stressed, creative but not aimless and still retain my sanity. Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it!

Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and the author of “The Pressured Child,” says“As a general principle, there is a line between a highly enriched,interesting, growth-promoting childhood and an over scheduled childhood,” he said. “And nobody knows where that line is.”

And after reading up a lot about this, I came out consoled. The fact that there are other parents out there who face the same issues is comforting to an extent. And the summary of what I thought I could do goes like this:

  • As long as my children seemed mostly happy with their routine, it was fine to breathe easy.
  • For the unscheduled play time, we could find some time together without any specific aim in mind, and do fun things that they wanted.Like not using the bat and ball that we had carried to the park, but just sit and play a game of looking at the people around and guessing their profession!
  • I would make time to actually listen to them, rather than paying halfhearted attention while looking at my whatsapp messages.
  • They were capable of handling multiple hobby classes.But I wouldn’t expect them to excel in every class that they went to. It was plain unreasonable.
  • As long as the activities were not dipping into their sleep or eat time, it was ok.
  • The activities were meant to enrich their personality but determine their self worth. As in,it was wrong to say”You are only as good as the prizes that you get!”
  • Just like they needed down time without an agenda, so did I. And when these times met, to have fun doing something impromptu, like dancing Gangnam style!
  • It is sensible to start hobby classes only after a certain age (psychologists recommend 8 to 12 years). Before this, children tend to be in the process of growing interests and that the interests may keep changing,needlessly frustrating us. One day skating, the next month guitar, and as soon as you have bought the guitar, football begins to look interesting!No point in starting so early that you have unnecessary memorabilia scattered all over your house and fights about “You do not stick to anything” between you and your child!
  • So, though I did send my son over to badminton class that day, we made it up watching cartoons that night. And hopefully my son does not think of me as a tiger mother any more!

bringing up mother!

Volumes are written about how to bring up children. Everyone who is someone seems to have their own theory about how best to do it. If one feels that sparing a rod helps spoil the child, then another radically different one claims that children should be raised as free spirits. Magazines, newspaper articles, google searches and even pamphlets distributed with newspapers are taking over the task of telling mothers today, in great detail, about what their children need. Starting from the absolute need to enrol your child in a so and so preschool, to the need for developing multiple intelligence, about how you need to be their ‘friend’, how vacations and quality time are most needed and so on.

When I was a first time mother, I felt that parenting can be learnt by the book, and that books of psychology (both pop and serious!) would provide answers to all my parenting queries. It was shocking to realise that a lot of my beliefs were misplaced. The second time through, I was confident about how practical experience with my first child would pull me through the mothering confidently. Again, I came out confused and scrambled.

Taking care of two children and being a working parent seemed to mimic the experience of being put through the wringer of a washing machine on more days than less. I would wonder about the glowing pictures of mothers and happy kids that I would see in commercials and decide that it was just a marketing gimmick. No woman in her right mind could look that peaceful with two growing kids! At about the same time, I did notice that there were women around me without any high flying degrees, lesser help at home and still considering adding a third child to the list! And, surprisingly, there was no hint of panic anywhere visible on their face or demeanour. The more I interacted with them, the more I came to realise that these people had mastered the art of really enjoying their kids.

Lately, I have come to realize that you have to unlearn almost anything and everything that you heard, read or were qualified in. Of course advice helps, books give you confidence, but on the whole, it is a process of learning new things and going by what you feel is right.

On my earlier list of priorities, I had things like disciplined routine, spending time with the child doing some educational but interesting activity, making sure that I was adhering to the school’s guidelines for being an almost perfect mom and hence as a result of all these, having two perfectly behaved angels who would do me proud. Of course, I would put no pressure, but why would they need it? They would already be perfect.

Think about it- we have many such ideas which tell us how to mould and change our child. But in the process, we have hardly thought about how we, as parents need to change and grow alongside our children. Probably because it is so didactic and sad, many of us do not enjoy the process of parenting. We do love our children, but wish that they behave impeccably all the time and that their problems would sort themselves out miraculously, and they grow into poster kids who make us proud!

