Monday, June 25, 2012

This and that

If you read my blog on a feedreader, you might have noticed a few posts that speak about Puttachi who is definitely younger than she is now.  I was just going through my drafts and deleted some.  I found a few which had some things I didn't want to forget, and so I published them.

And if you are wondering why the sudden prolific blogging, Puttachi goes to school full time now, and so I have some solid time for myself.  :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Some more on a child and its choices.

The comments on my previous post raised many interesting points. I tried to discuss some of them in the comments itself, but I realize I have lots more to say.

1) When you allow the child to make choices and take decisions about his own life, it puts him in a position of confidence and control.  He realizes that he is the master of his own life.  And just as Sumana said in the comments, this attitude will enable him to respect other people's choices too.  If someone is always saying do this, do that - then he will also turn to the others around him and say, do this, do that, and will get offended when people don't concur with his choices or opinions.  And aren't we seeing a lot of that intolerance around us? 

2) Where to draw the line - The question uppermost in every parent's mind, about every aspect of parenting.  Such a fine balance, really, and so easy for it to go awry.  In this matter of giving your choild choices, all that is in your hands is to lay before the child all the facts of the case, and then let him take his own decision.

In the matter of growing Puttachi's hair, I put it all down on the table - washing and drying hair will take longer and will be more difficult, your hair will get tangled more easily, and it might be painful when I try to smoothen your hair out.  We will need some time in the mornings for me to tie/braid your hair, and so you will have to help me by getting ready sooner.  She considered all this, and still went ahead with her decision.  And if she ever whines when it is taking too long to wash her hair, I remind her that she had been warned, and she shuts up immediately. 

I know that my aunt would set things out like this to her son, and he would invariably weigh the pros and cons and make the correct decision.  That way, he felt in control of his own life, and my aunt was also satisfied that she told him all the facts of the situation up front, and he made the choice she wanted too.

And honestly, I personally think that when a child grows with this kind of attitude, the possibilities of his making the wrong choices becomes very little, because he gets used to weighing the pros and cons of it all. 

Besides, if he grows up with constantly being told what to do, he might want to rebel on purpose, though he knows that what he is doing is wrong - because now he has the power to carry out his wishes though it is against his parents' wishes.

3) A friend and a reader of this blog told me about how her 6-7 year old daughter signed up for Taekwondo classes without discussing it with her parents.  I think it is a good sign, because the child is already confident about her own life and choices, enough to go ahead on her own.  Second, and most important, she has taken this step because she knows that her parents will support her.  That security, that confidence in parents - that spring board is essential for a child to spring forward in life.  If the board itself is faulty or shaky, how do you expect a child to step on it and leap forward?

But then again, where to draw the line?  In this case, I would have first appreciated the child's enthusiasm and initiative, and later, maybe some hours later or the next day, bring it back into the conversation and gently suggest that some things need to be discussed with the parents first, because the parents have a bigger picture and can help with the decision.  And my guess is that the child will oblige because by now she already knows that her parents are sensible.

4) One more commenter suggested "As a parent, you choose three good options, and then give them the liberty to choose one among them. That way, you protect your child from making wrong decisions... "

My take on this is - providing your child these options might seem like you are allowing them to have a semblance of control in their lives - but yet, the child has no freedom to make his own choice.  So how will he make mistakes, and learn from them?

The child wants a chocolate, and you say, "you can have either an apple or a banana or an orange." How is it going to help the child who wants chocolate feel in control?  Later in life, if the child wants to become a photographer, and you say, "Become either a doctor or an engineer or a laywer."  What do you think?  If my examples weren't good, if you can give me examples about how this aproach can be a good thing, please do.

5) When the child has the freedom to decide, the child probably respects your decisions more, and believe it or not, listens to your words more readily.
For example, sometimes, if I ask Puttachi, "Want to have your dinner right away, or do you want to play for a while longer?"
She says, "Whatever, Amma.  If you want me to come right now, I will.  Whatever you want."  And this is not obedience, and it is not as if she is not interested in what she is doing.   Probably she is not too particular either way, and would rather leave the decision to me, and my guess is that it could be because she doesn't feel the need to assert herself. 

