The Heart and the Bottle – Dealing with death (Book Review)

As parents the greatest lesson we can teach our children is conceptualising loss and pain: from as trivial as losing a toy in school to losing someone dear to your life, because the inevitable cannot be fortified.

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Read the Book Review on http://www.buzzingbubs.com/articles/the-heart-and-the-bottle-dealing-with-death

Why do children lie?

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Image from Shutterstock

Five year old Surbhi was a great story teller. Her parents, Nitya and Devesh were proud of their daughter’s story telling skill. They would often tell their friends and family about her talent, sometimes adding little bits and pieces here and there. A bit of harmless bragging won’t harm, will it; they thought, rather it carves out a much better picture of their daughter and her talent.

As children genetically are Surbhi picked up the hints left by her parents and mastered the art. It wasn’t long enough when apart from mastering the art of story-telling, Surbhi inadvertently picked up the habit of lying. For her it was just another form of story-telling. At her age she was ignorant of the consequences that her benign story might bring; a story that was just a figment of her innocuous brain.

Surbhi would imagine she was having pony princess parties, dress them up and would weave stories around them. She was excellent in making up stories around simple things. During her primary schooling, she would often come home with little Lego figurines from her school. When Nitya asked her why she was bringing home school toys, then she would say that the teachers have asked her to take them home. She would cite tall tales on how good and well behaved she was at school and how impressed her class teacher was with her that she gave the little Legos to her and told her that she was being rewarded for her good behaviour. The unsuspecting Nitya would hardly read between the lines and would in turn be proud of her little princess. However, after some days Surbhi refused to go to school anymore because it seems the ever appreciating teachers had suddenly turned villains. According to her they would scold her for no reason and also would tell her that she was a badly behaved girl. Yet everyday Nitya would find the Lego figurines in Surbhi’s pockets only to be told that now her friends have started giving her the toys.

It was only on one of the PTM’s that Nitya discovered her daughter’s habit of lying. That day Nitya and Devesh sat down to have a long chat with their daughter.

Young children like Surbhi spinning stories around unsuspecting and simple things don’t come as a surprise for us. In fact manipulating the truth for personal gains is viewed as a ‘developmental milestone, much like learning to get dressed by yourself or to take turns.’ Some studies have shown that bright kids who are able to pick up the nugatory and trivial data from their everyday life and spin phenomenal stories around them pick up the skill from a very early age, as early as 2-3 years. For older kids of age 4 and 5, the game is on big time and slowly they start mastering the art. Fortunately, just because your young child is a frequent fabler doesn’t mean that she’ll grow up to be a big, fat liar. However, as parents it is our job to identify the problem early and nip this bad habit before it becomes ingrained. Freaking out and screaming at your kid or punishing her won’t discourage her; in fact she may simply become a better liar to avoid getting caught the next time.

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Image from Shutterstock

Before the spin begins:

  1. Being Pro-active. As parents we should always play on our front foot; be pro-active rather than reactive. So we shouldn’t wait to catch our child lying for the first time to teach her the importance of truth and its consequences. He/she is in a much better position to listen to the parents if he/she isn’t on the defensive.
  2. Reading books. Books can help introduce the subject in a way that doesn’t seem accusatory. Books like Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew, by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, or Tell the Truth, B.B. Wolf are some books that are good in introducing the concept. Stories like Pinocchio and his Growing Nose are also best examples to introduce the little ones to the consequences of lying. Citing personal examples on how you lied when you were a child and what consequences followed will make the learning more at home.
  3. Setting examples. Children love to imitate their parents so citing personal examples and setting examples for them to follow through your daily behaviour on how you deal with situations and come out of it can give them a moral boost and encourage them not to lie.
  4. Talking to them about special cases. When children reach certain age say about 7 or 8 years, they begin to understand the nuances of being ‘prosocial’ or telling white lies. These are lies which are said in order to protect someone from getting hurt, (like you tell you love the present given by your mom or someone close to you even though you do not like it). In such cases as parents it is our duty to explain to our children that although we are telling a lie to save someone from getting hurt yet these are exceptions to honesty that cannot be resorted to on a regular basis to bail them out from difficult situations. A clear demarcation of boundaries is as important as conceptualization.
  5. Spending quality time with your children. Sometimes children lie to get your attention or when they feel that they are being neglected. They lie to cover up their insecurities; whether inside the house or outside; insecurities about school or about friends and peers. Talking to them about their fears and helping them over come them can only be done by talking to them and spending quality time.
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Image from Shutterstock

When There’s a Whopper in the Works:

You walk into your house after a bad day at work and find an elaborate drawing, made in permanent marker, on your bedroom wall. Uh-oh! The culprit knows she has invited trouble big time. Can’t you just see her little brain toiling extra time to come up with a way to wriggle out of situation? Even if you sense a con job coming, it’s not too late to help her come clean.

