The first time my son uttered the word “bhoi” I was visibly zapped. We were playing dark room with a torch, he, his dad and I and he looked at his own shadow on the wall. He hugged me tight and said it again. Bhoi. He was telling me that he is afraid. For firsts, I didn’t realize he felt that emotion. And second, I didn’t realize he could get scared of his own shadow, because he had enjoyed hand shadows earlier.
It reminded me of my brother. He was a brat as a kid and grew up with the fear of ‘dhor re’ (just a call out for the old man to come and get him), this one call always managed to tame him. I would be lying if I don’t say that I flexed my parenting muscle when I threatened my boy with a lizard, but then one night I discovered that he had almost begun shaking with fear. What began in jest was soon thrown out of the window. The father and I decided that the lizard will never be a threat to him. So very funnily we make a charade of shooing the invisible lizard in our house.
But despite everything, something had gone wrong somewhere; my son in a short span of time had begun to express fear. It is wrong to assume that kids don’t feel afraid. Even a baby wakes up with an alarm and starts crying. My son at two sadly doesn’t smile in his sleep as much, but there are days when he wakes up crying.
The other day he woke up from his siesta crying for his spoon. It seems his cousin had taken his and so we had to give him all his spoons to prove that she in fact hadn’t. Children are scared of violence. So even as much as we like, the father and I don’t raise our voices (at each other) before him. Needless to say, we don’t hit him either. Things often get to an extent where we sometimes pretty inept. “He is not scared of me,” his father says. These are times when “No, don’t do this” is just not heard.
The typhoon of a toddler that he is, V refuses to listen many times. Bedtimes are particularly treacherous. For me, I mean. And even though as a parent I don’t endorse threats, I am even now tempted to call out to our imaginary lizard friend. So, it’s a constant tug of war with my conscience. Sometimes I put him down and say, “Mum-um will not talk to you.” He looks up at me with his big eyes and my heart strings are gently tugged. I pick him up and forget the anger that was but rising just a minute ago. A threat that causes hurt or gives rise to feelings of disappointment or threat of loneliness and abandonment is definitely not a good thing either.
Fear is never a good thing, at least the way I see it. One slap from my maths teacher in grade 3 and my mind switched off from mathematics forever. Ask me to deduct 56 from 190 and I will be stumbling. The fear of numbers set in and I could never get over it. A child who witnessed his mother being abused grew up to be scared of loud noises. Another, this time a girl was afraid to go near men. You know why.
Threatening and instilling fear is a very delicate issue. I know parents who threaten their children with dire consequences. I heard of a mother who told her child that she will go and lie on the road if he doesn’t get through a certain school. Then there was a mother who locked up her daughter in the bathroom every time she got naughty. She would bang the door, cry and howl, but her mother kept her locked in a dark bathroom. And I also heard of a father who pulled out his belt every time he heard a complaint from his son’s school.
When compared to these extreme threats, one may think that threatening a child with a lizard, or a dog, or a ghost is a harmless thing, but then it is really not. Studies have shown that children grow up with paranoia. Fear directly affects their self esteem and they are known to grow up insecure and unsure of themselves.
Here we are hoping to raise our children as confident adults, ready to take on the world, and then can we instill fear in them? Is there a way to discipline a child without threatening him? Fear to me is a negative emotion and for a child, too negative.
What do you think?
The TV junkie is back into the idiot box. Besides pretending to be a superwoman between work and family, Rituparna also dreams of flying free as an entrepreneur! Her son’s student, she is learning the ropes of parenting every day. Rituparna blogs at http://onboardthemommyship.