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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sense and sensitivity in parenting

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

THERE is no denying the fact that parents have the most important, crucial and vital role to play in the life of a child. It is they who are responsible for bringing the child to this world and it is their principal responsibility to shape and support the life of their children.

A child’s family background, and his/her family’s socio-economic and psychological condition play an important in his/her personality development. It is quite a common observation that those parents who understand their children and provide them with a favourable environment help their children lead a very useful and fulfilling life. Contrary to this, parents who lack these essential qualities can cause harmful life-long effects on the personalities of their children.

A number of factors can lead to a situation where parents and their behaviour towards their child prove very harmful. This depends on things like the level of education and maturity of the parents, their socio-economic condition, and also the kind of environment they (the parents) had when they were being brought up.

All these factors are very significant in moulding parental behaviour. Most often, those parents mistreat their children, who themselves were subjected to such treatment by their own parents. Such individuals think only in a prescribed way, which they have inherited from their own parents, who mostly had conservative views on child rearing.

For instance, the adage ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ is something they firmly believe in. Openness or friendliness with children is out of question for them because they think it is harmful and can lead to a situation where the child can become undisciplined and go out of control. Then there are parents who belong to the underprivileged sections of society.

Just to make both ends meet is a constant struggle for them. More often than not, they lead a frustrated existence and do not find it easy to treat their children with love and care. This leads to a very cold relationship between parent and child and as a consequence the personality of the child is damaged.

This in no way is fair on the part of the parents — i.e., to let their frustrations out on their children. However, this is not to say that there aren’t parents who face enormous personal struggles but still manage to keep a happy face in front of their children and try and give them (the children) the best they can. Such parents know how to deal with the problems of life and how to protect their children against the kind of odds they experience in everyday life.

Though significant, the socio-economic status of the parents is not the only factor that affects a child’s personality. Equally important in this regard are the temperament, behaviour and conduct of the parents. A warm, loving, caring and affectionate attitude can lead parents to have a very positive effect on the personalities of their children. Parents who are caring, sensitive and sensible prove the most excellent of teachers for children.

Most important in this regard is the need for parents to try and understand their offspring. All children are not the same. They have different temperaments and perspectives. Children of course can be placed in different categories depending on their life experiences. For example, some children are extremely sensitive and might notice slight behavioural changes in their parents. With such children parents need to be extremely careful.

Children want love, care and respect from their parents. However in many cases they are not fortunate enough to have parents who fulfil the criteria of good parents. In some cases when parents are indifferent to the psychological needs of their children, resentment can lead to estrangement between parents and child. Parents need to understand that children cannot think or act like grown-ups and should not be expected to do so either.

Early social development is of vital importance in shaping the relationship between children and parents. This takes place in the family and surrounding environment. Since it is the beginning of a child’s life, it provides a foundation for a child’s character traits which can later assume permanent shape. Those children who are treated with love and care by their parents in their early childhood become emotionally attached to their parents and have a lot of respect and love for them. This leads to a very happy family life and the result is the child having a balanced personality.

Children who have such an upbringing share their positive outlook on life with everyone else they come in contact with, especially when they grow into adults. The sympathy, love, care and understanding that their parents gave them enable such individuals to have a lot of confidence. This in turn gives these individuals the ability to deal with various problems and challenges in life in a courageously and positive manner. To use a cliche, such children always see light at the end of the tunnel.

So how should parents go about doing this? How should they become good parents? In most cases it does not require them to do anything extraordinary other than to, for example, offer a simple word of appreciation, a slight pat on the back, a smile, a kiss, a hug or anything related that could raise their child’s confidence and self-esteem. On the other hand, being detached and cold will do just the opposite.

Expressing praise and appreciation to a child when he or she has done something good is a better way of building the child’s personality than scolding him/her when something bad has been done.

Some parents are quick to scold and reprimand their child when something wrong has been done. The same parents are also the ones who will remain unresponsive when the child has done something which needs to be commended. Needless to say, such a biased way of treating a child can have a bad effect on his/her personality.

One of my friends has experienced a problem similar to this. While discussing the issue of parental behaviour with him, he told me that he never had good relations with his father, though he tried his best. He said the more he tried the more difficult it became. What came out in further discussions was that his father had always been cold to him, ever since he was a small child.

He narrated a story from his childhood: “One day me and my cousin — I must have been seven — went out of the house and did not come home for quite some time. Our parents got worried. My father and my uncle began to look for us, since it was evening time and getting dark. As they looked for us in the neighbourhood, they saw us returning home. My uncle seemed delighted to see his son and took him in his arms and hugged and kissed him. My father did not do any such thing to me and I felt unwanted and humiliated as a result of what he did. I could never reconcile myself to his behaviour.”

The friend further said: “My father would beat me on the smallest of things. He would never let me play, even in my free time, and never shared a smile with me. That was the reason that I could never ask him anything. As a result I grew up feeling very jealous of those children who did have loving fathers.”

The friend says he suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of elders but could never muster the courage to tell his father, lest his father thought think that he was making everything up and beat him. One can be quite sure that this is not an isolated case. Quite a reasonable proportion of children in our country might be in such situations and quite ironically no one else but their own dear parents are usually responsible for this.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@ yahoo.com

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