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“Nurturing in a competitive environment”- 12 February 2017

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 15:57

My last piece on ‘benefits of controlling parents’ fetched some good feedback. One lecturer requested advice on ‘nurturing children in a competitive environment’. Perhaps this was a statement made by an anxious parent about the current scene of high competitiveness in seeking higher education in good colleges and the concerns of providing a good future to their kids. This reflects the mental state of many parents perhaps. Yes, these are extremely challenging times for parents and children alike. There are numerous issues that flood the mind and the issue is a highly complex one yet it can be simplified for our understanding. The matter has three sides to it, first, from the angle of the distressed parents, the second is from the perspective of children and third, of the reality that exists today in our city.

Let us take the third issue first. To say that the present system of school education needs major revamping will not be an understatement. Its primary focus is on teaching of curriculum and not character development as moral education has been discarded like a piece of antiquated furniture. Besides this, the school system is not child-centric and hence does not focus on the uniqueness of the child but wrongly focuses on the ‘attainment of marks’ in examinations. Secondly, most of the schools in our ‘beloved city’ are encouraging students to enrol in coaching centres, declaring themselves loudly as being ‘incompetent’ of teaching effectively. Strangely, all the coaching centres are focused on a few career choices of ‘engineering, medicine, law and chartered accountancy’. A girl with her good father was looking for a good tuition in English language but in vain. Similar is the case with subjects such as pure science, commerce, psychology, acting, art and design –the list is long indeed. This lop sided picture of career-making in the city is a curse in a way. This restricts the thinking of parents as well as those students who do not want to choose any of the above four choices, as they are made to unnecessarily feel inferior, isolated and doomed. With such an all-around frog-in-the-well mentality, we forget the age-old dictum that a ‘fish cannot fly’, an ‘elephant cannot climb a tree’ and a ‘tortoise cannot run fast’. But that is what we are promoting!

The second aspect of the psychosocial reality is the advent of smart technology that has disrupted life like never before. Children and adults alike have fallen victim to this malady. Addictions of social media and internet have taken a heavy toll on the psychological and spiritual health of the people. This issue is proving a source of headache for parents and guardians alike. Today’s parents cannot dismiss this reality as it draws attention right from infancy. I have seen parents proudly declaring the competence of their one year child on the smart phone! Their pride is short lived as it becomes a nightmare very soon.

Parents would do better to begin the process of training as early as possible. They need to take a larger picture of reality, not a local but a national and global one. An awareness of various opportunities in different types of career and their prospects will be great. Children too need to be encouraged to make themselves aware of the same. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the student in school subjects, hobbies, and his/her personality is very important. That is where the scope for excellence lies as the potential lies in the strengths of the student. When a choice of career is made with all this in mind with many rounds of open discussions between the student and the parents a correct decision may be taken to the satisfaction of all.

Behind all this process lies the ability of the students to think for themselves their interests, their personalities and their career goals. So encouraging mental processes, such as, ‘independent thinking, rational thinking, making wise choices, setting goals, decision making, and good habits such as, discipline, ability to concentrate, emotional restrain, and daily prayers and meditation, is vital for parents to understand and implement in their nurturing practices from childhood. This may sound like a tall proposition but who said parenting was an easy task! Parents need to be ‘smarter, swifter, sensitive and skilled’ enough to counter the negative influences of the ‘peer group, external environment, Google uncle and the smart phone’ on the child. Parents need to be open minded, well read, and display themselves as a good role model to their children. You cannot preach what you do not practice. One child said, ‘tell my mamma to stop her ‘WhatsApp’ chatting and to give me food on time’.

Parents can make many mistakes which is not a crime if it is acknowledged and worked upon. Allowing the children to make mistakes and helping them learn from it is also an important aspect of mental growth. Keeping a positive mind, with an attitude of solving-the-problem will help, instead of being critical, judgemental, imposing unrealistic expectations, dominating, being abusive, aggressive and comparing your own child to the neighbours!!

 

Parents are not ‘perfect people’ and cannot expect children to be perfect too. Hence the aim is not perfection but excellence in at least one area of life and goodness in all others. There is no simple recipe for parenting but a continuous conscious process of comprehending, thinking through, developing and growing with the growth of the child.

