“Kids are tough. They deal with stuff.”
How often have you heard adults say that, or perhaps said it yourself? We have all grown up believing that taking care of kids largely means providing for their material needs, and the emotional aspects will sort themselves out. Ever wonder, then, why the world has increasing numbers of dysfunctional people? Why, despite increasing standards of living, the psychiatrists’ clinics and the liquor shops are fuller than ever? Why anti-depressants are doing a roaring business?
Psychologists link all of this to childhood hurts, or ‘inner child hurts’. And that is largely a result of our conditioning—our emphasis on material gratification and developing our kids’ IQ (intelligence quotient) to assure their success in life. A child’s EQ (emotional quotient) is generally a neglected aspect, a significant factor behind the growing numbers of emotionally depleted people in the world.
Childhood lays the foundation of an individual's personality, and a well-nurtured childhood usually makes for balanced, well-adjusted adults, and a stable society. For this, one needs to pay attention to the emotional aspects of a child’s growth—self esteem, confidence, attitude, ability to deal with both success and failure, and social skills, to name but a few.
Here are 5 factors that are crucial to the child’s EQ:
1. Family Atmosphere
A child derives her primary sense of self from her family atmosphere. The environment in which the child is born and brought up is, naturally, the most crucial to her emotional development. A child brought up in a hostile, acrimonious atmosphere, where parents (or maybe other members of an extended family) are usually at loggerheads with each other, is sure to develop low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Depending upon her intrinsic nature, such a child could either become morbidly shy and self-effacing, or else, extra-bold and aggressive. Anger issues are a common feature in both cases, albeit expressed in different ways.
A child who grows up in a harmonious, loving home, on the other hand, develops a core of emotional security, confidence and a sense of self-worth. There are, of course, quarrels and disagreements in every family, but a child’s instinct infallibly tells her whether these are temporary spats or serious fights.
2. Sibling Rivalry and Peer Pressure
Sibling rivalry and peer pressure are both much-discussed topics. Both are vital to a child’s sense of identity, since humans are social beings and define their identity in the context of their peers.
It is natural for siblings to vie with each other for the elders’ affection and approval, and to be competitive over achievements. However, parents need to remember that no two children are the same—not even identical twins! Also, it is natural for one sibling or the other to get the limelight, either on account of talent, good performance, or even good behavior or good looks, thus making the other/s feel neglected. Since parents cannot control the behavior of others around them, they need to communicate very clearly to their kids that for them they are all the same, and to treat all their children the same, even if they inwardly feel a preference for any one.
As far as peer pressure is concerned, most kids want desperately to ‘blend in’ with their friends’ group. While this can have enormous benefits like encouraging them to form productive study groups and develop good habits, it often has destructive effects too. For instance, a child who sees his peers flaunting expensive clothes and accessories that his own parents cannot afford may quickly develop feelings of inferiority. Parents need to be especially vigilant on this front and make the child understand from a very early age that expensive possessions do not define a person’s worth.
3. Performance Pressure and Identity Issues
As a child grows up, she has to deal with ‘tests’ at multiple levels—admission tests, school examinations, talent competitions, sports, and a multitude of others. Given the structure of our society, these tests affect the psychology of the children over time, as they start to derive their sense of identity from their results. This is a destructive pattern which needs to be checked since the ability to take both success and failure in one’s stride is the hallmark of a balanced person.
Some children are natural achievers and tend to usually come out with flying colours. As paradoxical as this may sound, a wise parent would do well to keep an eye on such a child and keep him grounded, since an unbroken chain of successes can have its own negative effects—it could make the child conceited and arrogant, or it could become addictive, so that the child’s ego and self-worth crumbles the first time he encounters failure.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are children who usually do not do well. Such children are likely to develop severe confidence and identity issues. This ultimately becomes a vicious cycle of worsening performances and deepening fear psychosis, culminating in depressed, pessimistic and psychotic adults. It is, unfortunately, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly frequent in our society.
In case of both, over-performers and unde-rperformers, it is the parents’ task to strike a balance. The first step is to make sure that your behavior towards the child does not change with her performance—a little tough, I admit, but necessary for the child’s balanced growth. Children also need to be made to understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and finds their niche at different times.
4. Beliefs and Attitudes
Family conditioning and environment are the key factors in a growing child’s attitudes and belief systems. Kids growing up in different family environments essentially develop different attitudes. An old story of a princess comes to mind, who was asked to write an essay on ‘Poverty’, and ended up writing: “A man was very poor. His palace was in bad condition. His gardeners were very poor. His drivers were also very poor. All his servants were poor….”
However, kidding apart, a child growing up in an aggressive family, where verbal, or even physical violence is a way of life, is likely to display aggression and violence, while one growing up in a gentler family is bound to be gentle. That having been said, however, peer interactions too count for a lot. A gentle child, bullied by more aggressive ones, might either become morbid, or develop an aggressive veneer for survival.
Similarly with attitudes towards law and order, honesty, integrity and responsibility—children usually take their tone from their family environments. They might deviate temporarily due to peer pressure, but ultimately run true to form. A child who sees his elders indulge in corrupt practices will grow up with the conviction that money can buy everything and that he does not need to take responsibility for his actions. Thus, it is vital to give your growing child an environment that engenders the right influences and values.
5. Freedom To Grow
And finally, having taken care of the ‘environmental’ and ‘psychological’ factors of a child’s growth, we come to the growth trajectory itself. You need to remember that your child comes from you, but she is not you. She is not responsible for fulfilling your desires and unfulfilled dreams. She has the right to her own dreams and to fly towards them. Imposing your own preferences will only clip her wings and inhibit her development. Unless you give her freedom to choose her own path, she will never be able to realize her full potential because her heart will not be in it. So, be there for her, guide and support her, and let her fly to her own sky.
In the words of a famous educationist, “When you create topiaries and force plants into shapes of your preference, they stop bearing flowers and fruit”!