The father of a 15 year old, school going girl called me to share his grief and disappointment on how his daughter is behaving weirdly and with so much contempt with her parents. Since quite sometime she has not only been flatly refusing to obey most obvious harmless gentle suggestions (in the most soft language) given by her parents such as.. she shouldn’t spend too much time on social media/phone or should have her meals on time etc. rather she is full of rage upon hearing any words of advice. If not permitted to go out with her classmates & friends (who are spoiled boys and girls from extremely rich families.. they are reported to be sexually active as per parents who got such feedback from the school teachers) to roam around she would go on fasting for days.. The child as per her father has literally gone insane as she even verbally abuses her mother. Today his call was kind of SOS as yesterday’s event was bit too much to handle when she tried to cut her veins just because she was disallowed to go out. She was taken to the hospital where sutures were done and she had to be admitted for treating the severe weakness she was suffering from as since days she wasn’t eating anything. So much drama by a 15 year old.. scary? Isn’t it?
Yes! And her scared father was painfully whispering the family ordeal over the phone to me from outside the hospital’s private ward where she was recuperating.. Whispering only out of fear that the girl may not overhear the discussion about her and feel bad about it. Father was calling for help as he suspected the young girl has been possessed by some evil energies as there has been history of people engaged in spells and magical rites etc. in his extended family that lives far away in eastern coasts of India. This suspicion became bit more strengthened when an experienced and qualified psycho-therapist-cum-counselor gave up saying.. the girl is mentally unstable and may need full-fledged mental treatment. Well.. to cut the story short let me tell you that it was nothing to do with any spirit, black-magic or sorcery rather a simple case of wrong parenting about which not much could be done now except the damage control!
Without getting into the specifics of the case further, let me tell you that it was surprising to know that in this case parents had been caring, extremely appreciative and protective about the child throughout her forming years. Despite facing some financial set-back and losses they ensures the child was admitted to the best (although i am not sure what makes these highly expensive, centrally air-conditioned schools the best) of the schools available in the city. Spent weekends and holidays in celebratory ways. You seemingly can’t find the lacunae in parents too for the father is a teetotaler, simple religious man and mother is a dedicated home-maker, not the kitty-party types. What could have gone wrong then? Peer education? Media Exposure? Lack of communication and mutual bonding? Wrongly done praise? Did I say wrongly done praise? Yes! you heard it right..
The parenting has lot many aspects but leaving other parenting parameters lets us focus on the this seemingly positive but grossly misunderstood and poorly implemented trait of ‘Praise or Appreciation’. This one aspect, dealt with caution can open up the door for overall (read spiritual) development of the child.
DONT PRAISE YOUR CHILD
Now a days parents and teachers are told to be appreciative of the child. The experts opine this praise that is showered upon child when she/he accomplishes something good promotes her self-esteems and encourages the child to do more good in future. But hold on for a second because what learned men from East believed is diagonally opposite. Summing of that belief ‘Chaanakya the Great’ says –
पुत्रो न स्तोतव्यः || Chaanakya Sutras – 529 ||
It literally says “Never sing praise for your child”.. meaning thereby one should not (at least not so liberally) praise one’s son/daughter. If this pretty harmless advice sounds awkward and irrational then what about next saying, which says –
PUNISH YOUR CHILD
लालयेत्पञ्च वर्षाणि दश वर्षाणि ताडयेत |
प्राप्ते तो षोडशे वर्षे पुत्रं मित्रवदाचरेत् || Chaanakya Neeti – 3/18 ||
It means “One should care, protect and do everything to please a child till she is five. For next 10 years she needs to be beaten (to beat does not always and necessarily mean physically hitting rather giving lessons in strict ways and punishing when they don’t put the beneficial instructions to action in proper way). Upon child’s turning 16 one should treat her/him like friend and should only give advice in friendly way.”
This too sounds illiterate, old-fashioned and typical Indian? Well, its ok if you feel so but I would like you to reserve your judgement for sometime, at least till you have read it all.
DEEPEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF ‘PRAISE’
If you did not get what Indian Spiritual teachers and Masters say on the subject of ‘singing praise of your children’ then reconsider your opinion.
