When I was in grade one, my favourite subject, English had the story of Casabianca as the opening chapter of my English Reader.Back then, I was pretty amazed by the fact that a ten-year-old child chose to keep standing on the burning deck of a war ship because his father had asked him to not move till he told him so.
This story has stayed with me as the ultimate example of a child’s obedience to their parent’s instruction. As a six-year-old I might not have given much thought to this story had it not been repeatedly quoted by my parents every time I tried to do things my way or rather in their words, disobeyed them.
An emotional battle ensued in my mind when I looked up to my parents to follow their footsteps. I could clearly see my parents never practice what they preached but when I tried to follow suit I was reprimanded with an angry outburst. The fear instilled in my little heart in those early years made me an obedient child to not only my parents but also to every authoritarian figure who tried to control me using anger or threats of serious punishment.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” ~ Noam Chomsky
In hindsight, I can see how my fear made me a quiet, utterly obedient, introvert, who lacked self-esteem and always waited for instructions before doing anything. As disturbing it sounds, it felt utterly disgusting to be the one who was caged by her own fears. Be it my tyrant boss at work or the ill-tempered ex-husband, all benefited by controlling me with their anger just like my parents did when I was a child.
The irony of this situation came to fore when each of these people expected me to act a self-reliant, confident individual the minute I stepped out of the premises of their control. My parents have at many times expressed their utter disbelief that a well-educated woman like me could withstand an abusive marriage without raising an alarm.
It is times like these that make me want to yell and tell them that their misguided notion (or rather driven by their motive to control a young life) of obedience ruined my life’s prime quarter.
The day I was reborn, on the day of my child’s birth, something in me cracked. It was my old weak self. A face-to-face encounter with death showed me the face of life I wished for my precious child, but to make it happen, I had to wage a war.
I had to fix a lot of issues in my own personality, had to break free from a number of shackles. And I did succeed on a number of fronts. But, when my child grew up, I was faced with the baffling situation, how to inculcate discipline in her life, without acting like a tyrant. Besides, I cannot completely deny that I do want her to obey my instructions on many occasions.
This dilemma has been plaguing my mind on and off. While I try my best to let Pari have free choices in all that we do, I allow her plenty of room to talk freely, brief her about what to expect in situations when we are outside home, but still there are times when I crave for obedience from my 4-year-old. It is not triggered by my parents constant mentioning that I am giving too much freedom to my child given her tender age and the difficult times we live in. But, being a parent I am aware there are times when I don’t have all the time in the world to explain every situation to her or let her have things her way when she picks up a Belgian glass vase at a friend’s place.
This is why I have worked out a rough draft of the strategy I usually employ to have Pari do things ‘as said’. These could be something as simple as to study for sometime on school holidays, or to turn off the TV at meal-times or to not throw a tantrum for something she clearly can’t have then and there.
- Be gentle and control your emotions: Letting my frustration shine bright in my words is a clear recipe of my instruction falling over deaf ears. Kids have a way of sensing the desperation and are somehow designed to play their mind rather than obliging immediately. Trying anger to control is a very bad move. One, cause it instills fear in the child that is mostly counter-productive in the long run. Secondly, a child like Pari who has her mind of her own would only throw a tantrum but will not co-operate. Being gentle, clear about what you’re expecting yet firm is the key.
- Be consistent: Being consistent in our instructions is crucial. What is not acceptable today, should also be unacceptable the coming week and also in the presence or absence of family or guests. Bending this rule needs intervention with an explicit explanation in a neutral time. Like I don’t allow Pari to drink packaged fruit juices on a daily basis with her snacks, but when it is a party or we visit friends and they offer fruit juice to her, I expect her to accept without waiting for me to nudge and give her a lengthy explanation then. So a bit of open talk on what is not allowed and why, helps because kids love pushing boundaries.
- Practice what you preach: This is one rule about which I have been very conscious in my growing up years. The day Pari was born, I knew what all things I wanted different from my own life and to implement this plan I have been working hard in changing my habits tirelessly. Be it reading books or regular exercise, staying away from junk myself or having a disciplined routine everyday of the year. I try hard to lead by example.
- Stick to your word: I follow through what I say. When I tell Pari that if she won’t put back her toys in the toy box she won’t be getting to see cartoon that evening. I stick to my word. Pari tries hard to play her cute self to make my heart melt, tries to push boundaries by getting things done her way by influencing her grandparents and the list is pretty long, but I stand a firm ground, because if I don’t, I’ll never be able to discipline her.
- Encourage openly: Every time Pari does as I request her to, I make it a point to mention her good behavior. Everybody loves to be told that they made the right choice and that’s exactly what I tell Pari to reinforce her thinking that how she should learn to choose one thing over the other. I can always see a shine of pride in her eyes that lasts long after I praised the choice she made.
- Rewards: There are occasions when a little reward for good behavior like an ice-cream, a sticker or a new eraser as a token of appreciation of exceptionally good behavior doesn’t hurt and serves to encourage the child.
- Win over the child with attention: This came to me as a rather surprise. After I started giving Pari defined spells of positive, undivided attention, she has grown utterly responsive to my requests. She fusses less, tries to see where I’m coming from and has become overly forgiving.This has been a humbling change in my life. I feel tremendously less stressed and am loving basking in the loving obedience of my child.
- Nothing is absolute: A child’s obedience can never be absolute, there are bound to be times when the child clearly refuses to listen to what is being said, despite repetition. This is when we need to stop for a second, walk up to the child, seek his full attention and find out what is keeping him from listening to you. I have understood that our kids don’t share our priorities. Like for Pari playing dress-up is far more important that keeping the room tidy. But when I need to get her to act otherwise, I need to have a small talk with her when her full attention is on me, telling her why I want her to clean up the room. The feeling of personal attention and giving due importance to what she holds prime helps her loosen up and listen to me. If I yell the instructions from across the hall, I can be assured that they will never be followed despite the whole neighborhood having heard it.
- Being Human: We got to bear in mind that we are all humans who resist being pushed around to do things. Our children too. Teaching a child to be obedient, never questioning what they’re being asked to do can raise only submissive adults with no power to stand up for themselves. On the contrary creating an open environment that teaches self-discipline helps raise individuals with an open mind, who listen, analyse and freely make constructive choices.
Obedience is best not sought from our children. Instead encouraging them to grow into self-disciplined individuals will help them stand their ground, make astute choices in life to grow up into happy, confident individuals who will always stop to listen what we have to say even they don’t do it as it is.
Had Casabianca followed his heart instead of being obedient, he would have survived that fateful day.
Have you been an obedient child?
Do your children obey your instructions?
* This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge 2016. My theme is Parenting.
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