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The give and take of emotional growth

The give and take of emotional growth
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First Published: Fri, Nov 12 2010. 09 41 PM IST

Look at me: It’s normal for your child to seek some attention. so long as he doesn’t hog it. Thinkstock
Look at me: It’s normal for your child to seek some attention. so long as he doesn’t hog it. Thinkstock
Updated: Fri, Nov 12 2010. 09 41 PM IST
We have two children, aged 14 and 12. You had once written about maintaining boundaries and not burdening children all the time with major family issues. However, my wife and I both grew up shouldering quite a few responsibilities and we think we are the better for it. All around us we see parents opt to give children the best things and experiences, not involve them in anything difficult or tedious—whether it’s a duty such as escorting a grandparent to a routine doctor visit nearby, or visiting someone in hospital, or participating in temporary belt-tightening because of recession, among other things. We feel our children should gradually be taught to be counted in all kinds of family matters, and not just in good times and self-development. What’s your opinion on this?
While I have said earlier that we need to be careful when we confide about our own anxieties or troubles in our growing children, your point is a valid and relevant one. Some families quite naturally begin to involve and count on youngsters to take up a few tasks that are other-oriented— meaning, they are not meant only to improve the child’s mind/skills/health/education, which is usually the focus. They are chores or tasks that call for a growing child to put aside his or her own inclinations for a while and give of him/herself in the form of time or energy or emotions or all of these. Your example of accompanying a grandparent to the doctor is a good one. I often see that parents tend to want to “not waste a child’s time”— especially if the child is heading for competitive exams/sports, and all of that—in family commitments such as going out and fetching something for a grandparent, or accompanying her/him, or visiting a relative, or taking part in family functions. To my mind, involving children to some degree in these demands of life is extremely important.
Look at me: It’s normal for your child to seek some attention. so long as he doesn’t hog it. Thinkstock
Besides being the emotionally right thing to do, and of much use to the family, it so naturally teaches your child life skills of a complex and high order. It teaches, at the very least, a growing person to be counted on sometimes, rather than only be provided for all the time. It teaches a child to give of himself without tangible benefit at the end of it. It teaches a child to be part of the larger circle of life, instead of being just a consumer—in short, it concretely imparts values rather than the abstract concept of “being good”.
Ironically, the parents who keep their children far away from any of these demands on their time and energy suddenly begin to find opportunities for them to “volunteer” when it is time to apply to institutions and countries where volunteering is taken seriously! I’d say volunteering begins at home and then spreads outwards, and your children are the right age to begin to give of themselves in any small way, right inside the family.
My son is 5 and an only child. He is bright, inquisitive and generally a well-adjusted child, but of late I’ve been noticing that he is very attention hungry. Or perhaps that’s not the right way to put it. Let me describe an instance: my husband coming back from work. My son will wait till he finishes greeting my mother-in-law and talking to me, and only when he knows he’ll have his father’s full attention will he approach him with a hug and his day’s stories. He loves his swimming classes because the trainer there singles him out for special fussing. In school, his teacher became worried because he was completely unresponsive in class. She called me, and I suggested she single him out for positive attention every now and then—and it worked, to the extent that she acknowledged it in his report card.
I guess some of this has to do with being an only child (and we have no plans for a second child)—but I do foresee a time when he will have trouble getting used to the idea that he is not always deserving of special attention. What’s your view on this?
Your examples are not worrisome—considering his age, and considering that he is not grumpy or sulky at home or disruptive in school if he doesn’t get attention. From what you describe, with his father he waits his turn, till he can have his undivided attention, which seems okay, really. He does not insist on being hugged and greeted first, and to the exclusion of others in the house, and that is a good sign itself. As for the swimming and school—he is at the age when the outside world is just opening out for him, and it is quite natural right now that he expects the same one-on-one attention that he gets at home outside as well.
Most children have this adjustment period, when the socialization process begins. This is when they have to learn to deal with the transition—from being the focal point to being part of a crowd. In schools and activity places where the teacher/coach has the time and ability to give some special attention at least for a while to each child, most children learn gradually to not let everything pivot or hinge on only that moment of attention. They learn to find a balance—you will see that he will soon enjoy an activity for itself; watch and observe other kids doing things; and also enjoy that moment of attention or praise that comes specially his way.
Perhaps you could have another child come over to play on some days to help this process of socialization. Or you could take your son to the playground for some unstructured activity, where he has to mingle with other kids, but there is no task to be done that gets rewards or praise from you or any other adult. I would suggest that you don’t push the pace, just provide the atmosphere that will ease him into being part of a larger picture.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Nov 12 2010. 09 41 PM IST