Where there's love & freedom from fear

It's Children's Day today. ANAND NAIR argues that every day can be a children's day, if parents pay a little attention to young needs, to mould them into happy, independent adults.

A CHILD'S immediate world is her home, parents, siblings and family, friends in due course, and later on, school and teachers and classmates. It is a small world, but it sometimes contrives to fail the child, miserably. It fails in many different ways: by not fulfilling the primary needs for food and shelter, as witness the street children under the railway and road bridges, it fails to protect as in cases of child abuse and child labour, it fails to provide education as in the case of children who work from a very early age, above all it fails on occasions to provide love and a habitat free of fear.

What can parents do to make the world better for their children?

To begin with, they can marshal their material resources in such a manner as to give priority to the physical well being of their children. A parent who drinks or gambles away his income or wastes it on unnecessary luxuries for himself, thus destroying his children's quality of life, is doing his children a grave injustice, however much he loves them. Being a parent has to imply a long-term commitment to putting the needs of children over his/ her own. If that commitment is not forthcoming, men and women should not contemplate parenthood.

However, a parent can do much more than meet the primary needs of his children for shelter and food and clothes: They can protect the child from fear and give them freedom. Most parents want the best for their children; however, towards that very objective, parents often put undue pressure on their children. Parents' expectations can often become millstones that weigh a child down: expectations that she should outperform all others in school, particularly that know-all neighbour's child and all the other children in the family. As long as parents measure excellence only as a function of performance in examinations, a good proportion of children will grow up with the sour taste of repeated failure in their psyches.

Do we reward children for being honest, joyous, loving? I have heard many parents with children who suffer from the dreaded Down's syndrome say that those are the children who make them most happy. Is it because the parents have no great expectations of them?

Parents can also protect children from the many dangers that can threaten their children by educating themselves about common illnesses and household calamities, and how to provide primary care before a doctor can be reached. How many parents, for instance, know how to provide artificial resuscitation, or treat a serious burn? Yet these are procedures all parents can learn in less than a week and can save an endangered child.

We all agree that every child has a right to education. Yet how many of us consider the logical extent of this hypothesis? Right to basic education for literacy and numeracy or a right to be educated as far as the child's ability will take him/ her? Does it extend to a right to be adequately fed, clothed and medically cared for, as needed, during the period of education? Many developing nations provide this level of care as a matter of right. Some even provide an income for a mother who has to stop working to care for a pre-school child.

Any society that does not provide free education up to the potential of the child, and free food, clothes and medical attention at school, as needed, are kidding themselves if they think they are `progressive' in this area.

And then again, what are we doing to make sure that children are not sent out to work due to poverty, or that they are not physically or sexually abused? These are not matters to discuss once on high days and holidays and then forget for the rest of the year. Because our children are only as secure as we make them, no more, no less.

We father our children, mother them and then again, we can smother them! Do we allow the children from an early age to start participating in some of the decisions about themselves, or do we do all their thinking for them? Which clothes to wear, which games to play, which friends to spend time with? In our busy lives, do we give them enough listening time to understand why they like some activities, people and things and not others? Unless they start to contribute to the small decisions at home early in life, we shall end up with uncertain, timorous adults who are emasculated every time they have to make a decision: which house, which spouse, which job? Or would we, parents, want to exercise our stranglehold on their decision-making even when they are middle-aged and we are out of step with the world they live in?

At the end of the day parents and schools have to think of themselves not as autocrats and rulers, however loving, but as patient facilitators, people who help to bring out the best in children, with love, advice and caution, where it is needed.

We have to open doors _ to music, art, literature, athletics, all the rich kaleidoscope of life_ so that they can decide which ones beckon them.

On the other hand, if we have blindfolded them and led them about, inculcating our fears and prejudices (including caste and communal ones) into them, they will forever live lives that are impoverished and stunted in many directions.

At the end of the day a good education, an open mind and freedom from unreal fears are the best inheritances we can bequeath to our children.

Pic. by Johney Thomas

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