Category: parenting

Just Listen

I am asking you to do one thing today to care for you, and those around you, just listen. 

You may be wondering why you should listen to advice from me. Let me introduce myself…I am, like many of you, a mother. I am also a seasoned teacher with a background in psychology and sociology. Of all the titles I have, my favorite comes from my kids. They call me the “Baby Whisperer” and this is a title I wear proudly.

Why do they call me the Baby Whisperer? Let me share a story of a recent encounter with the most adorable little boy…

My family and I were enjoying a fun-filled day at an amusement park and it was nearing closing time. We were trying to fit in a few more rides before we all crashed, as we had been there since early that morning. We were getting in line for a ride when we saw a teenager yelling at her younger brother to stop crying, he couldn’t have been more than 3 years old. I felt bad for them because I imagined they were both exhausted. As we were standing in line, the little boy started running towards us with his sister chasing after him. I bent down and started talking to the boy saying he looked so sad. I asked him why he was so sad and he stopped in front of me and just continued crying. When I said the tiger face painting looked so cute on his face, he started wiping it off. I told him that he was taking away the most adorable tiger I have ever seen and he said, “I am just wiping away my cries!” I told him that it was okay and he finished wiping his tears, calmed down, and gave me a big hug.

I put my arms around him, rubbed his back, and said he must feel so tired because it is probably past his bedtime. He nodded his head, calmed down, gave me one last squeeze, and went back to his sister. I think both the boy and his sister were relieved that he stopped crying and my kids were completely amazed that I was able to calm him down so quickly. I told my kids that he just wanted someone to listen and understand him, just like I do with them when they are upset. 

The technique I used seems simple, but it was actually harder than it sounds. It’s called active listening and it has been the subject of studies over the years (see below). Basically you need to listen, and when you comment it needs to be done without judgement. Believe me, I have been practicing listening to other children for years before I had kids with no problems, but the first time I tried it with my own kids, it came out as me sounding disappointed in them. I had to really work at it, but it was worth it.

So when you are feeling frustrated with your toddler, tween, teenager, or even significant other, just remember that sometimes they need someone to listen and understand. Take a deep breath and understand that there are so many rules for them to follow, from you, school, and/or society. Sometimes when things get overwhelming for them, they just want someone to hear them. No lectures or trying to solve their problems…just listen.

And while we are at it…I want you to know that I hear you. I hear the frustration and tiredness in your voice. I hear you crying in the bathroom while you are trying to deal with tantrums or moods. I hear you getting up at night to tend to a cry or nightmare. I hear you and I understand. I am here, listening, wrapping my arms around you, and patting your back. I know it is past your bedtime and you cannot take one more thing while you wipe away your cries. I hear you, and I understand. Once you calm down and take a deep breath, it can be your turn to pay it forward and just listen.

“Active Listening.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, October 2, 2017,

https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/communication/activelistening.html

Shenfield, Tali. “How to Communicate with your Teen Through Active Listening.” Advanced Psychology, Advanced Psychology Services, October 16, 2017. http://www.psy-ed.com/wpblog/communicate-with-teen/

Weger Jr., Harry, Castle Bell, Gina, Minei Elizabeth M., and Robinson, Melissa C. “The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions.” International Journal of Listening, Volume 28, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 13-31, Published online: 08 Jan 2014.

by Crissy Blanos

Girl Friends

“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”

George Eliot

What would women do without our girlfriends?

I have different girlfriend groups. My primary group is one that started when we had young children- my “mom friends”. We first met when our children were toddlers. We got together so the children could play and then found ourselves lingering to talk more. Initially about mom stuff, then other things. All of us are artists in some form, some do it professionally, the rest of us as a hobby on the side. We connected through being mothers of Indian descent, trying to celebrate Diwali, Dussehra, and for a few memorable years even Holi together.  As our children grew we could lean on each other not just to help each other out with kid stuff (pickups, drop-offs) but also with deep personal losses and sadness that come as you get older. Through illness, losses, health scares, surgery, divorce, and emotional breakdowns. We took care of each other and each other’s children. The children are teenagers and young adults now, but we still meet. One from our group moved to Australia but she’s still on our group text. We push each other to do better or more, to open our horizons. We’ve cheered each other on to professional and personal successes. We support each other through failures. We are sisters, our bond is deep and I hope unbreakable.

