Be a Loving Parent

Parenting is a delicate balancing act

Family picture

One of the most challenging roles that one can ever be called upon to play in one's life is that of a parent. While there are manuals for everything in this world - ranging from car repair to how to make custard, it is a pity that babies don't come with how-to books attached!

The word responsibility takes on a new meaning when you are given complete charge of a little life, to mould, shape and nurture, the way you deem fit. Often, your brand new status as a mum or dad is liable to turn your world [and, your heart] around, bringing with it bewildering as well as endearing changes to your lifestyle and personality.

Being a parent in the 21st century is difficult, to say the least. There are so many questions that torment your peace of mind, often resulting in sleepless nights.

How much TV is too much? Are video games healthy? Are you pampering your kids, or ruling with an iron hand? What can we do today to enable kids cope with an uncertain future?

Certainly, good parenting has come a long way from just keeping your child clean and physically safe from harm. Today, it means a great deal more.

Here are some important pointers on the roadmap to parental success.

Allow your little rose-bud to unfurl independently. The most common parenting pitfall - and, one that most parents, regardless of how many kids they have, readily fall into - is to assume that your child is completely dependant on you and cannot survive without your care. While this may be true of babies, children fast outgrow this stage. If they're not taught self-reliance at an early age, they'll find themselves helpless and lost, especially when they first attend school. "Many [parents] do everything for their kids. This only robs their children of the opportunity to learn self-reliance - a vital key to their self-esteem. One of the best things you can do is to help your kids learn how to do things for themselves," says Kelly Nault, motivation speaker, counsellor, and author of an award-winning book on parenting.

Know thy child. Every child has a distinctive personality, even at birth. But, as parents we often assume that we know more about life than our children do. This attitude may thwart us from exploring and discovering our child's individuality. It would help if every parent were a keen observer. Shamika, a housewife, had this experience recently. "Every morning, as my seven-year-old son, Goutham, woke up, he'd lean out of the window of his bedroom and stand perfectly still for a few minutes. I put down his behaviour to sheer laziness and often scolded him for wasting time when he should be getting ready for school. One morning, he looked at me and asked, 'How come you never enjoy the sunrise, mama? It's the most beautiful part of the day!' It was a shock for me to learn how little I knew about my son and his passion for Nature." Discover the hidden nuances in your child's personality. That is the first step to helping him/her nurture his/her talents.

Employ child psychology. It is true that "Generation-Next" children are getting smarter every day. As parents, we just have to grow even more intelligent! Disciplining with an iron hand is now passe. Remember, it's always easier to swim with the current rather than against it; so, take every opportunity to employ child psychology in order to further your parenting goals. For instance, if you want your child to help around the house more, instead of commanding him/her to assist you, make the chore seem more like play a la Tom Sawyer! You could sing a song together as you put away the toys that were strewn across the playroom, or have a game about who stacks the most toys away neatly. Says psychologist Dr Kersi Chawla: "Children of all ages enjoy spending time with their parents and having fun. If chores are presented to them as opportunities for more play, they are bound to love it. Think of innovative and fun ways to engage them productively and instil in them a sense of responsibility."

Hone your basic social skills. It's a heart-rending scene and, yet, one that's played out time and again in stores, supermarkets and restaurants across the globe. You expect a quiet evening out, but your toddler has other plans. He screams, kicks and throws tantrums the minute he spots those goodies that entice from the shelves. You try to pacify him, but you know that until you buy him what he wants, his screams won't be assuaged. Another common scenario that most parents dread is when you pay a visit to a friend's house, surrounded by fragile glass and a frisky little kid on hand. Recipe for disaster? Perhaps, but not necessarily so. "Children should be taught basic social skills at an early age," says Chawla. "It is important that they categorically know that it is wrong to knock curio off-shelves, impolite to run on rampage in someone else's home and absolutely unacceptable to scream in a public place. Parents should sit with them and have a heart-to-heart chat. This isn't discipline per se, but elemental respect for people and property that should be instilled at a young age through gentle reinforcement. It is important that you are firm and yet calm when you confront such situations with your toddler." Often, we may think our children are too young or immature to understand, but unless an attempt to correct unruly behaviour is made, it can, quite easily, go out of hand. It's never too early to encourage good social skills, such as saying "please" and "thank you" when the necessity arises, and even instilling good table manners and respect for elders.

Be demonstrative. In the past, it was never considered appropriate to let your child know how much you loved him/her. Any display of affection was frowned upon, since parents felt it would make their progeny too "soft" or indisciplined. The parenting mantra in the modern generation is just the opposite. Life is too short to retain a stiff upper lip. Always be sure to show how much you care, because you are giving your child the gift of emotional security. "A secure child grows up to be a more confident adult," says Chawla. "So don't be afraid to let your love shine in your eyes."

Banish Guilt

Guilt can wreak havoc on any relationship. Often, as is the case today, parents work and have demanding schedules. But, the fact that they have less time to spend with their child isn't what damages the relationship - it is the guilt factor. Parents have been known to resort to showering kids with gifts to make up for their shortcomings in time. "When a child is bribed this way, s/he soon learns to play up the guilt factor until parents become puppets in their children's hands which is detrimental in the long run," explains Sanjay Manchada, a counsellor. "If you're a working parent, make the time that you do have count. Spend quality moments in hands-on play with your child every day. It could be a simple board game or bed-time story. Listen to his/her chatter and take your conversations seriously. Never make excuses for your work or allow guilt to colour your relationships. Your children will soon come to love and respect the ideals you stand for."

And, remember, even if you're a housewife, at home with the kids 24x7, it does not guarantee that you spend more time with them! Stay-at home moms are increasingly busy and may not have much time left over from chores to devote exclusively to their children. It stands to reason that if you have a full life, your child will learn from example and follow suit, picking up values of integrity, hard work and commitment early on. Your actions will speak louder than words.

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Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With ten years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe. Her writing spans a variety of travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle features read by a diverse audience in over seven count

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