Labeling Children – Needless Childhood Hazard

He is aggressive. She is shy. He is studious. She is mischievous. Whenever there are children around, even a single child, one is bound to hear the above statements. These statements are made by adults, at times, by parents too, in front of children themselves. This is labeling children.

Labeling is a simplistic way of expressing what a person is seeing of a child’s behaviour. A child is acting in a certain manner, the observer is making a statement basis the evidence available, that too in the presence of the parents themselves and not clandestinely. What can be wrong about it?

Well, all of it. As far as I am concerned, everything about labeling children is outrightly wrong.

How about labeling adults?

We hear all about the children. How s/he is and how s/he is not. Does anyone talk in similar words/terms about an adult? An adult, who is present and is a part of the conversation. Will anyone ever refer to an adult that s/he is stubborn, is a hypocrite, not having certain manners and all such stuff, in her/his presence?

We know as an adult that one should not talk about the other adults regarding their personality traits in their presence. In that case, why do we mete out such a treatment to children? Just because the children do not retaliate and do not describe the adults as a return favour.

This is a double standard of the perk of being an adult – getting away with labeling children but not a fellow adult and surely, not one’s self.

Adults have diverse characteristics, so do have children

One can argue that grown-ups have many facets to their personality. We may not even know about the majority of them as a part of knowing a person. If we do not know the person in entirety, how can we go about describing the person in labels?

This is a valid reason for not getting into labeling adults. In that case, what makes an adult think that s/he knows children in total, in simply one interaction, and ends up branding them?

One might say that s/he spoke about children after multiple interfaces. Again the same question. Do we speak about a fellow adult even after numerous dealings? No. Then, why do we speak about children as a know-all?

Adults have varied moods, so do have children

We know that one can have a bad day at work, freak incidents happen, or maybe, one just got out of the wrong side of the bed. In this case, it is very much possible that we may not see a side of the adult that we are used to. Face it, we behave differently basis our mood swings.

It is not exactly breaking news, but even children have mood swings and not just temper tantrums. Simply put, children are not expected to show-case the same behaviour throughout the day and to all the people, they come across.

Similar to the benefit of the doubt to adults basis their frame of mind, children also deserve respect for their disposition. And, one may not come to a conclusion basis one incident or even several.

There are no good labels, only bad labels

One may say that labeling is a well-meaning exercise if positive labels are used. I beg to differ. Any label, constructive or not so charitable, strait-jackets a child. There is no need for children to behave identically, all through-out.

A responsible child wants to have a good time but being told that s/he is responsible feels under obligation to not be an over-the-top. A studious child wants to play but being told that s/he is studious feels under stress to finish the homework first.

The worst of labeling children – Being told good girl/boy. Adults can always compliment the behaviour of children if they like and be descriptive about it. However, from where does “good” come into the picture?

Getting refered to in a certain manner, even if affirmative does not let the child develop into a multi-faceted personality. Life is all about shades of grey and not black and white; which labeling is contrary to.

An adult looking for acknowledgment of labeling

I find the labeling of my twin daughters annoying, even by well-intentioned adults. What is even more infuriating is the adult passing a remark and then looking expectantly at me for the favourable reception to what s/he has just said.

Seemingly, the adult is pleased with one’s self for making a sense of the child in front of her/him in a single word and wants an affirmation from the parent.

Suffice it to say, I find these conversations most difficult to handle. I have never dared to tell the speaker that few things can be said about her/him as well.

If the parents are right in their way, why not children

It is often said that parents know best about their children. A parent cannot go wrong in the upbringing of their children. Nobody can and should comment about a parent’s parenting.

Similarly, why cannot we contemplate that children are also fine in their way? Why cannot we consider that children should not be commented upon? Why cannot we just be with children without labeling?

Adults, take a break. Give the child a break.