  1. Stay Calm. Although you are already in a battle within yourself but staying calm and not losing your temper is the only key to pull back your child from falling prey to the temptation. Children often take the easy way out when they fear your response.
  2. Don’t manipulate the little mind. The ice-cream that you bought yesterday is no-where to be found. When you walk into her room you see her playing with her toys, the ends of her lips still bearing the remnants of the ice-cream that she had tried hard to wipe clean with her tongue. Asking her whether she has done it or not is pointless for although you see it she doesn’t and she will try her best not to own up to it. So the best you can do instead of accusing her directly is tell her that ‘it is okay to catch a sweet snack in between meals but it is always the right thing to first ask Mommy about it.’
  3. Appreciate her honesty. Children love to be appreciated for the little good gestures and behaviour they do. The appreciation gives a positive vibe to them encouraging them to carry on the good work. So next time your child is honest make sure you do not miss the opportunity of appreciating her honesty. Little things can go great lengths.

Walking the Red Carpet…

“And The Award Goes to…”

A familiar phrase heard a number of times when we skim through the TV channels broadcasting the awards ceremonies for different categories of films and television shows. And it is not very often until one is himself/herself a movie star or a relative to a superstar that an ordinary person like myself get to attend these award shows. But I was lucky to attend one such show; I was lucky to walk the red carpet. If you are wondering which one then let me wade away the cloud of disbelief; it was the show of not the stars but the budding stars in different categories hosted by the International School of Billund; the super-stars of tomorrow.

As I made way into the dimly lit auditorium, I was greeted by a massive screen which said “1st ISB Movie Premiere”. Wow that was indeed inviting and exciting.

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So there were 4 movies which were to be screened for the premiere and the winners for all categories were to be decided from them. The movies were Robin Hood, Bloody Mary, The Little Red Riding Hood, and The Lego Movie 2.

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And the categories of winners were: Best Scriptwriter, Best Movie, Best Director, Best Editor, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cameraman, Best Sound, Best Costumes etc. Here are the awards that were to be given away to the best of the best.

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The children displayed some great levels of creativity, talent, motivation and enthusiasm in organizing this amazing show. All the movies were shot by the children of the Primary Section. They designed their own costumes, created the special effects, edited the videos. Even the awards were made by the children using different Lego Bricks.

The audience which included the parents were equally enthusiastic because am sure many including myself were attending a movie premiere followed by an awards ceremony for the first time in their lives; and all thanks to the wonderfully talented little kids.

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So the movies were screened and the awards were given out. There were a bunch of enthusiastic kids and parents who walked out of the auditorium feeling fulfilled.

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This was the first Annual Movie Premiere and Awards Ceremony of the ISB kids. Will be looking forward to more such amazing display of talent shows from these super talented kids. I wish we had such amazing exposure to the variety of opportunities that are being bestowed on today’s kids. But feeling extremely proud to be part of a team and school where kids are being given the opportunity and the scope for getting the best out of themselves. Kudos to team ISB and the wonderful kids.

Parenting ‘Digital Natives’

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It was another ordinary day in my household when my 5 year old daughter winded up her stories for the day, tidied up her toys and finally asked me for the tablet. As I enquired in turn what she would do with it she promptly replied she wanted to watch some cartoons on You Tube. As I handed over the tablet, carefully unlocking it from the password and hiding it from her simultaneously, she grabbed it and ran to her room. She would often bring it back to me when an advertisement would come up so that I could ‘Skip it’ for her and hand it back. But on this day she did not do what she would have normally done. When I went in to check on her after a while, she was busy with her ‘My Little Pony’ episodes. As I probed her on the popping advertisement, she told me, without even looking up that she could do that herself and did not want my help with them anymore and went back to her videos. It was at that very moment I realised how handy digital technology was for my ‘millenial kid’; how the ‘touch screen’ feature makes it more operational; requires no formal training; and just modelling parents suffices it all.

The most contentious term ‘Digital Natives’ is a term coined by educational writer Marc Prensky in the year 2001 to describe those children who spend most of their time and much of their lives ‘online’. It is a term used typically for people born after the year 1980’s. I am a ‘Retrophile’ who was born in the 80’s; an era where the shifting from manual to digital was transitional and still had miles to go; very unlike what it is today. It was that time in the history of the digital world where technology was neither easily available nor was it easily operational. Having an email id was esteemed more than possessing a tablet in today’s time. I remember as a young girl the day I got my first email id. It was such a matter of pride for me as I wrote it down on a piece of paper, carefully folded it to gloat it later in front of my friends and family and bask in its glory. Something similar to what the ‘millenial kids’ do on a video game or a computer game when they successfully complete a certain level or gain some ‘million’ points and trumpet about it among themselves. The only difference is the level of technological exposure rendered.

