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Set the festive template early

Set the festive template early
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First Published: Fri, Oct 21 2011. 09 07 PM IST

In the spirit: Don’t force your children to meet relatives during festivals. Photo by Puneet Chandhok/Hindustan Times.
In the spirit: Don’t force your children to meet relatives during festivals. Photo by Puneet Chandhok/Hindustan Times.
Our children, aged 13 and 15, have been acting difficult during festivals in the last couple of years, and it is getting worse. They do not like a single sweet or savoury preparation, do not enjoy crackers, hate wearing festive clothes, and just don’t like visiting relatives. We have to coax them out of their rooms when people visit. I’m willing to let them be, but my husband feels (and I agree) that this is just snobbery and they must learn to enjoy the spirit of the season. They are the same with weddings too. Please advise how to deal with this. I don’t want them participating as if they’re doing the whole world a favour.
In the spirit: Don’t force your children to meet relatives during festivals. Photo by Puneet Chandhok/Hindustan Times.
Well, for them, they are doing you a favour by agreeing to do so many things they dislike! But your concern is understandable. However, how does one get an adolescent and a teenager to change their minds? The snobbery part may be true, but there may also be an element of extreme boredom. The “spirit of the season” does not necessarily mean enjoying all the things that you have outlined. Perhaps you need to break these things down into necessary and unnecessary activities, and negotiate what can be let go and what must be done.
If the “snobbery” part hassles you, then there is a larger issue to be tackled year-round really at other levels. If, for you, visiting relatives or at least being sociable and nice to people when they visit is important, then you need to have a sensitive chat with them about why they need to connect with people better—not just as a favour to you. If all year round you have nothing much to do with these relatives, it does seem artificial and difficult for the children to suddenly be able to show involvement with them. It makes sense to, pre-season, perhaps clue them in on who’s who in the larger family, and tell them something interesting about that person or family, so the children don’t think of them as strangers who have to be smiled at and hugged and feet touched.
All this means we can’t simply uncork “the festive season” on our children. We need them to have some small connect with who their family is and why they are important. Overall, many children this age are preoccupied with themselves and don’t have much mental space for what the fuss is about around festivals.
You need to negotiate with them whichever part of the festivities are really important to you, talking about which things they simply have to do and which they could learn to enjoy. There could be a bunch of things you simply agree to let go.
How does one teach a six-year-old to accept gifts and say thank you without saying things like “I already have this”. Or “I wanted a yellow truck, not red”. Or “My uncle is going to give me a bat with Sachin Tendulkar’s name on it”. Or some such thing which makes the giver feel rejected? I have tried telling him that he must learn to just accept the gift with grace and thanks, and then he could tell us later if he doesn’t like it or wants something else. So now he just makes an awkward face and looks at us when he opens a gift that doesn’t appeal to him. Next, I will have to teach him to come up with fake joy and enthusiasm which doesn’t seem like a good thing to teach. What would you suggest?
Yes, the fake “I just loved your gift, it was exactly what I wanted” kind of adult-world social stuff…it really seems a pity to have to teach it to a six-year-old. However, to indicate to your child that rejecting a gift or dismissing it right there when he receives it, constitutes rude behaviour, is important too. Perhaps for a little child, besides telling him that it is rude, you need to give him alternative behaviour and responses when he receives a gift he doesn’t particularly like. Towards this, there are three things you could explain and reiterate: a) that people make an effort to think of what he would like and he needs to connect with that effort and not with the thing itself sometimes. This is a rather abstract “it’s the thought that counts” concept for a little child, but see if you can find an age-appropriate way of introducing this concept to him; b) you need to tell him that it’s not a big deal if there is a gift he doesn’t like or won’t use. He has, and will get, many things he does like, and a lot does not hinge on that one gift he has received but not liked, so he must learn to say a sincere thank you; c) you could use this as an opportunity for him to think of other, less fortunate children, and tell him that he must thank the person nicely, and that later he can give away that thing to a poor child or to an orphanage, among other things. This might also give him a little perspective, which children need, on how not to take for granted that their every nuanced whim needs to be met. This is not to suggest that we guilt-trip our children when they show less appreciation for what they get. It’s just that the festive season is packed with lessons that can be subtly taught to all ages about sharing, caring, appreciating and not getting hung up on gifts without connecting to the people that gift them.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Oct 21 2011. 09 07 PM IST