Both my children have temperaments as different as chalk and cheese. The one who mostly an introvert would suddenly shift gears in the most inappropriate of occasions! The other one who was wholesomely an extrovert, would choose to be at her grouchiest best on occasions when her amicability needed to be on display! And this was just one difference. The obsessive in me sought to find control, discipline them (by fair means and foul- by which I mean, scolding,pleading,bribes and emotional blackmail), but nothing seemed to work.

Then I thought of a civilized way of solving things. I told them that I would make a list of things which I appreciate about them and one more of things which I did not. They could make a similar one about me. And we would swap lists and try to change the things which were in the list of “not so cool”. They took a minute to ponder before they accepted my suggestion. After about 10 minutes of intense concentration, the papers were handed to me. My list was pretty long and winding about each one. I again told them that it was only their behavior that was targeted, and I loved them in spite of “not so cool” stuff- just as explained in psychology text books. We went over each item of my list, with murmurs of assent and dissent. And then it was time to open the list they made. I prided myself over the fact that I was being an intellectual parent by allowing my kids to poke holes in my parenting method. When I did open the paper, I was surprised to the list empty!

busy making the list
busy making the list

My son smiled sheepishly saying, “Well, we tried, but there was nothing that I could list in the negatives. And the rest is all positive. So, I did not take the trouble of writing! sorry”. To be honest, I know that I’m not the best mother in business. I am lazy some days, so involved in my book that I will not listen to their stories on some other, have strict rules about their behavior when we go out, have a certain fixed idea about how they should dress, occasionally lie my way out of things and have double standards. And I also know that at least my son is now old enough to spot these foibles of mine. I was so humbled and touched to be given a clean chit despite all this. This probably is what is called unconditional love, something which we forget to dole out as we age!

Well, my children taught me a valuable lesson that day. To love completely without holding back, accept our faults but still love, nonetheless. It sort of melted my overbearing sense of discipline. Now I don’t seem to mind lego blocks over the floor, unfolded sheets, waking up uncomfortable with a toy under me, books all over the house, and an occasional piece of cookie on my bed! I can tolerate tantrums better. I don’t fly off the handle and think   about how my life was cleaner and easier before kids.I still haven’t changed completely, but I am on my way, and can slowly feel the spring creeping back into my step!

Thanks my babies! In the process of bringing you up, you are teaching me valuable lessons and  definitely helping in my upbringing!

He is different!


“I think the sky is the most highest place,

Which I want to see;

Clouds, birds, aeroplanes so free.

But what if the sky falls?

It may crash to the lands,

Plains, hills, deserts and sands.

Whether it is a disaster or

Something grand?

I don’t know.”

These are part lines of a poem written by one of my clients. The person in question is just 10 years old. The poem is quite profound and poignant at the same time. Why would a boy young as this write about the sky falling, I wonder. Because, it is. For him.

He was brought because he was troublesome in class, quiet at times and very brash otherwise. No one could gauge what he was thinking. Called ‘expressionless’ by some who did not take the trouble to find out why it was so. Shunned by classmates, because he was not boisterous enough. Causing worry to parents because he was not fitting in well. Irritating to teachers because he would switch off in the middle of a class and start staring out the window. Basically a loner. Who stutters and fidgets. But his eyes give him away. They are deep and and look back nonfearingly at me. Why me? Is there something wrong with me, they ask. And the sad answer is no. But there seems to be everything wrong with us!

In these days of intense academic competition, never mind the age of the child, kids who don’t fit into our norm or schedule of ‘study well, play just enough and then pander to your creativity’ are often the butt of our ire.  Although all of us want children who excel in everything (almost), when we do have a child who is creative, gifted and hence different, we do not have a clue of how to handle him/her. We often label them or segregate them into feeling ashamed of their ‘differentness’ (if I can call it that!)

Browsing through a bookstore, I was drawn to a book which was titled ‘Raising your spirited child” written by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. The word spirited was  unique and hence led me into reading it. The book aptly describes children who are different by our standards and intense in their reactions as spirited rather than bad, stubborn and exasperating. It also describes different but simple psychological methods as to how to defuse a potential disaster situation when these kids are around. Just the change in label put on the behavior has caused a difference in the way I think of my difficult but creative young clients.

