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Values & Education

Parents’ role in a child’s early life


The wiki defines life skills as behaviours used appropriately and responsibly in management of personal affairs. These skills form the basis to how a person responds to a certain situation in his everyday life and dictate how he handles the problems he commonly encounters. While some of these skills can be taught, others are picked up by experience and observation. It is a well-known fact that children pick up a lot on observation and experience than anybody else. Parents’ role is the most important when it comes to imparting life skills to children in the early stages of life and determines how children behave and evolve as human beings.

While there are lot of skills that can be considered life skills, some of the most early ones that we observe right from when children are toddlers is their interaction with people. From my personal experience, situations where I have to explain to my toddler how she should react to people in her language and yet at the same time not affect her self-esteem leave me perplexed.
Often, many situations that involve your kids, other kids of the same age group and their parents are challenging to deal with as you have multiple parties to satisfy. At the same time you have to maintain the fine balance between teaching your child to stand up for himself and also be considerate to others.

We, as parents sometimes turn a blind eye towards how our kids interact with other kids during play-time and have a carefree attitude under the impression that all is fair in play. But, a closer look at how kids interact can reveal a lot about the child’s people skills and how they can be groomed for the better. Parents play the most important role in a child’s character building. Making a conscious effort to impart life skills to children from early childhood not only prevents childhood problems like bullying, low self-esteem,etc. but also paves the way for children to evolve as adults who are sensitive to fellow human beings. When every home consciously works towards raising sensitive children, it can lead to a better society with a substantial reduction in the more serious social crimes which are rampant in today’s society.

Some situations are easy to handle while some are more complex and raise a lot of interesting questions. As is always the case with parenting, it takes a lot more thinking to handle complex situations but at the end it is well worth it.

In any case, some of the early people skills that can be taught right from the toddlers’ stage are:

To share things: Most of them time, children get into conflicts over being possessive about material things. It is a good idea to promote the concept of sharing through positive reinforcement. Consciously asking the child to share and taking time to notice their good behaviour and applauding them would encourage the child in that direction. This can be easily done in obvious situations where the material is in excess or revolves around a necessity, say, candy or cookies or say sharing an umbrella when it rains. However, the real challenge comes when the object to be shared is scarce or in limited quantities.
Consider this situation: A toy caught the fancy of both ‘A’ and ‘B’ at the same time. Both of them want to have it at the same time. How do we convince them to share it and be fair to both the kids? If ‘A’ gets the first turn to play with the toy, will ‘B’ be under the impression that she always has to give to others first or sacrifice and only then she can get a chance to play? Will doing this repeatedly with your child to put others first affect her self-esteem? Will she not speak up for her wants or needs and forget how to stand up for herself? Suppose, you distract ‘B’ with another toy, would it be counted as avoiding the situation and failing to resolve the conflict altogether?

To be kind, caring and sensitive towards other kids: Children should be made to understand that they should treat others as they would like to be treated. In various situations, kindness can be explained by pointing out the other child’s reaction to your child’s act. Say, this act of yours would make your friend happy, so it is a good thing to do. This act of yours would hurt your friend and make him unhappy and hence it should not be done. Repeatedly simulating situations before the situation actually occurs and then allowing your child to observe his act and the others child’s reaction thereafter would make him realize the right Vs wrong. However, sometimes this is more easily said than done.

Consider this situation: An older child ‘A’ playfully hits your child ‘B’ each time he passes by at a social gathering. A’s parents ignore the act in the name of child play. How do you let ‘A’ know that it is not a good thing to do and at the same time do not cause any embarrassment to A’s parents? Do we teach ‘B’ to fight back in such situations through the use of force or do you suggest that ‘B’ simply reports the situation to a person of authority, say, a teacher or parent? Do we teach ‘B’ to defend himself in the absence of others? Who actually needs help here – ‘A’ for being aggressive or ‘B’ for being timid?

To practice good manners and etiquette: There is nothing more adorable than seeing a child with a cheerful smile uttering greetings, saying please, thank you and showing his gratitude in general through words. Kind words would not only brighten up the day of the person at the receiving end but would also influence other persons to behave similarly. Since this is more of a habit it can be inculcated in children through repetition and example.

To make and keep friends: Not long ago, I read an interesting article on ‘Parentous’ on why it becomes increasingly difficult to make and keep friends as grown-ups. Yes, when it comes to children, friendship is more genuine and natural than when it comes to adults where it is superficial and becomes more out of a need/expectation from the other person. Friendship or making friends cannot be really taught but is usually the outcome of a certain set of behaviours which can be taught. Childhood friendships often last forever. Encourage your child to try different activities and in the process find friends who share similar interests.

To practise integrity: Having a set of beliefs and standing up for them no matter what would definitely come more easily to children than anybody else as they have not really been exposed to the big bad world yet. As a starting point parents should practise what they preach to their children and avoid hypocrisy at all times when it comes to various situations, dealing with other people in the family or relations. Integrity is a by-product of a set of behaviours that can be inculcated in children that build up their belief system. The parents’ role should be to expose children to various situations and people that build their confidence, self-esteem and boost their power to distinguish between the correct and incorrect to build their integrity. After all, integrity is a result of the other life skills that you teach them such that what they speak, think, behave and believe are all the same.

So, how do you deal with situations where you have to explain your kids on how to interact with other kids and be fair in the process? Share your experiences in the comments on how you play your part in imparting life skills to your children.

Tejaswini is a mom to a lovely one and half year old girl, from Hyderabad, presently living in the US. She is an engineer in IT, by profession. A newbie blogger, photography and painting enthusiast, internet junkie, she enjoys reading and discovering nature when she is not running after her now naughty toddler. She is a dreamer and dreams of being a super-woman excelling at both work and home fronts, doing equal justice to both, someday. She has a personal blog at