On Good Behavior

My mother has come to visit us from India & is going to stay with us for two months & a half. On the dining table one day we were chatting about my daughter Deeva’s first solo visit to India last summer & her experiences at the small state schools in Bangalore, where my mother does voluntary work. She took Deeva along to teach those children English. Relating an incident in her school with the children, one day after Deeva had returned home to Vietnam, she said the children always asked her “where’s Deeva?” And after that giggled with each other & said “good job!” At this Deeva looked a little puzzled. My mother then explained that the kids in her school loved Deeva’s style of teaching, as if they got something right, Deeva always patted them on the back & said “Good job” looking so happy. Even though the children did not understand what this term meant, from Deeva’s thrilled expression & her gesture of patting them, they understood that she was happy with their performance. Thus whenever my mother said Deeva to them, they always nodded vigorously & chorused “God Job” with great big grins on their faces.

Okay now you’re thinking, what has this incident got to do with speaking about ‘good behavior’? Well it does, as my point is about positive reiteration. When you want children to “behave” well, you cannot get them to do this by urging them not to be naughty or saying “now that was very naughty”or  “she is a naughty girl” in good hearing of the child. In fact this completely reiterates the negative aspects you do not want & endorses that same  in the child – doing exactly the opposite of what you want them to do & be.

If you want your child to behave well, you have to communicate your positive expectation to the child & reiterate the positive outcome you want again & again & again. So saying “I know you can do this very well” or “I see that you understand so well & will do this task just right” or “you are such a good child” or “wow I know you always behave so well” – will work much better than an adjudication like “please do not be naughty!”

Now think about it. How many times have you heard this being said in your hearing by your own mother, your older siblings with children, your own parents to their grand children? I am sure that if you are Indian, then many times 🙂 Parenting in our culture is more about unquestioning obedience & respect. As also duty. Duty is like this holy grail that only we Indians have custody of, to keep safe for time immemorial. But duty (the way we interpret it in India) is an action without thinking, a blind action without soul. How sad that what we proudly call “our great culture” is now just espousing the husk of the real grain of the word. However, this is the material for another different topic of discussion altogether – which I will deal with in greater detail, in another piece.

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