“Benefits of controlling parents”- 29 January 2017

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 15:55

We had a sort of ‘military rule’ at home. The music from the radio would start blaring at 5.30 am sharp and it made it difficult for us to sleep further. This was the practice even on Sunday and all holidays till today! My father was a stickler for time. We were taught to get up and get ready in ten minutes flat. Food was to be consumed, whatever mother put on our plates, with no fuss, and was to be cleaned up totally with no left-overs. Even today we feel guilty leaving food on our plate. Mother controlled other forms of behaviour such as speech, friends, dress and treatment of servants and the poor. The values, attitudes and behaviour were all taken care of meticulously by both parents who maintained a united front. Academics was given utmost importance and even if one mark was cut it was evaluated. You were supposed to achieve 100 percent in maths -zero error was the norm. They set high standards of achievement, value and proper behaviour. Till today the habits are deep rooted and refuse to budge!

Shiv’s parents were very strict. He was made to practice violin daily as his father sat with him correcting and appreciating his notes. He learnt to enjoy his music and also his academics and could balance his life well. So was the case with Preeti and her love for dancing. Her mother took keen interest in her dance practice and her systematic progress in it. She also graduated in medicine and enjoyed both the fields equally. She leads a wholesome life with a good practice as well with talent in music and dance.

The stories of celebrities clearly demonstrate this aspect. Most celebrities would tell us of how strict their parents were in disciplining them, training them and pushing their talents to the limits. This pushing of their limits kept them on their toes and lead to their continuous improvement. They were clearly denied certain liberties and encouraged to stay focused on the goal. The film ‘dangal’ beautifully highlights the message of ‘no pain no gain’. The apparent ‘atrocities’ of the strict father who imposes controls on his daughters, who rebel, cry out, and winch in pain, but eventually reap the benefits of the strictness and begin to enjoy their success.

Parents, who are strict, controlling with a purpose, nurture healthy children. Children need clarity of thought and clarity of behaviour by parents in bringing them up. This means many things and one of them is -purpose and a goal.  A higher goal and its pursuit is a terrific way to bring up children. However, not many parents are able to define ‘the goal’ early on. The few who are able to do it and pursue it make achievers of their kids early on. I remember a couple who disputed over this point of setting clear goals early in life. The mother was the one who pushed her kids into the game seriously and father felt that she was ‘spoiling the best years of the kids’ by not allowing them to enjoy their childhood in the streets with friends. A big debatable point we have here but if we desire kids to become super stars early on then the mother is right. If we are ready to allow them their natural growth and flow of creativity then they might become achievers but later in life. The process of achievement gets delayed and may or may not happen depending upon the intervening variables.

The second important aspect is -consistency. There has to be a systematic thought behind the discipline- what to enforce and what not to enforce. When parents are inconsistent with their disciplining behaviour it leaves the child confused as to what is right and what is wrong and what do his /her parents want. Consistency comes when parents think out their expectations from their children and conduct themselves accordingly. It’s a devotion and dedication to their child’s welfare and future. Parents with mood swings and erratic behaviour can do harm and damage to the child.

One more aspect is setting limits to the child’s behaviour. They explain and teach the limits in behaviour and also explain the consequences of behaviour to the child. They do not say ‘do as I say because I say it’ but this is the reason why you should do this. Also preparing the child for the consequences of their behaviour will make them aware of the ensuing punishment to their transgression. If parents sometimes allow an action and sometimes ban it the child does not learn the logic and the rationale behind action. The connection between ‘action and reaction’ should be clear to the child. This will consequently lead to development of proper thought and action. It will lead to independent thinking as well as independent action and behaviour. Thinking individuals make their own decisions, they are more in control of their behaviour, feel confident of their selves and face the world with assertion and firmness.

 

Strictness does not mean aggression, coercion, violence and lack of fun and humour. Strictness does not mean that parents are not friendly and communicative with their children. Strictness does not mean depriving children of wholesome development. In fact it can mean just the opposite. Controlling with consistency, clarity of goals and compassion makes achievers of children.

