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Parenting: A balancing act

Children don't just grow up anymore. Parenting has become an exacting science, which one has to learn anew. Dr. PUSHPA LAKSHMAN looks at the tightrope that parents need to walk.

GONE are the days, when parents were "just parents" and children "just grew up". The emotional bonding between parents and children, which moulds children into "individuals", is taking a new dimension now. With time, what once came spontaneously is now deemed an art which can be learned and cultivated, and is analysed as a pure science with its basic rules.

A workshop was held on September 22 on the issue of parenting as an art and science. "Awareness to Positive Parenting" was an interesting workshop where Ms. Brinda Jayaram and Ms. Sarasa Bhaskar, presented a three-hour module. Besides parents, psychiatrists, counsellors and journalists were among the participants. This group developed the whole module into a participative programme where the various aspects and nuances of parenting emerged, evolved and were evaluated in a professional manner.

During the workshop the following scene was enacted. A child is watching cricket match on the TV, the parent reminds him of the exam the next day and says that he should be studying. How four sets of parents would handle this situation was enacted very well. The discussion that followed brought out the positive and negative implications of each of the four types.

This exercise aided the parents to introspect and self-actualise. It posed a crucial question, "am I a good parent or a responsible parent?" All parents want to be good no doubt, but, there is a fine line between a good and a responsible parent. For example, when your child is getting ready to go to school, if you help the child more than you should (arranging his books, tying the shoe lace), then, you may feel like a good parent, but you are not a responsible parent, because you are not allowing your child to learn from his/her mistakes.

Simple techniques of responsible parenting are:

(i) Allow the child to face the natural and logical consequences.

(ii) Provide the child with opportunities to make choices or decisions.

(iii) Give the freedom of choice to the child where the child will have a moral responsibility.

(iv) But continue to help and guide the child whenever needed.

When children misbehave (which is more than often), parents should avoid non-assertive responses, threats and unrealistic statements that they don't mean ("I'll kill you" or "I'll break your leg"), verbal put-downs ("you are good for nothing", "you'd be a failure in life") physical responses (beating or flinging things), or pleading. Punishment is humiliating to the child; it creates fear and resentment. While fear blocks communication, resentment leads to hatred. The long-term consequences can be listed as the four R's: Resentment, Revenge, Rebellion and Rejection.

Instead, the parents should listen, use assertive responses, avoid fruitless arguments and achieve by repetition. Patience and understanding can work wonders. Ignore negative behaviour, and give attention when the child behaves well, reinforcing such behaviour. The negative behaviour will diminish and the positive behaviour will flourish. The earlier this technique is used, the better the gains.

Often, the problems seem to be with parents and not the children. Parents often tend to use children as a "punching bag" to release their inadequacies, anger and frustrations. Inconsistent, inadequate and non-effective communication seems to be the problem.

While disciplining children, communication works, but not authority. When parents set rules for discipline, children need to understand and respect the rules, which is possible only through communication and mutual respect. Such rules apply to the parents too. Parents need to change themselves, if necessary. Mutual trust and respect between parents and children goes a long way in building a healthy relationship.

Parents' role in multifaceted and we should learn to enjoy it. Children crave to be loved yet need to be disciplined. They need to be guided, not led. The parent, always on a tightrope walk, has to do the balancing act. Programmes like these would be a great help to parents.

The author is the consultant counsellor at Osler Diagnostic Centre, Chennai.

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