November 10, 2016 9 min to read

Saying ‘NO’ to Children

Category : Governance

The Role of Teachers and Parents

Author: Ms. Jaya Narayanan Pisharoty

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A recent WhatsApp message doing the rounds is as follows:
‘My kids message me ‘Plz’ which is shorter than ‘Please’. I reply ‘No’ which is shorter than ‘Yes’.This message must have made many smile. But there is a lot behind it which is no laughing matter. A burning topic among educators today is the apparent inability of parents to use this word and of children to accept it.

Delving Deeper
Psychologists have many theories to offer on the subject, ranging from ‘It is psychologically damaging to deny something to a child’ to ‘It is psychologically damaging to indulge a child.’ There is probably some truth in both statements. Children are with us educators for up to 8 hours a day. What we say and do extends beyond those hours into various homes and to society as a whole. In all these interactions, there are three players, two visible and a third, invisible, but whose presence is always felt. They are the teacher and the child and of course, the ‘invisible’ player is the parent. The psychologist is not present in this scenario. Besides, the child has not been labeled ‘problem child’ and neatly packed off for counselling. So on a daily basis, the teacher interacts with the child in ‘normal situations’, without the support of trained experts. When we are expected to take care of the child in daily situations, it is useful to understand the transactions between an adult and a child and empower ourselves.

Teachers and school authorities react with irritation and lack of sympathy to this ubiquitous problem. They cannot be blamed. With 40 students in the class demanding/expecting special treatment, teachers feel the pressure. Frequent phone calls and visits by complaining parents add to this. In these days of shrinking nuclear families and consequent insecurities, this trend is only likely to get worse. It is worth looking at this issue and the psychological factors involved.

Firstly, why does a parent find it difficult to say NO to a child? I wish the answer were a simple one, ‘s/he loves it and wants it to be happy.’ Those who have children or interact with them know that this is not the case. I would like to propose that the main reason why a parent cannot say NO to a child is lack of will. The child is going to protest and the parent does not have the energy, time or willpower to encounter it. When a child makes a reasonable request or demand, it is natural that we adults consider it with the respect and attention it deserves and either gratify it or express regret in a polite and civilized way. Just as we would offer an explanation to an adult, we owe the child one too. The same is applicable to teachers.

Treating a child with respect is essential for a healthy relationship. If we hear out the child and understand the demand, we can engage in a meaningful dialogue with him/her. An outright NO can be as harmful as an immediate YES. If we are able to explain why something cannot be bought or given at that time, or in future, the child is likely to understand. It is actually useful to make an inventory of wishes that can and cannot be fulfilled. If this list is explained and shared with the child, things will be easier. Negotiations on how the demand can be adjusted so that it becomes a reasonable one, are also useful. To illustrate, if a teenager with a newly earned driving license wants to go on a long drive alone, understandably, there will be parental anxiety, but a deal can be struck whereby s/he can be given the wheel on a family trip or on a short trip to the grocery store. That becomes a modified response, neither an outright yes nor a no.

If we regard children as independent entities who have their own place in the world, we will see that they need to be respected and given their freedom. This attitude can guide our actions, as early as possible. Feeding an infant on demand must lead to letting a teenager decide the quantity of food he requires. This is not to be mistaken for a complete lack of regard for nutritional needs. Once again, negotiations and discussion of what food is both tasty and nutritious can ease the tension that so many parents face. However, the sad fact that is few parents have the time to spend on such transactions with their children. Schools can bring in clarity and awareness on this issue, thus empowering parents.

Collaborating with Parents
Teachers and Principals can play a meaningful role, by conducting awareness classes and orientation programmes for parents. As they say, parenting is one vocation which comes without any manual and every day, people gleefully start on it without any training whatsoever. If KG parents can be made aware of the concept of ‘consequences’, they will be empowered on their challenging task. It will be useful for the parent to draw up a list (as s/he goes along) of ‘misdeeds’ that cannot be condoned. The KG teacher can draw up a similar list and share it with the parent. This habit can be cultivated with the growing years and changing nature of ‘offences’.

