As a new age parent, I find myself exhibiting paradoxical behaviour sporadically. That’s because as we are evolving and aligning our parenting methodologies with the ever changing times, we are also somewhat influenced by several other factors, both external and intrinsic. More often than not, we are aware of what the right thing to do is in a given situation but we end up contradicting our own ideologies. Refraining from labeling my child has been one such aspect of parenting which I personally have struggled with for a while. Most of us do understand the repercussions of tagging our children and strongly believe that it is unfair to refer to a child as “bad girl”, “bad boy”, “arrogant”, “stubborn” etc. Indulging in attaching such labels to them is not only an insensitive act on our part but can actually leave a long-lasting impact on the child who is at the receiving end. Sometimes, the psychological damage can be irreversible. Children behave according to their age and their personalities are not even fully developed. In fact, negative labels can lead them to believe that they belong to a certain bracket and then they subconsciously start manifesting those traits. But, as the famous adage goes – it’s easier said than done, more so when it comes to parenting. In spite of acknowledging all of this, I found it difficult to not label my daughter at times in the past.
I recall an incident when I was undergoing a particularly tough day and was feeling debilitated. My daughter was having a typical toddler meltdown over an insignificant matter (well, insignificant according to me!) when we were inside the lift of our block. In a fit of anger coupled with a state of mental frenzy, I retorted with a bitter “You are a bad girl and so stubborn” comment and continued to utter these words. At that point, I just took her back home instead of taking her to the park but felt awful later on when my temper had diffused. I knew in my heart that what I was saying was extremely unwarranted and thoughtless, all the more because I did so in the presence of some acquaintances. Yet, I could not hold back those hurtful words. I wondered why. Was it because I was just frustrated? Or was it my way of justifying my inability to control her tantrum? I don’t know the reason for sure but what I do know is that it was a parenting blunder. The next day, my heart broke when my daughter repeated my words and in the midst of a casual conversation told her father that she was a “bad girl”. The twinge I felt at that moment is something I can never forget. That day onward, I sincerely began to work towards attaining a grip on my emotions and one of the things I did was to identify the triggers for these outbursts.
After much introspection, I understood that there were multiple ways by which I could deal with volatile situations in a much better manner. I could also pinpoint that trying to make her stick to a personal hygiene routine and follow cleanliness related practices was what often led to an altercation between mommy and dotty. I realized it was because of my flawed approach in inculcating these in her and hence, I changed my strategy. I am sharing the hacks which worked wonderfully for me and today, my daughter proactively adheres to all the hygiene related rules of our family.
Focus on the action or habit: The first thing I did was to completely keep terms like “good girl” and “bad girl” at bay. Instead, I focused on the act or habit in question. This means that not following hygiene practices does not make her a bad girl; rather it is an undesirable habit. This approach works universally and ensures that a child doesn’t feel judged for the conduct that is normal during the formative years.
Set an example: Children love to emulate their parents. Hence, the best way to teach them anything is by setting the right example. We need to first get ourselves on track before we expect our kids to get going. Be it brushing teeth twice a day or washing hands appropriately or any other vital daily hygiene practice, children would never appreciate the importance of these unless we follow it all.
Start early: Never ever assume that your child is too small to understand about hygiene. The earlier we start inculcating these habits in our children, the easier it is in the long run. Also, enforcing rules without explaining the rationale behind following them will seldom help. In my case, talking to my daughter about why hygiene and cleanliness is essential made her more perceptive to what I was trying to convey. She, of course, did not get it in the beginning, but with time she learnt and recognized the answer for her ‘Why’s.
Establish clear and firm rules: What do you do when your independent and determined toddler has decided to not follow your advice or instruction come what may? Simple – give the child a choice and empower him/her to take a decision. Statements like “Ok so if you do not have a bath now, no messy play from next time. It is your wish, I am fine with anything” or “Do not want to brush your teeth? Looks like you do not want to relish an ice-cream anymore. It’s ok, as you please” have helped me immensely over time to get my daughter to listen and think, instead of just defying conventions for the heck of it. This approach is a little tricky but if the parent is tactful, patient and firm, it can prove to be the ‘ace’ hack of this list. Also, establish and communicate the ground rules clearly in advance before an activity and remain definite on your stand.
Pretend Play and Favorite Fictitious Characters to the rescue: Another thing that worked big time for me was discussing about hygiene during our pretend play games and also while reading about or watching my daughter’s favorite cartoon characters. So, at times Peppa Pig can achieve what mummy and papa cannot. Like when my toddler learnt that the characters she loves have beautiful set of teeth because of brushing them twice daily, she wholeheartedly started co-operating during her own teeth brushing sessions and now thoroughly enjoys the whole process.
Do you have any other ideas and tips that you swear by? If yes, please do leave a comment and share your opinion.