Though aged 38, Shilpa Gupta often acts like a child: she yells, screams and throws tantrums. And she loves doing it.
Gupta is a certified parenting coach who plays a child in her classroom in front of a group of parents — her "students". She runs a seven-week course called Common Sense Parenting.
Before she became a full-time parenting coach in 2009, Gupta was a practising ENT surgeon.
"I have two daughters. My husband had to go abroad for a year to study, which threw up new parenting challenges for me. Whenever I asked my friends or relatives, they offered divergent solutions to parenting issues that I was faced with," says Gupta."The absence of definitive answers convinced me about the need for parenting coaches," she adds.
She decided to join the Responsible Child Care and Common Sense Parenting courses run by Love Humanity International, a Gujarat-based organisation, for parenting trainers.
Three years ago, she quit as an ENT surgeon to work as a parenting coach. Today, she holds parenting classes at the basement of a GK-II house.
"I am not a counsellor or a therapist. I teach practical skills that can be used daily by parents in dealing with changing behaviour of their children," she says.
The former surgeon's kit today comprises a laptop, a parenting manual, a textbook on parenting and ready-reference skill cards and reading material for parents.
The teaching methodology includes classroom instructions, situational videos, role-play, feedback and review. She takes classes for two hours every week.
The parents are given homework sheets at the end of every session.
"It helps them to use the skills learnt in the class over the week. Most parents who attend my classes take the course quite seriously, though not all do fill out their homework sheets," she says.
Gupta asks parents when they join the course to get their children to answer a set of questions to understand how the kids view their families.
And as a rule, parents have to inform children that they are taking classes in parenting. "It is to ensure that the children accept the changes in the parents and become more receptive to their new behaviour."
The parents who attend her courses are mostly south Delhi-based doctors, engineers, school teachers and executives. And there are more women than men in her classes meant for parents of children aged between four and 16 years.
"Mothers take the programme more seriously than fathers, who have traditionally had a more laidback approach to parenting," she says. At the end of the course which costs Rs 5000, the parents get a certificate.
During role play, Gupta acts like a child — acting defiant when told to do something, refusing food and arguing.
Most parents in the class, she says, respond wrongly to these situations. The biggest problem is how they communicate with children.
Even well-educated parents do not know the right use of language with children, she says, adding, "They get irritated and lose patience with me as I play the child much as they do with children at home. I try to tell them where they were wrong. At times, I have had to admonish them for their mistakes."
Gupta points out that parents of younger children are more receptive to her lessons than those of older kids who, she says, often have fixed ideas about parenting and argue a lot. Common Sense Parenting is about having a cool head, a workable approach to discipline and being able to think logically."
Ask her about the merits of learning parenting skills in a classroom and she says, "Unlike a decade ago, the children now have a lot of exposure. The Internet, television and films have thrown up new parenting challenges. The old rules of parenting do not work."
The last session of the course, which covers topics such as effective praise and teaching self control, is on sex education — how parents should educate children on sensitive issues of sexuality and reproduction.
"The session is about how children can be taught about their bodies through subtle bedtime stories. It gives children courage to report any instance of sexual abuse," she says.
Gupta says she does not involve children in the course in any way. "But I am happy that my parenting classes have greatly helped their cause. The parents often tell me how their children threaten to report their mistakes to their parenting teacher," she laughs.