My 13-year-old son is staying up late at night talking to his girlfriend on the phone. I have tried every argument, but nothing works. What should I do? My 11-year-old daughter is watching TV 4-5 hours every day. How do I tear her away? Horror stories about alcohol/drugs/smoking scare me. How do I make sure my son does not fall into these traps?
These are some questions that trouble most parents with teenage children. Child rearing or parenting refers to a gamut of parental behaviour over a range of situations, creating an enduring child-rearing climate.
In many families, an authoritarian style of parenting is common, where parents demand rather than compromise, limit the display of affection and communicate very little with their children. For example, when a child refuses to clean his room, they would say, “Do it because I say so!” The opposite of this is the permissive style, where parents are always warm and accepting, where children are allowed to eat, sleep or watch TV as they want to. Yet another style of parenting is uninvolved, where the parent is indifferent to the child’s psychological needs.
Once children reach adolescence, the time for instilling the right values in them starts running out. As teen pregnancy, substance abuse, violent mood swings, lack of motivation and dropout rates rise, there is an urgent need to bring things under control — and a parent’s work must start early enough during childhood to prevent difficult behaviour later.
It is important to remember that different children mature physically, emotionally and mentally at different rates. Parenting a child with challenging behaviour is a challenge in itself — one that calls for strategy. Here are some suggestions that can benefit all children.
Be sure your child knows that you love him even if you do not always like his behaviour. Give him your undivided attention, let him choose the activity, and make sure he knows you like playing with him, which will aid his self-esteem.
Set clear limits and enforce them consistently. Your child needs to know what you expect, e.g. fixed hours for viewing TV or playing video games.
Create routines and stick to them. Children feel more comfortable when they know what is coming next. For the same reason, it helps to give advance notice of changes in activity, such as “You can slide down three more times, and then it’s time to go home.”
Learn to recognise anxiety in your child. When Rashi whines, that is your cue to stop reading the newspaper, give her a smile, ask if you can help and listen closely. If you can catch the problem at an early stage, you can prevent challenging behaviour.
Offer a limited choice when you see trouble coming, such as “Do you want your milk in the red cup or the blue one?”
Put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to figure out what he gets from his challenging behaviour. Does he get your attention (positive or negative)? Does he avoid something he dislikes or is not good at? Once you know what the challenging behaviour brings him, you can help him get it in a more acceptable way.
Stay calm. When things do not go smoothly, take a deep breath and count to five. By showing your child that you can handle the situation with a cool head, you become his best role model.
There is no perfect prescription for successful parenting. Along with the above strategies, a pinch of hard work, sensitivity to needs, humour and a great deal of understanding and patience on both sides are needed. We cannot always feel very loving, but our children need to know that we stand by them and that we appreciate them.
The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity & Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at email@example.com, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’