Modern child psychologists say “Children develop a sense of competence by seeing the consequences of their actions, not by being told about the consequences of their actions.” Did you really get what it means. No? Then know that research experiments have established that children who were “praised for their effort” showed more interest in learning, demonstrated greater persistence and more enjoyment. Such children could easily attribute their failure to lack of effort (which they believed they had control on), and performed well in subsequent achievement activities.
So, what does it mean? It means don’t praise your child instead praise his efforts.
“WELL DONE” “GOOD JOB” ARE MEANINGLESS
Most of the parents are seen to be using these modern mantras almost every time they feel appreciation is to be given. Appreciation or rewards must not be so vague. Child should never get the feeling that he/she is being rewarded rather his/her efforts are being rewarded for rewarding effort also encourages children to work harder and to seek new challenges. Is it getting clearer now? Good!
When people shower their children with praise they really do not know what exactly they are praising for. In fact parents must always avoid praising children about areas which they (children) have no control over. Many at times you may have found people praising kids for their intelligence, athletic or artistic acumen and worse for their physical attributes (attractiveness etc.). If you are doing so you are feeding child’s ego and creating some complexes in her. None of your praise should be directed towards the child.. always keep in mind –
|| पुत्रो न स्तोतव्यः ||
So what do you do instead? You should clearly direct your praise to areas over which children have control. Most of you would feel listless so here is the what you can appreciate for — The quality of effort, over all or specific attitude during the execution, displayed sense of responsibility, commitment, discipline and honesty. You may also look out for the focus span during the work, swiftness in decision making, team work and generosity, compassion, attitude of respect, love.. the list is endless for a thoughtful and aware parent. Only when you raise a child with correct self-identifications it is possible for her/him to be spiritually open.
Its not easy though and doesn’t come naturally but one should look at the reasons exactly why your children did a thing well. Once you are able to find what is it that made them succeed/excel or fail you should specifically praise/advice (or even give token punishment) for those areas. I am sure you may not need examples sentences but just to discharge my duties I put up some here – “You worked really hard and stayed regular in your preparation for this exam.” “Your focus was commendable during the entire match.” and “You were so generous with your friend when you shared your lunchbox.”
For the younger kids remember what Chanakya says –
In fact psychologists say that “In case of young children, you don’t need to praise at all.” Aha Moment! Simply highlighting what they did is sufficient. Not clear? OK. Let me clarify what they mean. For example they say if your toddler just climbed a toy ladder for the first time, you just say, “You climbed that ladder by yourself.” Enough? Yes! Your telling them this will be responded unfailingly with a smile of pride. It will be more than sufficient than any praise or celebrations here because the life that’s coming up isn’t ever going to be like that. You should be clearly able to see that nothing more needs to be said.
ASKING RIGHT QUESTIONS CAN BE PRAISE OR PUNISHMENT – BOTH!
As spiritual teachers we have to deal with all types of ‘Grown Up’ kids. Mostly sane and sober but not always. In many cases it is difficult to bring about change in people’s behaviour despite all efforts and sincerity from students and teachers. In fact, we wonder how such a self-destructive or obsessive mental inclination was freezed in their childhood only because their parents couldn’t help themselves. How one shall be performing later in life depends a lot how they have been treated in their developing years.
Many of our students have found us not to be full of praise towards them. Why?
लालनाद्बहवो दोषास्ताडनाद्बहवो गुणाः |
तस्मात्पुत्रम् च शिष्यम् च ताडयेन्नतु लालयेत् || Chaanakya Neeti – 2/12 ||
It means “Praise and undue soft approach towards kids and disciples create many unwanted qualities in them while stern and strict way of dealing with them brings forth many desirable ones therefore parents and teachers should behave accordingly.”
Many people find them clueless when it comes to punish. Well, I am not going to write too much on this aspect because this essay it is about praise. So allow me to be true to the topic. However if you want to learn an alternate method to praise or punish then just ask right questions. In almost every case there’s this intuitive feeling in each one of us that goes on to give us a feeling of ‘having done correct things’ or otherwise. Deeply communicating with students and kids post their achievements or failure will guide them what exactly they should do more and more often and what not. This way we encourage them to internalize and appreciate what they observed about their own achievement efforts. It equally makes them learn from their mistakes.
For the kids in their 30s, 40s and 50s these things should mean self-introspection. I am sure all of you shall have some or the other ‘actionable’ or takeaway from it.
So.. Happy Growing.. Happy Tutoring.. Happy Parenting!