6) Giving the child a choice helps make her responsible for her choice.  If Puttachi wants to play in the park for ten minutes longer, I tell her, "Fine you can play, but you do realize, don't you, in that case you will have time for only one bedtime story."  So Puttachi now has to make a choice, and she makes it, and if she cries for an extra bedtime story, I put my foot down.  You chose this, so accept this, I say.  And so the next time, she will be careful about what she chooses. This result, cause and effect will somehow shape her decision-making, is what I believe and hope! :)

There are, of course, certain situations where you just have to step in and draw a line - especially those concerning the child's safety, well-being and health.  Until the child is old enough to know better, these choices are best made by you - BUT, with an explanation to the child why this is so.  It is the child's life and she deserves to know why. 

I'd love to hear from you about your views, your experiences.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Respecting a child's choice

I recently read about Will Smith talking about why he let his daughter cut her hair off. (Couldn't find the original link.)

“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”

This resonated with me especially because Puttachi has declared that she wants to grow her hair.

For as long as she had no particular choice, I kept her hair short, because I found it easier to maintain.  But now that she is old enough to know what she wants, she told me that she wants to grow her hair, and that is fine by me.  I know it is going to be a little difficult - I have never dared grow my hair because I find maintenance too tedious.  But if Puttachi wants to grow hers, then that is her decision and I will help her with it.

People have asked me why I indulge her.  Just cut it off, they say.  Anyway, you are the one that cuts her hair - just tell her that you are trimming her hair and then cut it off.   People told me this even when she was three years old, and was aware enough to insist that she wants hair long enough in front - because she liked wearing clips.  They felt she looked cuter with her hair cut in a fringe, and told me to just cut it off, what would she do about it?  I was shocked, because even a three-year-old is a person with a say over what she wants - and this is such a harmless thing, it is not like she is insisting on eating only ice-cream for every meal!  So I refused to do anything to her hair without her permission.

That doesn't mean that we will let her do anything she wants.  There has to be a line somewhere and we will draw it, but we will tell her why we are drawing that line.  And since, from the beginning, I have explained to her in detail why I do the things I do, she already knows that there is a reason for everything we do, and I'm sure she'll respect it.  In fact, she is always open to logical arguments.  Now that she is growing her hair, it started falling into her eyes, and she is frequently too busy in her own world to realize that it is obstructing her sight, and so she doesn't always push her hair back, or tighten her clips.  So I told her that I would have to cut her hair short in the front, and she can grow it long at the back.  She saw the sense in my argument and agreed.

My mother tells me about a child who came to my first birthday party with bindis stuck all over her face.  I find that very impressive, that the girl's parents let her be a child, follow her fancy, and go out to a party with stickers all over her face.  I mean, it is so harmless, and if the child likes it, so what?  If the child wants to choose her own clothes, so what?  If the child wants to wear twenty clips on her head, pink on one side and red on the other, and go out of the house, so what? (Puttachi has done that.) 

This might seem a small thing - but it is just a foundation for the future.  If we don't allow our children to take simple decisions about their own bodies, about their own lives, then what can we possibly teach them?  What do you think?

Monday, June 18, 2012

A story...

Pratham Books had a contest for which I had sent in an entry.  I did not win but I thought you might like to read my entry.

A question for you

I need your help on this post.

I want to ask you a question - some of you mailed me and commented on the last post, that you admired me.  And some of you mentioned how you wouldn't have imagined, by reading my blog, that I stutter.

My question is - Why?

Why do you admire me (in the context of my stuttering)?  Why do you think I am a brave person?  Why is it that you cannot believe that I stutter (having known me only through my blog?)

Is it because you feel that I am doing well for myself, am happy and content, despite this "disadvantage" that I have?

Do you feel that it is laudable that, despite having faced laughter, derision and teasing in my childhood, I have yet turned out to be comfortable with myself?

What picture do you have of someone who stutters?  Awkward, diffident, unsocial? Inept? Stupid?  Boring?  Irritating?

