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Friday, December 05, 2008

Children with Problems; Problems with Children

These days almost all parents have some issue or the other with their children. The common perception is that parenting is so difficult a task, that, I feel, is only partially true. Most of the parents find it taxing because they do not consider it as a wholesome responsibility, and merely see it as a job.
Of course, every child is an individual with his or her own unique traits. We don't want to label our children but at the same time, it's important to accept the nature of their temperaments. It's particularly important that we teach sensitive kids to handle stressful situations in a healthy, effective way. When children don't have a handle on anxiety, it's likely to escalate when they become teenagers. Children who struggle with anxiety are more susceptible to developing depression and mood disorders and anxious teens are at risk of becoming involved with drugs and alcohol in a desperate attempt to relieve their discomfort.
When I focus on the children with problems, I am not even considering the serious problems or challenges like learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger's syndrome, Autism, and Obsessive Compulsive disorders. They still form a minority, most of the parents are simply tearing their hair out about their children's oppositional and defiant behaviors - kids that think they own the world. Kids who throw temper tantrums, sass back at their parents, beat up their siblings, refuse to do as they are told... kids who think only of themselves, and want everything NOW! Kids who are, frankly, a parenting nightmare.

The common problems with discipline seem to be of two kinds: sometimes we are too insensitive to children's wishes and other times we are unwilling to set limits. When we do not listen carefully to children's wishes, we teach them by our example to be insensitive. When we are unwilling to set limits, we teach them that they do not need to respect rules. The solution is to help them have the experiences and opportunities that they want but to use our adult wisdom to set limits. Children understand the language of love, more than we adults do. Love translates into genuine concerted efforts to help our children blossom.

One of the best ways to help children develop compassion is to get them involved in service. Ideally the service should fit their talents, maturity, and interests. Small children can join a parent in making and delivering cookies or in singing to lonely neighbours. Older children may be able to help a parent clean or paint an older neighbour's house. Teenagers may want to join some community service and engaging them in discussions on suffering and people's efforts to help, our children can be better taught to assume moral responsibilities and we can effectively groom them as adults who we can be proud of.

Sometimes children learn to be afraid of the bad without learning to love the good. One must try to understand their feelings of fear and anxiety. Parents also need to help their children to be optimistic, happy, and hopeful. Notice how much each of your children feels positive and hopeful. Help them to notice the things they are excited about. Help them to deal with the things they worry about.

The best pattern is for a child to have many people in his or her life who enjoy, appreciate, encourage, and celebrate that child. Of course different children have different preferences for how they want to be loved.But all children need to feel valued. A wise parent not only finds ways to show love to each child but helps each child have experiences with other adults who are supportive and caring.

I have often found, in my experience, that parents even do their bit to mould their children as not-so-sensitive beings; it is so appalling! I agree, sensitive children are often particularly susceptible and vulnerable to the actions and words of other children and adults and tend to get their feelings hurt easily. In some ways, when this happens, these sensitive children lose their childhood. Instead of being carefree and interacting joyously and freely with the world, they become overly self conscious and begin worrying about how people see and react to them. Often they "read" adults or peers as they anxiously watch for approval or disapproval. They are unable to enjoy the "here and now" as they constantly look ahead for a reward or a reaction. Children who are sensitive, or score a bit high if a tab is kept on their emotional outbursts, are usually born that way. However, when children go to school, they will interact with all sorts of children and teachers who will be unlikely to modify their behavior to suit the child's disposition. This can cause a sensitive child to become frustrated and anxious. There are times when it's appropriate to step in and help our children and there are times when they must learn to stand on their own two feet.

Parents of a sensitive child will continually be making judgment calls regarding how much their child can handle without assistance. However, whenever possible, work towards empowering your children to stick up for themselves. By jumping in to help our children too quickly, we teach them that they are helpless and that the things that happen to them are beyond their control. Learned helplessness is a surrender of the spirit. Remember, even though you're trying to be helpful, rescuing generally shows a lack of faith and reaffirms your child's belief that he (or she) does not have the ability to handle difficult situations.

Children are likely to interpret and respond very differently to their experiences, depending on their temperament. Sensitive children are likely to be wonderfully compassionate, bright, creative and imaginative. They may also have a difficult time dealing with stressful situations and may be prone to being worried and anxious.

Many of these parents feel completely hopeless. They have read all the parenting books, tried all the parenting advice, and yet their kids just seem to get worse instead of better. Sometimes the behavior problems get so bad, they even start to think about putting their children into care, into special homes/schools, as they just cannot cope.
There is indeed no magic wand (that's what some parents want), that can suddenly make a child's problems vanish at once. But what can surely be done is to redress the problems in a guided manner. Parents are increasingly dysfunctional themselves, and the short-cut they commonly opt for is an unhealthy blame-game, or a series of repressive regimens. They need to make their children more confident, and much less stressed, themselves. Compassion and disciplining need to achieve an affable balance in their parenting. A parent has no right to torment or traumatise one's child, nor does a parent need to to be in a false awe or false trepidation when he/she looks at his/her child. Following just this simple and basic directive diligently, one can see the shouting, threatening, tantrums, and all the other behavior problems decrease significantly, and the helpful, polite, and good behaviors will thus increase. Parenting, and life, will start to become fun again.

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Aniruddh said...

Nice write-up.
The increasing global awareness campaign on how to bring the spotlight on child care aims to make parents, care-givers, teachers, health-care professionals, politicians and the common public better informed and, hence, better equipped to groom children and make them blossom into better human beings. I wish more and more people get sensitized to the whole issue of dealing with children's problems, and better redressal is available to all children who have been battling with various types and degrees of problems.

Mary said...

A very well-written post! I am really impressed by the diverse concerns of yours, Anindo. Children are so difficult to bring-up, yet so rewarding an experience for someone who does bring up kids, choosing to do so as a calling.