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Stop being apologetic, teach your child to look beyond perceptions

Stop being apologetic, teach your child to look beyond perceptions
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First Published: Fri, Mar 04 2011. 08 00 PM IST

Be patient: It will help your child come out of the ‘nobody loves me’ sulk. Thinkstock
Be patient: It will help your child come out of the ‘nobody loves me’ sulk. Thinkstock
Updated: Fri, Mar 04 2011. 08 00 PM IST
I have a seven-year-old daughter. At one time I used to be vocal about not having children. She came along, and I’m happy to be a mom. However, I do believe in having a life or part of the day that is not to do with parenting duties. Recently, someone I met after a long time exclaimed in front of my child: “Oh so you did have a kid after all. Remember how you used to hate kids.” I never hated children, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to have one myself. But since then whenever I scold her or correct her about something, or settle down with a book and expect her to do her own thing, she shouts, “You didn’t want to have me.” Nothing that her father or I or her grandmother say helps. Whatever I say seems to only make her angrier and more distant. Please advise on what to do. I am exhausted trying to correct her impression. 
Excuse my harshness, but really, what was your friend thinking? Or was she thinking at all? Adults can roll with the punches of such a conversation, maybe, but surely anyone knows that you don’t say this in front of the child herself? Anyway, you’ve now got a situation on your hands, and you have to set about straightening it out as best you can.
Be patient: It will help your child come out of the ‘nobody loves me’ sulk. Thinkstock
First, I would suggest you don’t continue being so stricken and apologetic. No doubt it was a shocking thing for a little girl to hear, but do note that children sometimes need something to wrap their angst around, and perhaps your child is doing that to some extent—a sort of “nobody loves me” sulk that a lot of children get into, or need to get into, even if such an incident hasn’t taken place.  
Perhaps now is the time to stop explaining, and just quietly and self-assuredly continue to do all the loving and caring things you have always done for her. You could actually tell her this one day, holding her close, when she is in a softer mood—that the visitor said what she said, and it was such a silly and inaccurate remark. So from now on you’re not going to give it any more importance, and you’re not going to use up your precious time with your child to explain something a random stranger chose to believe and say. Another thing you could try to do, if you can find a parallel from your child’s own experience, is to point out how she may have not particularly wanted something, but once she had it, how much she began to love having it or doing it. Help her make the connection that while she—or having a child—was just a notion or idea, you did not warm to it, but when she did “happen”, you completely changed your mind and loved having her, and life simply would not have been the same without her.
You say your every moment does not revolve around your child, and you need and do take time out for yourself. That in no way makes you a neglectful mother, and it is only this odd incident that has made you feel you have to explain yourself, or your position, on parenting. 
Would you agree that boys have body-image issues too? I had never seen it in boys around me while growing up, but I feel my 13-year-old son shows some signs of it. My husband feels it is just unnecessary vanity and we must ignore it. However, my son stands in front of the mirror quite a lot, and comments on the pimples he has got—he recently talked about buying a fairness cream and a pimple cream. My husband reacted sharply to this, so my son hastily said he was just joking. Please advise. I think we need to be sensitive to this, but I don’t know to what degree.
Perhaps when you, your husband, all of us, were growing up, it was perfectly fine for girls to worry and fuss over their physical appearance, while it was simply not so for boys. It was likely that boys too felt anxious about their looks, their bodies, their clothes, but the prevailing atmosphere was such that this was not too big an issue “out there”. Today things are different. I would urge you and your husband not to dismiss your adolescent’s preoccupation with his appearance as “unnecessary vanity”—I fear it is a small step from calling it this, to labelling it “sissy” and “girlie” behaviour. So please resolve, between the two of you, to never sound disgusted or embarrassed by your son’s current concerns.
Once you accept that it is a real and present issue for your son, you can then move on to helping him deal with it at two levels, just like sensitive parents would with a girl of his age. It’s a fine balance—between understanding his concerns, encouraging him to be bothered with appropriate hygiene and grooming, and yet helping him not to be overly self-critical and caught up in “prescribed” body-image issues. For instance, right in your question there are two things that would/should be treated or handled differently. The “fair skin-dark skin” issue, you would need to repeatedly and in different ways reiterate, is not something he needs to do anything about. There are plenty of examples from even popular current culture, iconic figures with dark skins, who are admired and who are themselves proud of their colour, or to whom the colour issue doesn’t matter a bit. About the pimples and any other skin issue, you could get him something to put on them, if that makes him feel better, but also help him understand that it goes with the territory of adolescence, and he will outgrow it.
As for body shape— self-assessments by your son as “too skinny” or “too plump” or “too short” or “too tall”—you must address these. If he is indeed overweight or underweight, encourage better eating and more sports and other activities. This way, instead of just getting despondent about things, children feel some things about their appearance that are in their hands can be worked with, and some things that are not are accepted and liked.
So to answer your question, yes, sure, boys do have and are perfectly entitled to have body-image issues, and deserve to have sensitive parental handling on this count.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Mar 04 2011. 08 00 PM IST
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