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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Badly behaved: The child or the parents?

Warning: Really LONG rant ahead.

The first time I woke up to what it really meant to be an (in)effective parent was when O was barely a few days old. A family friend visited with her 5-year-old, who went totally berserk at the sight of a doll-sized human being. Obviously her first encounter with a baby, and totally unprepared for it.
My mother and I had a tough time protecting O from the little girl’s eager hands. She not only jumped around the bed, but tried to lift O up by her wrist. The mother only kept repeating her daughter’s name, increasing her decibel level with every call, till she finally screamed at the girl and roughly dragged her out.
As much as I felt sad for the wailing child, I was relieved that O was safe.
Later I was wondering what I would have done in that situation, as a mother. I would have first prepared O for the visit. Explained that we were going to see a really tiny little person, who is delicate and can’t be touched, but only admired from afar. And if she still ‘misbehaved’, I would try to beat a hasty retreat without creating a scene, without exposing my child to judgement by all and sundry. I would lecture her, on reaching home.

In the last 7 years, R & I have messed up often enough. But by and large, we have handled O well, we think. We have always been able to take her to the restaurant or cinema or mall. We can fly, and even manage long transits with ease. Even if only one of us is travelling with her. Even when she was a baby. Of course parks and beaches are NEVER a problem with a child.
I explain everything to O. I’ve done it long before she learnt to communicate verbally, herself. She knows the ground rules while visiting people, she knows that she will be punished if she goes back on her commitment to behave... And there are times when she has expressed her reluctance or unhappiness to go someplace and we have still dragged her out -- to the supermarket for instance. Sometimes, you have nothing at home to eat, and you have no choice but to take the child with you to shop. You just have to be a bit more tolerant and innovative on those days.
A bribe works great!
We have had the advantage of bringing her up largely by ourselves (making up for all the other disadvantages of the situation)... so for most part of the year we are spared the excessive pampering of grandparents and aunts.
I am not making O out to be a model child (kakkaiku thann kunju pon kunju*). The truth is far from it. But what I have ensured (or am trying to) is that no one calls her ‘badly behaved’ – in my dictionary that directly translates to ‘bad parenting’.

I have met all kinds of parents (the children are all more or less similar!).

There are parents who seem so in tune with their child’s needs, watching them together is like watching a pro synchronised swimming. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful.

Then there is the majority of us – struggling to do our best and not mess up.

And then there is the class of parents – people I can’t even begin to understand. They take pride in the ‘misbehaviour’ of their child.

I had O’s birthday party recently. A party only for kids.

There were a couple of my friends helping me out with the 16 kids. The kids were AWESOME! Some immediately got into party mood. Some took their time. Some preferred sitting by themselves. One was not comfortable being separated from her mum, but she didn’t throw a tantrum. They were all wonderful. They had fun, they painted and played and ate...
The thing is, I’ve seen some of the kids in a different environment, with their parents, and they were out of control.

Case in point (a composite of various cases really):
Immediately after R & I asked O & her friends not to run around outside the party area, disturbing the others in the cafe, a parent pipes up.

Parent: children should be allowed to run around.
R: Yes, in a park, at the beach, in your home. Not in a public place.
Parent: That’s nonsense. I want my child to be naughty and bratty.
Me (to myself): In your time, in your home. Not if it puts others at an inconvenience.
To prove his point, Parent calls child, and asks him to swim on the floor!
And child does, after nearly toppling a shelf of fragile dinner sets.

This child, till the arrival of the parent, was having fun. Was just like all the other kids. Wanted a bit more popcorn, little less salad; wanted face painting and danced rather cutely for the bunny song; listened to the party organiser when she requested all the kids to remain seated and not run out of the party area. Just a child.

What I realised after many exchanges between the parent and child is this.
The child did not feel he/she had a licence to misbehave because the parent was indulgent.
He/she felt he HAD to misbehave, as the parent expected it, found it cute even! Then there are parents who don’t expect their child to ‘misbehave’, but they do seem to think that’s what children do, so there is no need for disciplining.

Children cry when they are hungry/uncomfortable/sleepy.
Children throw tantrums when they are unwell/ignored/in a strange environment.

All situations that parents should attempt to handle, even if they don’t succeed.

But what if a child is throwing food at people or punches at his/her friends? If the child is destructive? If the child is abusive? Then that calls for serious intervention. Not just for the child, but for the parents too. How do you allow that to happen?

I am not judging the child here. But I AM judging the parents.

There are parents who take such pains, to ensure that their child is not a bother to others; Who take every effort imaginable to make sure that the child is on his/her best behaviour in company. I don't follow too many mommy blogs. In fact, it's only MM's blog that I follow, and in this post she talks about tolerance towards kids, and how she avoids or works around situations that may not be child-friendly.

Yes, as parents, we need to be aware that the apple of our eye could well be a sore point for others.

Here I begin my rant on those who are intolerant of children.
What the heck! Even if you don’t have a child, you were one to begin with. So get over it, and stop glaring at the wailing child and embarrassed mum at the supermarket. Stop sighing loudly at the duo on the plane... Just get over yourself, and give the situation a thought.

I can’t understand people who are intolerant of a wailing child. It’s definitely not music to the ears. But maybe the child is genuinely distressed, and the last thing the parent needs is a dozen pair of disapproving eyes on her while she is trying to console the child. There are places that you should not take your child (8mths-8years) to. And there are places that you should expect children, and expect some adjustment.