Our Children Do Not Go To School Because They Are Children

Our five-year-old twin daughters do not go to school. We are asked by acquaintances and strangers, alike, the reasons that they do not go to school. My wife and I also keep asking ourselves, at times, why we have not enrolled our children in a school so far.

The answer is simple. Our children do not go to school because they are children.

Just that, this reply does not seem to resonate with the person raising the query. The question gets repeated. I am unable to understand where and how we are getting it wrong.

Adults and Childhood

“We really enjoyed our childhood and miss those golden days of our life”. “I have cherished memories of my magical childhood”. “Why can’t I get to be a child again?” “I would love to relive those carefree and joyful days of my life”. “Nowadays, children miss their childhood”.

I am sure the majority of us would have come across the above statements/emotions in several discussions about children and childhood. Leave aside a conversation, when a person thinks about her/his childhood, I suppose the feelings would be the same as above.

Now, if this is what an adult feels about her/his childhood and longs for the same; why would the same adult feel completely the opposite about the childhood of the next generation?

Why would the adults have different parameters and yardsticks about being a child and enjoying childhood, compared to their own? What kind of memories about childhood would the parents want to have for their children?

Long live the lost childhood.

Schools

There is a well-marketed notion that children enjoy themselves in a school. We have been told time and again that we are snatching the joys of the childhood of our five-year-old twin daughters by not sending them to school. We heard this for the first time when our daughters were about a year and a half old and we have been hearing it ever since.

I do not get this. Since when childhood and school have become synonymous with each other? What kind of a childhood is this that is not possible outside the confines of a school? Why cannot we visualize children, who have a long way to go to their sixth birthday, outside a school and enjoying their childhood? This is what our parents and grandparents have done for sure and even some of our current generation has done if not all.

Another answer could be that times have changed. Children better get a head-start else they will be a left behind in the coming age. Do you want the children to have a better future or not?

Educational System

Does anyone remember 3 Idiots by any chance? Majority of us do. When the movie went on to be a super-hit, almost everyone spoke and agreed that our current educational system stinks. Everybody concurred that our schooling system needs change. One and all said that a child’s potential cannot be defined by what s/he scored in JEE (now, there are two JEE to beat the stress of one).

All of us have the same opinion that rote learning taught to children in schools does not do any good in real life. Each one of us says that each child is unique and s/he should get an opportunity to excel in what s/he is good at / has an interest in.

Then, what happens? A child gets straitjacketed into the same schooling and educational system that the parent was cribbing till now.

The childhood in a place where it was never meant to be.

The Sham

The adults miss their childhood, after they have lived it, and they want their children to miss their childhood before they live it.

The adults criticize the current educational system and the schools and ensure that their children become a part of the same, at the earliest.

For us, yes we do want a better future for our children but not at the cost of their present and we disagree to be a part of the system we do not believe in.

As on date, our children do not go to school because they are children.

What would be your thoughts on this subject?

Which School Do You Go To? Why Children Are Asked This Question?

I have written Why I Stopped Asking What Do You Do. I realized that this question has an equivalent for children also. Similar to adults equating their life with what they do for a living and not with life per se, adults also equate a child’s childhood with schools. Rather they equate not childhood, but children themselves.

You do not believe me / agree with me? Witness any conversation that an adult is initiating with a child. What will be the first question of the interaction? I bet, the child will be asked – “Which School Do You Go To?”

The life as a stay-at-home father has revealed quite a few societal stereotypes to me, which otherwise were a part of my own life and I never realized it. This is one of those.

Our twin daughters do not go to any formal environment, not as yet. They continue to be at home. Any conversation, (at times, it is not a conversation at all), with anyone and everyone, relatives / friends / strangers / people who meet us on the road / shop / park / public transport / lift / anywhere – our daughters are asked the first question – “Which School Do You Go To?”

By the way, as on date, our daughters are not even five years old.

Education / School

I have never questioned back anyone who asks “Which School Do You Go To?” If I would have done so / do now, I am sure I would be answered back – what is wrong with the question?

