Mayura Amarkant, 34, and her son Abhimanyu, 6, sit across the dining table, poring over a handmade chart.
“Can we have homemade cupcakes as the evening snack on Tuesday?” asks Abhimanyu.
“Sure, and then you can help me toss a salad for dinner,” says Mayura.
Abhimanyu loves tossing salad. He also loves working with his mother on the weekly food chart, a bright yellow sheet bearing drawings and pictures of their favourite homemade snacks. “I have moulded his lifestyle in such a way that his food habits, exercise and sleep patterns are all balanced,” says Mayura.
She and her husband, Amarkant Jain, both have demanding jobs — she is a communications management head at a film institute, he an associate professor at a business school — but they make time every Sunday to plan their son’s week.
To provide energy for Abhimanyu’s physical exercise and mental wellness, Mayura prepares tasty treats using healthy ingredients such as shallow-fried burger cutlets and brown pasta. She also takes Abhimanyu with her to the supermarket near their Malad home, so that he can understand and participate in the family’s food choices.
To keep him physically active, Abhimanyu has been enrolled in gymnastics classes, for greater flexibility, and archery, to improve fitness, focus and concentration. “He also cycles, and we take him to a local garden as often as possible so he can play in the evenings,” says Mayura, who has opted for meditation, yoga, karate and athletics as his activities in school. “On weekends, my husband takes him swimming with his friends, or he plays football or cricket.” Though each parent has a laptop, the Jains make it a point not to use them at home. “Our son gets enough practice at school,” says Mayura. “He doesn’t need to spend time in front of a screen here too, so even if we really need to log in for work, we announce that it is for just one hour.”
The only challenge is TV time. “There is a set limit of two hours of TV per day,” says Jain. “The only time we sanction more is during vacations.”
At a time when nutrition has been replaced by packaged foods, physical exercise by gaming consoles and sleep by late-night TV, fitness experts say the Jains are doing a good job of maintaining a sense of balance and the importance of fitness in their child’s life. “To raise a fit child, the focus should be on overall mental and physical development,” says Dr Snehal Jhaveri, consulting child specialist at Nanavati hospital.
Parents and children are both battling on many fronts in these days of 24x7 jobs, nuclear families and video games, adds Jhaveri. Children face peer pressure and fatigue from too many classes and a poor diet; parents are tackling time constraints, a lack of open spaces and a lack of a social support structure to help give their child a balance lifestyle.
“The solution begins with healthy foods, a good sleep pattern and a routine of physical exertion, such as cycling, running and playing outdoors,” says Jhaveri. ‘Emotional hygiene’ also plays a large role in a child’s emotional strength, especially when it comes to their teen and early adult years, says clinical psychologist Neha Patel, head of the Sharnam counselling centre.
That’s why Mayura works on maintaining a strong bond with Abhimanyu. “I talk to him, explain things, discuss things, ask his opinion. I think that is what helps him open up to me when he needs to,” says Mayura. “His bedtime is 9 pm and this too is talk time and story time. This is when we bond as a family, with my husband and me reading to him before he goes to sleep.”