When exams are just around the corner, anxiety abounds. Tension is palpable, not only among children, but more so among hyper-stressed parents. Often parents bring their children for counselling or therapy right before the exams with just one request – “Fix my child so he can score good marks”.
Some parents are so obsessed with making their child do well in exams that they seem like technicians trying to get their machines to perform at its optimum capacity. It worries me to think that these grade-crazed mom and dads are bringing up the next generation of citizens.
My wish for a better world propels me to write this article on compassionate parenting, where each tip I propose begins with a letter in the word “COMPASSIONATE”. Read on to know more about how you can become a kinder, calmer parent instead of trying to squeeze out that extra mark out of your helpless, depleted child.
- Create a safe space: As a parent, your primary responsibility is to create a safe emotional space where your child can communicate freely and openly. Begin by inviting your child to share his feelings. And, when he opens up, listen! Don’t interrupt or criticise, but just listen non-judgmentally.
- Orient yourself to reality: It is easy to get carried away by the dream of your child topping the exams. Parental pressure to perform well academically is one of the reasons for India having some of the most disturbing statistics related to childhood and teenage suicides. Remember, exams will keep happening. So, don’t make your child feel like a lifeless machine designed to churn out marks and top grades all the time. Give her the space she needs, and allow her to perform at her pace.
- Motivate, but don’t push: You can always motivate and inspire your child to work towards academic success, but there is a fine line that separates positive motivation from being overbearing. Be aware of when you might be crossing that line and starting to push him beyond his natural capabilities.
- Prioritise: Even if your child is appearing for the board exam, keep things in perspective. Exams are not the end of the world and results are not the be-all and end-all of existence. Have your priorities in place. Your child’s physical and emotional well-being is far more important than scoring that 99% in the exam. So, take care of her and meet her needs.
- Avoid put-downs: For some reason, parents think that put-downs and criticisms are effective motivators for a child to launch himself into performance mode. On the contrary, these can cause irreversible damage to your child’s self-esteem, causing his performance to plummet.
- Stop comparing: There is no such thing as positive comparison. When you compare your child to another, you are giving her the message that she is not good enough. This is detrimental to her psychological and emotional health.
- Stop taking out your frustrations on your child: Your child may be stressed, but he may not show it. If you believe that he is just whiling away his time, you might end up treating him with derision. You may also end up displacing your anger from other situations on your vulnerable child. All these can break his spirit. His performance will suffer more if you get into a habit of scolding or abusing him each time you are frustrated.
- Inject a dose of fun: Exams shouldn’t become the reason for life to become dreary! Take some time out for leisure and fun activities, both for yourself and for your child. She needs to understand that there is more to life than exams and that it is okay to take some ‘me-time’ out to relax and nurture herself before trudging on with studies.
- Observe your child for signs of stress: Don’t become so focused on the end goal of achieving high marks that you fail to notice tell-tale signs of stress or depression in your child. If his appetite or sleep patterns have changed, if you notice him becoming quieter and withdrawn, if he is more irritable than before – encourage him to talk about his feelings. If he doesn’t, seek professional help before it is too late.
- Nourish your child well: As a parent, it is your duty to nourish your child’s body, mind and spirit. Provide nutritious food, encourage daily physical activity, and insist on sufficient sleep to ensure that she stays physically and emotionally healthy. Instilling values like saying a prayer and family mealtimes can be tremendously helpful in providing the structure, routine and stability every child needs for healthy overall development.
- Accept your child unconditionally: I have met my fair share of parents who tell their children, “I will love you only if you perform well.” Such conditional love and so-called acceptance can sometimes cause more harm to the child’s psyche than even overt abuse. Every child seeks acceptance, especially from her primary caregivers. She needs to hear that she will be loved, no matter what. Work on instilling the belief that you will always be there for your child, regardless of her marks or academic grades.
- Teach study skills: I have seen parents wear themselves out trying to ‘teach’ their children. My suggestion to such parents is to teach their child effective study skills instead. Allow your child to make his timetable; you don’t do it for him. Let him take responsibility for his performance, not you. Let his marks be his own, not yours!
- Empower your child to face challenges: Your child needs to understand that success and failure are a part of life. Failing a test should not be portrayed as a catastrophe. Rather, assure your child that she can make up for it in the next test. Most importantly, you need to mean it when you tell your child that it is okay to fail. Remember, a child who never experiences failure would never develop skills needed to cope with one. Failure teaches a child to try again and builds his character. Children who fail and persevere are the ones who grow up to be more resilient and successful, and certainly more contented.
So, are you ready to reorient your attitude and work towards becoming a more compassionate parent?
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)
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