Let’s Talk It Over
|   Apr 26, 2017
Let’s Talk It Over

On a day when you wake up to the news of a 23-year-old jumping to death from a high rise and capturing the whole thing on Facebook Live, everything stops to make sense. You try to shrug it off as one of those things that shouldn’t happen and yet they do. But that doesn’t help. Because you know it isn’t just a one-off thing. It’s been happening too often. Everywhere.  And it doesn’t look like a phase that will pass on its own, or anytime soon.

In 1999, when two teenagers slaughtered twelve of their fellow students and teachers and injured twenty-three others, in a tragedy that shook the U.S., a child and family psychiatrist called Robert Shaw took upon himself to dig deeper. He knew that this heinous crime at Columbine High School, Colorado, committed by the unlikeliest of criminals, wasn’t the first of this kind. More importantly, as he could morbidly surmise, it wouldn’t be the last.

A few years ago, IMRB conducted a study in India which deduced that the cases of bullying in schools are on an increase, sometimes in classes as small as the first grade.  Parents and school authorities were quick to rubbish that claim; a denial that reeked of guilt. But the proof that it wasn’t rubbish at all lies all around us, in an overwhelming quantum.

A child resorting to unexplained and unacceptable behavior is a crisis we can no longer ignore. When young people resort to jumping from tall buildings – like in the case of this 23-year-old who committed suicide by jumping from Taj Lands End in Mumbai on the 4th of April- instead of pouring their hearts out to someone it’s not just sad. It is a symptom of a grave disease. People stop crying out for help when they get convinced no one is listening. This young man’s suicide was chalked up to depression. But how did people around him - his parents, his friends, his classmates - not see it? How in a world where newer means of communication are devised faster than we can keep up with, did this man’s pleas for help go unheard for as long as they did?

Meaningful communication has become a paradox in this day and age; the means are ever-growing but the end remains increasingly underachieved. Parents are forever connected to their children and yet the chasm of what they know about their own kids is wider than ever.

As a part of a parent-child workshop that I run, we often discuss this. Parents complain that they feel shunned by their wards while the kids are always complaining of neglect. The solution is ridiculously simple.

‘The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line.’ This adage holds true in many more ways than one can imagine.

Robert Shaw’s research (he went on to write a whole book on parenting based on his findings), IMRB’s analysis and practically every single study done on the subject confirms that most of the problems with our children stem from the lack of (and therefore can be solved by) consistent, open and empathetic communication.  A lot of families I work with come to me with a standard problem – their child is incommunicative or shy. And I ask them a simple question – that as an infant or as a toddler was this very same child that incommunicative? The answer is almost always a no. Something happened since then that made that child go quiet. He or she was left unheard for long, before they decided to stop speaking up at all. But here’s the good news. Communicating with a child, getting them to share their inner most thoughts is actually far easier than it is cracked up to be. Just a few things need to be kept in mind.

  1. Suspend judgment: Every time we offer too harsh a judgment, too soon, to what a child is saying, we give them another reason to close up. If at all an opinion should be offered, it should be sprinkled generously with love and understanding.
  2. Be consistent: Our channels of communication with our children need to be open constantly; not just when it is conveniently placed on our calendars like on weekends and holidays. Our children need our time and attention even on days when we have pulled an 18-hour work day and have none to offer. I once suggested a mother who kept crazy work hours to make it a habit of spending her lunch hour calling her kids and checking up on their day, instead of eating with the colleagues. Sure she misses out on a lot of office gossip. But from a mother who was slowly but surely moving away from her kids, because she hardly got to see them, she is now a mother who knows whether her son finished off his school tiffin or not. And all this change for minimum effort.
  3. Practice what you preach: Children learn to close up from us. So they can learn opening up too. When we come back after a bad day at work and snap at everyone or sit sullen in front of the T.V., they take it as an acceptable behavior and do the same. If you want your child to share bad things that happened to him, then do the same with them. A mother discovered her child is being bullied when she opened up to him about her over-demanding boss.
  4. Be prepared to follow through: A family was struggling to get through to their fourteen-year-old girl. Once they got her to open up by frequent dinnertime talks, they learned that she is quite interested in becoming a chef. The only reason she hadn’t volunteered to help her mother with daily cooking, although she wanted to, was because she was afraid that her father who was extremely nit-picky with food wouldn’t appreciate it. Her opening up about it changed it all. The father, now, decides what specialty should be cooked for Sunday dinners and the mother and daughter spend the whole day whipping it up together. I do imagine a lot more laughter and happy conversations emanating from their kitchen now.
  5. Be creative: Not every child may be as good with words. See what he or she is good with when it comes to expressing his/her thoughts. I know of a couple that once discussed with me the problem of their child drawing too many monsters and dragons in his art classes. They recognized it as something they should talk to him about. Another couple recognizes their child’s string of bad days by the fact that he is losing his badminton games, a sport he is usually very good at.

This list can go on. Parenting is a developing science and hence one has to be open to constant learning. But one thing I am confident of not changing much, ever, is the importance and efficacy of communication in a parent-child relationship.


Book Blurb

Twenty years ago, Susan Pereira had to send her only child Matthew, to a faraway boarding school. That one decision brought their relationship to a cul de sac, which she still hasn't been able to break out of. Matthew is too distant and too angry to relent. Meera Vashisht's misguided love left her bruised, shattered, and abandoned, only to be found and healed by Susan. Set on a fictional Indian island paradise called Bydore, In The Light of Darkness is a journey of broken souls looking for closures and new beginnings. Does Susan manage to win back her son? Does Matthew find the future his mother hoped he would? Does Meera finally get away from her past?


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