Let me take this opportunity to wish all kids a super children’s day and may they be blessed with a healthy mind and body!
Is there any significance of the day beyond the customary greetings and celebrations? If there is, then it needs to be conveyed to children. And as everything else, it falls to the parents and grandparents to do so.
If I have to wish my child on this day, what would I wish her?
I would wish her an early morning. Not just because I’m impressed by age old proverbs, but because today I see the crazy way that every child begins her day. Most kids wake up at say, 7 am and they need to get into the school bus at 7.20 am!
I recently attended a conference in Sharjah where constipation was being discussed with great seriousness. I mentioned the fact that in Mumbai kids have to “finish” their daily chores in 15 minutes and there is simply no time to brush their teeth and go to the toilet and have a bath and eat breakfast. An Arab lady said parents wish there were buttons – you press one and.. Swoosh… the kid evacuates; you press another and swoosh… the kid eats… and voila. . You make the school bus in time!
What we fail to realise that just like falling asleep, waking up is a ritual. Arousal needs to proceed in its own order, enabling the child to transition out of a state of deep sleep to wakefulness to complete alertness. If this is crumpled to within 20 minutes, not only will the child end up with constipation and poor hygiene but she will still be half asleep for the first hour or two of school which often has the “important” subjects.
And it’s not rare to see such kids doing poorly at academics and being misdiagnosed as ADHD or Dyslexic! So, to start with, wake the child up at least an hour before she sets off for school. I encourage a few minutes of prayer- for the simple reason that this ritual allows the child to have a little time to get her act and thoughts in order and eventually reach school with her bowels cleared, body cleansed, well-nourished and most importantly – focused for studies.
I would wish my child come home back by lunch. That’s ideal, though I know that’s not possible very often due to many reasons. Whatever be it, once the child is home I would wish my child to have some good food and if possible have a small chat – I call it “debriefing”!
I wish the child would then after a few minutes sit down for her studies. Avoid television here as it will drag on and end up in a fight! Instead let the child finish off with whatever studies or homework or project work is needed. And be done by 5 or 6 pm.
That’s also because many children today don’t have great attention spans and as the day wears on the quality of attention and concentration wears thin. A simple rule of thumb- if a kid has slept for 10 hours, the best concentration could be expected for the next 10 hours. Any effort to engage him in any activity thereafter, needing good concentration, is not very fruitful and again ends up in arguments.
I wish my child would have an opportunity to play outdoors every evening for 2 to 3 hours! This is the most important part of the day for the child since this is the time when the child is by himself and can do what she feels! Hence it’s important to let the kid have non structured play – let them play whatever they want. This is for them to vent their hearts out, and be refreshed for the next day as well as to bond with friends and learn co-operation and how to resolved differences.
Many parents end up sending their kids to official “training academies” be it sport or dance and this ends up being another performance task and ends up tiring the child up much more and often frustrating him that he has to live up to expectation and “perform” even here. Decrease performance anxiety!
I wish the child would be back home completely relaxed and sit down for an early dinner. We could chat over dinner – chat being whatever the child likes to say, and not what we would like to hear (about her academics) and certainly not for us to talk about her performance or marks!
The best of nutritious food is a waste if not accompanied by the digestive juice of happiness and satisfaction. Monitor for yourself the number of times you are inclined to “opine” to your child- “this is not good”, “if you do that you will suffer”, “you need to do this”, etc. Your child will either learn to switch off (and you will keep wondering why she doesn’t listen to you ever) or worse this will destroy her ability to think for herself.
Rather, let the child speak and your role is to ask open questions or questions which will make her assess her actions. In this manner, though the child may not verbally express the “lesson” you wanted her to imbibe, rest assured that she has indeed internalised it-much better than you ordering it to happen.
I wish my child would find engagement in activities that connect her to others rather than to machines. Gadget addiction is a huge problem today. But we lay the foundation of this addiction when we switch on the TV or hand over the cell to the tiny tot to make her eat or to let us be-please don’t use gadgets as “electronic nannies”.
Besides the host of reasons why gadgets are bad for your kid which any Internet search can easily give you, please remember two main reasons. One, these gadgets are one way communication systems – your kid’s communication skills and social interaction with others will suffer. Reciting nursery rhymes verbatim is not really a great gain – teach these rhymes yourself to enhance her social skills. Two, habits formed at an early age become part of “normal” life and it will be impossible to restrict or limit these later.
Lastly, the best thing I could do as a parent for my child’s life long physical and mental health is to inculcate great sleep habits!
Intelligence, memory, behaviour are all impacted by sleep habits.
Children below 12 needs about 10 to 12 hours of continuous sleep, adolescents need at least 8 to 10 hours. This can be managed only if the kids are trained to sleep early. A couple of hours of good outdoor play will tire the child sufficiently. Once home, serve them dinner early. Encourage activities which will induce sleep and not those that will increase arousal instead. Television or mobile games or chatting will drive away sleep. So will arguments and fights. As your infant grows up, discourage day time napping as this is likely to delay onset of sleep at night. Also, the best way to inculcate this habit is to make the child wake up early as mentioned above and avoid afternoon sleep. She will surely begin to feel sleepy early on in the night.
There is no one fool-proof way to happy parenting! These are general principles- you may modify them as long as the idea behind each is followed more or less! Simple guidelines will go a long way in contributing to your child’s life!
The author is president of Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Mumbai