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    Volume 9 Issue 10| March 5, 2010|

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Food for Thought

Mind Over Manners

Farah Ghuznavi

Out of the mouth of babes.

Most parents, however laissez-faire in their approach to childrearing, tend to prefer that their children behave as well as possible in front of others. If only to give themselves a little less work to do! For example, it's not much fun to find yourself explaining to an irate parent at the ball pool in a fast-food outlet (among the most popular spots these days for the socialisation of kiddies who most desperately need to learn how to behave), why your little angel decided to bite his son on the ear instead of asking him nicely for a second time to get off the slide.

And it's not only non-verbal communication that presents such problems. Since most kids nowadays appear to have quite definite opinions on how things should be done, many parents live in fear of what their offspring will come up or out - with next. Like my friend whose five-year-old managed to shamelessly misuse information which was initially provided to her with the intention of keeping her safe. Out with her mother one day, they ran into some old family friends. The gentleman kindly bent down to chat with the little girl, asking “So what is your name, Ma?” To his astonishment and her mother's deep embarrassment she replied bluntly, clearly not in the mood to chat,“Na, kotha bola jabey na I'm not supposed to talk to strangers”!

Clearly, sometimes you have to be very careful indeed about how you phrase your instructions to your children. As my friend Katy discovered to her horror, when her six-year-old son Sam and his two siblings were taken shopping in London by their doting aunt Frances, to choose their Christmas presents. Feeling oppressed with the inevitable consumerist frenzy that Christmas in Europe currently involves, Katy had spent quite a lot of time explaining to the children a distinctly sceptical audience for this particular message that life is not only about getting things, and that it's other, more important things such as friends that make you happy i.e. “presents don't make you happy”. Unfortunately, upon receiving the gift from his aunt, Sam decided to take the opportunity to inform her, quite earnestly, of just that! Which then meant that his mother had to explain to him all over again that while presents don't make you happy, it is bad manners to inform the present-giver about that. No doubt Sam is still trying to figure that one out.

Now the plan is...

So clearly, honesty ( so often recommended as the best policy) is at best a complicated issue. My friend Tina often finds herself struggling with this one, since her five-year-old daughter Joya is very good indeed at identifying moral ambiguities of this nature. Recently, Joya ended up having a double birthday celebration for her fifth birthday, a happy event arising from the fact that her actual birthday fell on a weekday. So she got a small celebration at home on her “real” birthday (which was also the first day of school and therefore required some minor homework to be completed in preparation for it the day before) while the major birthday celebrations followed on the weekend.

On the day of the weekend celebration, Joya went with some other children to her favourite play-spot. While they were there, they ran into a colleague of Tina's, who was duly informed about the fact that Joya had just turned five. Upon being questioned by this lady as to what she had done on her birthday (this was, mind you, during the delayed birthday celebrations at Captain's World), Joya replied - to her mother's understandable mortification, and with an emphasis that was perhaps not accidental - "Homework!"

Tina was therefore understandably relieved on another occasion, when Joya had accompanied her to one of the training centres operated by the organisation where she works, to find her daughter acting unexpectedly well. After lunch, they were each served a piece of ice cream. Because Joya had a bad cold and was not supposed to have ice cream, Tina was quivering in horror as she anticipated the battle royale that would take place when Joya was told that she couldn't have ice cream. To her amazement, before she had said anything, Joya voluntarily refused the ice cream, telling the person who was serving it, “Uncle, amar to ice-cream akhon khawar kotha na, apni Ma ke diley amar khawa hoye jabey”. Tina was speechless, not only by the ease with which a crisis was averted, but also the exquisitely well-mannered way in which her (usually) wayward child turned down the ice cream! So basically, on a day when you find yourself despairing about whether what you are saying actually gets through to your kids, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the answer to that question...



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