11 April, 2013

Empowering children to say "NO" !!

It is like one of those things that people know exists – yet something that people do not want to acknowledge.  All of us know for certain that this is a big bad world we live in.   Not that I’m trying to generalize.  Yes, there are a lot of good things going for this planet and the people that call it their homes but what I’m trying to say is that the bad things that happen far outweigh the good.  
I work in a field that brings me in contact with children day in and day out.  As an educator, as a teacher, I am in the midst of children for a good part of virtually every single day.  The other day, when I walked into one of the classrooms for my first lesson of the day, my gaze skimmed over those little bundles of energy in the classroom.  Seventy plus pairs of eyes stared back – some sleepy, some naughty, some with laughter twinkling in those eyes, many with energy dancing in those eyes.  As I scanned those eager faces, my gaze fell upon one little kid with a black eye.  Yes, you heard me right.  A black eye like someone had punched him right in the eye.   Apparently, it resulted from having said “no” to a parent the previous day.  The reasons, when he explained them to us later, were trivial.  Definitely not something a parent should have let loose on the child over.  But fact remains that it did happen.  He came in to school that day with a badly bruised face because he had the gumption to stand up for himself and say “no” to something he was not comfortable with.
This is the crux of my post.  The word “NO”. 
A small word it is – just two alphabets, just one syllable.  Yet, within this little word, it carries with it a very very powerful message, for those who are willing to read it.  The word “NO” does not quite come automatically to children.  It is not a standard response because right from childhood, the word NO has never been associated with good results. 
Go back to your own childhood for a bit.  How many times have you bitten down that word without spitting it out ?  I’m sure it has happened many a times.  Sometimes over something as trivial as not wanting to be hugged by one of your parents’ friends or by one of the relatives in the family to something a bit more serious as not going out for a social occasion with someone or maybe something even more serious.  But, usually, the word NO does not bring about the best of responses from parents.  The word NO invariably has parents thinking that it diminishes their authority over children and in an effort to re-assert that authority, among the first thing that parents usually trample on is the word NO.
This little word, however, is the first step in building a foundation in children.  A foundation that could serve them very well over the years to come.  I remember instances from my own childhood when one particular relative used to insist that I do a full namaskaram or prostrate in respect whenever he visited us.  Worse still, he used to buy some little thing and bring it along and then say “prostrate before me otherwise I will not give you this”.  Within my mind, my response always used to be the same “I don’t want it.  I’ve never wanted the stuff you bring along.” But that response of mine never ever got to see the light of day because I knew I was expected to go along with doing a namaskaram in front of him everytime he visited.  Why ?  Because I was not empowered to say NO.   My parents had not bestowed that right on me.   As I grew, if I knew he was going to visit, I would slip out of the house on some pretext or the other. 
Take child abuse or child sex abuse, for instance.  Everyone knows that this is one ugly truth that exists in just about every society this world has to offer.   Among the first questions a sexually abused child is usually asked is “Why did you not say no when he/she touched you ?”.  The answer is very simple.  Most children do not say NO or hesitate to use the word NO simply because they have not been e.m.p.o.w.e.r.e.d to say NO. 
Children need to be empowered. 
This step has to start with the parents.   It starts with little things like not making a child hug or kiss a close family relative or friend or being hugged  or kissed by relatives or friends when the child clearly does not want to.  The child needs to know that he / she has the power over that simple situation that makes him / her distinctly uncomfortable.  If not, the message being sent out to the child at that early age, to that young, impressionable mind is very simple – that they need to do as they are told, that they need to do something irrespective of whether they want to or not.
This is not to say that parents ought to give into ever whim and fancy of children when they say NO.  But, if the child says NO and is distinctly uncomfortable with what is to come, their feelings have to be respected.  They are little individuals in their own right and they need to know that.  They have feelings that have to be accounted for and they have to know that.   They have feelings that need to be respected and they need to know that. 
Like Dr.Seuss once said “A person is a person, no matter how small.”
Just as we teach children about road safety, about looking both ways before crossing the road, children need to be educated, to be empowered about keeping themselves safe from abuse.  They need to be educated about “good touching and bad touching” and more importantly they have to be taught that their body is precious, that it is their own and that is OK to say NO and to tell their parents when they are faced with something they view as potentially threatening or something that is making them uncomfortable.
There has been a lot of debate on teaching children about “good touch and bad touch”.  Some people do feel that to teach children something like this at a young age is akin to taking away their innocence when they are that young.  Quite the contrary.  They need to be educated about this and in doing that what we, as parents are doing is simple – we are teaching them to respect their own body, teaching them a basic and very important skill in empowering them to protect that very innocence that symbolises childhood.  It is an attempt towards empowering our children with the knowledge that they deserve to be respected and nurtured and not used or abused.

03 April, 2013

Braidy days are here again

(Pic courtesy : www.dove.in via Google)

The word “braids” takes me a long way down memory lane.  To my childhood days and by that I don’t mean just school days.  I mean “childhood days”.  Every single day (as far as I can remember and I should be a fairly good judge of that one given the fact that we are talking about my life here) of my childhood life has had my crowning glory, my flowing tresses locked in braids.  Not that I had anything against braids – they kept hair out of harm’s way and they definitely kept them out of my eyes and my nose and my ears and what have you.

My mother, for one, gave me the distinct impression that the entire coconut economy of Kerala depended on us and us alone.  The copious amounts of coconut oil that she used on my tresses were, I can say with a fair deal of sureness, second to none.  Especially on days when we had PE at school, I used to sincerely wonder if it was sweat that was pouring down the sides of my face or coconut oil.  There have been occasions when I’ve surreptitiously wiped the sides of my face and rubbed my fingers together – just to make sure I wasn’t walking around like a coconut oil factory. 

