There is no one way to raise a child. Each child is unique and can vary in so many ways in abilities and behaviour from others. An excerpt from RamG Vallath’s Active Parenting: How to raise children with boundless potential by RamG Vallath
My daughter Ananya was talking fluently by the time she was two years old. Once Jayu (my wife), Ananya, Jayu’s sister Shubha (whom Ananya called Peyamma) and I went shopping. I was driving the car, and Jayu and Shubha went off to shop in a street with many retail outlets, leaving Ananya and me in the car. We waited for about forty-five minutes and Ananya could see that I was getting increasingly irritated. Empathetically, she turned to me and in her clear, penetrating voice asked, ‘Acham, where is the f*** Amma and f*** Peyamma gone?’
I nearly fell off my seat! (Luckily, it was not possible sitting in a car.) How did my two-year-old child learn this word and also how on earth did she learn to use it so appropriately? (Though, later on, I would recount the story to everyone and pretend that I was shocked at the fact that Ananya’s grammar was imperfect and she should ideally have said, ‘Acham, where the f*** is Amma and Peyamma?’) After the initial shock, I closed my mouth—which had opened wide in astonishment—and glanced at the rear-view mirror. There I saw the face of the idiot who had caused this: a rather guilty looking me. I had never tried to censor my language in front of her. And she had picked up not only the word but also the usage to perfection. Silently thanking my stars that none of the grandparents were around, I proceeded to explain to her that there were some words that I used which were okay for adults to use, but not for children. To Ananya’s credit, after that, until the age of fifteen or so, she never used the word in front of us or any adults. After that, we weren’t particularly bothered.
Children learn by observing adults around them and emulating them. This incident reinforced something that I already knew: the importance of being a good role model for one’s kids, and from that day, I was even more careful about ensuring that I practised what I preached.
People, and especially children, learn by observing and not so much by being spoon-fed or directed. There is an abundance of research to prove this. Active parents are acutely aware of this. What this boils down to, for parenting, is quite simple. If you want to bring up children with the right set of values, you have to demonstrate these values in day-to-day life—incessantly and without respite. This also has a strange implication: if you are a conscientious parent and want to bring up your children to be great human beings, then you have to be a great human being to start with. So, in a way, while you are parenting a child to become a good human being, the child is also forcing you to behave well. There is a lot of truth in the statement, ‘The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ This aphorism is not about wealth or health or status—it is about values. It just means that the values children display are often a reflection of the values that parents demonstrate.
One of the things for which I am grateful to my parents is the fact that they made it a point to ensure that they displayed very little negative behaviour or negative emotions in front of us. Over time, I am sure that this self-imposed constraint became a way of life for them, making them overall better people. Thus, active parents not only role model positive behaviour, they actively desist from displaying negative behaviour.
While children silently observe adults and draw their own conclusions from it, it is equally important to keep communicating and making them understand the underlying reasons why a parent behaves in a specific way under a specific circumstance.
One of the most important aspects of parenting by role modelling is the ability to be rational when confronted by differences in opinion from children, and which on reflection makes one realize one has made a mistake. Instead of stubbornly sticking to one’s point and losing respect, if the parent were to accept their mistake and praise the child for showing the right way, rest assured that the child will be a better person as they grow up. Abhilasha, one of the parents I interviewed, told me exactly this: ‘I have no hesitation in apologizing to my daughter every time I make a mistake or lose my temper with her. The fact that she observes me accepting my mistakes and apologizing has helped her build the courage to own up to hers. As a result, she is very open and transparent with us.’
Excerpted with permission from Active Parenting: How to raise children with boundless potential by RamG Vallath published by HarperCollins India. Price: INR 299 / Format: Paperback / Pgs.: 240