My other friend group consists of my friends I trained with during my residency. I’ve known these women for almost 29 years. We don’t meet as often but we have a “book club” where we try to get together a few times a year to talk about the book and catch up on each other’s lives. These are the women who understand what I do as a woman physician, who went into medicine sharing the same idealism which has turned to pragmatism. We still love our patients but not the baggage of corporate medicine. We struggle with balancing personal and family needs with work and the need to do “more” to make the world a better place. These women inspire me and also “get” my professional struggles.

Then I have my painting friends. We meet alternate weeks at each other’s homes to paint together and share painting techniques. I never paint on my own, there is always something else more urgent that must be done. But when I get together with these ladies for two hours we just paint and talk about art, politics, families, books, and movies.

I have work friends who have my back (and I theirs’), family (lovely sisters in law), and other friends I don’t meet as often as I’d like to. I’m lucky enough to have a mother who is also a girlfriend. She lives across the ocean in India but as a working mom herself, a child psychologist and an author she is my role model too. We talk several times a week, email and text. We talk about her grandchildren of course, but so much more. I get my love of art, books, travel,  and gardening from her.

Debra Tannen the author of a You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships states- “Talk plays a larger role in many women’s friendships than it does in many men’s, and when times are tough, talk can come into its own. Telling a friend what you’re going through can make you feel less isolated.”

This talk seems to be the secret of why friendships are important to women. Socially isolated people are at greater risk of poor health -high blood pressure, heart disease, infectious diseases. When we seek out friends we are following a biological need as well. People with strong social relationships have higher survival rates and longevity. Underlying our friendships is biochemistry, an increase in hormones that help us stay happy and calm (oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin) and a decrease in hormones that are associated with stress (cortisol). There seems to be a deep biological need for these social connections.

Strong social bonds are important for survival even in animals, not just primates, but also dolphins, giraffes, deer, bison, elephants, birds, to name a few species. These bonds are most common in females of the species.

Our women friends comfort, nurture, sustain, feed and elevate us. As Julia Child said “Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people’! In other words, friendship is the most important thing―not career or housework, or one’s fatigue―and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”

by Svapna Sabnis

Feminist Mom-ent

I hadn’t heard the term “feminist parenting” until I was way past the age of raising kids, and well into raising young adults who thought they were well past the age of being raised. But I’ve been a feminist ever since I can remember, even before I knew the word or grasped the full implications of the feminist fight. I’ve never regarded myself as anything other than perfectly capable of doing the things I wanted to do—whether it was the short-lived dream of becoming a world renowned molecular biologist or a drug-designing organic chemist, or the other one of writing that killer investigative story that would win me the Pulitzer—or at maybe the Ramnath Goenka Award. And not for a moment did I attribute not being able to do the things I wanted to do to my gender. Looking back, of course, with a keener—and more critical eye—I can see the points at which an unconscious response to deeply entrenched expectations on my part and a structural orientation on the part of society, nudged me in one way or another, or made a certain choice easier—or more acceptable–than another.

So when my children were born, one lovely girl after the other, there was no question that they would be raised as human beings, first, and human beings last. This is not to say that there were no gendered paraphernalia in their lives; given the plethora of adoring aunts, uncles and grandparents, they had their share of little-girl gifts. At different points they wore pink and purple and lace and frills, they fantasized about being princesses and mermaids, they demanded Barbie dolls and glitter, which I gave in to reluctantly and always with a bit of a deconstructive lecture. But they also had swimming and soccer, karate and cycling, and were encouraged to climb trees and when possible, mountains. They watched me and my husband share tasks and responsibilities, they watched him defer to me on some things and me to defer to him on others. Yes, we also found ourselves and our ideas often hemmed in by the expectations of a traditional South Indian family structure, but despite this, there were spaces for conversations that steered around and through these constraints, acknowledging them yet offering possibilities of resistance and change.
It helped (and helps) that they are surrounded by female strength of different kinds: grandmothers with a strong sense of self and their own respective passions; aunts who laughed heartily, unafraid; cousins who had made unpopular choices and those who had adopted convention but retained a measure of choice. And it also helped (and helps) that there were many men in their lives who never used the words “you’re a girl, so…”.
It’s never easy being a parent, and it wasn’t easy for me–who had strong feelings about the ills of the world and what to do about them. It’s even harder when you are constantly trying to resist conventional wisdom while keeping the peace. I’m not a natural non-conformist, and I hate to rock the boat…I’m the kind of person who will nudge it sideways, a little at a time, believing firmly that the course will eventually change.