The term ‘Digital Natives’ is a highly controversial term which according to Sue Bennet, a former head teacher and literacy expert based in UK, gives rise to a situation common to all parents called ‘moral panic’; a situation which is neither empirically nor theoretically ascertained. What is my child watching? Is he/she watching age appropriate videos? There are number of questions that pop up in an indulgent modern day parent’s mind when they watch their child engrossed with a smart device; a feeling similar to our parents when the cable TV network became prevalent in most households and keeping a tab on what the children are watching on the television became increasingly important. Then came the child-lock system on the television which could child-proof specific channels; a feature which cannot be used with the inclusion of internet on our smart devices where the child is exposed to materials which are neither age appropriate or of any significant development value. We live in a risk-averse society and this is certainly true with regard to children. We know that children are likely to run risks if they access the internet unsupervised, or stay online for long periods of unbroken time. Adults’ fears for children and their worry about their own lack of control over their children are the single biggest obstacles to accepting digital technology. For example when my daughter touches the ‘You Tube’ button she is exposed to a world of various possibilities and options. She can watch streaming videos of cartoons to wild life to fashion to porn. A touch which opens up an infinite possibility of knowledge which may or may not be age appropriate or of any developmental value; knowledge which might just steal her innocence before time.

Is this ‘Moral Panic’ which is striking my conscience? Yes it is but I have two extreme choices that I can make in order to protect my child and her innocence from being trudged upon; either I can take away the device thus cutting her off from the various opportunities that the internet also offers and take her back 30-35 years to an era where I used to find pride in having just an email id and no computer, the nearest being about 5-7 Kms away from home; or I could just give her the device and monitor her viewing. Although I am tempted to go for the first option yet the second option seems more viable given the era she is born in. Technology provides awareness, awareness about everything that is happening around us, and if the technology is taken away, vulnerability is what we are reduced to. In a world where change is so dynamic, awareness keeps us agile and helps us in keeping up with the ever changing world.

In the educatory world some questions are frequently discussed: if children now do learn in different ways to children in the past? What are the implications for education? Are children now finding traditional schooling increasingly difficult to engage with? However, there is little evidence of serious dissatisfaction or disengagement in young children’s education so far, and making any change to our current educational system on the basis of speculation would have drastic consequences for children’s learning.

The fundamental mechanics of learning has not changed, but the world in which students live in has. Reading and writing is still essential, however, copying out your good copy versus editing the original on the computer is where the skills change. Concrete materials for math are still important, but some of the same concepts can be taught using technology too. Clicking an answer versus using pencil and paper is where it differs. Encyclopedias and dictionaries may never become obsolete although finding materials online is much easier. Reading books, going to the library to get new books to read, buying books from the bookstore or ordering them online did not phase out with the advent of e-readers. Invention and advancement of the digital world isn’t going away so soon. It is here to stay and it has its own share of positivity and negativity. But it is up to us to determine the usage of the advancement and invention to our advantage.

Parenting is a tough task and parenting in a ‘digital age’ to ‘Google Kids’ is even tougher. Giving in to peer pressure where another child has access to a smart device whereas your child hasn’t is another area where we as parents should shift our focus too. Children are very observant and modelling behaviour is what they often do. As children they do not realise what they need and what they don’t; but as parents it is our job to make the right decisions for them.

I have often witnessed parents giving their smart devices to their children in order to finish off the pending office work, or keeping them engaged as they have their meals, or just shutting them up when they are socialising. I do not remember my parents switching on the television for me when I hovered around their heads pestering them when they were in the middle of a conversation with their friends. They would instead ask me to go for a ride with my bike in the neighbourhood and come back after half hour or they would ask me to take my toys and go out and play with other kids in the garden.

Children are born inquisitive in nature. They do not hold back from observing, experimenting and implementing. Anything that instantly captures a child’s imagination; whether it is their favourite football team; or a particular video game; or their favourite Disney princess; they readily adopt them. Therefore they are likely to be drawn to any technology that advertises or displays these interim attributes. Technology, especially the touch-screen based technology is the fascinating of all since it opens up the doors of possibilities and knowledge with just a touch. It is even more enticing because it still has an element of novelty in it. The technological enigma gets to a whole new level when it is portable and touch-screen. However, examples of the apparent risks associated with constant exposure to the internet and the virtual world can be determined in the works of many educators worldwide. They have conducted extensive research work on the plausible psychological effects on the developing brain of a child; environmental influence, and the risks associated with digital technology. Some of the risks that have been identified by researchers are:

  1. Aggressive responses in children caused by playing violent and often aggressive video games
  2. Interference with psycho-social well-being and children’s attention
  3. The potential for disrupted sleep and damage to children’s health.

