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 Parenting techniques become outdated faster and faster.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.
While Barack Obama proclaims White House support to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to which India is a signatory, the Indian Supreme Court has delivered a landmark judgment in a unique case of young woman in India. My apologies, but the subject necessitates a lengthy post.
Born in 1991, this woman was abandoned by her family in ‘98, when she was just seven years old. After a few years with the Missionaries of Charity, she went to her new home: the state-run Nari Niketan in Chandigarh, India. Though she is 18 years old today, she is said to have the IQ equivalent of a 9 year old. In this state-run institution, she was repeatedly raped by the staff, four of whom have been arrested. All this came to light only when she was shifted from there to another state-run institution Ashreya. The latest unsubstantiated evidence casts further doubt on where exactly she was raped, and on the entire police investigation so far.
When medical investigation revealed that the woman was pregnant, the Chandigarh Administration decided that it was in her best interests to abort the pregnancy. The girl expressed an unambiguous and unequivocal desire to keep the child. Responding to the state’s petition, the state High Court ordered an immediate termination of pregnancy.
A Delhi based lawyer Suchita Srivastava challenged the order, filing a petition in the Supreme Court. After several days of intense debate in the media as well as the public, the Supreme Court refused to allow termination of pregnancy, and stayed the High Court order.
Advocate Tanu Bedi who had earlier assisted the High Court as amicus curiae, argued for the woman, against Administration counsel Anupam Gupta. The highlights of the debate in court as reported in the press offer the gist of the arguments and the court’s judgment.
- “Consent of the victim cannot be decisive. The so-called consent of the girl is no assent either in law or fact.”
- Reacting to the statement that mild mentally challenged people have the capability to take a decision for themselves, Gupta said: “This is a myth, which is completely belied by present scientific knowledge. It is a structural edifice of myth built on a foundation of highly wishful postulates of mental retardation. The argument is underlied by sincerity and overload of commitment, yet it is mere euphoria.”
- Dismissing the emphasis that the girl’s desire to give birth was ultimate, Gupta said: “If this expression of desire is taken as consent, it will be a complete travesty of consent in moral, philosophical and legal category. How can one question her regarding termination of pregnancy when she does not even understand what pregnancy is? She is blissfully oblivious of her pregnancy and unaware of the sexual act.”
- Reacting to the argument that children of mentally challenged rape victims can be taken care by institutes like Nari Niketan and Ashreya, Gupta said: “It’s easier said than done. We seem to be living in a realm of imagination. I am not trying to run down the argument by calling it a fantasy but such change, although welcome, is yet an illusion in our society.”
- Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for a social worker in favor of abortion, cited medical reports and said the continuation of pregnancy could result in complications, considering the girl’s age, mental status, and previous surgery. He said she was not aware that there was a child inside her, and hence could not mother a child.
- “It would be a travesty of justice if a mother has to come to the highest court of the land to seek permission to give birth to her own child”.
- Consent of the victim matters most. “She is not mentally incompetent to give consent. Despite her communication problems, she has expressed her desire to give birth to the child. She has immense strength and resilience. We don’t even know our destiny, how can we script the future of someone else?” concluded Bedi.
- Ms. Bedi argued that doctors did not form the opinion that termination of pregnancy was in the best interests of the girl, and that the medical report suggested that she required support and supervision to help her raise the child.
- Counsel argued that termination of pregnancy against the mother’s wish was against the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, and the Rights of the Disabled.
- If her mental age is a consideration for the judiciary to think that she cannot take care of her baby, why should poor women, who are found lacking in bringing up their children, be allowed to become mothers?
- Ms. Bedi said India was a party to international conventions that uphold and preserve the rights of the disabled, which had been given the go-by in the impugned order. “We have to respect the girl’s right to life”, she said.
- Ms. Bedi argued that the victim had a right to give birth to her child. She said the National Trust constituted under the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, had agreed to provide her social and financial support and take care of the child after delivery. Counsel for the Trust said it was funding several institutions and would support the girl.
- Before the judgment: “What you say is right if she is not a mentally retarded person,” Chief Justice Balakrishnan told Ms. Bedi. “We are worried about her future also because she is an orphan. No NGO is going to look after her. It is a difficult decision for us.”
- “We are not in favor of termination of pregnancy. If there are no further complications to the woman in continuation of her pregnancy, then why abort a life?”
- “We are sure that somebody will be in a position to give protection to the child. Our anxiety is the fetus is already 19 weeks. The second medical opinion says her physical condition is good to bear the child. The child is not suffering from any deformity. Nature will give her biological protection. If somebody is ready to take care of the child, should we even then order medical termination of pregnancy? Nature will take care on its own.”
