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I turn the key in the lock, open the door and step into the house. I am greeted by a banshee wail. A wail that transfixes me to the spot and makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. A wail that goes on for a full ten seconds, stops, then resumes. Gathering my wits, I drop my rucksack, take off my shoes and rush into the house, fearing God knows what.
As I reach one of the rooms, I find that the earth-rattling howl is emanating from the mouth of my little man. Seated on one of our floor cushions, he is kicking the air, flailing his hands and screaming. The explosive energy he is throwing out reminds me of an atom bomb – small, but extremely potent. My wife is standing next to him, one foot behind the other, as though warding off the waves of heat coming from the child. There is a glazed look in her eyes. In her palm is the remote control of the TV. When I enter the room, she turns to me and emits a sound that is a mix of a sigh, a cry and a moan.
In an instant, the haze clears from my mind and I know what I am looking at. I realize that nobody’s head is being bashed against the wall. I figure out that our child is howling because my wife has shut off the TV, while he wants to keep watching it. Since he has already watched it for an hour, my wife thinks it is now time to shut the stupid (I mean, idiot) box off.
I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down. It does not work. I feel the anger rise up in my throat like bile. I feverishly wish all children came with a knob, with which to turn them on or off. Or at least, a volume-adjust knob.
I struggle with my anger for a moment and lose the battle. I shout at the child to stop yelling. The child is stunned into silence. From full-throated crying to nothing, in just one second. When he looks at me, I can see the fear in his eyes. The lips twist and the little face contorts as he struggles to master his emotions. He whimpers for a few moments.
And that’s when I find the lump in my throat.
I sigh, pick him up and cuddle him a bit. My wife too joins in and takes the little one in her arms. She makes cooing sounds. Amazingly, our efforts to calm him down have quite the opposite effect. Quick to sense that we are trying to placate him, our man tries to seize the upper hand again and resumes wailing! His wails go something like this “Mammaaaa, TV venam.” (Mom, I want to watch TV) “Cartoooooon! Waaaa waaa waaa.”
The next few minutes are really tough. Tired after a long day at work, my wife and I just want to dump everything, put our feet up and sit back. It is so tempting to just switch on the TV, put the child back on the bean bag and be done with it. But, a tiny voice tells us we should not give in. Giving in now will mean that we set a precedent of a certain kind. A precedent we will have to battle in every such instance in the future. Giving in would tell the child that if he cries, he can have his way, no matter what the right or wrong of it is.
And so, my wife and I glance at each other and gamely battle on. A few minutes into the cuddling and cooing, my wife gets an idea. She goes to the bookshelf and whips out the book on the Solar System. This book is the little man’s latest acquisition, and a prized one at that. She puts the book in front of him and starts talking to me about the Sun, the Moon and the planets. I take the hint. For the next few moments, we discuss the reasons Pluto is not considered a planet anymore.
Soon enough, we find that the wailing in the background has stopped.
The pumpkin is staring at the book, eyes as big as UFOs. And when my wife deliberately says “The seven planets in the Solar System are Mercury….”, the pumpkin whips his head around, looks almost exasperated and corrects her “No, Mamma. The Solar System has eight planets. Mercury, Venus, Earth, ….”. He rambles on for the next few minutes, educating us about the whats, wheres and the whys of outer space. In a trice, he has forgotten all about the TV.
I send up a prayer of thanks to the powers that be and do a telepathic high-five with my wife. We have won the day after all.
After that instance, we have been similarly tested many times. And most times, we have managed to not give in to any unreasonable demand of the little one. Requests – sorry, make that demands - for more biscuits, more cheese, more TV, no bathing, etc. come our way every day. And sometimes, it is very difficult to make the child understand why we are saying NO.
Nevertheless, we have created a certain process to handle such situations:
Step One – explain patiently in even tones why we are saying NO to his demand. The trick is to not be condescending. If this fails, move to Step Two.
Step Two – divert his attention to other objects of fascination such as toys, books, the birds and animals outside, trains, clouds, etc. Start talking about them. Our man loves it if we make up stories based on these objects. However, if this too doesn’t calm him down, move to Step Three.
Step Three – keep quiet for a few minutes and let the child cry.
We have found that the problem is often resolved at Step Two. At times though, matters progress to Step Three and we just have to let him calm down by himself.
Either way, his unreasonable demand is soon forgotten and his attention is totally focused on something else.
Letting a child cry may be unthinkable to many parents, but we have found that it actually does a lot of good to the child. Like adults, children too need to get their frustration off their chest. And a good, short bout of crying helps them do that. More importantly though, they learn that crying is not going to help them have their way. They then become more receptive to what their parents and other elders at home are saying. Over a period of time, their tantrums become less frequent and less intense.
And so, scandalous as it might sound, it is ok to let babies cry a little once in a while. ____________________________________________________________________________________