Well, I suppose, the school is a means to an end – Education. If the people are so concerned about education, why not ask children about what they know / what they are learning and what they are not. Why the question about school?

The contra argument to the above would be that the adult does not have the time or the energy to go in detail about a child’s learning. So, the easy question about the school. In that case, if the adult does not have the time/energy to engage in a meaningful conversation, why to ask a question in the first place? And that too, only about school?

Schools are, of course, an important element of education. However, I am not able to understand, how / when / where / why, the schools have got a sole proprietorship on education? That, people, ask only about which school and not education, per se.

School – A status symbol

I realized that the girls are not getting asked much about their grade/class (leave aside their learning), but only which school do they go to. I am getting a feeling that this question has become a measure of at what level of social/economic hierarchy a family exists / lives.

People have a fair idea about schools and their fees/infrastructure/claims/lineage and what not. I suppose nobody will ever share their income, but knowing about where their children study, people, at large, can figure out where to place the family in the societal pecking order.

Schools are, I suppose, means to education, for a just and fair society. Then, why would I equate the schools with a status symbol? Why would I raise suspicion on a simple question – “Which School Do You Go To?” Because, right from Government schools, Hyderabad (a city where we currently live) has schools having fees up to 7 lacs per annum and more. Welcome to India’s economic disparity and a defunct educational system, rather a redundant state. But let us not digress.

If people want to know whether the children are going to school, the question to be asked is – “Do You Go To School?” However, people ask – “Which School Do You Go To?” and hence, as mentioned above, I have reservations about the underlying objective.

A Ruined / Missed Childhood

The girls are playing in the park. They are in a zoo. They are in the shop for buying groceries. The girls are having their nature walk – collecting twigs, leaves and flowers and their all-time favourite stones. They are jumping in the rain puddles. They are shopping vegetables in the Sunday Market. The girls are making their mud mounds in the court-yard. Anywhere and everywhere, the aforementioned question pops us – “Which School Do You Go To?”

Give the girls a break. Give me a break. And the person asking this question should also take a break. The girls are not even five years old. They are enjoying what they are doing and also learning in the process, I suppose. It does not matter even if they are not learning. They are children and they are not going to get their childhood ever again. Let them have it.

Why do we limit the child and childhood only to schools?

What are your thoughts on this question – “Which School Do You Go To?”

Little Moments: How do fish learn to swim?

Little moments of life with B +ve and O +ve. Moments that are memories of a lifetime.

How do fish learn to swim?

The girls have a pet at home – fish. The fish stays in a fishbowl; we do not have an aquarium. It is a daily task for the girls to feed the fish. They also spend time, once in a while, looking at the fish for an extended period. Whatever they do/undergo, they extrapolate it to their pet and ask questions related to fish. The favourite question is – How do fish poop?

One day, out of nowhere, B +ve asked a question – How do fish learn to swim? I was completely taken aback. This question never occurred to me. As an adult, I just took for granted that fish swims. I never thought as to how, why, when and where fish learn to swim. I checked the internet and tried explaining to the girls. However, that is a side point.

I get this question even in my sleep – How to fish learn to swim? And, why this question never occurred to me.

How do crayons get their colour?

The girls were colouring in their books. Again, out of nowhere, O +ve came up with this question – How do crayons get their colour? What makes a pink crayon pink, a red crayon red and so on? I was again taken aback.

I checked the packaging of crayons; of course, there was no information. The children are supposed to colour and for sure, they are not expected to ask how crayons get their colours.

Hanuman is God. Why does he pray to another God?

B +ve was speaking about her favourite Ramayana. We knew she was going to drop a question that will leave us scratching our heads. And, she did not disappoint us.

B +ve said – So, Hanuman is a God. We nodded our heads. B +ve said – So, Rama is a God. We nodded our heads. She connected the two data points, and asked – So, both Hanuman and Rama are Gods, then why does Hanuman pray to Rama?