- Justice Sathasivam told Gupta: “Is it not possible for the Chandigarh administration to take care of the child? Is it not your responsibility to protect her?”
- “We know as a natural mother she will not be able to take care of the child. But if somebody is ready to look after the child, then there would not be any problem.”
- After being satisfied that several national-level NGOs had come forward to take responsibility of the child, the 3-member bench was reluctant to accept any other arguments supporting her abortion.
- Acknowledging that if a baby is aborted against her wishes, it would cause further trauma to the woman, the court ordered that the baby should be born with “mother under constant care and supervision”.
I have no way of assessing general public opinion, but in my experience, the opinion regarding the court’s judgment has been largely negative. See this blog post by Aditi Ray on Sulekha. Prerna’s post has a slew of comments criticizing the judgment.
The Bioethics Discussion Blog asks readers’ opinion regarding permanent sterilization of mentally disabled women, and asks if disability rights groups should ever sacrifice the disabled individual to the group’s agenda. I also found an interesting student paper at the University of Kentucky’s Dept. of Philosophy, Health Care Ethics on mentally retarded women and forced contraceptives. Finally, the UN’s Women with Disabilities page is a gateway to much more information and links.
A conversation between a small girl (Scout) and her father (Atticus) from To Kill A Mockingbird:
“Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” I asked him that evening.
“Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.”
“ ‘s what everybody at school says.”
“From now on it’ll be everybody less one.”
A few weeks back, I read Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion say:
I want us to flinch when we hear of a ‘Christian child’ or a ‘Muslim child’. Small children are too young to know their views on life, ethics and the cosmos. We should no more speak of a Christian child than of a Keynesian child, a monetarist child or a Marxist child. Automatic labeling of children with the religion of their parents is not just presumptuous. It is a form of mental child abuse.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since, when I was asked the following questions by Ashok in comments on his Temple Matters post:
1) What is your opinion on children being taken to temples but not encouraged to ask why?
2) At what point do you think parents/elders should leave the decision of finding personal meaning in religion to the individual? What would you do with your children?
For a novice parent, these are profound questions, and it is important for any parent to think about these.
To start with, there is no doubt in my mind in fully agreeing with Dawkins. I was indoctrinated as a Hindu child, and chose atheism only in my teens, after I discovered and studied other philosophies. I did not have to go through a tenacious struggle myself, but I can well imagine different experiences for others. I would disagree with indoctrination of any kind. One must encourage one’s children to think for themselves, and choose what they think is right.
Given that religion is based on blind faith and not reason, it is hardly surprising that most religious parents blindly indoctrinate their children in what they themselves believe is the best for their children’s good. But what about atheists? Do atheists equally provide an open environment for their children to let them choose between religion and atheism?
Even as an atheist, I believe that I should not indoctrinate my child with atheistic principles. Even if I was raised as a Hindu, I will let my child attend a Christian convent school if it offers quality education, even though it may expose her to Christian traditions. I will let her grandparents take her to Hindu temples and let her see and have that experience. I will teach her not to discriminate among her friends based on religion if I find hints of any such thing. Over time, I would encourage her to think critically for herself.
So my response to Ashok’s questions is: #1 is pure indoctrination. Not encouraging children to ask questions is bad parenting. Not allowing them to, is mental child abuse, as Dawkins points out. #2: From the birth of the child. You can provide facts, information, and knowledge. But the decision of finding personal meaning in religion or elsewhere is a birthright of the child.
Of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds (who said rational parenting was easy?). When she asks me for the first time (whenever that is), “Dad, what is God”?, what will be my response? Will it be “Dear, God is a fictitious entity that many people believe in?” No, I suspect I will point at an idol somewhere and say “That is what people call God”, and thus side-step the question of his existence. If after a couple of years she asks “Dad, where can I find God?”, I’ll say “I don’t know dear. I haven’t found him yet. If you do, please let me know.” As she grows up, I will continue to encourage independent thinking. When she is mature enough to understand how different people can have different values, I can then explain what my values are. Well, I hope so!
What are your thoughts?
Update: 11th Oct: I realize that comments section on this post can be too restricted a space for many people to espouse their ideas. I have also learnt that this is a universal topic for parents who think. Hence, as can be seen from the comments section below, this topic is now a meme, open to all.
I continue to be amazed by our precocious children. And I’m sure every generation before us has gone through the same amazement. What’s unique about our children? Nothing unique, in my opinion, just that as the rate of technological advance increases exponentially, the degree of difficulty in parenting increases exponentially as well.
I was chatting with a colleague over lunch about her kids – a 6-year old son, and a 3 year old daughter. Her son had an account on Orkut. She discussed it with him and convinced him that he was not old enough to have an Orkut account. He finally consented and they deleted his account. Her daughter wanted an account too, as her brother had one. Sure, there are Parent’s Guides to Social Networking, but in India, in many cases, the parents are not knowledgeable about how to use the Internet, whereas the kids are!