Well, one does not stay a child forever and it was my turn to break out of the moulds hitherto set by my mom with regard to my tresses.  I waited for the day when I could get out of the “braids” and I used to pretty much look up to those models whose hair used to swish and swash around in the ads like a huge windshield wiper.  “Silky smooth and so wavy” the ads used to croon and I used to promise myself that someday it would happen to me too.

I can’t quite remember when I stopped treating my hair like the sole market for coconut oil.  It just stopped somewhere along the way and thus began my experiments with my crowning glory.  Pretty much like a butterfly breaking out and emerging from its cocoon, I relished the newfound sense of freedom from coconut oiled hair and the resultant braids. 

The very first time I went shopping for shampoos was monumental – in that I felt pretty much like Becky Bloomwood from one of Sophie Kinsella’s novels.  Only difference being Becky goes shopping for Pradas and Guccis while I went shopping for shampoos and the like.  The similarity between me then and Becky Bloomwood was the stars in my eyes as I feasted them upon rows and rows of gleaming bottles of shampoo.  They beckoned with open arms and every time I turned one down, ten others made their presence felt.  Such was the pull.   I’ve had one dream too many over this – on the one hand would be my mom, beckoning with bottles of coconut oil in her hand and on the other hand would be the models on the ramp, their raven dark hair, silky smooth, swishing as smooth as silk.

Like the saying goes, life is not so simple after all, is it ? 

I used my first ever shampoo and went to bed with a rather self satisfied smile on my then rotund face.  Dreams of silky hair kept me company through the night and I could swear I heard my own hair whispering and rustling like yards of silk.  Next morning however, I broke into a cold sweat at the apparition that stared back at me from the mirror and thanked my stars I had not turned into stone.  Yes, a true and very lifelike version of Medusa gazed back at me with a rather intent ogle.  I gasped and gulped and pretty much had this mad desire to drown my head in a vat of coconut oil.

Upon changing shampoos, the Medusa look was taken care of and the new shampoo left me happy and beaming.  My hair began to look like hair and not serpents crawling out of my head.  Everything seemed fine until one fine day, after a shampoo, I suddenly realized that I was pretty much turning the bathroom into a swimming pool of sorts.  Now, a water person, I am not.  Where is all this water coming from ? I asked myself, twirling my non existent, waxed moustache like Monsieur Hercule Poirot.  It took a while for the penny to drop and when it did, I could hear it clink loud and clear inside my shampoo drenched head.  The water was not coming in to the bathroom from anywhere, it simply wasn’t going out !!  Horror of horrors !!  The drainhole was completely clogged with all the hair that had tried to escape my head.

“Come.  Come to me”  beckoned the bottle of coconut oil and I shied away from it, pretty much like the heroine in a movie does from a villain.  “No !”  I said and stood my ground.  “I shall find a shampoo that will turn my hair lively and swishy” I said to no one in particular.  The only sound right then was the gurgle of water flowing down the drainpipe.  I had visions of myself looking as straggly haired as does Donald Trump and of my hair being mistaken as birds for a nest !!  The number of split ends I had did not help that vision in any way, just served to make it worse. 

I was just about to throw in the towel and go back to the coconut oil and braids routine when one of my cousins introduced me to Dove.  “It can even turn a bear’s hair soft” she said as she thrust a bottle of Dove shampoo into my hands.  “Remember you need to condition your hair everytime you shampoo it”  she said, sounding like the high priestess of the Swishy Swashy Silky Hair Cult or something like that.  “Condition ?”  I squeaked.  “Yes.  Conditioner is a must”  she said in a rather dramatic tone, knowing fully well by now that she had me – hook, line and sinker.

Thus began my crowning glory’s affair with Dove.  It has been years now and there have been times when I’ve strayed and opted for other shampoos and conditioners.  I’ve tried quite a few brands but a few years back, I realized it was all in vain.  Nothing worked for me like Dove did.  It has, in my case, withstood the test of time.  Every single time I feel my silky hair swishing and swashing, it never fails to bring a smile to my face - a rather content smile and one that is filled with memories, of the trials and the tribulations, of all the weird experiments and of all the hits and misses.   

The other day, I was braiding my daughter’s hair there it was, a thing of beauty and perfection – all silky smooth, sleek.  Everything was pretty much the same.  She was reading a book and I was braiding her hair – a picture that took me tumbling down memory lane.  The only difference being that she was humming a tune while I used to mutter under my breath, cross my fingers and toes and whatever else it was that I could cross and hope that I would not be oozing coconut oil from my pores.  My daughter, on the other hand,  uses Dove Shampoo and Conditioner.    The Dove Split End Rescue System has been working wonders for both of us, in keeping those split ends at bay.  That day, as I braided her hair, I had this feeling of having come full circle.  From my coconut oil braid days to her silky Dove aided braid. 

Like someone once said “Finding the perfect shampoo and conditioner is like finding the perfect soulmate for your hair”.

I had, the day my cousin introduced me to a bottle of shampoo and conditioner with the picture of a little bird on it.  It helped my hair spread its wings and helped my hair fly at the slightest hint of a breeze – silky smooth and in wild abandon.  Even now, when the sunlight plays with my strands of hair, I see the light and sheen reflecting off its surface and believe it or not, in the picturesque screen of my mind, I can see hundreds of little doves taking flight, wings spread, chirping happily, spreading joy to the many hundreds of girls and women who seek a perfect soulmate for their tresses.