How A Child Learns Fear From Parents And Society

I believe that a child is inherently unaware of fear. Why / what should a child fear? The child has caring and comforting parents. As the child grows up, innately, s/he knows how to take care of one’s own self and seek refuge with parents, when necessary.

So, how is it that the child learns to fear? When is it that the child loses the intrinsic capability to take a risk? Where is it that the child learns to be afraid? How a child ceases to be fearless?

I, as a parent, do not trust the child’s instincts

I have seen often enough that my daughters know what they are capable of. They have their own sense of what they can climb, how far they can jump, what speed they can run and so forth.

It is not necessary that they will be 100% right in their predictions about themselves. At times, they need prodding and pushing. If they err at all, they err on the defensive side and not at a level where they end up hurting themselves needlessly.

At an overall level, they will do what they are comfortable doing. And, if they really want to do something even though they are not comfortable, they will actually get comfortable with it, simply because they want to do it.

Just that, as a parent, I am uncomfortable with the whole idea that a child can actually take care of one’s own self. So, what do I do? I instil fear.

I am learning to trust my daughters to take care of themselves for what they are capable of.

The focus is on falling down and not on getting up

One of my twin daughters has fallen down and is crying. What is my reaction? I rush, pick up the child and tell her to be careful.

What I do not do is tell my daughter that it was fun to fall down. I do not tell her that it was great to try out the jump/climb/run/whatever she was up to and falling down is a part of it. More importantly, I do not tell her that what is most significant is getting up after falling down. When my priorities are misplaced, what is my daughter going to learn? Fear.

I am consciously telling myself not to rush when I see my daughter falling down. She is learning to get up on her own.

When imaginary fear is a primary tool to discipline a child

The child is not going to imagine a monster below the bed on his / her own. It is just not possible. Someone, for whatever reason, has put it in the child’s mind that there is a monster.

Let’s face it. Why has the child been told about the monster or the police uncle who will punish/take away the child? Invariably, it is an easy ploy to bring order with a child who wants to have his / her way. What does it teach the child? Fear.

We have not done this with our daughters ourselves, but have seen numerous instances wherein they get spoken to about this by someone in the family, and at times, even by strangers.

Fear from Nature

I have seen it from the experience with my own daughters that they are not afraid of darkness. Why should they be? They walk into a room with no lights and are perfectly fine with it.

They were afraid of lightning and thunder. We explained to them that it is fun to watch the lightning and hear thunder, and they invariably bring rain, their favourite, they more than welcome it.

We have a huge peepal tree next to our house. The leaves make rustling sound in the night, bats fly around and our daughters are fine with all these. Rather, they stretch their eyes in the night to find a non-existent owl in the tree.

The girls have touched snake skin (they would have touched a live snake but for my own fear). They have pet cockroaches and earth-worms. They run behind lizards and chameleons calling them cute.

All these are natural and nature herself. If this is not properly explained, what will children learn? Fear.

Medicines and injections are of course not natural, but they are a necessary part of a child’s growing up. Both the girls actually look forward to both these, as they get explained in advance, that too without rewards and bribes. Surely, no fear.

The society does not trust the parent’s instincts

O +ve and B +ve are our daughters. As a parent, we know what they are capable of and even if they are not capable of, it is fine with us. So what, if they fall? So what, if they cry? Even if they bleed? We are learning to trust their instincts.

Not just in the park / any external environment, even in our own home; we are fine with what our daughters are doing; but they will be told by family members, friends and even strangers not to indulge in what they are doing. I tell them that it is fine what the girls are doing, but to no avail.

What is the resultant output with children? Fear.

Summing Up

As I write this, both the girls are climbing on to the sofa. They are going to jump together. What should I do?

I tell myself, I want my children to be fearless the way they have always been, I will not tell them the two words – “BE CAREFUL”.

My Daughter is Dark Skinned. I Fear for Her in Fair & Lovely Obsessed India

We have twin daughters – B +ve and O +ve, they are non-identical. It so happens that one of them is dark skinned and one of them has a lighter complexion.

The girl who is dark is getting darker by the day and I fear for her, fear for her self-belief, fear for her confidence, fear for her capacity to stand for what she is / will be, fear for her own self. I fear for her for I know the obsession with Fair & Lovely in India.