Her 6-year old son can take you anywhere in Chicago – in Midtown Madness. You name the place, he’ll drive you there. Her 3-year old daughter can drive you to Crooked Street in San Francisco in Midtown Madness 2, and shriek in joy by tumbling the car over Crooked Street.
Her son creates Powerpoint slides with ease, and is now dabbling in Excel by helping his Dad create his “weekly schedule” of play time and homework.
In the traditional heart of Pune’s Laxmi Road, a woman wearing a halter top with her bra straps visible happened to pass by. After she was gone, a 3-year old boy smiled and remarked “Sagla distay ki ticha!” (“She’s showing everything”). I remember being at least 12-13 years old before noticing such things – that’s a 10 year difference!
It is not just that children are smarter and more intelligent. That has been true throughout history. It is the access to technology that makes all the difference – it is the combination of enhanced intelligence and powerful tools like never before that is fueling the extraordinary achievements of the next generation.
It is difficult being a parent today, more difficult than it was before, because of this reason. And it is not just your own child’s security that you need to worry about. Your own child’s behavior can also affect another child’s security. Prerna writes about this delicate balance with sensitivity – where exactly do you draw the line between protectiveness to safeguard your child’s safety and freedom, so as not to stifle the child’s growth?
One of the core difficulties regarding parenting is of course, sex education. With sex education being banned in more and more states in India, this is becoming more of a parenting issue rather than an academic one. Nita points out: “it is a known fact that Indian parents neglect to do their duty when it comes to teaching their children about sex…and the consequence is that kids turn to pornography.” Paul has a thought-provoking post (NSFW) opining that it is better to allow children access to tasteful nudes that can deter them from tasteless porn.
I sought the opinion of a professional psychological counselor on this topic. She said that the right age to educate your child about sex is completely flexible and dependent on the child and the social circumstances. The education itself should, of course, be incremental and in appropriate stages. It begins with education about gender identity. Boys want to know how girls are different and vice versa. That’s where sex education begins.
From her experience as a counselor, she shared the fact that the most common question children ask is “where did I come from”. Looking at the fact that this question has made human beings build telescopes, launch satellites and planetary explorers, and write philosophical treatises, it seems this is the most fundamental, quintessential questions man has ever asked!
Related Reading: A nice, wide angle view of the Age of Consent, by Nita.
Photos: Copyrighted to me, of my daughter.
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Here’s the solution to the Fork Spoon Puzzle.
1. Hook the fork and spoon together, such that the outer prongs are on the outside of the spoon, while the inner prongs are on the inside. Make sure the interlocking is firm. They should now be like a single, boomerang shaped object.
2. Insert the matchstick from the center of the fork prongs. Position it so that it also touches the spoon’s edge.
3. Balance the fork-spoon object by placing the matchstick on the edge of the glass.
4. If you’re showing this off to your friends, you can also burn the ends of the matchstick for added effect!
Here’s the YouTube video:
Almost a month back, I’d posted the Fork Spoon Puzzle. As far as I know, only Rambodoc attempted a solution. He sent me a solution I had also come up with, that didn’t satisfy the real rules, so it again proved that we’re one of a kind!
That post wasn’t meant to be a popular post that would get the highest number of hits, and appear on the WordPress ‘Top Posts’ list. Why? Because nobody these days is interested in science, in teaching rationality to their children, or learning about basic science stuff all over again! “Oh my god, we went through this in school already, not again!”
But aren’t bloggers different from this public? The puzzle doesn’t require any sophisticated equipment, just basic kitchen stuff. It is not in any kind of specialized domain like music or finance, where you need some background knowledge. You apply scientific principles when you load your luggage onto the airport cart. Put the heavier and bigger bags first, and towards the handle, then heavy bags next to it farther than the handle, then the lighter bags on top of them. We do it, because we need to carry our luggage; who needs to solve a puzzle?!
But think about the scientists who go on experimenting and experimenting. How many years did Descartes spend experimenting with light? How many years did Nash struggle with mathematics and play games to come up with Nash equilibria? How many years did our beloved Kalam spend trying to figure out missile trajectories that are now used by ISRO to send satellites in space?
We ordinary folks spend hours reading books about such great folks. We spend time writing about our love of them. The blogosphere is teeming with its love and praise for Kalam. Why can’t we spend a few minutes trying to practice what he and others preached?
This is not experimentation where you don’t even know if the solution exists (which was what these pioneers were mostly faced with). It is a simple puzzle, with a known solution.
