We all know that there are some inevitable challenges that every parent faces. As parents, we have all had our moments; some of us have experienced more than our fair share. Here, I have attempted to capture a few of the more common nightmare-moments and explore some constructive ways of handling them. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and some of these suggestions may not work for you, but, still, they are all worth a try. So, here goes!
- Your toddler’s first fall: Theoretically, every parent knows that falls, cuts, bruises and fractures are a part of growing up. However, when your adorable preschooler takes a tumble for the first time, your heart is sure to skip a beat. It is but natural for parents to see these little accidents as nothing short of a nightmare. The best way to handle this would be to stay calm, validate the child’s pain, provide first aid and assure him that it is safe to venture out again.
- Your precious angel’s first day at school: Separation anxiety on the first day of school among toddlers is expected. What no one remembers to validate is the parents’ anxiety. It is natural to experience turbulent emotions when your child goes to school for the first time. Instead of pretending that your feelings don’t exist, acknowledge them, and be honest with your child. She will learn that it is okay to feel scared, sad, upset and overwhelmed by life’s changes because mommy and daddy feel that way too.
- That dreaded ‘your-child-is-sick’ phone call from school: It is every parent’s worst nightmare to receive a call from the child’s school informing them that he is sick and needs to be picked up at once. These situations are often unavoidable, so instead of wishing them away, take proactive action. Be prepared for emergencies. If your workplace is too far from the school, depute a reliable emergency contact person who can intervene at once while you can make necessary arrangements and arrive a little later to relieve the first responder.
- The first public temper tantrum: A child having a meltdown in a public place is one of the most embarrassing parenting nightmare moments. Many parents dread going to malls, film theatres or restaurants with their toddlers in tow, and avoid such outings altogether. Instead of depriving yourself of a normal social life, work on preparing your child in advance based on your plans. Talk to her about the place you would be going to, negotiate expected behaviour and consequences of breach, and most importantly, follow through on the pre-negotiated consequences. When you are consistent and calm, your child will understand what is expected of her and act accordingly. If you face a tantrum despite all the preparations, remember to stay calm and talk her out of her sour mood.
- Planning the perfect birthday party: Nowadays, it is customary for a birthday party to be centred around a theme, include activities, return gifts and so on. In fact, planning a perfect party demands so much attention that the birthday boy is completely forgotten! Try to keep things in perspective. How grand the party would be is not important. How much fun your child can have on his special day is what matters most. It is okay if the cake isn’t of the finest quality or if there is no set theme. Let your child have fun. That’s what birthdays are for.
- Planning and executing a family holiday: Again, a nightmare for most parents, planning the perfect holiday and executing it often robs the whole family of the joy of getting away together as a family. Think about it. Does the locale matter? Does your child care about how exotic a holiday was? In all likelihood, what she would enjoy more might be a family trip to the grocery store, if all of you are laughing and chatty, and in a cordial mood, rather than an expensive vacation to a distant land, filled with strain and tension.
- Your child’s first lie: Toddlers lie. It is a fact. I cannot fathom why some parents take this personally and label themselves as bad parents. As children grow older, they begin to experiment with changing facts, dabbling in fantasy and exploring untruth. It is a part of growing up, so it is best to accept it as it is, with no judgment or criticism. When you catch your toddler lying, make sure you don’t have a meltdown. Gently point out to him what a lie means, what you think about it and why it can be harmful to him. Allow him to express what he feels about lying, and also explore why he felt the need to lie in the first place. When you keep communication lines open and provide a safe space for him to explore and experiment, he will outgrow the lying phase soon.
- Hearing the words ‘I hate you!’: This is a nightmare moment, which no parent would want to experience. Reality check: Expect it at some point in your journey as a parent. When it does happen, remind yourself that this is NOT about you. It is not your fault; so, do not personalise it. Your young child does not even understand the gravity of these words. She is probably saying it because she feels hurt and this is the only way she knows to express her pain. Acknowledge her feelings of hurt, and let her know that you’ll talk about it later, when she has calmed down. And, make sure you do.
- The inevitable sex question: Sooner or later, your child is bound to pop the big question. Instead of getting flustered, be prepared. There are umpteen resources available online and also books that guide parents on how to impart safe, age-appropriate sex education to children. Read up, and respond to your little one’s curiosity in a matter-of-fact manner. If you act queasy and grossed-out, your child will begin to sense that it makes you uncomfortable and stop asking you about sex. Remember, you are the safest person to handle this sensitive topic. If your child tries to explore this outside, he may make himself vulnerable to abuse. Keep him safe. Educate him.
- Explaining a death in the family: Explaining to a 4-year-old why grandma is not coming back is hard. When you are yourself grieving and coming to terms with your loss, taking your child through the nitty-gritty of understanding death can seem like a huge nightmare. In times like these, it might be helpful to have an older family member talk to your child about it and allow her to voice her feelings. She needs to process her grief too. Else, it will remain unresolved and come back to haunt you when she is older.
Many of the above are nightmare moments that parents have shared with me, and some of them, I have experienced myself as a parent. The common factor in handling any nightmare moment is to stay calm. So, start by working on your own feelings and responses to stressful situations, so that you can master the art of staying calm and composed in difficult situations that come up with your children.
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)
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