Why do you think my writing and the fact that I stutter don't quite gel?  Is it because my writing is confident while the picture you have of a person who stutters is not?

You can be totally honest.  If you want, you can choose to be anonymous too when you comment.  It is perfectly fine, whatever you say, because I know that the media has given us certain stereotypes and we all fall prey to stereotypes.

I need to know this - because I have something in mind, something that I might choose to reveal sometime in the future - and for that, I need to know exactly what you feel about stuttering and about people who stutter.  Do you know anybody else who stutters? What has been your impression about the person?

Please comment! Thank you :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to react when you meet a person who stutters

I was watching Satyamev Jayate this weekend when a blind person narrated how people don't address him directly, but ask the people with him what HE wants.  If you are thinking it has something to do with eye contact, it isn't.  Because this happens to me too.

For example, we've gone for a test at a lab.

Receptionist: Name?
Me: Sh-sh-sh-Shruthi.
Receptionist:  (Immediately turns to S) Age?
S: (Looks back pointedly and blankly at receptionist.)
Receptionist: (Back to me) Age?  (Avoids eye contact)
Me: (Answers.)

Of course, it is not pleasant to listen when somebody stutters, so people might find it comfortable to talk to someone who doesn't stutter.  But they don't realize that it can be really insulting.  I have had  people pushing a pen and a paper at me, thinking that I'd rather write my question to them than say it aloud.  You are not being helpful, people!  You are being insulting!

I know people are in a hurry, I know not everybody knows what to do when faced with someone who is not able to get words out easily.

If you're wondering whether you'll fare well if you come face to face with a person who stutters, it's simple.

1) Remember that the person in front of you is a functioning, intelligent individual, in complete possession of all his senses.

2) Don't be helpful and try and complete sentences, or suggest words. 
e.g.  "I bought this in K-k-k-"
You: Koramangala?  Commercial street? Kanpur? Kerala?

3) Let them finish at their own pace. 

4) If you did not catch something that they were saying, don't just nod and go ahead.  Ask them to repeat it.  They will also have realized that the word did not come out quite clearly, and they will repeat it for you.  If you pretend to understand, you will be caught out later, and it will be embarrassing for you :)

5) Sometimes, the facial contortions that accompany stuttering can either alarm or amuse people, as I have seen.  More of amusement.  Don't hide your smile behind your palm, or pretend that you are laughing at something else.  That's really silly!  As if we can't make out!

6) When you are faced with a person who stutters on the phone, it can be difficult to realize that the silences on the other end are not because of problems in the network.  And because of the lack of eye-contact, several people who stutter find it more difficult to speak to strangers on the phone.  Once again, as soon as you realize that these are not technical interruptions, follow the same guidelines as above. 

7) What to tell your children - if your children ask, "why does she talk like that?"  Say whatever you want - that some people find it difficult to speak easily  - but don't make it a taboo thing like "Don't ask her, don't mention it to her, shhhh.."  A stutter is nothing to be ashamed of, and the child should not get that idea.

These are not too difficult, are they?  Just common sense, I would think.  Be natural.  And don't worry, because honestly, most of the people I know, and who have turned from strangers to friends - have all reacted perfectly naturally to my stutter.  I can usually pinpoint the exact moment of enlightenment in their eyes when they discover that I stutter, and that is perfectly okay!  It is what happens after that - that separates the wheat from the chaff!

One more thing, don't hesitate to bring my stutter up in our face to face conversation.  I am not embarrassed or touchy about it (I used to be, but not anymore.)

Any questions, bring them on.   And now that this series has kicked off, I'll probably say more about it soon.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Create something with your hands!

I know a lady, Dr.M, whose daughter learns music from my mother.  Dr.M is a very busy lady, but I knew that she regularly creates works of art - she had presented my mother with a painting on glass for their housewarming ceremony.  I wondered how she managed to fit in so much in what little time she had.

Whenever she brought her daughter for music lessons, she either brought a book with her, or some work that she did when she waited, or she went for a walk in the park nearby.  Once, when I was staying at my mom's place, Dr.M brought with her embroidery.