We have told her that we will check and let her know. I am checking on the concept of junior and senior Gods, but not getting any hang of it.

Why the men are not wearing shorts in Ramayana?

The girls were watching Ramayana movie in Telugu. O +ve came up with this question – Why the men are not wearing shorts? On one hand, it is a silly question and at the same time, it is also a deeply profound question.

I suppose nobody around has witnessed the Ramayana era, provided it existed in the first place. How can people assume the dressing in any particular period without any proof/evidence?

It might be considered sacrilegious to even imagine in wildest of dreams that Lord Rama might be wearing shorts or something on similar lines. However, I do feelĀ  O +ve has a valid point for a child not shackled by beliefs and hand-me-down rigid ideas.

My take

I keep questioning myself why the above questions and many others that the girls ask on a daily basis do not occur to me. I suppose it is a disadvantage I face having grown up.

We just want our daughters to keep coming up with questions like this. We do not know as to what leads to their questions / how they come up with it.

I assume their questions are a confirmation that they are still children and their initiation to worldly ways – to accept the things, the way they are; is still some time away.

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.

Interesting questions asked by children

I wrote about the questions children ask. Our twin daughters, B +ve and O +ve, ask us continuously about everything under the sun and the sun, itself. Here is the list of their interesting questions, that stand out for the periodicity and the intensity that they get asked.

Death

The girls ask us – what we are to them. We answer – we are their parents. They ask – where are your parents. We identify them to our daughters. Again we get asked – where are the parents of our parents? Of the 8 people, only 2 are alive now. So, the question – where are the remaining 6?

Earlier, we told them that they have gone to a far-off place. This led to a barrage of questions. How far is the far-off place? Why cannot we go there? How did they go to this far-off place?

Unable to bear further, now we tell them that they have gone to God. My wife and I are agnostic but other than invoking God, I am not aware of any other option. This also raises further questions. Why have they gone to God? Have they gone on their own or have they been called? What are they doing there?

From somewhere, somehow; they have understood that elder people die. So, they want to know at what age one goes to God. We have been asked when we will die. We get asked whether we will be around when they grow up. I have warned my parents and in-laws that they might get asked about their demise, out of nowhere, so that they do not lose their balance.

There would hardly be 2-3 days gone-by without the question on the inevitable. I suppose they care about their own security and safety as to what will happen to them if their parents are not around.

We tell them that either of their parents will be there, if one dies, to take care of them. If both the parents die, they will have their grandparents and my wife’s elder sister to take care of them. Other than this, I do not know how to deal with this topic further.

Money

This has been an inadvertent addition to their questioning repertoire. The girls see that men are travelling on the roads. So, they ask what they are doing. I answer them that they are going to work. So, they ask why they work. I tell them that I suppose, they like to work, and they get paid money for that.

Now, comes the trick question from them. They ask me why I do not go to work. I tell them that being with them is my work. So, they ask me if I get paid for being with them. I answer no. So, a follow-up question – If I do not get paid, it means that I do not have money. I am stuck on how to deal with this.

In the meanwhile, they drop the sentence around that their father does not have enough money. I do want to stop this. However, it is also a reality that we are going to run out of money and I will be searching for a job soon. I cannot tell them that their father has good money. My wife disagrees with me that what is the use in telling it to children who will not understand this.

While we debate, the message is gone. I keep getting asked on a repeated basis if I have enough money.

My blogs

This is a result of my being unnecessarily over-smart. Whenever I am sitting idle or not doing anything worthwhile, according to them, I get asked what I am up to. I told them once-twice that I am thinking about my blogs. They asked me what I was thinking. I told them about how to make people read my blogs and that I do not know marketing. That did it.

Now, whenever, wherever, they see me sitting silently even for a moment, they start discussing with each other that I am thinking about my blogs.

They come around to me and tell me that someday, somebody will read my blogs. They are our little bundles of sunshine which keeps my wife and me going.

