In her book,Parenting your complex child, Peggy Lou Morgan speaks from her own experience in bringing up Billy Ray, whom she adopted when he was 15 months of age. The second book, on the other hand, is a joint effort by a professional psychologist and his wife, a teacher-administrator. Both are set in the American context, where there is a wide network of social services, and some of the parenting suggestions are, unsurprisingly, specific to the situation obtaining in the United States. However, much of the wise counsel offered by the authors is relevant to all cultures.
Billy Ray, Morgan's adopted child, had the Down Syndrome. At that time, he was also malnourished and had a chronic ear infection. He was accepted wholeheartedly and with warmth by Morgan, whose ability to combine keen observation with meticulous documentation proved to be a great advantage. The chapter “Document everything” offers some samples of the daily journals she maintained on her son's activities and problems, and of the summaries she presented to the doctor. She is convinced that the patterns emerging from such documentation will be of considerable help in managing the child.
When the boy has to change schools, his adjustment to the new environment depends critically on the kind of personal equation he strikes with the teacher, as one should expect. Ray enjoys company and he is taken out to the park, the supermarket or a restaurant. The entire sequence of what they are going to see and do is planned in detail by the mother.
Morgan refers to Ray as a “complex child” because he also manifests some signs of being bipolar and autistic. She has to work out a strategy for every contingency and be self-reflective in the process. Her notes are specific enough to help the doctor decide on the medication and treatment. She provides an object lesson for parents in dealing with a complex child. If her affectionate concern for the child's well-being and happiness is admirable, the level of competence, objectivity, and advocacy skills Morgan displays are impressive.
Parenting a Defiant Childis a veritable compendium of practical tips, dos and don'ts, and tools for the parents of children who seem defiant. The bottom line that needs to be recognised is that no childchoosesto be defiant or offensive. Defiant children often cannot read social cues and may lack impulse control.
Philip Hall and Nancy Hall spell out the techniques and skills that will enable parents to transform their relationship with the child from one of confrontation to one of harmony and mutual understanding. They suggest that a child with behaviour problems should be first examined by a professional for the right diagnosis. In the U.S., accessibility to expertise in this area is far greater than in India and there are also a whole lot of legal and administrative support systems. Therefore, parents of such children in this country are at a disadvantage to that extent.
But there is quite a lot in the two books that applies equally to the Indian situation. Take, for instance, the suggestion to cut down on the hours a child spent watching the television. In a U.S. study, it was found that a child of 14 had witnessed, on an average, as many as 11,000 murders on TV. Even cartoon films contributed to it. Children who viewed violence on TV were found to be predisposed to aggressive behaviour in their early years of adulthood.
Exposed to violence
The situation in India is no different. The TV serials and feature films are replete with gory scenes of violence. Children in economically disadvantaged families are as much addicted to watching TV as children in the affluent sections of society and are thus exposed to scenes of violence. The Halls suggest that the TV set (as also the computer) be positioned in a place where the parents can monitor what the child is watching. In the Indian context, who can do the monitoring, and how, are questions that need to be discussed seriously. The authors, who talk of making the atmosphere at home congenial for children, provide a detailed chart for taking a defiant child on a long trip by road. They give practical tips on what kind of games or activities the child should be engaged in.
These books should serve as manuals for parents, care-givers, and teachers of children with special needs. Attached to this, of course, is the proviso: every child is unique, as is every relationship and every situation. Parents who happen to have hourly confrontations with a complex or difficult child can take heart from the fact that they are not alone and that help is round the corner. Harmony at home and enjoyable parent-child relationships are within their reach.