Attention grabbers5 min read . Updated: 10 Dec 2010, 07:37 PM IST
My son is eight and my daughter two years old. From the time my daughter was born, I was particular that my son should not feel neglected. So I escort him to his various classes, treat him to Sunday movies and otherwise spend lots of time with him. Yet at a recent parent-teacher association (PTA) meeting, his Hindi teacher said there’s been a drastic change in his behaviour: He bullies other children, hits them, is inattentive and disruptive in class. His class teacher, on the other hand, says his classroom performance is good, though he is a bit overconfident. I am familiar with both streaks of behaviour: He does bully his sister, because of which he is forever being scolded, and he is overconfident, to the extent of not studying for an exam because he knows everything. Is this the effect of having another child in the house? I can’t see where I am going wrong.
You could be doing nothing wrong really; children go through phases of self-assertion—and the easiest form of self-assertion is to become loud and brash. However, having said that, perhaps you have been overcompensating for the coming of the new child far too much? To the point of appearing that you are apologetic about the presence of a second child, and are kind of appeasing your son? Children pick up on that, and if you’ve been walking on eggshells around him, he may be misbehaving because he can see that he is expected to act up.
And if this is the case, at some level, you may be reinforcing his behaviour each time you scold him for bullying his sister. In a way, it becomes his identity—“I bully my sister"—and it’s also the perfect way for him to drag your attention away from the younger one and on to himself. Along with the other adults in the house, you could try one thing: Stop him or reprimand him only if he is actually physically endangering his sister. The rest of the bad behaviour relating to his sister, you could completely ignore or take casually. Once he sees that his actions have lost their charge with you, he may lose interest in behaving that way.
It’s possible that though you’re doing so much for him so that he doesn’t feel neglected, he just hasn’t had a chance to process his feelings of resentment and insecurity once the baby came into the picture. He needs to work it out—in a few harmless ways, and not be stopped each time. Moreover, your (quite natural) feeling of “I’ve done so much to make this easy on him, and yet he’s misbehaving" is also possibly getting communicated to him. So he has the additional burden of good behaviour that you feel he owes you. Taking all this out on unrelated people in school might be one of his ways of dealing with it all. So perhaps you do need to re-examine your strategy of appeasement"—“we’ll go out, do stuff that you like, I’ll take you to your classes, but please don’t get jealous and hurt the baby" is how your actions just might be coming across to him ever since the baby arrived. Maybe you just need to be more natural, and let him deal with the pain of sibling rivalry for appeasement"—“we’ll go out, do stuff that you like, I’ll take you to your classes, but please don’t get jealous and hurt the baby" is how your actions just might be coming across to him ever since the baby arrived. Maybe you just need to be more natural, and let him deal with the pain of sibling rivalry for a bit?
The overconfident studies-related behaviour is possibly tied in too—a kind of defiant “I’m fine exactly as I am" stand. I would suggest you let that one go. Let him be overconfident and not get such great marks in school. I’m guessing that once the atmosphere at home is more natural and he’s allowed to feel and express some amount of his resentment, this little boy will feel a little less watched, monitored and “managed".
We live in a semi-joint family (all in one building with each family having its own kitchen). All of us parents of children (there are three couples) have decided consciously never to compare the children (four of them) with each other on any level. However, the grandparents, an aunt, an uncle and the maids tend to do this a lot. When we have tried to talk this out, they say we are being too fussy and that, in fact, this is a way to get children to do better. As these people are the care-providers throughout the day, since we all work, we can’t do much. How do we drive this point home better, and how do we not let it affect our children?
Well, for caregivers hard-pressed for strategies to get children to complete tasks and chores and to behave, it is a quick-fix strategy, this comparing. Some degree of this kind of a thing can be used as a tool to motivate children: “See, how well he’s eaten; see how nicely she’s done her homework,", etc. And sometimes it does work to get a child to get on with the task at hand. So a hard and fast rule is not something that can be easily followed when there are several children around and people who have to take care of them through the day using various devices and techniques. Moreover, you say that the caregivers are older people and domestic help, then they are probably fairly set in their ways.
However, as I have said before, comparisons are of limited use, and can work negatively. Most children react to comparisons with some “defence mechanism", such as ignoring what you’re saying, or coming up with a sullen and unreasonable response such as: “Well, she does it because she’s stupid" or “Because she’s a goody-goody". So, in fact, your comparison has not only not worked, it has pushed the child further away from what you want him to do. Moreover, this could cause unhealthy rivalry between the children.
What you need to perhaps look out for, is that one (the angelic, obedient one) is not being held up as a shining example all the time. This really sets children against each other, and both the “good" child as well as the ones being pulled up, suffer from this kind of constant, one-way comparison. If this is happening, you’ll need to sit your care-providers down and really request them to not do this too often.
The other thing that you can do is request them to try to compare each child with its own best behaviour.
The bottom line on this, you could convey, is that the comparison tool has to be constructive and should never target a child’s sense of self—comparisons about physical appearance would then be a complete no-no, as they do nothing but create anxiety, embarrassment and low self-worth.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.