The first attention

I have seen this happening. I have seen this happening time and again. And, I know that I will keep seeing this happening time and again.

Be it family members or strangers, not all though, the attention first goes to the girl with a fair complexion. This cannot be an occurrence of chance. Of course, the girl with a dark complexion also gets noticed and gets spoken to, but with a time lag vis-a-vis her sister.

Both the girls are equally active, energetic and talkative. Yet the perceptible difference in getting the first attention from people around. It is something similar to gender stereotypes, intrinsic to us.

Both the girls are unaware of this at their age. I dread the moment when they will understand who is getting noticed and spoken to first.

The story books, toys, TV

My wife and I used to be big fans of Amar Chitra Katha. While reading the mythological stories, one of the daughters raised a query – Why are demons all dark skinned? Why are devas all fair skinned?

My wife and I never liked any dolls and the perception that girls play with dolls. Our daughters have been a gifted number of Barbie and other dolls, all fair. I read that Barbie also happens to be dark, never saw it in real life, though.

The protagonists in Indian TV serials and series are all fair skinned – women, men and children. Additionally, we never know when the advertisement for Fair & Lovely will pop up.

The result – the story books which differentiate between the skin colour, the toys which are not skin colour agnostic and the TV have been banished from our home.

The formal environment

Our daughters do not go to any formal environment of learning – not yet. There are a host of reasons why they do not go. One of the most inconsequential reasons on why they do not go is that one of my daughters has dark skin.

This is an utterly crazy reason and I know it. For, I know that once the girls start going to a formal setting, someone, somewhere, somehow, is going to say that one of the girls is dark – “kali” and I dread this moment.

Even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes how I am going to face my daughter who has been commented on about her dark skin.

The positive advice

I am in doldrums on how to deal with this myself. So, I was searching on the internet about self-help. I found advice like – place images of beautiful dark-skinned women prominently in one’s home, buy black dolls, for 3 to 6-year-olds: Make frequent remarks, such as “my beautiful baby,” and create stories about beautiful dark children who are smart, kind, etc. (These points are from this site).

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with any of these suggestions. They are well-meaning. I should actually be doing it myself.

Just that I am not able to. It is my inability to accept that I need to mention/get into a discussion with my daughter who is four and a-half-year-old about her skin colour.

I am a coward

I have never been able to call any family member, friend, acquaintance, stranger who I feel is differentiating between my daughters basis their skin colour.

I am running away from the reality of the need to tell my daughter that she is dark skinned and that she will be biased against.

I am unable to prepare my daughter for the country she is going to face even after knowing that I need to do it.

I hate the society which discriminates and I know that I have been and am a part of the same society.

I do not know how to deal with this. I am failing my daughter.

Indian Mythological Stories for Kids and Hard Lessons

We have faced challenges to find resources to better introduce Indian mythological stories to our twin daughters. I have written about this in introducing Hindu mythology to children.

It occurred to us that Surendrapuri could be a nice option for familiarizing Indian mythological stories to B +ve and O +ve. Surendrapuri terms itself as India’s first mythological theme park. It is a complete spiritual and mythological museum, where one can relive the ancient Indian epics. (Source: Surendrapuri Website).

We visited Surendrapuri on 22nd March 2019. It was a good experience for the girls to see the beautiful sculptures and statues depicting the stories that they love listening about. However, for us, the questions persisted that have been lingering in our minds and became even more puzzling.

Violence

This has been a troubling factor for my wife and me in Indian mythological stories. Invariably, there will be demons and there will be Gods and Goddesses going after these demons and killing them. I understand that the concept of Good wins over Evil has to be explained to children. However, there can be different ways to interpret and present this aspect rather than the gory visual depiction.

Surendrapuri was no different in this aspect. There were a number of statues showing Goddesses holding a skull of the demon in one of their multiple hands. Invariably, the girls would ask about the statue and what the Goddess was holding in one of her hands and the other hands, which would predominantly be an assortment of weapons.

At least for me, it is a complicated affair to explain these portrayals to four and half-year-olds.

