More articles by

Ancy K Sunny
Ancy K Sunny


The fine line between control and freedom


Can parental control and happy kids coexist?

A random chat with a colleague led us to simple complexities of parenting. He, a father of two little girls, gave me, a novice in the field, a slice of wisdom. Imagine you are asking your child what she wants for breakfast. You offer her A or B. The child, in all her innocence, asks you if she can have C instead. Remember, you never mentioned an option C. Here's the tricky part—you either offer to cook option C or stick to your stand and make it clear that she will have to choose either A or B. My colleague warns me that if I yield to my child's demand and provide option C, then, exactly at that point in time, I would have lost control over my child.

'Control' is one word that triggers the biggest battles in most homes, even if it is with a toddler. As mother of a one-year old girl, almost every other day, I can feel the power of a toddler—be it when she screams and struggles out of my hold because she doesn't want to come back home from a stroll, or fights for the TV remote and orders me to play nursery rhymes video. All this with physical gestures, and seemingly nonsensical monosyllabic sounds.

On a revolutionary day, when I was tired of caving in to this kind of pressure, I stood up for myself. My toddler, a crazy fan of biscuits and cookies, demanded I open the purple tin and give her a biscuit. I decided I was going to break her connect with biscuits, and said no. She cried and screamed for about 10 minutes straight. I went about my chores, and she followed me around, crying. After the stipulated period, she found other things to do. Besides the health debate about her love for biscuits, what bothered me more was perhaps the fact that things were getting out of my control. And I sought to fix it. 

Most parents feel helpless, especially when your toddler is screaming at the top of her voice, sometimes even holding his or her breath. We have seen them everywhere—parents who let go of the control over their child. We have seen them in parks, in train compartments, and in malls when a whining toddler rolls on the floor demanding a white toy car. He doesn't care if he has a red one at home. And to avoid the extremely embarrassing turn of events, flustered parents succumb to the manipulative pressure. While we all want our kids to grow up as freethinking persons who voice their choice, we do not want them to end up as brats who believe they can get whatever they want by throwing a tantrum.

It is important to guide your child’s behaviour from a young age, as much as it is to let your child enjoy their childhood. For parents, striking the right balance could need more than talent, or probably a trial-and-error technique because every child is different—some lie low, others are fighters. When your child behaves rudely, or gets into an unsafe situation, you lose it and the adrenaline rush sends you into a defensive mode. Calm down and flex those 'gentle but stern' parenting muscles. 

 1. Ensure that parenting does not always become a series of "NO(s)". Limit situations where you will have to say no. For instance, you know your toddler is exploring and will climb up that stair, or try to topple the flat-screen TV, or peep into a bucket full of water in the bathroom. Anticipate these situations and fix them before you have to say no. Do not let restrictions be an excuse for your fallback.

 2. Get straight to the point. Do not use long sweet sentences and dilute the seriousness of it all. Explain why it should not be done, and modulate your voice. Take care not to raise your voice or sound angry. But at the same time, the child needs to know it is not acceptable. Also, studies have shown that often strong physical gestures like a raised finger speak volumes than verbal instructions. Let them know you mean business.

 3. Mind your body language. This applies not just if you are talking to your boss, but to your arrogant toddler, too. Kneel down, or crouch, come down to their level when you want to make a point. Let them feel that you have come down low.

 4. Always pay heed to your tone. A neutral tone is best. But never a raised tone. While we are steaming, this may not come easy, but do try. Because, children, however young they are, easily absorb what's happening around them and whether their parents are pissed off. A rude tone can even scare a toddler, which is really not a good idea.

 5. Lastly, be a reasonable parent. While we want our kids to be safe and well-behaved, do not over-expect. A one-year-old who has just begun to walk, is bound to go on an exploration spree. Children go through a barrage of changes, physically and emotionally, even before they get a hold of what's happening. So, give them that leeway. 

Physical abuse is never a way to get things done with children. But sometimes, a physical act can do the job. One pat should do. But not when you are angry, and not to hurt the child. All said, nothing is foolproof. And all techniques require continuous revisions as our little brats grow older and pick up new tricks. 

Proud of my new-found wisdom in parenting, the other day I sat down in front of my daughter, held her, looked at her, pointed a finger and said sternly: “No biscuits. Biscuits are bad.” Almost suddenly, she burst out into loud chuckles, showing off her new bunny teeth. What a joke, she must have thought.

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