Saturday, June 29, 2002

Make a place for your child at home
Niti Paul Mehta

"EVERY HOME", said Mahatma Gandhi, "is a university and the parents are its teachers."

Mahatma Gandhi was obviously referring to the parents’ role in the upbringing and education of the child. The family exercises great influence on the growth and development of the child. It plays a crucial role in shaping the child’s personality.

The home environment, to the extent it exercises control and supervision over the upbringing of the child, determines in a great measure his overall growth. For his basic physical, emotional and social needs, the child depends completely on the parents, especially in the first years of his life. He needs their affectionate care, guidance and gentle checks wherever necessary.


In the process of growth the child picks up myriad influences from the family. He learns to speak the language of the family. He picks up the social habits of his parents. He begins to respond and react much like them. He naturally imbibes the value system of the family. Parents transmit their concepts to the child through their day-to-day interactions with him. And these provide direction to the child’s growth.

"Which factors", asks Margaret Mead, "in upbringing help to produce a child who is gentle, contented, good-hearted and trusting, neither aggressive, overly ambitious, nor reckless?" Basing her conclusion on the results of her studies, she herself goes on to provide the answer. "There is a fine and clear connection", she says, "between the way a child is fed, put to bed, disciplined and encouraged and the final product as an adult."

Seemingly small things, done with love and affection, go a long way towards developing the right type of attitudes in the child.

The face and complexion of the traditional family have undergone a radical change. In the traditional family the child was never alone. It never felt lonely.

Since largely it was the joint family system that prevailed, grandparents, aunts and uncles often lived under the same roof. The child had enough company and supervision. That situation has changed now. The emphasis is now on nuclear, independent families, consisting mainly of parents and the child (ren). Besides, the number of working parents has registered an unprecedented increase. The society is fast becoming a society of working couples. When both parents are working, the child has to stay alone at home for long hours. There is not enough parental supervision. The child is deprived of parental affection and proper care. There is hardly any real mothering. This adversely affects the emotional development of the child.

In many cases, right from its infancy the child is left in a creche while the mother goes to work. In a creche two or three ayahs sometimes look after 15 to 20 children. Arrangements for feeding and caring for the child in many such creches are not satisfactory.

Neglected early, the child, as it grows up, learns to keep itself busy outside the home in the company of his peers. It picks up the language, the culture and the values of its peer group. If the child is lucky and finds good company, it somehow grows well without the needed contribution of the parents. But some children drift into bad company and pick up bad habits.

In fact, an increasing number of parents now complain about their "bad" children. The most common complaint is: "He has taken nothing from me, not a single good habit. He’s all that I am not." The truth is the parents of such a child never "gave" him anything, that is, the things they now expect from him. Parents also complain about the child’s total lack of interest in the home. He does not respond to the advice of the parents. He does not show much concern for the feelings of the parents and the other members of the family. He is generally casual and indifferent in his behaviour.

The fact is that the family has lost its hold on the child. The traditional family bonds have become weak. The outside environment has become dominant. The media, the new wave magazines, the TV and the internet have taken hold of the child. The child has come under their influence in a big way.

The main responsibility for the emergence of this situation must rest with the family. Today’s child seems to be growing with many grudges against the parents. It is always when the home loses interest in the child that the child loses interest in the home. Like everyone else, the child also wants to have his own identity. He wants his due place in the family. It craves for a sense of belonging. The parents must realistically plan their daily routine. He should be made to feel that he is an important member of the family and, as he grows, he should feel convinced that he has an important role to play in the affairs of the family. He should have a sense of participation. The only way to deal with the situation is to make the child feel wanted.