Thursday, August 21, 2014

Little reminders

I'll be sharing some photos from Chinese New Year this year over the next few posts. Very much overdue, I know.

This year, Chinese New Year was a strange bittersweet mix of good times and not-so-good times. There was the usual festive happy stuff that accompanies that time of the year. Then there was some friction over some issues among our extended family members, which I'll briefly talk about today.

I was quite affected by the events, albeit as an outsider - it is hard to watch family members in conflict. I didn't have the heart to blog at that time because it seemed insensitive to highlight our family's happy moments when other family members were going through a rather traumatic time.

Throughout that week and a half, I saw adults grapple with distrust, insecurity, guilt, self-centredness, insensitivity, suspicion, fear, hurt, pride, disappointment, anger, betrayal, and despair. I saw people fighting to get their point across, people who could not see beyond themselves, and people who didn't know how to stand up for themselves. I saw adults who were unable or unwilling to communicate openly and honestly, even when such communication would have resolved a lot. I saw a lot of people talking but very few listening. I saw adults being unnecessarily defensive, boxing shadows. I saw how people shied away from respectful confrontation and constructive conflict, choosing instead to find refuge in suspicion and misguided assumptions. I saw well-educated adults unable to grasp the concept that it was within their power to make things better. They saw themselves as victims, incapable of helping themselves and no amount of logical or rational debate would change their minds or their outlook.

I write this post not to criticize the adults for behaving badly. Rather, I write this post to remind myself that these unhealthy perspectives and behaviours are learned in childhood, and even cultivated by family. I would have thought that most parents know that. But I've come across many, many parents who tell me, when their child is behaving badly, that their child "is like that", implying that they had nothing to do with how their child turned out and there's nothing they can do to change things.

Not many parents fully comprehend how little things build up a child and how lack of little things can have long-lasting negative effects into adulthood, adversely affecting their relationships with family and friends. Not many parents realise that these little things are within their control.

Now, it is not an issue of nature vs nurture here. We are not talking about things like being artistic or musically talented. We are talking about human behaviour that is learned.

No child is born distrustful. They have to learn to distrust. No child is born with suspicion. They have to learn to be suspicious. Children can also be discouraged from being open and honest in their communication. They can learn not to trust their own emotions and to fear their own intense feelings. They can be taught to run away from conflict instead of seeing conflict as a means towards resolution. They are taught that "things are like that", "people are like that" or "life is like that"- and they are not empowered with the confidence that they can take steps to make their own lives better.

The obvious question is - how are these behaviours learned? There can only be one answer to that - the child learns what he is exposed to, which includes the behaviour and responses of the adults he interacts with, and the behaviour and responses of the adults whom he observes as they interact among themselves.

So when your child is upset and crying over something, don't try to distract him by offering him a sweet. Hold him and give him time and space to deal with his big emotions instead of running away from them. When  he disagrees with you, give him the chance to explain his reasons. Feel free to disagree with him too and let him know that it is perfectly fine to have different opinions. Tell him you love him, tell him often, and don't pin your love onto anything. Don't pressurize him by telling him, "You're such a good boy, aren't you?" When things don't go smoothly, ask him, "What do you think we can do about this?" Take his interests seriously. Talk often, share your thoughts and encourage him to share his thoughts with you.

It's not easy, true. But as the quote goes, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." (Frederick Douglass)


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