Once the list is in place, if a child commits a grave mistake such as hurting someone or taking someone’s things, s/he will have to face the consequences. This should rather be deprivation of favourite activities or objects rather than a punishment being awarded. Again, our action has to be explained to the child with utmost patience and kindness, not to mention, firmness.

The KG teacher would do well to list out ‘dos and don’ts’ in the early days after the children have settled into their new environment. These rules can be drawn up with the support of the Principal and shared with the parents. If the ground rules are laid before transgressions are committed it is easier to communicate them in a non-confrontational manner. When a child commits one, the teacher must explain to the child which rule has been broken and what the consequences will be. A clear report can be submitted to the Principal to keep him/her in the picture. If there is transparency and a sense of co-operation between the various players in this transaction, Principals will find it easier to take the parents along. Principals and teachers must take care to be completely unprejudiced in their dealings with children and their parents. Not only should the teacher be impartial, s/he should take care to be seen as such too. An action leads to certain previously explained and accepted consequences. This should follow as naturally as night follows day, this is what children and parents should be made to understand. If Principals introduce such a scheme in their schools, their jobs will be considerably easier.

Challenges along the way
It is common knowledge that during teenage years, the child will rebel. During these years, it is wise to pick our fights or the home/school will turn into a battleground. Once again, a ‘never-ever-do’ list will come in handy. Teenagers have a natural sense of justice and it is best to appeal to that sense. In High School classes, once the rules are in place, when a transgression occurs, it must be made public (depending on the nature of the transgression, of course) and the ‘consequences’ must be declared in class. Acceptance will be higher then. When the child understands the situation, he is less likely to complain at home and parents are more likely to accept the situation. In the case of teenagers, lesser transgressions are best ignored.

Negotiations and discussions do not mean that we are lesser beings. Teachers do not have to feel that they are demeaning themselves in this way. ‘Transaction’ can be a valuable lesson for children on the nature of the real world they will have to face eventually. They will also learn to treat others around them, including their parents and teachers, in a similar manner. A school can then be a place for value-based learning. A child can learn to view adults differently. Rather than being seen as symbols of control, adults can be recognized for what they actually are, facilitators of their children’s success. Schools can play an important role in inculcating this value.

This system of facing ‘consequences’ has a sting in its tail. Parents and teachers will then have to mind their own ‘p’s and ‘q’s !! If a father jumps a red light, he will have to face the consequences just as a teacher will be fined for dumping waste in a public place. Teachers and parents will have to develop the moral fibre for enforcing such rules, together. Sadly, we heedlessly break rules and say a categorical NO when a child asks for a toy!

Another fact about the ‘outright NO’ is that the child will then refrain only at that moment. On the other hand, if s/he is empowered with the knowledge of what the act entails and its consequences, it is a guarantee for his future actions too. When children fly the nest, or leave school for university education, we can be a little less worried for their continued safety. Empowerment is the key.

Why does a teacher find it so irksome when a parent indulges a child?
Is it because the child then develops a similar expectation from all others around? Teachers find it impossible to meet that expectation and there is unhappiness related to that. If teachers take the parents along and are able to convince them that they are all in it together and that they share a common goal of the child’s welfare, there will be a change in the present scenario where the parent and teacher are polarized and sometimes come to symbolize ‘the good’ and ‘the bad.’ When a child leaves its mother’s womb, there is a traumatic severance of ties. In a lesser way, ties are severed when a child leaves home for college or work. These are recognized moves with an understanding of the pain it brings to both the parent and the child.

In between these two extremes there is one more painful separation, when a child gets off the mother’s lap and walks into school. A talk with the parents at the time of school admission will reveal all the hidden fears and anxieties. Empowered with a better understanding of what the parents’ vision for their child is, the teacher can embark on that adventure called school education.

If a child texts “plz”, we can type a longer message, “call me” or “let’s talk.” A YES or a NO may be a short response, but it is not a simple one.

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