“Micro-managing mothers”- 15 January 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 22 January 2017 19:39

“I am almost 30 years of age and I do not have a single girl as a friend and nor do I have a girl friend!” wailed Amit. “In all these years I did not dare make a girl friend because it was severely looked down upon in my home by my parents. My mother asks me so many questions about my whereabouts and insists I tell her each and every move of mine- where do I go, whom do I meet, who is good for me and who is not good for me, when I should be back home, etc”. He was working in another city and lived his life away from parents for many years. However he often complained of bouts of intense anger and fear too.

Shreyas told his new wife that his mother ‘will never change her ways the adjustment will have to be done by her. His mother has had a tough life as his father was generally unemployed and she had to earn the bread and run the family with three children to feed. His grandmother surprisingly always sided with her son in spite of the fact that he was irresponsible and a tyrant. Hence his mother had also become a tyrant and although he feels that her behaviour is not right towards his wife, there is not much he can do about it except bear it!”

Madhuri seemed to be full of anger but behaved very sweetly with all. She rarely expressed her anger, never fought with others and seemed quite submissive in her interactions with people. She however complained often of headaches and pains in the body. The doctors could not find medical reasons for her frequent bouts of illness. Counselling revealed deep seated anger and hostility against her mother who she said was very nice and caring but had some flaws. Her mother loved her as Madhuri was the only child and often feared that some harm would come to her. She was over protective, over caring and had many expectations from Madhuri, she being the only child. Once or twice when she tried telling her mother that she needed more freedom to meet friends and that she was not allowed like other kids, her mother threw such a tantrum of crying and accusing her for being ungrateful that she shut up and gave up her efforts to check her mother. She accepted nearly all her mother’s norms and lived by her rules.

Rupesh confessed that he could not carry out his commitment of marrying his girlfriend of long years due to his mother’s tantrums and hysterical behaviour. His widowed mother had severe fears about her only son getting a wife home who would take control of the house and ‘throw her (the mother) out’ of her home and dominate her son! He was terrified of his mother and paralysed in solving the problem.

Sunita after ten years of married life was frustrated with her husband and her mother-in-law. While her father-in-law controlled the business and the purse, the mother-in-law ran the house according to her set dictates without giving Sunita any powers in the house. Her frequent complaints to her husband about his submissiveness and about his low status in the family business fell on deaf years with the result that she left home one day in despair.

Controlling mothers control their children due to a variety of reasons, whether it is their own insecurities or their own personality disorders or whatever reasons they can give, they do not realise the damage their behaviour does to their wards. Mothers who micro-manage their children feel they are ‘right’ in doing so and that’s the way it should be. They can justify their behaviour in many ways. Children who are nurtured by such mothers not only face problems in their childhood but also encounter psychological hardships in adulthood. The remnants of childhood trauma can be seen in adulthood as such adults struggle to re-define their selves and their lives. Most of them cannot trace their troubles to their parental upbringing as they deny any negative experiences.

These experiences have consequences on their self, such as low self-esteem, low confidence in their capabilities, inability to take decisions, a deep sense of frustration and anger, high sensitivity, and confusion in more aspects. Such aspects impact their adult life and their sense of well being and can lead to lowered quality of life and lowered sense of happiness. Such people may possess ample talent and competencies and may be high achievers in their work life but they may still feel a sense of suffocation overtaking them at times which acts as impediments to their overall progress and growth. Adults of controlling mothers may like dominating or controlling spouses, may need a lot of attention and reassurance, may tend to be dependent on their spouses for support. They can wrongly define ‘controlling and dominating’ as ‘love and care’. Conversely they can be unreasonably rebellious to any type of ‘controlling’ behaviour and create conflict.

 

Control has negative connotations. And controlling on a micro level has disastrous consequences. Parenting is a tight rope walk and the fear of falling and failing is always imminent. Healthy growth of personality requires a good balance between enforcement of discipline with a good dose of freedom of thought and action. It is certainly not an easy formula but a necessary one for healthy mothering.

