I must have been 10 years old. I was caught telling a lie.
My father cornered me, gave me a tight slap and thundered, “Who taught you to tell a lie?”
Afraid that I would get a few more slaps, I blurted out my cousin’s name, just to escape further trouble. (My poor cousin got an earful, for no fault of his. Gracious soul that he is, he has forgiven me, but not forgotten that event even after nearly 55 years!)
In a child’s world there is a thin line between truth, fantasy and a lie. When he says “I am Hanuman, I am going to cross the seas” and jumps from one sofa to another, he is not telling a lie. Is he?
Going back to my trouble with my father, it is my fear that drove me to take the easy way out. How does one help the child overcome his fears? This is the biggest challenge for not only parents but grand parents too. Fears that stalk them at night, during dusk hours, walking a particular street or whatever.
It is here that I see parents lack empathy. Put yourself in the child’s shoes and feel the way he feels. What is required is a warm hug, soothing, reassuring words – not sermonising.
As much as we pay attention to the child’s physical health, we must prepare the child’s mental strength too.
When I was a kid, I remember our neighbour used to make her two sons read the newspaper everyday. She was a headmistress in a school. Both her sons could read any one page and ask her questions about things they did not understand. This was to ensure they did not read only the sports pages.
Imagine doing this today. May be it is a good way of helping the child read about many of the difficult issues. Terrorism for instance. Or Child abuse. Or trafficking. But it should not stop at the child reading it. A conversation must follow that. The parent must prepare himself or herself with simple, clear unambiguous, scientific answers wherever possible. And stay away from bias of any kind. If you have given the licence to ask, you must not duck the responsibility to answer. This requires hard work that demands time, study and willingness to educate ourselves (Let us face it – many of today’s issues were unheard of during our childhood days).