I decided to go, sit with her and pick her brains while she worked the delicate chain stitch on a silk cloth.

She told me that she always has something like this on hand, and whenever she gets the time, she starts working on it.  Of course, it sometimes takes years for a project to complete, but that is better than having done nothing!  initially, she would embroider on a dress, and then find after it was done, that she couldn't fit into the dress any more.  So now she embroiders on the cloth and then gets the dress stitched after it is done.   She told me she would also take it to the park when her children played there - yes, it did get dirty, but she would get it dry-cleaned later on.

I was impressed, and inspired.  When I thought about it, I realized that there are many pockets throughout the day when we could be doing something with our hands, without it interfering into any work. 

Chatting with a neighbour, perhaps, or watching a soap on tv, when you don't really need your eyes to be glued to the screen.  Waiting at a doctor's, or waiting to pick up your child after school - if you start thinking of it, you will find these pockets yourself.  

The second bit of inspiration came from Puttachi.  I took one of her slips and idly embroidered some small lazy-daisy flowers on it (not even very neat,) just to see if I remembered a skill I had learned in my childhood.  Puttachi was so fascinated that after that, she wanted to wear "Only that which Amma has embroidered." :)

For inspiration for ideas, I needed to look no further than my mom and aunts, and so, I was really enthused.

As I see it, the major work is in the planning part.  Deciding the project, zeroing in upon a pattern, sourcing the materials - once that is done, the rest of it is just manual work - not much thinking required - so something you can do while you want to think too!  Some projects don't even need too great levels of concentration.  And these - knitting, crochet, embroidery - are things which don't need you to spread out your work - you can carry it all around in a little ziploc bag and fish it out whenever you have a little time.

And the nice thing about doing something like this is - at the end of it, you have something to show for it. And it lasts.  And is appreciated, and treasured.  And is supremely satisfying. 

My mom and I made a sweater for Puttachi - I crocheted the front, and my mother knitted the back.

I had bought this denim kurta with a view to embroider it. I felt floral patterns wouldn't look good on this, so I did some research and zeroed in on Sashiko embroidery.  I found after I started that Sashiko shouldn't be done on denim, because the weave is too tight, but I had already set my heart on it, and found some workarounds and finished it anyway.  I feel a warm glow whenever I wear it, and when somebody compliments me on it, it is a bonus. :)

I then experimented with crochet, made a crochet book-mark and learned how to make a doily.  More work on crochet is on my mind!

I am now working on a cross-stitch embroidered pillow cover for Puttachi.  I'll put up a picture once it is done.

And the advantage of doing something like this is that your child wants to do it too!  Puttachi was very keen to embroider too, but as I thought she was too young to learn actual stitches, I got her one of the Anchor stitch kit sets - she loves it.  She's been doing it off and on for the last 7-8 months.  We take it out only when she asks for it.  And I have actually seen her motor skills improve in those last months.  In the beginning, she couldn't poke the needle up from below the cloth at the right place by herself.  Now she can.  She does the whole thing herself, including threading the needle.  I need to supervise, though, because of the needle - but I realize now that she was ready to handle it before I thought she was. I hate it when I underestimate her. :O

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If you want to get started too but don't know how, let me tell you that if you are really interested, there are many excellent tutorials on youtube that teach you every stitch, every skill. And there are thousands of art and craft websites for ideas. You can even google for information on shops that sell the required items in your city - even that is available at your fingertips.  But the ideal thing would be if you have someone around to show you how to begin.

And as you can see, you don't need to be specially skilled. I am not, for sure - and the experts among you can see that my workmanship is not that great, but it is just the urge to create something beautiful that keeps me going!

Monday, June 04, 2012

How to teach your child to read

I have been frequently asked, both by the readers of this blog, and from mothers of Puttachi's friends, about how Puttachi learned to read and write words so quickly.

Since I am no expert, and I have not really "taught" her consciously, I'll just outline our journey together. 

Before that, I must say that I believe that language and word skills, just like any other ability, differs from person to person.  Perhaps Puttachi has that ability, in addition to interest, of course.  Though I don't know what influenced her to get interested in reading, I will list what I think might have helped.