Why I write so passionately about this is because I believe that only if we instill the scientific spirit in ourselves, can we pass it on to the next generation. We’re becoming a populace who abhors any kind of mental effort, reveling in popular music, popular customs, popular cinema, popular beliefs, and so on. What about classical stuff, that requires some effort? Isn’t it rewarding? But I digress.
As I said in the puzzle post, you can choose to cheat and find the solution quickly using the Internet. You would then be missing the whole point. Try to spend time and a little bit of effort. You’ll appreciate the results much more! Let us teach our children and the next generation how to go about applying the unquiet mind.
I will reveal the solution to the puzzle in the coming week, depending on the response to this post. Do use the comments section to vent out your frustrations, your questions, your criticisms. They’re all welcome!
Disturbing news broke out to start the week:
Thirty polythene bags stuffed with the body parts of female fetuses and newly born babies have been found in a dry well near a private clinic in the east Indian state of Orissa, police said on Monday.
Police suspect the body parts - mainly skulls and bones – were dumped in the well shortly after birth or abortion at the clinic in Nayagarh district, 90 km (55 miles) southwest of the state capital, Bhubaneswar. The manager of the clinic has been arrested.
“Prima facie seems to indicate female feticide but we can’t be sure until forensic examinations are conducted,” said B.K. Sharma, Orissa’s crime branch inspector-general of police.
Police said they searched the well after seven female fetuses, also packed into polythene bags, were found dumped in a deserted area in a nearby village a week ago.
Officials said they believed the two cases were linked and are part of an organized racket involved in female feticide.
I usually write at least a couple of lines with my opinion of a news item, but I’m just shell-shocked into silence with this one.
I’ve always been attracted to puzzles. Not ones involving gimmicks or trickery, but those that are really ingenuous. In many cases, they are educational as well. My most favorite one was the fork spoon puzzle.
It is my favorite because the efforts that you put in solving it are more than rewarded when you see the result! The solution is nothing short of miraculous and most people don’t believe their eyes when they see it. It is a fun educational tool for children as well as adults.
Before We Begin
- If you already know about this one, feel free to share your experience via comments!
- If you are able to solve it, don’t give away the solution in the comments. Let others have fun too!
What You Need
- A Spoon (steel, not plastic)
- A Fork (preferably from the same set)
- A Match-Stick (wooden, preferably square)
- A Glass (with a straight, sharp edge, preferably wide-mouthed)
Balance the fork and spoon on the glass using the match-stick, such that neither the fork nor the spoon touch the glass or the ground. Also, the match-stick can touch the glass at only one point. Yes, you read that right.
- If you want to, you can cheat using the Internet. You’ll lose out on all the fun if you do.
- Feel free to ask questions if any, via comments.
- Feel free to invite your friends and blog-mates if you wish.
- Remember: the solution is based on a simple scientific principle, there are no tricks or gimmicks involved.
All the best, have fun!
This is to be read to be believed. The Indian Government’s Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury has proposed that all pregnant women (and girls) in India, register their pregnancies with the Government. What is this supposed to achieve? Reduce female feticide.
Some activists said the government’s plan to create a pregnancy register in a country of 1.1 billion people – where more than 50 percent of women deliver children at home without medical assistance – was unrealistic.
Not everybody’s agreeing:
“We cannot give elementary health services in a satisfactory way to most of our citizens, and to talk about registering pregnancies is ridiculous,” said Alok Mukhopadhyay, head of the Voluntary Health Association of India. “Public awareness, empowerment of women and extension of health services are key in fighting infant mortality and feticide, as well as implementing the existing laws that forbid sex determination.”
I couldn’t agree more. And what does the UNICEF have to say?
“Registering pregnancies is good,” said Marzio Babille, UNICEF’s head of health in India. “If we act upon mothers by registering pregnancies, offering quality ante-natal care, good counseling to deal with complications and an efficient transportation network…this would enormously help promote institutional deliveries and strengthen and expand the safe maternity scheme,” Babille added.
What did Renuka Chowdhury offer Marzio for saying this – a free vacation to Goa? Oh, I forget, when did the UN care about individual rights?
Don’t be fooled by the ridiculous nature of the proposal – it is more insidious than you think. Forget feticide. This proposal infringes on the fundamental right to privacy of all Indians. This is a serious offence, and I expect that a lawsuit will soon follow demonstrating the unconstitutionality of the proposal. This can never be turned into law in India. We need different measures to tackle female infanticide, not infringing on individual rights.
I’m surprised that Renuka Chowdhury is even engaging in this kind of publicity campaign. Isn’t it rather demeaning of her? Does she have support within her own government for this stunt?
Our Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, whom I respect at least for openly saying that we need our own Mr. Condom, said: “We should be ashamed”. But, alas, it was in the context of India’s infant mortality rate (57 per 1,000 live births). Well, one can hope, can’t one?