Parenting challenges in a Joint Family

We live in a joint family. My brother-in-law and his wife dont insist that their children brush their teeth at night or eat dinner at the table. My children feel I am fussing when I insist they do so, especially since their cousins are not compelled to follow suit. How do I deal with this situation tactfully? — Shilpa Sundar, Coimbatore

Managing parenting issues within a joint family setting can be challenging. Talking to your brother-in-law and his wife may not be as effective as modelling appropriate behaviour and habits for your children and encouraging them to change over time. You need to delicately balance intra-familial relationships and set boundaries for your children. As a mother, focus on developing a healthy bond with your kids. This will encourage two-way communication and create a safe space for them to voice their concerns. It will also help children understand the role of a smaller unit within a larger family and increase their sense of security and bonding. Very often, while enforcing rules, parents become punitive or too aggressive. Then children find it easier to emulate behaviour followed by cousins, especially if rules are not the same for everyone in the family unit. Remember, it takes time and patience to set rules and ensure compliance. Adopting a calm but firm and supportive stance will be beneficial.

My eight-year-old son imitates the characteristics and clothing trends of television stars and characters from cartoon dramas. I worry that this might get him into serious trouble or danger. Please advise. — Ranjana M, Bengaluru

Advice never works, role modelling desired behaviour does. Limit the time your child spends watching television and other technology-assisted entertainment. These are mental toxins. Growing children learn more through outdoor and indoor play where they have real interactions with people and an opportunity to explore the world. When a habit proves toxic, it is important to create healthier hobbies. Ensure that as a family, you restrict TV viewing and choose intelligent television programmes and discuss content in a non-judgemental environment.

We are trying to help our 12-year-old daughter lose weight by improving her diet and getting her to take up sports. But she does not want to join dance classes or fitness activities/sports as she is convinced others will make fun of her. — Bhanumathi R, Hyderabad

The pre-teen and teen years are particularly stressful as they precipitate many hormonal changes that children often find difficult to cope with. Teens pass through a phase called imaginary audience” where they feel everyone is watching them. This escalates their already biased perception of poor body image, further prejudiced by media role models. Since she feels self-conscious in front of others, you can arrange for her to exercise at home or with you. Solicit the advice of a reputed nutritionist to help plan a well-balanced diet. This is important because food fads, crash diets and sudden changes in dietary habits could prompt weight gain as there is interference in the natural metabolism process. Test also for endocrine-related dysfunctions that could contribute to weight gain.

Reduce her exposure to television programmes and movies that send wrong messages about body image and well-being. These include advertisements glorifying size zero or the use of products such as fairness creams. Help your child develop hobbies and skills that make her feel empowered and ensure that family members or friends do not ridicule her physical appearance. In India, even acquaintances feel they have the right to advise children on all matters, particularly weight gain. As parents, join your child in her exercise workouts and ensure that you support the idea of fitness and well-being, rather than the myopic goal of weight loss.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

The article was published in the print version of ParentsWorld December 2017 issue.

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