What started as a an interest read, slowly started helping me in parenting my kids better. Whenever children throw tantrums, we immediately become defensive. We feel that our authority is questioned and that the child is oppositionally defiant. But we fail to remember that the child also has a strong mind of its own whose dictates the child tends to obey. And gifted children have a way of thinking which is dependent on their creative urges rather than regular drudgery.

Now,when parents  complain that their child does not listen to them or creates a ruckus when asked to follow and obey, I try and put myself in the child’s shoes. Why? Why would a child want to be bad? Is there some thing troubling him or her? Or is the child upset and unable to express it in a way that we understand? Is there something that the child is hiding? Is the child scared and depressed?(Oh yes, children who are depressed can also throw temper tantrums)Or is the child giving in to his creative urges, hence upset when disturbed?

The way we think usually reflects in the way we behave and hence, surprisingly, this little shift gives massive results. I tried it on my daughter, who may or may not be gifted, but is surely stubborn. Whenever she decides on a particular dress for the day, it is difficult to budge her decision. If I try to, almost always one of us ends up pulling out our hair in exasperation! I tried thinking why she was predisposed to certain kinds of clothes. The color, the texture or public opinion? So the next time we had a disagreement, I decided I would not scream. I pulled her close, hugged her through her tears and told her that it was ok to fight, and loose and then again cheer up. I told her the pros and cons of why we had chosen to make her wear that dress (it was winter, so she is not allowed sleeveless) and asked her if we could give it a try my way tomorrow. Strangely, it worked. It took me half an hour to get through this song and dance, but it was totally worth it. She was happy, I was calmer and felt more in control, though she won. We compromised and she wore a sweater. But next day, there was no ruckus. She wore what was agreed upon and that was it! After this experiment, I started reasoning out with many of my young clients and wonder of wonders, even the most youngest could sort of understand!

We need to understand that one third of our personalities are made up of temaperamental traits which are inborn. We can mold them, but they tend to stubbornly pop up in between. Eg. Distractibility (called hyperactivity by us), persistence(called stubbornness), adaptabilty (called impertinence), sensitivity(dubbed cry babies) etc… As always there are two sides to the same coin. If we understand the child’s temperament and think accordingly, we bring out the positive side of each temperament.. like quick(rather than hyper), diligent(rather than stubborn), very outgoing and social (rather than does not know how to keep his mouth shut) and can understand feelings and empathizes well (rather than cry baby). These lead to better understanding and less pigeonholing! And finally letting them be. If we(parents, teachers and therapists) lend them a helping hand and allow them their quirks, rather than force them to conform, children generally become open to compromise.

Children tend to put up their best front forward if they know that quiet look of appreciation and acceptance in the parents or teachers. A pat of the head, a smile of pride and a hug usually do the trick. Bad behavior also, if understood and accepted with the same level of patience disappears easily. After all, we as kids were also not perfect!

Finally,gifted kids don’t have it easy. They think higher than their peers, appear and may be behave differently and hence are treated differently. If we use and understand their spirit and creativity better, we may have geniuses who can freely express their talent rather than feel so stifled in their school and home environment that they end up in front of a psychiatrist!.

Are you a helicopter parent?

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Two events that occurred within days of each other provoked this thought.

I had been addressing a gathering of 17 year olds in various methods to curb exam anxiety. Being one of the many who had faced severe exam anxiety during every math exam of my school life, I was vociferously advising the kids not to let their confidence levels dip, and teaching them different ways to relax, when one parent rather hesitatingly approached me and asked me to give him hints about how to make his son feel anxious about the approaching exams. He was worried that the son did not care enough!

Two days down the line, I had parents who had brought their son for counselling. This child who had been a ‘topper’ in his class till class ten, had suddenly on entering college become extraordinarily lax. He did not study despite repeated telling, pleading, begging or scolding! Moreover, he seemed to be interested in everything else apart from what was necessary. On the surface of it, both these seemed to be about children who had different problems and differing personalities as compared to the rest, but on deeper questioning, they were quite similar because they were brought up by helicopter parents.