Representation of women in Indian mythological stories

Either a woman will be a Goddess hunting down demons or it will be Goddess Lakshmi sitting at the feet of Lord Vishnu. There is nowhere in between for the women in Indian mythological stories.

Girls know about the childhood stories of Rama and Krishna. However, apart from her birth, there are no stories available for Sita. Similarly, after Krishna leaves Vrindavan, Radha gets left out from the narrative. All the Goddesses – Kali, Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi have no childhood stories and they directly enter the story as adults. The same goes for Draupadi, apart from her birth story.

Girls wanted to know more about the female characters at Surendrapuri. It was not possible as Surendrapuri, of course, made no changes to the age-old narrative of Indian mythological stories.

Girls get introduced to gender stereotypes in the Indian context as an add-on to Indian mythological stories. Their initiation to this impression continued at Surendrapuri.

Mahabharata

We skipped the entire portion at Surendrapuri for Mahabharata. I agree that Mahabharata has lots of application in our practical life but I am unable to decide on the age to introduce it to our daughters.

Right from the birth of Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidur to birth of Kauravas and Pandavas to Duryodhana trying to poison Bhima even as kids, I am not able to understand how to introduce it to children. For that matter, even the story of Ekalavya.

Surendrapuri presents all the events of Mahabharata, but we were not up to the mark to do justice to it.

The flowing Ganga, Bakasura, Aghasura

This was one aspect of experiential mythology that got the imagination of O +ve and B +ve going full steam at Surendrapuri.

They have put clean water in a closed space to depict Ganga originating from Kailas. The girls had a grand time splashing in the water pool and they understood the concept of Ganga.

Similarly, Surendrapuri has walk-in sculptures of Bakasura, Aghasura, the Snake Kingdom of Vasuki and few others. This was nice to experience first-hand for the girls. It is clear that whenever the girls have a sensorial experience with their own selves, they tend to remember for a long time.

The missing personal bond / connect with the Gods and Goddesses

For whatever reason, the Indian Gods and Goddesses are not allowed to mingle freely with their worshippers, leave aside taking a snap with their deities. Surendrapuri is no exception in this regard.

I felt that along with larger than life sculptures and statues of Gods and Goddesses if Surendrapuri could have some statues with whom the children could have their snaps and touch them, it would have been a memory of extended time for them.

Sum Up

Surendrapuri, as a concept, has been nicely executed. It is a worthwhile experience to see the stories in a visual form of sculptures and statues.

Surendrapuri did not answer our conceptual doubts, some of them mentioned above, about introducing Indian mythological stories to our daughters.

The search continues for another account of Indian mythological stories.

5 Steps Guide to Parenting Without Rewards And Punishments

I have written about our belief in parenting without rewards and punishments. This post is about how we translate the belief to day-to-day behaviour and routine. Here, I have listed down the 5 steps that we follow to walk our talk.

If / Then conditional sentences

Rewards and punishments will invariably have conditions attached. IF you do / do not do, THEN you will get / will not get. Even without thinking about rewards and punishments, if / then sentences are ingrained into our minds. After all, we are the so-called rational human beings.

I have taken a simple rule to avoid the If / Then combination in my conversation with my daughters. I do end up using conditionality in my statements even now, though I do feel that the usage has reduced drastically.

Self-behaviour as an example

This is one aspect that I kept dithering about even though the consequences were very much visible. I, as a parent, would want a well-behaved, well-mannered child; just that I refuse to be a well-behaved, well-mannered adult.

My wife, my parents, my in-laws kept pointing out to me that my daughters were adept at learning undesired things from me. Even then, I would not stop.

When I could not hide myself from the proof, I had to admit that I was in the wrong. It was evident that no amount of rewards and punishments would have deterred my daughters from the behaviour that their father was himself practising.

I understand that rewards and punishments are no supplement for self-behaviour to set an example for my daughters. (Bad habits die hard; I am trying harder to get rid of them). Parental anxiety is better dealt with by parents without involving the children.

Be patient. What is there to hurry for? Explain.

I have come to understand that both the girls are amenable to what they are told to, provided they are given a rational/logical explanation. I do not remember how and when it started, but it has been a recurrent phenomenon that the girls are not listening, they are up to their own doing, however, they are explained the what we are trying to do, why we are trying to do, how we are trying to do and bingo, they agree.

