- A 20 year old young man, college student, craves for his mother feeding him with her hand. Though glibly, she admits with a smile that she felt nice of the fact that the son loves her and the food she feeds him, so much.
- A 14 year girl, only child of working parents, under the day-care of her grandma, sleeps only with lights on and never without her mother sleeping next to her. The grandmother believes a lot in ghosts and tells the girl about them. The girl starts seeing ghosts in darkness.
- A young man, living in a rented house alone while studying in a distant management college, finds a carpenter online, 16 kms away, and gets him to fix a nail to hang a mirror on the wall, paying him Rs. 800/-.
- A 17 year old student has so far, in the past three years, broken four mobile phones out of anger resulting from disappointments of things not happening the way he wishes.
All the above are some of the real stories I heard in my counselling sessions as a Psychologist.
Much beyond the assets and riches accumulated, what parents need to give the growing up child are life-skills. The definition of life skills reads like this - ‘Life-skills are the abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life. They develop from the hardcore experiences of simple to difficult life-situations. Whereas I am aware of tough parenting that many Indians got into in the recent but bygone era, generally speaking, I find today’s Indian parenting style detrimental to the development of life-skills in children.
In the year 1999, the World Health Organisation (WHO) identified the following core areas of life skills for human beings:
- Decision-making and problem-solving.
- Creative and critical thinking
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Self-awareness and empathy
- Assertiveness and calmness
- Ability to bounce back especially while coping with emotions and stress
If we look at the above life-skills, it will not be difficult for us to discern between what is and what ought to be. How many of today’s Indian parents who are eager to ensure the child’s comforts in a competitive way (the competition at times being between the parents and often with relatives and social acquaintances) would give the child an opportunity to exercise decision-making? When parents give the children an impression that they are their solution-provider for life, what problem-solving skills will the child develop? Creative and critical thinking too become casualties in this parental approach. Communication and interpersonal skills in many cases remain virtual in the rampant social media arena. When the over-providing parents deny basic experiences of life (like hunger, failure, pain and suffering, learning from social interactions etc.), from where will self-awareness and empathy penetrate the child’s mind and persona? Without such experiences, where from the child will pick up skills like assertiveness and calmness? All these deprive the child of the ability to bounce back in his / her attempts to cope with emotions and stress. The common results of all these in children, in many cases, are depression, disappointments, disorders et al.
With all the above as what they are, it will be worthwhile trying to understand a generally accepted life-skills development pattern. Well-acknowledged child development stages from the angle of life-skills, broadly, are as under:
- At around eighteen months to three years, the child should be toilet-trained and should also be able to eat on his / her own (though some help may be required to keep cleanliness etc.)
- A two-year-old should show empathy (feeling from the other’s position / situation / point of view) and be sharing and caring
- A four-year-old should show signs of co-operation with others
- A five-year-old should develop one or two close friends, have better self-control of emotions and should enjoy conversing with others
- A six-year-old may find it difficult to handle things not going their own way and the consequence could be expression of anger or strong disappointment
- A seven-year-old may start feeling shame and guilt and could have the ability to deal with mistakes and failures. Around this time, he / she may start feeling sexual attraction. Sexuality, a taboo topic in most Indian scenarios, is a basic part of human development. Parents and closely connected people tend to mishandle or avoid addressing the development of sexual interests in children. The consequence is difficulties in building better marital relationships and sexual communication in the years ahead.
- An eight-year-old should enjoy group activities
- A nine-year-old should be generally dependable and hence should be able to be trusted with basic responsibilities
- A ten to thirteen year old should be caring about what others think
- A fourteen-year-old could usually show high interest in extracurricular activities, have a large circle of both-gender friends and also may show signs of depression once in a while.
- A fifteen-year-old typically gets along better with siblings than parents. Friendships are highly important and romantic interests are common
- A sixteen to eighteen year old should show good overall relationship with family and begin to see parents as normal human beings instead of seeing them as uncomfortable authority figures
If life-skills development in India does not happen the way it should, will it suffice to blame the parents or the children? Such a blame may help us escape responsibilities as a society. What may help the society in real terms is mind-care training of parents and teachers as the developers of the child’s mindset and personality. They can thus shape up the children's life-skills and general personality well. But, in a society like ours which views psychology and psychiatry as taboos, the question that could often be heard will be,- “Mind-care? What is it?”