“Deep rooted sorrows”- 1 January 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Tuesday, 03 January 2017 23:37

After two years of regular counselling Aarti, in a state of semi hypnotism, where she was more aware of her internal subconscious reality, she blurted out her trauma- that her cousin had sexually assaulted her in her home, finding her alone one day. On waking state she did not recall having said anything significant. That explained a lot of things for us, especially her growing bad behaviour with her family- her relatives, her mother, father and the entire extended family except her grandmother whom she adored. She mentally blamed all of them for her state of vulnerability and for not being protective enough towards her. She was very angry with all of them. She carried this secret burden of shame, guilt and anger, alone for several years which manifested itself in irritability and maladjustment, but the load lessened after we brought it out in the open and shared it.

Anita was a troublesome child as she was stubborn and fussy and had a high temper. She was much ‘misunderstood by all’ was her refrain at home with family members. She was generally good in studies but quite controversial with her dealings with people and friends. It was easy for her to get angry, jump into a fight and then break off from them by ‘blaming them’. She apparently had many deep-rooted complexes. But it took a while for them to surface during counselling as she herself had suppressed and forgotten them. She had been a darling of her father but he had passed away soon enough when she was just a small child in school. She plucked from her memory one day a deep rooted sorrow- her mother had blamed her for her father’s death by saying ‘you killed your father as you have given him the maximum trouble’. Her mother must have said this in grief, with no intentions of hurting the child, but it stuck to Anita’s mind. It bothered her as she felt extreme guilt and missed him badly. Her sorrows multiplied as she became reclusive.

A gentleman often wallowed in his past misery and complained of depression and suicidal ideation. The visual of the burning body of his parent was horrifying even today as the scene stood out starkly in his mental canvas. He would get nightmares whenever his depression struck him and the ghosts would frequent him and torture his mind even though it was a childhood memory. He felt deprived of love and affection by parents as he lost them early on and was brought up by relatives. Although he grew up physically and became a parent eventually he remained emotionally a ‘little child’. He would lean on his wife and friends and demanded ‘love and affection’. His emotional theme rotated around ‘attention, affection and acceptance’ as he begged it from others.

People who experience or witness a traumatic event in which there was a physical harm or a serious threat, stress symptoms set in which develops into a disorder called ‘post traumatic stress disorder’. This disorder was first discovered after world war and was hence called ‘shell shock’ or ‘battle fatigue’ but was later expanded to include a wide variety of terrifying conditions that could cause intense fear, helplessness, and horror. Ordeals such as sexual assault, physical assault, accidents, natural disasters, death of loved ones or chronic child abuse can develop such stress symptoms. These events remain in the memory of people and can flash through the mind at times leaving behind intense feelings of anger, bitterness, guilt and fear. Such people can be hampered in living normal lives as they relive their memories in the form of nightmares, hallucinations or flashbacks. Such people may also tend to avoid the places, people associated with the event or the thoughts as they may lead to feelings of isolation and detachment. They may also experience increased arousal and excessive emotions which may lead to maladjustment issues, such as difficulty showing affection, outbursts of anger and irritability, poor concentration and an agitated restlessness. Their negative emotions may target themselves at innocent people and situations appearing as odd behaviour with exaggerated emotions. Physical symptoms may follow with high blood pressure, muscle tension, rapid heartbeats, and nausea.

Healing is an important part for such people with bad past experiences. A healthy personality is natural and smooth in its responses and interactions with people as it has its past experiences sorted out and emotions in control. An unhealthy or neurotic personality is controlled by its past emotions and displays defensive or offensive behaviour. Healing towards good mental health starts with awareness of the traumatic events and its accompanying emotions. Awareness is a painful process as people run away from haunting memories as they resist facing it- it is too much to talk about and handle. But a resolve to face them, confront them is the first step towards a resolution. The buried negative emotions need to be processed, understood and accepted. The conditioned behaviour that goes with the negative emotions also need to be understood and unlearned. De-conditioning, unlearning the past and fresh learning of alternative behaviour helps in moving on. The mind has to be cleaned of the dark shadows of the past so that energy blocked in negativity is released and can be channelized into bright and positive goals of living life with zest and happiness to your fullest potential.

 

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