By Neeti Jatia February 2004Children need to be taught discipline in the right way without denying them the freedom to evolve on their individual paths. Above all, they need support and unconditional love to help them develop into happy and confident human beings For moral training, suggest and invite, not command or impose. And suggestion is best given by personal example, and dialogueAs a child is conceived and begins to grow within the mother’s womb, he or she connects to the mother in a very special way. Birth creates a separation. Then onwards, the child starts a long journey away from his parents. Parents teach the children how they can live on their own. Children as individuals have their own free will to choose their own paths. However, they are dependent on their parents in many ways. They always have special needs that only parents can look after. These needs may range from a loving household to being cared for when sick. The transition from childhood to adulthood is made by all of us, but in our own different ways. While some people believe that the maturation process is a time to develop one’s individuality and uniqueness away from one’s parental figures, others believe that growing up is a fine-tuning of beliefs, morals and ideology passed down from generation to generation. The fact is, the old saying ‘A chip of the old block’ applies to almost every human, regardless of how different one may seem from one’s parent. Qualities are inherited that cannot be suppressed no matter how hard one tries. Moral guidance Spiritual and moral guidance is a key ingredient in raising a child. Indian saints expound on the benefits of starting the child on the path of right behavior and right conduct as early as age three, because habits begin to form then onwards. Parents in any case help in the development of morals, intentionally or through their actions. Awareness of right and wrong is cultivated in the everyday disciplining of the child. When the child lies, his mother reprimands him and takes appropriate disciplinary action. The punishment teaches the child that it is unacceptable to lie. Over time, the child will develop an understanding to always speak the truth. All children need to be guided, in the modern age more than ever before, because they have so much temptation placed before them. Many bad habits are imposed upon them in the environment of the schools. Under peer pressure, the youngster feels he is faced with the Hobson’s choice—if he does not join the crowd to learn smoking and drinking, he is considered a sissy. Having or not having a beau or girlfriend may become another pressure point. Not succumbing to inappropriate or debilitating behavior is tough during teenage. Yet, you as a parent can play a major, if not decisive, role in teaching your children to resist what is wrong, and outright evil. Reason with your children. Point out to them if they are wading into the cesspool of error. And that unless they desist, it will soon be too late to come out unscathed. Enduring happiness lies in self-control and in being a master of your emotions and actions. Youths need to know that paradoxically true freedom means the capacity to control oneself in any situation, and not indulge in explosive acts of passion and recklessness that hurt others and often destroy the doer. People with similar karma are drawn together—‘birds of a feather flock together’. If youngsters continue their practice of truth and righteousness, they will meet like-minded friends. Yet, teach them that human relationships are transitory. Teach them the law of karma, that what they do will come back to them without fail. Indulgence in likes and dislikes makes a child slave to feelings and desires. You spoil him when you say: “What would you like to eat? Do you care for spinach? You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it.” The child grows up thinking that so long as his desires are satisfied he will be happy and that the purpose of life is to satisfy desires. Later in life, he would realise that he had been misled; the world out there is different from what he has seen at home. To satisfy one’s every whim is not easy in the world. Don’t pamper children. Give them true freedom by keeping their lives simple. Overcoming negative traits A child comes into the world not only with good tendencies, but with bad ones too. The education of a child should include some basic training on how to struggle against and overcome bad inclinations. Without this, the child will grow unarmed against temptations. When left to his own devices, no matter how talented he might be, his good qualities may become overwhelmed by the bad propensities. Unfortunately, bad predispositions often develop and strengthen much faster than the good ones. To take an example from the herbaceous world, weeds are more robust and aggressive than plants. To grow something worthwhile, one must constantly fight the weeds. By observing a child carefully one can notice in him some germinating negative characteristics. Occasionally he is capricious, or becomes angry, or may insist on doing something forbidden. At an early age children become lazy, are prone to slyness and deceit and manifest greed and cruelty towards other children. If parents fail to prevail upon them, the bad inclinations may grow into passions and vices. Psychology tells us that it is better to nip any manifestation of evil at its root. Sensible prohibition and light punishments are absolutely necessary. By understanding that the violation of imposed rules results in unpleasant consequences, the child will avoid the forbidden. No matter how liberal-minded a parent, he or she soon realises that disciplining is a must. But what is discipline? It is teaching children to develop self-control by way of example. One way children learn is by imitating others. Parents need to behave in ways which set good examples. If you do not want your child to smoke, you yourself should not smoke. If you want the child to be mild-mannered and noble of speech, you should not talk impatiently. It is imperative that we as parents show respect for children if we want them to respect us and others. We need to teach them to share their possessions, to listen to others and to take turns at games. Use the same tone of voice with children as you want people to use with you. Talk respectfully to them and about them. It is tempting to ridicule children in the hope that constantly pointing out bad behaviour will make them snap out of it. But this is often counterproductive, as the child learns that he gets attention by doing things that parents don’t like. It is important to encourage good behavior and to praise children often. Some more tips on disciplining: » It is important to criticise the behaviour, not the child as a person. » Setting limits is helpful. Be consistent about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. » Remind them of your rules; children often need reminders. Don’t waste words when imposing authority is required. » Accept a child’s right to say ‘No’. Letting children get their feelings out is like taking out a splinter before it causes infection. » If you lash out, apologise to your child afterwards. Saying “I’m sorry” teaches them what to do if they offend others. » Praise and hug children when they co-operate. This encourages them to behave well. » Don’t expect more than what the child is capable of doing or accomplishing. It is not even possible for all children in a class to stand first. » Over-pampering is not the answer. Catering to the child’s needs correctly and leading disciplined lives will minimise, if not eliminate, chances of children going astray. » Television has a hypnotic and obsessive effect. Television gradually takes away any desire to study, play or do something worthwhile. TV viewing must be monitored. Parental don’ts The child’s qualities and abilities are the only consideration; the idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is barbarous and ignorant superstition. It is the child himself who must be induced to grow in accordance with his own nature. There can be no greater error than for the parent to pre-arrange that his child shall develop particular qualities, capabilities, ideas, virtues, or to launch him on to a specific, set career. To force nature to abandon its dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection. Parents often play a role in fostering competition and fanning rivalry among children in the false belief that comparing a child to his siblings, cousins and classmates will challenge him to emulate, improve and excel. However, not only do comparisons undermine a child’s self-esteem, they also end up generating feelings in him of resentment and hostility towards the children he is compared with. It is better to respect and reinforce the unique strengths of each child. Although parents mostly impart commendable lessons, they inadvertently instill negative morals in a child through constant pushing. Thus, a child begins to loathe, avoid, make excuses and find it pointless to indulge in the activity. Conformity to the imposed rule becomes hypocritical and heartless, a conventional, and often cowardly, compliance. Admiration has to come from within. The first rule of moral training is to suggest and invite, not command or impose. And suggestion is best given by personal example, conversations and dialogue, and by recommending good reading material. Absolutely avoid smacking children as it only teaches them that violence is the best way of maintaining control. It encourages them to hit other children. Punishment is sometimes indispens
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