It does sound and looks silly that what would a three or a four-year-old understand about logic? Believe me, they do. It is beyond logic also to an extent. I suppose, the girls understand somewhere that their views are being respected and they are getting answered to.

The practical outcome is that we are invariably late for whatever / wherever. Though, now I start off early to ensure that we are on time. We get looked as non-stop chatterbox. I cannot help it.

Identify and eliminate the triggers

What would lead to the application of rewards and punishments for children? A parental requirement of desirable/acceptable behaviour from children.

I suppose a child on her own would not indulge in undesirable / unacceptable behaviour. There has to be action from someone / somewhere / somehow that would initiate the friction. It is surely not possible to keep the tab on all the goings around, but the active observation of child’s behaviour can lead to diffusing the situation before it goes out of control. And before the use of rewards and punishments is warranted.

There is not much of rocket science to observe a child’s interactions with her surroundings. A well fed and well-rested child will not throw a temper tantrum needlessly. It is my task as a parent to ensure that the need for the outburst from my daughters is addressed before it goes out of control. Their needs are not much to ask for and can be settled either way without getting into rewards and punishments arena.

The public meltdown will happen

We are dealing with children, remember. No matter, how much I try to nip the trigger in the bud, keep explaining, keep them away from If / Then statements, the girls do have some residual effect of their fathers’ unwarranted behaviour. So, a public meltdown does happen.

It is fine. I just keep telling myself that it is fine. There are hard moments, difficult moments, publicly.

I treat it as a passing phase. I am sure that we will get over and I do not need the bait of rewards and punishments to deal with it.

Conclusion

These five steps have been the beginning for me to walk the talk of parenting without rewards and punishments.

I am realizing more and more action points for me as the girls expand their horizon and I try to keep up, building a long-term relationship with them going beyond the short-term behaviour management.

I tell my daughters that I believe in them.

Parenting Without Rewards And Punishments: A Belief

Parenting our twin daughters has been a hands-on journey for my wife and me. It has never been a case that we started with set thoughts on how we are going to raise our daughters. Each of the daily experiences leaves a mark and we try to apply ourselves about how we could have done better.

It has happened a number of times that without a conscious realization, we start acting in a definitive manner. It is only when we get questioned / when we get the time to think about our own doing that we realize what we are putting into action. One of such aspects of our parenting that I recently realized was a belief of parenting without rewards and punishments.

Why would I believe in parenting without rewards and punishments?

Rewards and punishments are one and the same

Rewards and punishments are of course diametrically opposite. However, for me, one cannot exist without the other. I believe that punishments do not deliver the desired results in a child. If this is the case, I also believe that rewards too will not deliver the desired results in a child.

For me to believe in rewards, I also need to believe in punishments. A perceived positive action needs to be balanced out by a perceived negative action. Else, the dice get loaded in one direction.

I would rather be neutral, for once, in this scenario and avoid both.

Intrinsic motivation of the child

I see my daughters stretching their boundaries and limits on a daily basis. Right from the time they were trying to balance their necks to today when they come up with all kinds of interesting questions.

The children are born curious. They work hard to develop their minds and bodies. They have an innate desire to know and apply themselves.

I believe that offering rewards takes away the natural motivation of the child to do anything for her.

Inherent rewards of the activity itself

Why would a child be offered a reward? I suppose for the desired behaviour. A stand-alone desired behaviour on its own can and will have a satisfying outcome for the child. With an extrinsic reward system, the child can imply that the activity that she is being prodded to do is unpleasant and not worthwhile, and she will never realize the inherent rewards of the activity itself.

Our daughters eat all the vegetables and they have never been rewarded for this. I suppose, they actually like the taste of what they eat and this leads to the repetitive behaviour of eating all the vegetables.

I believe that the activity itself is the main ingredient to savour for the child and not an add-on to a reward.

Understanding the underlying reason

The children may not be as rational, but they are also not as unreasonable. More often than not, there will be a reason for the behaviour of the child – why she would do / why she would not do. If the parent can figure out the reason for the child’s refusal to do the given task, the underlying cause of the behaviour can be addressed directly.