Helicopter parenting was a term first used by Dr. Hain Ginott in his book ‘Between Parents and teenagers’ in 1969. Though not very common then, it gained prominence enough to be included in the dictionary in 2011! Reams have been written about this since then.This term refers to a method of parenting where we are so concerned about our children’s well being that we do not allow them their lives. Parents who hover around their children, cosseting, protecting, interfering and  helping them in activities that they are well equipped to do.

On first look, reading descriptions of such parents  makes us enter denial mode. We assure ourselves that we do not belong to that category and that we ensure a healthy atmosphere for our child’s upbringing. By which we mean that:

  1. We make sure that we know each and every detail of our child’s routine. (well, it is necessary in such times where crimes are rampant—but an unplanned break of 10 mins in a friend’s house makes us sweat buckets!)
  2. We make sure that our little one’s wish becomes our command. Sometimes even before the wish is expressed. We have to give give them the best of the toys, books, gadgets and clothes..(duh..they need to shine, right? And I have the money!)
  3. We need to be an integral part of every school project(by which we mean that we will personally scour every nook and corner of the city to find the best of stuff, sit up the whole night and put up a model which will definitely score maximum marks for our kid (school grades are important, arent they?)
  4. We believe that our kids are the best in everything they do and air these views to anyone who is willing to listen, and sometimes, even to the unwilling. We literally lobby for them.(Afterall, if we do not acknowledge their achievements, who will? And it is not called praising, it just statement of a fact!)
  5. We try to take every precaution to protect our kids from harm, including using bottled water to wash their hands, allowing them to play only where they wont get dirty and consulting the pediatrician every time the kid sneezes (We are responsible for their health)
  6. We have read all books under the caption of parenting and spout theories like mantras. And our kids have to, just have to abide by those mantras(you see, experts have believed that it is the way to go). We are professional researchers in the making.
  7. We try our best to stand ground during a tantrum, but finally give in to the child’s demands(we are tired after a long day at work, and its just a videogame)
  8. We choose which friend the child can have. Preferred ones are those who score in the top ten. If we do not like a friend, then he has no business to even talk to that person(good peers are essential for a good future)

Well, if this is you in a nut shell, then welcome to the world of helicopter parenting!

This phenomenon probably became visible, because of change in family patterns in the past few decades. Moving away from joint family systems to nuclear ones, restricting the size of the family with a maximum of two or three children, the sudden rise of educational capabilities of parents, also the increase in the financial prowess due to dual earning families, globalization and availability of the internet, misplaced guilt about not caring enough and finally the fact that every parent feels that children are figuratively and literally their biggest assets (they sure would have invested a lot of money and time on them). At the same time, parents who are the anxious type, those who had experienced negligence or abuse in their own childhood,or those with type A personalities complete the spectrum.

To argue contrarily, we read about the abuse that occurs in children, the influence of the media and a bad peer group as well the fact that if unmonitored, children have the ability to go haywire. This allows parents to justify themselves into believing that their helicoptering is doing good to the child. Different cultures also have different methods. Amy Chua’s ‘Tiger mother’ describes how typical Chinese parents consider it a norm for their children to excel!

But the effects of this type of upbringing is almost as devastating as the evils that we are scared of. Children of such parents  grow up to be anxious, lacking in self esteem, depressed, ridiculed by peers and have separation issues. They consider themselves as an extension of their parents often parroting what has been drilled into them rather than think for themselves. It kills creativity and independence. And worst of all, these children feel a sense of entitlement. That they are for the manor born. They expect their parents to do every single thing for them, starting from waking them up, dressing them and reminding them to study! I’m not exaggerating, these kinds do exist like the examples I spoke about in the beginning.

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Parenting is something we learn along the way. Parenting manuals help, but ther is no sure fire way of doing the right thing always. I feel that enjoying your child is very important. The more you enjoy your child the more you learn and the more the chilld learns. Listen, play and talk to your child/ren. Sometimes they are right too. Acknowledge that. Set them free, but be watchful. Trust them. Guide them, but let them choose. Let them make mistakes, but help them out of the mess and teach them again. Parenting is hard work, and it never ends, and does not give term end report cards for how you have fared. But, I believe it can be rewarding to see a confident, self assured child exploring things that you never dreamed of. That is definitely an A+.