Infants have two ways of demonstrating emotion. They either smile or they cry. As they grow, they learn about different emotions from parents and their peer group. The two-to-five age group is when a child prepares to go to school. The role of the parents is crucial as they are the ones who have to teach a child how to socialise.
Smaranika Tripathy, consulting clinical and rehabilitation psychologist at Columbia Asia hospital and counsellor at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, suggests ways to bring up a happy and disciplined child.
The child clams up before strangers
A child may be used to talking with familiar people. But in a new environment, he needs time to adjust. If he is produced before guests and asked to answer routine questions or sing or recite, he is not being given time to adjust to the situation. In imposing our wish on him, we are not evaluating his wish whether he wants to speak or not.
The solution: The child needs to be encouraged but not forced. Draw a family tree, with the child at the centre of it. It will branch out from parents to grandparents, to friends and neighbours and even include the milkman and newspaper vendor with their roles clearly defined. This way he understands his immediate society and learns to value everyone in his life.
The mother can pose as a role model. Describe the situation to the child how guests come and the mother is asked to sing. Now ask the child: “What should I do?” The child will now assess the situation from your point of view.
The things that the child is taught — singing, recitation etc. — do it at home with him. Let the child be your instructor. You can even record on a video recorder as he practises singing and get yourself recorded doing so too. Then show him your part first and his next. If you admire the way he looks while reciting or singing, the confidence will be an encouragement for him to open up before others. There is no point forcing him. He may give in once or twice but he will not be trained.
Share his activity, even if for a day in the week. You could have a Cartoon Day where parents and child watch the same cartoon together. Try to understand what makes him laugh in it. Or have a Pasta Day where you share his meal.
Counsel him about the arrival of guests so that he is mentally prepared. Describe who is coming and if there will be someone his age who he can play with.
And when guests come, never discuss only his negative points — that he is bad in studies, or gets punished in school or takes ages to eat. It is natural for a human being to turn away from a place where he is not appreciated. It will make him insecure and trigger aggressive reaction, escape or aloofness.
The child refuses to share anything
Another child coming home spells trouble as there is no way your child will play with him and let him touch his playthings. Worse, he may object to guests being handed a gift or even served food from the house. This would result in scenes that any host would cringe at the thought of.
The solution: Teach your child the concept of sharing. You may start with sharing food. Tell him to divide a paratha and share with his father. Or ask him to exchange an icecream with a grandparent. Tell him stories that show sharing in a good light. If your daughter is playing with dolls, the mother can enter the game, introducing the concept of there being two or more children among whom the mock-food has to be shared. You can start a Sharing Day. Have the child share something simple, like his blanket with his father.
If a child is refusing to share things, it shows either his insecurity of losing things or his ignorance of the concept of sharing. Don’t tell him things like: “This is my cupboard. Don’t touch it.” It will teach him not to share and increase his curiosity to open the cupboard. Rather, tell him that he needs to ask you first if he wants to open it.
If guests are coming, let your child help with the preparations —arrange the cushions, lay out the dishes.... This way your child will take pride when the food is served.
The child is very aggressive
As the child’s cognition of his own emotions is limited, he may be sad, irritated or anxious, but it will all come out through bouts of aggression.
Parents should study the cause that triggers such behaviour. It could be that the child feels that this is the only way to catch the attention of the parent. He does not understand the difference between positive and negative attention.
As ignoring the tantrum is difficult in public, most parents resort to one of two ways. Some prefer corporal punishment, thinking two slaps would resolve the issue. Sometimes that stops the child but it only suppresses the aggression temporarily. It is bound to come back. The other common method is to give in to the demand immediately to buy peace. Such a reward for indisciplined behaviour would send the message that this is what is needed to be done to get his way.
The solution: The first thing to do is to calm the child. Hold him, hug him, try to divert his attention from whatever is the issue at hand. A mother needs to understand a child’s emotional control pattern just as she understands his food or sleep pattern. If the child is trying to hit you, don’t hit back as the child will learn to hit back as well.
The child refuses to eat
It takes hours and an infinite amount of patience to chase him around the house and make him eat.
The solution: Check three things — the nature of the food (Is it for example, a tasteless khichdi?), the presentation of the food (Why else do kids love the smiley sandwiches from McDonald’s and not the ones you make at home?) and the care-giver (Is the person feeding her making him rush through the meal while doing something else herself?) An irritable care-giver might take out his irritation on the child. If the child is engrossed in watching TV, parents should be careful that he does not end up over-eating. Make a note of the time when he finishes a meal. Many parents complain that when they try to feed a child after the prescribed gap of three hours, he refuses to look at the food. If he finished eating only two hours ago then it is normal not to be hungry so soon.
The child refuses to go to school
The child throws a tantrum at the time of going to school and on being dragged there, howls so much in class that teachers complain.
The solution: Many schools have introduced the practice of a parent accompanying the kid to school for the first week. To get a child used to leaving a familiar environment and spending time with strangers, take him to school a few days before classes begin. Walk into his classroom and tell him this would be where he would make many friends. Show him the school bag, water bottle and tiffin box and tell him he would use all these when he starts going to school. These incentives would make him look forward to the school-going experience. If a child comes back from school faking a stomach ache, do not let him watch TV or give him his favourite food. Sick bed should mean no TV. He should earn these treats through good behaviour in school.
The child demands prizes for doing even his daily chores
Do not make him used to materialistic prizes. The child is clever to exploit the situation. Give him hand-drawn stars or smileys. If he accumulates a number of them in a day, he can get a hug from the mother.