The environment children grow up in exerts a powerful influence on their development. But experiences are equally important in shaping their personalities, say experts

For her parents’ wedding anniversary, 12-year-old Mahie had arranged a dinner that laid out nostalgic old black and white pictures along with good food. Like the photos, the soiree had a black and white colour code. “Mahie assumes the role of mini mom with such ease, it is unbelievable. Whether it is taking care of her younger brother or ordering groceries on the phone when I’m not around she can do it all,” says Mumbai-based Komal Motwani. She proudly adds, “Mahie has developed a keen sense of aesthetics taking care of her own wardrobe, picking up her own accessories and styling her own look. She’s meticulous and that impresses me.”

Right from birth, children begin to take in sensory experiences from around them, and the environment continues to exert powerful influence on the development, but experiences are very important as it shapes behaviour and personality. “When you reward a behaviour chances are that it is likely to occur again. When a behaviour is punished it becomes less likely that it will occur again in the future,” says Mumbai-based Alka Gautam, a child psychiatrist, counsellor and mother of two. Kids learn a great deal from watching their parents, peers and siblings. Even T.V, internet and videogames can impact their thoughts and actions. Our children seem to perform well without us constantly breathing down their neck and telling them what to do.

“I was pleasantly surprised when my nine-year-old son Aditya recently took my wife, who was ill, to the doctor and also got her medicines. Next morning when he toasted the bread and warmed the milk, I told myself that I was doing right by backing off. Aditya also looks after his younger brother at school. Whenever there is a problem arising due to his younger brother at school he talks to his teacher and solves it,” says Vishnuram, a senior manager with a private firm. Children change as they grow up. When we give them space, it helps them sensitise themselves to the world around, including their parents, grandparents, friends and pets.

Children are open to learning from a very young age and early impressions go a long way in shaping their personalities. “It is important for children to develop social skills and part of this includes building relationships with others. A simple gesture such as a smile, handshake or hug can enable your toddler to strike a bond for life with his family and peers,” says Dimple Shah, a child psychotherapist based out of Pune. A generous flow of thank yous from your end, play an important role. It is a mark of pure appreciation that fills your child with happiness.Friendship and social skills are most important qualities to be developed in children. Parents and teachers can work together and make socialising a fun activity for all. Parents need to provide opportunities for children to be with other of his/her age. Parents should themselves interact with their friends along with the child so that he understands this is a healthy practice. “When a five-year-old girl had shifted to Pune she found it difficult to mix with other children. As a result she was reserved, shy and because of her father’s transferable job she found it difficult to adjust to different environment. She was good at art and craft. We encouraged her skill and whenever there would be an occasion where the children from the building gathered, she would be asked to teach them craft. Soon she came out of her shell and gained self-confidence,” says Dr. Shah.

Helping the child to learn sharing at an early age will foster his social skills. If these habits and values are instilled from a young age, it becomes a habit and a way of life which is easy to continue later on. “Teaching children how to manage financial responsibilities by providing them with a piggy bank or giving them a small amount of money on their birthday teaches them to stay with their money and this is one of the important social skills that parents need to develop in their children,” adds Dr. Shah.

Since observational learning is very powerful, it is important to ensure that kids are observing the right kind of behaviour. By modelling good behaviour and appropriate responses, parents can be sure that their kids are learning how to act responsibly. The experiences that parents and other care givers provide them during the children’s earlier years can be some of the most crucial. With parents being the primary influence in most cases, displaying an attitude that we want them to emulate helps. It gives them a sense that they are both responsible and accountable for the way in which they handle all things including family. Most learning come from what children have learnt at home and what they see and experience. All this helps in understanding various aspects of life. There should be lot of love, culture and empathy when you are handling your child.

Parents must often appreciate the good aspects and personal achievements of their children, thereby bolstering their confidence. Whether it is complementing the way your kid cleared up toys at his play school or marvelling at the neat arrangement of books on his shelf, remember to reward an effort. It goes a long way in building and strengthening the bond you share.