Let’s get one thing out of the way, right off the bat. Junior is not young and naive any more. The things that used to fly with him no longer do. I discovered this in the most awkward way. The other day, he came home with one of his tooth pulled out. He had stored it in his now empty water bottle. He went ahead and asked me that since he has now learnt to pull out his teeth, whether I could put more money under his pillow. His ballpack figure was Kshs.100. Here’s some perspective for you. I always used to put Kshs.10 under his pillow as he slept, and we all went along playing the “tooth fairy” ruse. I have absolutely no idea when or wherefrom, that he discovered that I am the “tooth fairy” over and above the mother! Now here we are, tooth in hand and Junior asking for a raise of 900%. I, of course, am staring at him with this “deer in the headlights” look. Should I apologize for calling myself the “tooth fairy”? Should I send him to his room for extortion and playing dump for God knows how long?
Another thing we need to get out of the way is there is no better person to raise a child than a parent. That said, our generation is the working parent generation. This means that not only are we busy bringing home the bacon from 8am-5pm (ok this phrase is ridiculous how much bacon can people eat?), but we are also finding ourselves eating into more hours in our days, including weekends and public holidays (we Kenyans love these but we love money more). This means, no matter how much we wish to spend time with our children, they end up spending more time in school with the teachers. Thus, giving the teachers a responsibility to not only teach the children but also educate them in the ways of the world.
So Junior comes home last evening and as he dumps his heavy sack of books he asks to nobody in particular; (really sometimes he just throws questions out there for anybody to pick up and answer him) “why are girls treated better than boys?” The adults in the house look at one another and assumes he must be talking to himself (he has inherited this from me that’s why I know he was not swapped at the hospital). After realizing that we are all playing deaf, he repeats. This time, he throws the question to me. Now here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I have to be very careful how I handle this situation. We have already determined that fairy tales no longer works with this boy and even for candid talks, I am not interested in confusing him more than I have to. So I go ahead and ask him why he thinks this is the case.
The story goes that during break, one of the girls was trying to get the attention of some boys who were playing but the boys were so engrossed with play and they really did not have time to engage the poor girl. Wait, no. This girl is not to be referred to as the “poor girl” because as soon as one of the boys decided to dismiss her and tell her to go and find another game, the girl went ahead and kicked the boy! Yes, I know. At this point, the boy is nearly flying in a blind rage, but luckily, the teachers are always keeping a close watch on the children as they play, and SHE intervenes. Notice how I have capitalised her gender. You will see why. At this point, recess is cut short and said teacher is having a chat with the kids and what he tells them is that girls are delicate flowers and they should not be treated badly. Of course the boys start asking, “what if the girl hits a boy”? The teacher says that it should be reported.
Now, the above response, is, by all intents and purposes, the best and the teacher was right, up until then. Where she failed miserably is when she went ahead and told the children that girls cannot take care of them and it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of them. She then went ahead and said that boys are supposed to be strong and should not cry and when they get hurt, they should tough it out. They should not report everything that happens to them and they should be able to handle a little roughness. Agreed, they should be able to handle a little roughness. But who said that they should be treated different than boys? Is it a wonder that today’s male figure is feeling left out? That the girl child is getting all the attention? Does that mean that men do not have issues that should be equally addressed? What happens when that boy grows up and he has to interact with society? Do you think he will have the same understanding he would have had if he would have received all the care and attention that he needed when he was young?
Back to Junior and I. I painstakingly took time to inform him that it is true, boys tend to be stronger than girls and he should never feel the need to push or hit a girl. If the girl does similar things, the best thing to do is to walk away and report it to the teacher or let me know for a more diplomatic handling of the situation. I did emphasize that all human beings are equal and we should all try to treat each other with respect, just like we would like others to treat us. Hence, the situation of “why are girls more special than boys” was sufficiently diffused.
As parents, it is only natural to take a dictatorial approach as far as our children are concerned. There is no manual or handbook on parenting, and, believe it or not, children have personalities, even when they are very young. We all want to be the best parents we can be. Hopefully even better than our own parents were to us. Having said that, we can sometime be a little overbearing. Ok, a lot even.
Parents assume that children do not know what they are doing or what they want. A common pitfall, which even I fall into from time to time. Having dealt with children from different backgrounds at the Kids Book Club, my general parenting methods have come into question. Not a bad thing, as I have learnt so much, and continue to learn.
The 3 major things I’ve learnt through parenting and caregiving are:
Be A Facilitator
Children are not mindless creatures or machines that are waiting for us to feed them commands. They come fully loaded with their own programs, and our jobs as parents or caregivers is to help them put these programs or personalities in modes that they can understand and follow, without feeling overwhelmed. The best way to do this is provide rules, guidelines and choices. When you want a child to do something, let them know that they can make a choice. Teach them to make choices as early as you possibly can. For example, you decide you want your child to have a new toy. Carry them along. Depending on how young they are, start with 3 toy choices. Tell them they can pick whichever they like. At first, the child will want all of them, and it may even be a struggle. Gently, but firmly, inform them they can have either one toy or none at all. Stand aside, and only intervene when the child requires you to. In the end, they will pick one. With time, they will develop their own ‘choice’ mechanism and in the process, they will not feel stifled, and you will not keep wondering what your child likes.
Accept That Children Will Have Good Days And Bad Days
As an adult, you sometimes wake up feeling out of sorts. Overwhelmed even. Tired, like you have not slept for days. This also applies for children. They will wake up cranky. They do not know what is happening, as these may sometimes be new experiences for them. You are not doing yourself or the child any favors by yelling at them, or forcing them to be a certain way, or trying to cheer them up in annoying ways. Try reversing the roles and imagine your friend or your spouse or partner trying these stunts on you when you are in a funky mood. Your every instinct will be to punch the lights out of them! Be there for your child. Speak kindly and when they scream, don’t join in the match to see who can yell the loudest. Speak in a firm, soft tone and inform them that they need to sit down and only talk to you when they can do it in a reasonable manner so that you can understand what they are saying. I have done this on a continuous basis with my son and at the Kids Book Club so I know how well it works.
Lead By Example
Let’s take the above scenario as an example. Your child is in a cranky mood. That means that they will yell or cry at the drop of a hat. You decide to take the approach of yelling back. Do you see that going anywhere productive? Let’s even go further and say you are in a cranky mood yourself. You go around kicking everything in site, including the cat, and yelling at your child when they come trying to talk to you. What has the poor cat done to you? What has the poor child done to you? Are they really the cause of your foul mood? What if, instead, when your child comes to you, you gently let them that mommy or daddy is not feeling very nice today and you would like a few minutes to relax? And of course, steer away from the cat? If you have already set good communication between you and your children, you will be surprised at how willing they are to help you get back to feeling good and they will leave you alone, even for 15 minutes stretches at a time before coming to check on you. For some reason, this show of concern by a child is so endearing, you will find yourself back into a close to normal mood in no time.