Poop, Action of strangers on the road, Mythology

Why is my poop pink in colour? Need I write more?

Raising children and being responsible citizens

Introducing Hindu mythology to children

Questions related to nature

This has been a recent addition to their questioning. B +ve asked that if animals and birds can drink dirty water on the roads and do not fall ill, why we cannot drink. O +ve asked that we can drink the water that falls from the sky, the rain, but once it falls down on to the ground, why does it become dirty? The question that both of them asks – The trees are so good, so helpful, why do humans cut them?

There is so much more to write about their questions. I will cover it in another post.

Conclusion

I understand that all the children are inquisitive by nature. Wondering, when and how this process to raise interesting questions for everything around slows down eventually and children start accepting the things, the way they are, without the urge to tear them apart. That is, when children become adults?

How did you handle the questions your children asked?

The questions children ask

There is complete silence. Both the girls are looking at me expectantly. I look completely lost, ready to tear my hair apart, breathing heavily and speechless.

What is going on? What has happened? You guessed it right.

It is another of those questions that B +ve and O +ve have come up with at the spur of the moment and I have no answer to satiate the curiosity of the two ignited minds.

I have understood that the two most used words by children are WHY and HOW. At times, it almost feels like, both the girls are non-stop questions floating in the environment. They will not stop battering me till they feel that they have received a convincing answer to what they feel is their right to know.

Normally, neither of the two girls is in a mood to yield to her sister. So we always have thin ice to walk on. However, when any one of them comes up with a question, which is often, the other girl always seems to join forces with the questioner to force an answer from their miserable father.

There is no guarantee that once an answer is given, the Q&A session will stop. The answer will be followed up by another question. Again, once answered, there will be another bomb dropped. It will continue until they find another set of questions to ask. And if God forbid, I do not answer, the same question will be asked incessantly till the time I feel that anyone else listening to the conversation / the wall in the room will also ask me the same question.

It is, of course, great that our two daughters have innate inquisitiveness. As a parent, it is our duty to answer them. I understand that this process plays a major role in their learning and building conversation skills. Given that they are still not a part of a formal learning environment, raising questions is a key avenue for them to make sense of the world around them. Just that, at times, I see question marks in my dreams.

The girls have understood long back that their father is not a knowledgeable person. So, if they feel that I am silent for more time than acceptable to them / I am giving evasive answer / I reply that I do not know and that I will have to check, they themselves advise me to check Google. I wonder how parents of non-Google generations would have dealt with this in their times.

The intriguing part of these persistent innocent questions is that the same set of questions will keep getting repeated. I have tried questioning them back but now it is not working as a satisfactory response any more. They have told me that when they ask questions, it is my job to give answers and not theirs.

I have tried giving philosophical answers to their questions, using words and principles that they would not be aware of. I got ripped apart for this strategy when the girls kept stretching it to a point which was unbearable. To make matters worse, they started using these philosophical answers in front of an unsuspecting audience and my wife would stare at me to confirm the adage that looks can kill. I have stopped being over smart with my answers, now.

There have been a number of instances when we have provided enough entertainment to on-lookers and passers-by with our back and forth questions and answers. I have seen people nodding at me, looking at me mercifully, commenting internally about us. However, no good Samaritan has stepped up till now to answer the two little girls.

It has happened a number of times when after the girls’ sleep, my wife / I go on an exploratory spree over the internet to figure out what we have been asked during the day. It is fascinating to be asked about something where we felt no questions existed.

I came across this article that the study discovered girls aged four are the most curious, asking an incredible 390 questions per day – averaging a question every 1 minute 56 seconds of their waking day.

I understand that all the children are inquisitive by nature. Wondering, when and how this process to question everything around slows down eventually and children start accepting the things, the way they are, without the urge to tear them apart. That is, when children become adults?

How did you handle the questions your children asked? How do you deal with incessant questions every minute of the day?