Some online searching and you might also find current research into so-called internet addiction, aggressive game-playing and bullying, which have also been linked to children’s exposure to the digital world. Many educators have documented their research like Sue Bennet, in her book Toxic Childhood: How The Modern World Is Damaging Our Children And What We Can Do About It.

It is really hard for us as parents not to fear for our children when we see the popular headlines about potential hazards of digital technology. However, apart from its tremendous damaging effect on children’s lives as they become distract, impulsive and more self-obsessed, digital technology has great potential for having a positive impact in all our lives including that of our children too. I have seen my daughter’s language skills as well as her cognitive ability in observing, analyzing, relating and implementing things that she sees on the You Tube videos has increased considerably. As parents our duties and responsibilities do not end with providing exposure to our children; in fact it is just the humble beginning. Teaching about the effective use of the technology and channeling it in the right direction for gaining relevant knowledge falls within our spectrum of responsibilities. Restricting access to technology also restricts opportunities for our children to develop resilience against future harm. However, if we can identify sites where we can encourage our children to go online and explore different platforms of possibilities rather than locking them into our safe walled gardens then probably children will spend their time more in the suggested links rather than spending their time casting around other websites where opportunistic invitations might lead them to trouble.

‘Call me Caitlyn’

call me caitlynA transgender or a cisgender, is not uncommon to us especially when we come from India where we see transgender people often on the traffic lights beating their hands in a certain way or on the trains or barging in someone’s house when a child is born or on a wedding. In India there is a certain phobia circling these kinds of people; a phobia of sorts. But one thing that is similar among all the feelings that we have for these people is the feeling of fear and apathy. Fear because we think that this community are a special kind and upsetting them might invite wrath of the gods; and apathy because we see them as people who are different.

The ‘Hijra’ or the transgender community has held place in the subcontinent from ancient times. But even now the Hijras have limited opportunities for employment and so can be forced onto a path of high-risk behaviour. The combination of high-risk behaviour with limited prevention alternatives has resulted in the increased vulnerability of Hijras to HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Since time immemorial transgender people face double stigma and discrimination from within the community and outside mainstream society as they are always looked upon as different. They are always seen as men having sex with other men. But certainly this perception is not true. They are just people with the wrong souls in the wrong body.

So when I watched Bruce Jenner transform into Caitlyn Jenner I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the predicament of scores of transgender and cisgender people back home in India who are not fortunate enough to have that kind of financial leverage that Caitlyn had to successfully transform themselves and fit into our perception of a ‘woman’. They keep on struggling all their lives trying to fit into our perception of how a ‘woman’ should be and should look like. Caitlyn Jenner was as much a woman as she was even before she went through the transformation of outside attributes which would signify her gender. The way she feels now was as much similar to the way she felt before. It’s the same feeling that many transgender and cisgender people all around the world feel about themselves and their sexual preferences. The only difference is the financial strength. While Caitlyn Jenner had the financial power to transform herself many others are not fortunate enough to do that. In fact there are many in India who struggle each day to get life-saving medicines to keep themselves alive due to the various health issues especially HIV-AIDS.

The attitude of people towards the transgender and cisgender people are slowly changing. But we still have a long way to go in bringing about a significant change in our attitudes. Being what they are was not a matter of choice for the transgender folks. The recent appointment of a transgender person as the principal of a college in India is a striking example of the changing times. Somnath Bandopadhyay had loads of first class degrees in his kitty along with impressive oratory skills. But his skills and his degrees couldn’t fetch him the respect he deserved because of his preference of dressing like a woman, putting kohl in his eyes and keeping his hair curly. He was ridiculed and made a laughing stock. It wasn’t his fault when he said “I feel I am a woman trapped in the body of a man. I want to conquer my body. As such people keep saying I am effeminate so I think I will be much better off if I become a woman” in one of his interviews. It wasn’t his fault because he did not make that choice of feeling what he was feeling. He was born in that way. So he changed himself into Manabi Bandopadhyay to spare himself the constant struggle of feeling differently and looking differently. Something similar to what Bruce Jenner did when he transformed himself into Caitlyn Jenner.

The struggles of life that a transgender faces might be greater if not less than what we face. The ridicule, the apathy, the struggle of fitting in to the societal perceptions and social decree is much more in the life of a transgender than us. While some are lucky to have the financial viability for the transformation and successfully fitting themselves in to the slot of our perceptions, there are many who are not fortunate enough. We as a society and as part of the society should start respecting these transgender people in whatever way they are and accept them among us without judging them; and it is for the simple fact that they were born that way and did not have a choice. The more we stop judging them the lesser they can focus on progressing in their life and being successful than meeting our expectations of gender perceptions. Had we been less judgmental on these people then Bruce Jenner and Somnath Bandopadhyay wouldn’t have lost their identity to Caitlyn Jenner and Manabi Bandopadhyay just to meet our gender biased expectations.