1) I am frequently found with a book in my hand.  A child is naturally curious about anything the parent does, so Puttachi used to come and peek into my book very often, even as a young child.  I guess that at some point, they make the connection that these marks mean something that is obviously very interesting, and that probably induces them to try and find out what it is all about.

2) Once she learned to recognize the alphabet, she would find them everywhere.  Sometimes, she held carrot sticks at different angles and showed me T and Y - so obviously, letters fascinated her.  You could also, if you wish, point out letters in unexpected places - such things excite little children.

3) At about 2 or 3 years of age, Puttachi did not know English, and so when I told her a story from an English book, I kept it open for her to look at the pictures, and told her the story in Kannada.  But sometimes, I would point out a word to her, a word that was exciting in the story.  If the story had, '"Help!" said the lion,'" and if "Help" was in bold and a bigger font, I would show it to her, and say, "Look, here is where the Lion is shouting "Help!"  Then she would naturally want to read out the alphabets in the word Help, and then I would follow that up saying, "Huh-Eh-Ll-Puh - Help."

She must have then made the connection, that each alphabet has a sound.  And once this concept enters a child's head, the rest is very simple.

I did this quite a few times - but please note, I didn't do this in a calculated way or as a "I MUST teach her," way.  I just made use of any opportunity that came by to point out certain words to her.

Once she got this concept, she would split words into phonic sounds, in a very exaggerated way, sometimes wrong too, but she did it, mostly to amuse herself.  But that was the basis of learning to spell. 

4) It was at this point that I played word building with her - check out the last incident in this post  -- I think all these little things help put the pieces of jigsaw in the head together - and suddenly - ping! Everything falls into place.

Once she connected all the alphabets to their sounds, the rest was easy.  She learned to spell very soon after she learned to read.

For a child who's learning to read, there are many, many sites that have Reading Games.  Here's one that Puttachi played with for a while. It is simple enough for children to work on their own (do supervise, though,) and gives them a chance to explore their newly learned skills.  It's exciting since it is interactive.  But please beware - too much of it is bad.  Control, control.

5) One thing that a couple of people have asked me is - "Okay, fine, my child knows the phonic sounds and strings the sounds together - she strings the first half of the word, pauses, and goes on to the second half.  But by the time she strings together the second half of the word, she would have forgotten the first half - what to do?"
My answer - Patience.  It will come. Puttachi did that too, and as adults, it is totally incomprehensible to us - how can they forget something that they just said five seconds ago?  But remember, that little head is trying to juggle so many bits of information, trying to use a new skill and concentrating so hard!  Just give him a little more time and he'll do it himself.

One more thing.  If you are actively trying to teach your child the letters, or to read - or anything for that matter, let the child take the lead.  If she wants to explore further, then do it.  If he displays disinterestedness, stop immediately.  Don't push, not even a little bit.  The child will usually come back himself once he is ready, because they really love to learn new things.

But again, please remember that every child has its own pace, and please do not panic if one child has learned something early and yours hasn't.

If you have tips or suggestions about what worked with your child, do leave them in the comments. Any more questions?  I'll try and answer those too.

Edited to add:
Before Puttachi learned to recognize which letters make up a word, she used to split it into sounds - For example, Dog was duh-oh-guh.  Only much later did she graduate to D-O-G.

One more thing, in the very beginning, if she said K-A-T for Cat, I didn't correct her.  I don't know if what I did was right, but I felt that just when the child was learning something with great excitement, it will be wrong to ply her with the idiosyncrasies of English, and undermine her confidence.

A couple of weeks later, I would say something like, "Yeah K-A-T cat sounds correct, but you know the funny thing?  It is C-A-T Cat.  In English C has the "K" sound too, right?" And then we would laugh about how strange English is.  In a few days, she caught on and started asking me - "Amma, for Kangaroo, is it K or C?"
That way, she didn't lose confidence before she gained it.

Like I said, some might disagree with this approach, and I am open to listen if you want to tell me why! :)
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