I believe that my daughters have an inborn willingness to do a given task, just that they need to be respected and explained the desired behaviour.

A reward is followed by a reward, is followed by a reward, then what?

A child may be rewarded once. Even if done implicitly, she can comprehend what she has been offered. A child gets trained to expect that she will “get” something whenever she is asked to do.

It is not just about the “good” desirable behaviour, but the bad “undesirable” behaviour also. When the child gets rewarded for stopping the bad behaviour, the child actually gets trained to misbehave to get future rewards.

I believe that reward is like a genie which once out of the bottle is beyond control. Simply put, I do not play with fire.

Conclusion

It has not been smooth sailing for us as parents as put above. There have been moments of weakness and life is far from being perfect. I have made many mistakes and I could have been better in putting into practice our belief of parenting without rewards and punishments.

We are convinced about our belief though. With every lapse, we strengthen our resolve.

We would want to parent our daughters without rewards and punishments.

What are your views about rewards and punishments in parenting?

A message to my daughters on Women’s Day

My Dearest Daughters

It is quite possible that even when you grow up, the charade of Women’s Day may still be going around. This message is meant for you to develop the understanding of the men on why they would want to continue this eye-wash. I do not want you to fall for this pretence of Women’s Day and hence this message.

2 days back, it was 8th March and I saw a number of Women’s Day messages. They were regressive and nauseating, to say the least. In the name of respecting and celebrating women, men continue to shackle the women furthermore.

No labels please – Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother

Men will tell you that women play the role of daughter, sister, wife and mother through her life, ever since she is born. As a reward and recognition for the selfless service and sacrifice made by women for these roles in the family, men will salute you on Women’s Day.

I do not want you to get chained up in these labels. You are an individual and you have your own persona. You are not dependent on the relationship with men in your life to derive your identity.

If men have to respect you, men better learn to revere you for who you are, what you are, how you are, basis YOU as a person.

No adjectives please – Loving, Caring, Giving, Sacrificing, Multitasking and the other SH**

Men know how to sugar-coat a bitter pill for their own advantage. They know that women will anyways find it difficult to come out of the labels forced upon them. To cement it further, men will use the adjectives mentioned above to describe your services for the betterment of mankind, yes – mankind.

Do not fall for this honey-trap. You are free to do what you want. You decide the manner in which you deem fit to contribute to your family and society.

If men have to admire you, men better learn to appreciate you for your positives and also the negatives. You do not have to carry a load of the world on your shoulders.

No jargons please – empowerment, capacity building and the likes

Some men will go beyond the labels and the adjectives mentioned above. They will use the terminology of empowerment of women for the celebration of Women’s Day.

Do not fall for this well articulated rubbish either. You are not to be dependent on the largesse of men to be empowered. You are not to be empowered for a day in the year and then be chained back again.

This world belongs to you as much as the men mouthing this verbiage. Only you can empower your own self.

The cynicism about men

The opportunities for the women since birth – be it in family / education / career choices / employment / life choices continue to get constrained due to their gender. This is provided she gets born in the first place in a country like India with a skewed gender ratio.

Even after carrying the load of the family, women continue to have no say in the final decision-making process. Women get paid lesser as compared to men for the same quality and quantity of work in the professional arena. It is not safe for women to move around in their own city for lack of security and protection.

The Women’s Reservation Bill is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

Do men have any moral standing on Women’s Day after their diametrically opposite actions to the cause?

Conclusion

It is said that changes happen incrementally. It is said that men’s outlook towards women is changing for the better and the situation is improving.

Just that, I do not expect the situation to improve any dramatically in next 14 years when you become an adult. Rather no change at all in the omnipresent patriarchy in the Indian society.

Your mother has suffered at the hand of men, for that I am a man myself. I do not want the same fate for you.

If you have to celebrate the Women’s Day, do so for your own self, for your own identity and none of the above. Let men not have a say in it for they do not deserve it.

How I am learning to deal with my parental anxiety

B +ve and O +ve were born pre-term at 33 weeks. They both weighed around 1.8 kg at their birth and went down to 1.5 kg before starting to gain weight. The doctor told us that till the girls turn 2 years, they will be considered 2 months younger to their birth-date to adjust for their pre-term birth.

