How Parenting Experts Discipline Their Children — Part 2

Do you keep worrying about your child—from her being skinny to her tech addiction? Life skills expert Aparna Balasundaram talks about how she overcame these hurdles as a parent.

By Jasmine Kaur

How Parenting Experts Discipline Their Children — Part 2

Aparna Balasundaram, a psychotherapist and life skills expert with over 22 years of experience, believes that while we must not push our children, we need to help them realise their potential by testing their limits.

Although she is an expert in family therapy, parenting, marriage and counselling, as a parent, she struggled with issues most parents face today – fussy eating and screen addiction. But, by working with her children’s personalities and setting reasonable limits she was able to overcome these problems.

In a detailed interview, we talk to the expert on her parenting philosophies, challenges she faced and how parents can prevent gadget addiction in their children. Following are the excerpts.

What are the two parenting mistakes you didn’t want to make from the beginning?

I knew that I didn’t want to try to change my children into something they were not. I didn’t want to alter their innate personality but work on their strengths. I also was careful about not pampering them too much. I do believe that we do our best when our limits are stretched, so I didn’t want to get too comfortable or not help my children see their potential. If you lower your expectations from your children, then that’s the bar you set for them. I am a little old school in my approach and while I believe you should not push your children, you should definitely encourage them to stretch their limits and explore their potential. My husband and I were very clear about that.

The two discipline-related issues you struggled with most as a parent...

My daughter was a very fussy eater. And, because we come from a family of non-fussy eaters and big eaters, it was hard to understand why she was fussy. So, it was difficult to adjust with the fact that it is okay if she doesn’t like chicken and I like it and that she would have ‘bhindi’ instead of chicken. So, I made sure that she ate healthy and well.

With my son, when he was 10 or 11 years old, he was very into video games. So, I had to manage the time he spent on video games and make sure that he didn’t go overboard. This was eight years ago.

How did you deal with these issues?

With my daughter, I understood I needed to change my attitude. At that time, we used to live in the USA and my daughter spent the first three years of her life there. Everything there works at a fast pace and there is not much space to play and run. So, I needed to change my mindset and accept that it’s okay if she doesn’t eat as much as I think she ought to. As long as the paediatrician said she was okay, I didn’t have to worry. Secondly, I needed to get more creative in giving her healthy choices. My daughter is very creative and has an artistic bent of mind. So, I presented food that appealed to her creative sensibilities. Thus, working with her personality helped me.

For my son, we came up with a rule. We told him that he was allowed half-an-hour of screen time in a day, provided he earned it by helping out at home. We didn’t link it to grades but to other things like feeding the dog, doing the chores and so on. We helped him see that he had to earn the half-an-hour screen time. He bought into it because he understood that we were just not making rules but there was some logic behind it as well.

Some tips you would like to share with parents struggling with similar issues...

As Indians, we are very hung up on having chubby kids. If your paediatrician is at peace with the growth charts, you should not worry. Also, we need to be creative with our food. We should experiment with cuisines from other countries as well. Unfortunately, in India, pizza and Chinese food is looked down upon as junk food. But for an Italian, pizza and pasta are staple food items. So, instead of buying pizza, try and make it at home in a healthy way. Similarly, experiment with noodles, and try and create a healthy version of it at home. We should not be stuck up on traditional food.

Screen time is a huge issue with a lot of parents. I think that parents need to be assertive. You need to drive home the point that screen time is a privilege and not a right. And, that children can earn the privilege by doing chores around the house or finishing homework on time or reading an extra chapter. Be firm about it and the sooner you start enforcing this rule, the better it would be. Parents having a 15 or 16-year-old complain to me about their child’s phone addiction. But, when we look back, we find that it was parents who handed the child the phone to keep him occupied. So, I think we need to be really careful about it.

Even parenting experts face issues of their own. But, a firm hand and a well-thought-out approach helps overcome most hurdles. However, if you feel that the situation is beyond your control or you aren't able to come up with a solution, make sure to get an expert’s opinion.

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Written by Jasmine Kaur on 31 December 2018.

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