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Monday, November 4, 2013

Why should you respond, and not react, to your child?

We had gone to one of our friend's house. His daughter of 4 years, Sakshi ,was playing out with friends. As we had gone to her house, her father called her up. He called her 5/6 times. At last, she came at the door. He explained to her that she should come home now and play inside. His tone was conciliatory and non-threatening. But Sakshi started crying. Her father could not understand. So he tried "What happened, Sakshi. Why are you crying?" No effect on her. So he changed the track." Do you want to play more?". Still she kept on crying. He tried another angle " It is OK if you do not want to come inside. Go and play." Still no impact on her. He was confused. Knowing me he asked 'What is happening to her?' I had the laptop with me. So i showed them this Dr Tronick's video. 


Sakshi's father saw the video. He understood the reasons that were causing Sakshi to cry without any further discussion. Can you guess the reasons ?

Please see the video if you have not seen it. Because you are not Sakshi's mother or father, you may miss some of the variables involved in the interaction. So here is some help for you.

In the above video, the child is barely of six months. But did you watch his reaction, when his Mom stopped responding to his gestures, to his actions, and to his smiles. Even a child of six months need constant to-and-fro mode of communication. Sometimes you lead the communication, sometimes you respond to his communication. Until the child is a year or so, parents understand this intuitively and engage in to-and-fro communication with their child.

What happens as the child grows ? 

But as the child grows older,  to-and-fro communication between the parent and child slow down because of two reasons. Like Sakshi's father told me, the process perhaps  happens in the following manner.

On the one hand, parents want their child to be the best. In this quest, the parents do most of the talking. And more often that not, it is just set of instructions. Do this, Do not play for long, Take care of the glass, Do not watch TV for long, Sleep now, and so on. Barrage of one-way communication.

On the other hand, as the child is just learning to use the language, he finds it difficult to communicate what he is feeling. He struggles for words. He cannot put the sentence in cause>effect language. Sometimes he mixes the sequence of the events making it very difficult to decode what he is saying. Most of the parents, at this time, lose their patience. They are in hurry of knowing 'what happened'. They do not have time to hear long winding explanations so they cut short the child and ask 'So what?'.

If this continues for long, the child finds it more and more difficult to communicate her feelings, thoughts, fears, anxieties. Like the child in the above video, the child finds herself talking to a blank face, a face which is not responding to her. But unlike the child in video, she bottles her feeling most of the time to become a 'good girl'. But this cannot continue for long. She explodes like Sakshi, not at the event, but at the accumulation of the feeling of not having been heard. What is even worse is that even she does not know why is she crying. So her pain is even higher.

The result is that the communication becomes one-sided. The parents are just reacting to the child. The child needs responsive parents who can sense her inability to communicate, who can give her more time, who patiently prompts the child to explain her feelings, and then has the time to wait for the child to express herself properly. Naturally, not all children are expressive as Sakshi was at 4 years. Some child learn it slowly at a later age.


If the to-and-fro communication has stopped between you and your child, you will find many bottled up symptoms in your child. You will find that the child has become too rude. Or that he does not tell many things happening in his life, especially after he crosses the age of 13. Or he becomes too rigid of what he wants such as TV watching. Or that he stops listening to common-sense logic. Or he refuses to listen to some simple instructions.

If this has happened with you, you will have a deeper hole to fill. It will take more effort and time. Accumulated baggage will not make it easier to re-start the communication easily. You will have to spend considerable time in undoing the past damage , before you can re-built the bridges with your child ! It is better to be late, than to miss the connection. 

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