I still remember how they looked at 1.5 kgs. I also remember the reactions of some of the people on seeing them, who had only seen babies born full term with normal weights. One of my wife’s friends, who has 2 children of her own, commented that our girls look like aliens.

Even after leaving the hospital, our visits to the doctor continued on a regular basis. The girls used to fall ill quite regularly with their immunity being on the lower side. And when one fell ill, her sister invariably followed her. It was very frustrating that whatever weight gain they had in a month’s time used to get almost wiped out in a week.

Till the time the girls turned 6 months, we could visit the doctor only during designated hours that the hospital called “high-risk children clinic”. The doctor told us that we should visit him every 6 months so that he could check on the developmental milestones of the girls.

All these led to lots of lots of parental anxiety. It is easier to look back now, rather even forget those days, given that their development has been normal, so far.

However, I suppose, each phase has learning attached to it. And it is always better to keep a tab on the learning so that history does not repeat itself.

The first year

The girls learnt how to neck control, turn around, sit, crawl, walk and the assorted. Each development milestone was a celebration for us, just like any other parents. Just that, we moved from one stage of parental anxiety to the next.

I read in the hospital lobby from the numerous leaflets that whatever growth issues the child has will manifest in the second year. I kept waiting for the second year to arrive.

The second year

The girls started learning to speak, their initiation to solid foods, potty training and exploration of the world around them.

We kept visiting the doctor every 6 months to check on their development milestones. Sometimes, one girl was lacking in some aspect, whereas at times, the second girl was missing out somewhere. The doctor kept giving us feedback for the correctional measures.

At the end of the second year, the doctor told us that our twin daughters were growing normally. Now, their age had to be considered as per their birth-date.

I thought that it was the end of parental anxiety about the child’s growth. How mistaken I was?

Each thought/question about the child leads to parental anxiety

As the girls started going out more often and met more and more people, the questions came flying thick and fast. Most of these questions were on a set pattern. Which school the girls go to? Do they know their ABC? How many nursery rhymes they know? Have they learnt how to write? What are they doing in a park during school hours?

I suppose all these questions are well-intentioned. When we do not have positive answers to most of these questions, it leads to a lot of parental anxiety.

When we see children around the same age strutting around in school uniforms and going to the school for 6 hours, the thought that our children are going to lag behind does lead to sleepless nights.

Even though it has been a conscious decision of on our part as parents to keep the girls out of the formal learning environment, it leads to a lot of parental anxiety if we are doing the right thing.

I was thinking on these lines quite a lot. Suddenly, I got some questions. When did B +ve speak her first word? When did O +ve learn to crawl? Which date did B +ve had her first solid food? When did O +ve learn to jump? I, of course, do not remember any of these dates. Just that both the girls do these things as on date and more. That is it. I got my answer.

The answer to parental anxiety

The answer that I got is that there is no end to parental anxiety till the time a parent keeps expecting more and more out of the child.

Once O +ve and B +ve did a certain task, immediately I expected them to go to the next level. They learnt how to pick blocks, I expected them to connect the blocks. They learnt how to connect the blocks, I expected them to make a building out of it. Once they learnt how to make a building, I expected them to make vehicles and other objects. Now that they know how to do it, I expect them to make a real building out of cement and concrete. There is no end to it.

Once the girls learn a certain task, I do not even care to remember how and when and where they picked up. I do not even stop to cherish the moment rather I rush to the next level of the game of pushing the girls furthermore. I treat them as an object of giving shapes and making adults when they are actually four and a half years old.

The answer I am getting to my parental anxiety is that the question is not what a four-year-old should know, but what the parent of a four-year-old should know. Am I letting my child enjoy her childhood? Am I letting my child be a child?

Conclusion

O +ve and B +ve may learn their ABCs and nursery rhyme a bit late, it has to be fine with me. Once the girls enter the rat race, they are not going to find their way out of the maze soon; but if I can delay their entry for some time for that they are children and not rats; I have to learn to be fine with it.

I have to learn to manage the parental anxiety for that it is mine and I cannot pass it to my children.