Monday, 30th October 2017

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Parent, teach thyself

Parents are turning to professional parenting counsellors to learn how to deal with their children. Varuna Verma tracks the development

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 12.01.14

It was a Friday evening ritual for the Venkats to go out for a film, video games and dinner. Bangalore-based software professionals Srinivas and Shobha Venkat kept busy schedules during the week and made up for it by spending quality time with their two pre-teen children over the weekend.

But the outings started turning into an unpleasant experience for Shobha. "My son and daughter would bicker and fight in the car. This would get me angry and soon we'd all be in a shouting match," she says.

Shobha signed up for a parenting coaching workshop last year. Here, she learnt about "I messages", a communication tool for parents. She didn't pull up the children for their constant bickering. Instead, she talked about how she, as a mother, felt about it.

"I sat my children down and told them how much I looked forward to spending time with them. But their car fights took the fun out of the evening," Shobha says. That Friday, the family rode to the movie hall in peace.

Sonal Kothari, founder, Positive Parenting, a Bangalore-based parent coaching centre, uses among other methods "I messages" as a tool to help parents convey their points of view to a child. "This way the spotlight is on the parent and there is no heat on the child. It gives children the room to correct their behaviour," Kothari explains.

A molecular biologist, Kothari was introduced to the concept of professional coaching for parents when she attended a parenting programme at her daughter's school in Tokyo six years ago. "It dealt with the challenges of modern-day parenting — bringing up children in nuclear family set-ups, creating communication channels and helping them handle today's technology-driven information overload," she recalls.

Kothari decided to import the idea to India. She started Positive Parenting in Bangalore in 2010. The centre offers eight-week-long parenting workshops to urban moms and dads, where they learn about parent-child communication, managing teenage rebellion, handling pre-puberty issues and effective single parenting through lectures, discussions, role play and home tasks.

"I used to conduct two workshops a year. Starting this year, I'm increasing it to five as enquiries are pouring in," she says. "I Messages" urge parents to focus on the moment, and not to delve into the past. The tool advises them against using words such as "always" and "never".

Grandmothers, friendly neighbours and Dr Benjamin Spock used to be the go-to people for advice on bringing up babies. But the mantle seems to be passing on to professional trainers, whose charges range from Rs 2,500 per session per person to Rs 15,000 for a two-month programme on parenting.

In Delhi, ENT surgeon Shilpa Gupta traded her scalpel for a parenting manual in 2009, after she became a mother of two. "In the West, parenting is considered serious business. Parent groups and professional parenting counsellors can be found in huge numbers in any city yellow pages. The concept is now coming to India," says Gupta, who conducts a seven-week course, called Responsible Child Care, at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Wellbeing, Delhi.

About 200 people have taken the course, which costs Rs 7,000 a head, she says. "To reach a larger audience, I'm taking the course to schools and companies as well," Gupta says, adding that the workshop has been conducted at the GMR Group and Good Earth.

Many parenting centres are aligning with corporate houses to conduct workshops. When Sushant Kalra set up the Parwarish Institute of Parenting in Delhi, he found that most of his clients were from the software sector.

"IT companies have a young workforce. Also, as employees often work long and odd hours, the children are neglected," he says. Parwarish has conducted 50 workshops in corporate offices. Its three-hour parenting programme covers discipline, health and diet, sex education, building self-esteem in children and dealing with failure.

Atma Chetna, a Delhi-based non-government organisation that works with parents, teenagers and teachers, conducts its parenting programmes only through schools and companies. "We've worked with over 3,000 parents," founder Puneet Rathi says.

Parents can opt for distance learning courses as well. While Parwarish conducts classes on Skype, the Pune-based Sattva Life offers a one-month online programme. "We interact with clients via email and phone calls," Sattva Life founder and parenting coach Stuti Vij says.

The growing number of nuclear family set-ups has driven the demand for professional parenting coaches, Gupta believes. "Urban parents don't have a support system, as there are no grandparents and aunts around to help bring up children. Professional coaches are becoming the alternative support centres," she says.

Kothari agrees, stressing that parenting has changed over the years. "My grandmother would be at sea if I asked her for tips on monitoring a teenager's social media activities or helping a child cope with divorce."

There is another reason for the spurt in parenting classes. The experts believe that today's tiger moms and dads push themselves hard to turn their children into wonder kids. "Expectations have changed today, as parents want their child to be the best. This puts stress on both parties and strains relationships," Kothari feels.

A mother of three high-energy children, Janet Hinduja often found herself under pressure catering to their everyday needs. "I'd take out steam by getting angry with the children," the Bangalore-based housewife recalls. She signed up for Kothari's classes a year ago.

Now, whenever Hinduja feels drained during the day, she sits down to have a chat with her children. "I explain to them that I've had a hard day and need to rest for an hour. They understand and make an effort to stay quiet," she says.

The programmes' focus, mostly, is on communication — on how to deal with different situations by discussing matters with children. "I learnt that talking things out makes all the difference. I try to keep communication channels open, listen to my children instead of reacting and don't let my emotions get the better of me," she says.

Atma Chetna's Rathi believes successful parenting is not a single formula that can be copy-pasted in every parent-child relationship. To cater to a diverse audience, it offers 10 parenting programmes for clients to pick from. These include raising teenagers, single parenting, managing parental stress and maintaining a work and family balance.

Sarah Ahmad signed up for Atma Chetna's parenting course on raising teenagers two years ago. Her daughter and son had become teenagers and she was seeing a new side of them — they were secretive, had long, hushed telephone chats, asked for more pocket money and wanted to stay out late with friends. "I thought they were heading towards trouble," the Delhi-based housewife says.

The workshop put things in perspective. At a role-play session, the parents were asked to recall and enact their own teenage years. "I remembered my own teen rebellions," Ahmad says. "I learnt to just let them be."