Imaginative Parenting with Fictional Characters
Kids are the fastest evolving species on this planet. Parenting techniques become outdated faster and faster. However, I think many underlying principles remain the same.
I think good parenting is not an acquired skill – because it needs constant acquiring. I need to be learning and adapting all the time if I am to be a good parent, because today’s kids are learning and adapting all the time.
I wanted to share the lighter side of this enriching and enjoyable part of my life – the use of fictional characters to encourage discipline in our 2.5 year old daughter.
“Beta so ja, nahi to Gabbar Singh aa jayega” (Child, go to sleep, else the dacoit will come – a famous line in Indian cinema).
Parents have always needed external deterrents to discipline kids. Everyone imaginable – from police and teachers to demons and ghosts – has needed to be summoned to assist the helpless parent.
Boom Boom Bah
Our deterrent fictional character comes from a Marathi song from an album for kids that has become the rage among all kids in Maharashtra. Kids from a few months to a few years old dig this album like crazy. It features one song about a ghost, Boom Boom Bah, with a nice rhythmic pulsating beat, replete with screams and nightmarish laughter.
Not surprisingly, this guy Boom Boom Bah has become a friend to many Marathi parents. Go to sleep, otherwise Boom Boom Bah will come. Not taking your medicine? Boom Boom Bah will give you fever. Not brushing your teeth? Boom Boom Bah will take them away. And so on.
But, I didn’t want her to imbibe an irrational fear of an imaginary ghost. So the Boom Boom Bah character has mutated into an obnoxious fellow who’d rather be avoided at all costs. Our daughter has even learned to scold him if he doesn’t behave.
Not all deterrents need to be fictional. Our daughter knows the Chairman of our residential society as he has a young kid who sometimes plays with her. After several failed attempts at trying to stop her from endlessly playing with the tap water while washing hands or getting her out of the shower, one day her mother warned that Mr. Chairman will shut off all the water supply. This was more than a year back and the trick still works!
Deterrents rooted in reality don’t necessarily work, because children don’t see and understand the world like we do. Use deterrents that exist in their world.
Change, refine, and adapt the deterrents to suit the situation, age, and culture.
Candies and chocolates in excess can be harmful incentives. Harmless incentives require out-of-the-box thinking. Our daughter is now tiring of a meal-chair that she has used for more than 18 months. Rather than sitting and being forcibly enclosed in the chair, she would like to prance around. A direct, straight-forward directive “Sit in the chair” doesn’t work.
There’s a picture of a baby on the chair. “If you don’t sit in the chair, the baby will feel lonely, and cry. It wants you” works.
Provide incentives, not instructions.
This was a masterstroke by my MIL. Anuja is an imaginary friend of the same age as our daughter, who likes to hang around with her and her cousins. In short, she is part of their kids group. This was established over a few weeks of bedtime storytelling involving Anuja and the real kids. Now, Anuja is becoming a more useful concept than any deterrent, since she is very flexible.
On-Demand: You don’t want to finish your dinner? Shall I give it to Anuja?
Stories with Morals: Elaborate stories at bedtime about how Anuja did not behave properly in some way or the other, leading to her punishment.
Good Behavior: Good behavior on our daughter’s part makes Anuja very happy.
Indirect Scolding: Direct scolding leads to crying and is frequently counter-productive. If our daughter behaves incorrectly in some respects, Anuja mimics her at the same time, and it is Anuja who gets the scolding, not our daughter. Sometimes, this is sufficient for our daughter to mend her ways.
These are just a few examples; the list is endless. I am simply amazed at how all this works!
Use Incentives as a first recourse. If they don’t work, then resort to Deterrents.