My neighbour’s 11-year-old daughter is really well-liked and can get along with anyone from the age of two to 102. My own daughter, aged five, is still young and a little shy, but I hope to get her to be sociable and happy too. I know it isn’t just about good manners but about good connecting. Any tips on how I can inculcate this in my child?

Your neighbour’s child obviously has genuine social skills, which go well beyond the concept of good manners. It’s much more multifaceted than just knowing how to say thank you, sorry, and please. It signals that this child

a) is at ease with herself and the world around her.

b) is interested in the lives of other people

c) has the ability and inclination to interact appropriately.

She has probably been blessed with parents who have invested in more than just her food, clothing and schooling. Most socially appropriate behaviour can be taught, learnt, practised and developed further.

u By example: The first ‘tuition’ in social skills comes from the behaviour and attitudes of the parents. Children constantly pick up verbal as well as non-verbal clues from their parents’ social interactions. Your own genuine, pleasant and non-toxic social behaviour is a great teacher.

uConscious involvement: Call upon your kids to socialize with guests and visitors. It may be something as small as expecting them to hold a five-minute conversation with the person while you are busy elsewhere. Also, when you visit people, do converse with any children present, instead of just making conversation.

uTell them about people: Clue your kids in on the people they meet. For instance, if you’re going to a wedding, tell them they’ll meet an old aunt, maybe a bird-watcher; another guest who collects stuff; someone else who plans to go on a trek, etc. This way, your kids are primed to relate to people as individuals, not just a mass of people they have to say hello to.

uAcknowledge everyone: As far as possible, a child entering a room full of people should be encouraged to acknowledge everyone present—with a smile, a nod, a handshake, a hello—including family chauffeurs and house-help.

uA good dose of reality: Don’t staunchly protect your kids from some of the harsher realities. For instance, take them with you on a hospital visit, if the ill person likes kids or your child in particular. Even if it is a brief moment, encourage your child to make eye contact, hold the patient’s hand, tell him or her something interesting that is going on in the outside world—however small.

uCount them in: Expect your kids to be sociable. They don’t have to be the life of the party, but even shy kids should be encouraged to be a little sociable in mixed gatherings of young and old. Sometimes, we count them out, saying, “He’s too shy, he won’t talk", or “She’s in her own world, don’t bother to talk to her", or “These kids are not interested in us oldies". This reinforces shy or unfriendly behaviour.

Of course, we’re not interested in creating over-talkative, socially-hyper kids. What we’re looking for, as in all matters of parenting, is a fine balance. Teaching kids the social graces is like teaching them to cycle: They will never forget how to, and they’ll always move forward confidently.

My wife grew up with hardly any relationship with her father. He was an able provider, but that’s about it, and she has always felt the lack of a real bond with him. I want it to be different between me and my daughter. I want to play a more emotionally supportive role, to be there for her. She is four, and I have been a hands-on father so far. Any tips for the years to come?

Good for you. A dependable, consistent, loving and genuine interaction with her father goes a very long way in building a girl’s self-image and determining how she will relate to men in the future.

Papa pointer:Make an effort to be more involved with your little girl

However, even today, in many families, daughters know their fathers only as shadowy figures, who “go to office" and may occasionally “help you with math homework" and get gifts from their travels. Many fathers, in turn, relate to daughters in a remote way, leaving all the important emotional and psychological nurturing to the mothers, later getting involved, at the most, in matters of discipline, such as enforcing a curfew or a dress code.

He dutifully shells out money for education, holidays and other ‘needs’. He rarely, if ever, has a one-on-one conversation on any emotionally troubling or confusing matters with his daughter. He never talks to her about his own work or dilemmas and never consults her, even in later years, about important family decisions.

In some homes, fathers are unrealistic hero figures, knights in shining armour who treat their daughters like little princesses, protecting them from the bad dragons of the world. This, too, is hardly an adequate and fulfilling father-daughter relationship. It is based on much myth-making and hero worship and effectively cuts off a daughter from learning how to relate to other men on an equal, mature and rational footing in later years.

There is much, much more that a daughter can get from her father, and that a father is capable of giving, in a genuine relationship.

Some important markers of a good father-daughter bond:

uThey are friends and yet, he treats her as a woman—respecting and acknowledging her femininity.

u He is never overcritical about her looks and her body shape and, at the same time, he does not give elaborate and fake compliments.

u They are able to talk about many things—including emotional issues—and she feels that he can listen, without rushing in with a ‘solution’.

u He consults her and respects her opinions and choices as she grows, be it about family matters, her career, friends, world affairs.

Some red flags:

u When a daughter can communicate with her father only via the mother.

u When a father puts down or ridicules his daughter in the usual ‘you women’ type of conversations.

u When a father discourages his daughter from certain hobbies and interests because they are “too boyish".

u When fathers and daughters talk to each other only when it comes to money, or permission to do something.

The father-daughter bond can be one of the most tender, meaningful and satisfying relationships between two people. But it must begin very early, and be based on genuine involvement, rather than on Bollywoody baap-beti images.

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