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Independence to think and act: First step to nurturing social emotional skills ( Part -2)

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Social Emotional Skills: It is common to hear spouses say that they give freedom to their partners; parents say I give my child more freedom than needed. Where and how does this thought of owning another person’s freedom begin?

Soon as a child is born, the parents start building castles in the air about their future that revolves and depends heavily on the child. Even before the child can start thinking for him/herself, expectations and dreams are set by the parents and the family. The parochial attitude to mould the child according to the whims and fancies of the parent starts way too early and the identity of the child is the least of their worries. The free will and independence to form ideas and question existing patterns get restricted are the cornerstones in the development of a child’s social emotional skills. A child becomes a mere tool in satisfying parental dreams.

How do we break this pattern of handing over the same baton to complete the same relay? How do we kill the idea of owning another person’s freedom and identity from our deep-rooted belief system?

Let me give you an example. One of my uncles wanted his son to become an engineer as the uncle had aspired to but could not fulfill due to financial and other issues. When his son was born, he made a promise to ‘make’ his son an engineer and fulfill his dream through his son, come what may.

Now ‘making’ your son an engineer and ‘supporting’ a child’s wish (whatever that may be) are extremes of the same paradigm. Since the father had been dreaming of making the son an engineer, every small thing that he conjured up in the child’s growing up years had an invisible thread to the larger unspoken mission. The boy was artistic and wanted to pursue fine arts. Whenever he found time, he would run to his canvas and his clay moulds. His life came alive through his clay models and canvases. The father chose not to appreciate or encourage his talent, lest the parental dream came crashing. Since the boy was never given the space to express himself, the pent-up feelings and emotions started breaking his inner peace. Each time he tried to explain his lack of interest in physics and metaphysics, promptly came the draconian command to obey the elders. The son became mentally and emotionally detached from his parents and socially withdrawn. By the time, anyone could intervene and make the parents understand, he was already admitted to an engineering college. The first year into college, the son had a mental breakdown. By the time the parents realized their mistake the child had slipped into depression unable to express himself or be true to himself.

“There are no bad students, only bad teachers” it is said. In the same breadth let us also understand there are no bad children, there are only misinformed parents. The socially accepted gender definitions and gender-defined responsibilities also push parents to dictate do’s and don’ts to their children.  What leads to such incidents and how can we avoid them? The first step is to make the future generation aware of their rights, to make them independent at a young age, and to respect their choices and thoughts. From letting a toddler choose the dress he wants to wear, to not forcing religious practices, space and path to form character and identity for a child are aplenty. Introduce them to as many nuances and facets of life as possible. Discuss at length conflicting ideas, concerns, issues, and beliefs. Encourage them to read, research, interpret, introspect a matter in depth. Inspire them to form opinions and ideas. Handhold them when they tread an unhealthy path. Support, hold and help them back on their feet when they trip and fall. Let them bloom through their ideas, have their falls, and learn from mistakes. Hug them when they least expect it. Tell them you are with them on their journey. This way, you give them chance to evolve beautifully, and in all hue and color. They will learn to be independent and not be trapped in the shadows of their parents’ wishes or dreams. Unfortunately, economics trumps social emotional skills development in most Indian households’ decision making.

As much as parental care is important and inevitable, the child must be encouraged to think and learn independently. The first step towards building a socially and emotionally stable household starts here. As a first, parents should begin to accept a child as another ‘individual’ and not an extension of them. The thought of giving freedom would organically translate to encouraging them to explore and expand thus. As a parent take these first steps in nurturing your child’s social emotional skills!

Aparna Viswanathan

Aparna Viswanathan is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Zocio, the company that facilitates socio-emotional skill training. She is a visiting faculty in B-schools and Journalism colleges. Her expertise lies in topics of Communication and Diversity & Inclusion. She is also a mentor in the entrepreneurship space. You can reach her at aparna@zocio.net

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