The Cinema: If it’s a film for kids, expect kids at the theatre. If you are child-phobic, rent a DVD and watch at home. And if it’s not children’s movie, and your child is not comfortable in a cinema and is bound to create a racket, then YOU rent a DVD and watch it at home.

The Restaurant: If the restaurant doesn’t provide high chairs and kids’ menu, chances are it’s not meant for children. So try and avoid. Even if it’s a child-friendly eatery, it doesn’t mean your child can run around, upset food trays or throw samosas at fellow diners. No-no! A friend of mine carries a little activity bag, and some snacks too. So her child is engaged, while we have a good peaceful meal!

A Party: If the invite doesn’t say X & family, then don’t take your child. I have seen people bring their entire brood to official ceremonies. What the hell! If you are taking your child to someone’s house, make sure children are really welcome out there, and that the hosts are not being merely polite.
Now if it’s a party where kids are present, as adults we have a responsibility too. Don’t get drunk and throw up; don’t smoke around the kids; don’t swear and abuse. Don’t be a pain in the ass.

Trains/Planes/Public Transport: If you don’t want pesky kids around, use your private transport. Don’t use public/mass transport and expect the luxury of child-free environment. So often, on a flight, those that are tolerant of drunken idiots or loud snorers, get all irritable with a crying child. If you don’t want a child travelling with you, fly first or business, or better still charter a jet.
And for the parent, during landing or take off, give the child a toffee to suck on. The air pressure blocks their ears and makes them uncomfortable. Carry their toys and snacks and some books. And stop watching the damn movie on the in flight entertainment and pay attention to your child.

Supermarkets: Best case scenario – no child. Yet, you can’t avoid it sometimes. So it’s ok to bribe. Tell your child that if he/she is on her his/her best behaviour, there is a candy bar or toy waiting at check out. Under no circumstance is pulling down produce from shelves and playing building blocks with it, permissible.

Parks/Beaches: If your child has a lot of pent-up energy, parks and beaches are great. Let them get dirty and grubby and play their energy off. And if there is an adult trying to get some peace and quiet out there, tell them they are in the wrong place.

Malls: Most malls have play areas. Again, bribe them. If you have to shop, then bribe your child with an hour on the rides for good behaviour!

School: If you are teaching young children, you need to be patient. Otherwise get a job as a data processor. A few friends of mine (parents of 4 and 5-year-olds) are so stressed out because their child doesn’t sit still and remain quiet for the 5-6hours at school. Or rather they are stressed out because the teacher complains all the time. Reality check please… How is that even possible? For a child to sit still.
Whenever R & I complained that O was being a bit too ‘active’, my wise mum would ask if we preferred ‘manangati’**

Home: Best place to be in, if you haven’t got the hang of being an effective parent. Stay put at home.

Talk to your child.
They are never too young to understand. You treat them like a responsible little person (not a child) and they behave like a responsible ‘person’.
A friend decided to go for Dostana, leaving behind her 2-year-old with the dad. She didn’t sneak out of home or lie. She explained to her daughter that mommy was going out for a while with her friend. And the little girl waved her good bye!
It may not always be that simple. But what is?

For me explaining and answering questions have always worked. I ALWAYS answer O’s queries (R says I am being politically correct by doing so). Even when I am at the end of my tether and annoyed, I will answer her question. Of course, smart ass has learnt a few tricks based on this, but that’s different post.

Another lesson I’ve learnt & am learning is that nothing triggers a tantrum or misbehaviour like when one is being ignored.
There is no point showering the child with attention when he/she is in the midst of a tantrum – the child is in no mood to reason at that point. But just before, when the child is seeking your attention and you are too busy chatting with your friends or browsing the net or watching a soap/cricket match on telly… you are asking for trouble, pal!

* Roughly, crudely translated: A crow chick is made of gold for its mother.
** Lump of clay.

PS: I started this rant 3 weeks ago, but as usual I had way too much to say, and needed the time to trim and edit my thoughts. So it may read a bit jerky...


Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

No, this reads really well. And well said -- I am always worried about bad behaviour. Adults', children's, animals'....any bad behaviou including my own is shameful.

Shyam said...

I like kids, I like them mischievous and energetic... but I admit I draw the line at bratty, badly behaved ones... and man, HOW I dislike their parents for letting them behave that way!

umm oviya said...

Teesu: Hope you recognised the honorably mention :)
Shyam: Absolutely... it makes me angry when children are going berserk and the parents are just looking on dotingly.

Deeps said...

hey,thanks for boosting my morale...I'm beginning to feel I'm going the right way in raising my child.
Till now being honest to my child hasn't had a counter effect.It has worked`always.I'm dreading the day when she will have her own questions(those embarassing ones too).I still am clueless if I'll have answers to all of them.What do I do then?Be honest anyway?

Kiran Sawhney said...

interesting post

onlyinqatar! said...

Wish more people would take interest into what you have written, and actually take it seriously.

I personally can wait for my day... to having kids, especially after reading your post. Gosh, heavens knows our offspring will be little devils.


shyam said...

Hey, you ok? havent seen a new post in a few days now. All well?

sunder said...

Oh we are living in a place where the average no of kids in a family is dont you think people wont mind the tantrums of the way we will exclude the place ghoras visit...

sunder said...

Nice post and the previous comment was made in a lighter vein..

umm oviya said...

all fine shyam. next post explains...
sunder, i know what you mean. same scene here... too many kids, and too little parenting!