But ideology has not really been a conscious part of the parenting approach—although, one might argue, our political beliefs form the subtext even of our domestic lives. They surface occasionally in our interactions with family members, run through the arguments we have in spoken and unspoken words, the ways in which we treat those who work for and with us, and in the manner in which we approach the market. But I suppose the ideology would have been evident in the books we bought for the girls, the activities we enrolled them in, or the ways in which we dealt with the ups and downs of life, or in our interactions with people and the world.
So it was no surprise that daughter number one made choices that were fiercely her own, challenged only in relation to how they spoke to her mind and soul rather than their “value” in the employment market, that there was no question that she would follow her heart no matter where it took her and how long a journey it would be. And it was no surprise that daughter number two found her passion in sports, that there was no question that she too would stumble through those highs and lows in her own way, that we would neither shield her from disappointment nor set any ‘external’ standards.
What I have done is try to be (pretty much) transparent. I’ve talked with them about my own uncertainties, frustrations, hopes and dreams. I’ve shared with them my vulnerabilities and my anger. I’ve also done things I’ve enjoyed, and taken my space as and when I’ve needed it. But there is one thing I haven’t been able to do, and that is, to lay down my own guilt in the face of not meeting imagined expectations. Fortunately, though, they see the futility of that guilt and often try to talk me out of it. It’s in the middle of those conversations that I stop and think, “Wow, they have grown up, indeed!” 

Perhaps in the final analysis, feminist parenting is really about creating a space where there is both conscience and consciousness, a space where self-concept is untethered to the limitations imposed by expectations of [gender or other] roles. It’s not to say that things have been ideal. They still have to deal with the [gendered] anxieties that arise when they’re out late or in unfamiliar contexts. They still need to offer justifications about being safe. But I can see that the same anger I feel simmers in them too. It’s an anger that leads one to uncover narratives of oppression in popular culture and the other to rally against discrimination in sports.

But still, twenty-seven years later, when my daughter admonishes me fondly upon my asking if my dangly earrings look “too young for me”, saying, “Ma, what sort of a feminist are you?” it makes me smile inside.

by Usha Raman PhD

Children and Media- Young Children

From interactions with my patients and their families, I am increasingly concerned about the impact of digital media on our children who are growing up in environments saturated with technology. I had the mother of a two-year-old patient insist he was getting his “own” tablet as a present, and she became very upset when I cautioned her about the impact of unsupervised use of media. She insisted that she only used educational programs and that her child would be “left behind” if she did not buy him a device. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Psychological Association, (APA), Common Sense Media and many other experts and organizations have expressed concern about this issue as well. This is true in the United States and also in developing countries, like India. Child psychologist Dr. Malavika Kapur states: “Based on field and clinical experience, psychodynamic and behavioral theories and most of all from a developmental perspective,…indiscriminate viewing of visual media, especially with violent content, interferes with normal development.” The people who sell us this technology are themselves concerned and are limiting or banning their own children from using these devices. Concerned parents in Silicon Valley even have their nannies sign contracts so their children are not exposed to “screens.”

So what do we do? The following is a summary of the expert recommendations with my own comments and opinions as a pediatrician who has worked in general practice and in the academic world and as a parent. I use the word “media” to include all kinds including digital (computers, tablets, smartphones, educational computer toys), as well as TV and videos.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to exposure to media and devices as this is a crucial period of brain development. I had a parent proudly tell me that their child’s first word was “Alexa”, but I’d really prefer Mama or Dada to be that first word. Children two and younger need to explore with their hands and interact with trusted adults (parents, babysitters, daycare providers) to develop language, physical, social, emotional and other skills. Any use of media should be with parents who watch with them, reteach and reinforce its messages with them. They simply do not have the ability to learn from digital media as opposed to human interactions. An exception might be made for using video chat (Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp) to talk to family in other states and countries.  These programs are wonderful for grandparents and so long as parents are there to help interpret what’s going on, this is okay although it’s not a substitute for a real-life grandparent.

For children who are between the ages of 3-5 years, it’s tempting to use media to get a break from all that energy and maybe get some laundry done. When my children were little, they watched Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Thomas the Tank Engine. They later moved on to dinosaurs and nature-related shows and documentaries. I think it’s important to recognize that while this is “down time” for both the kids and parents, try to be “present” during this time so you can chat about the content. Parents often try to pick educational programs, and some programs like Sesame Street are known to have some beneficial outcomes. I think it’s important to recognize that as parents, we are allowed to take breaks; however, many apps and shows that are supposed to be “educational” are really focused on rote academic skills. At these ages, parent-child interaction and unstructured social play are still critical to developing important thinking and social skills which toddlers lack, including impulse control, emotional regulation, creativity, and task persistence. Excessive TV watching at this age has been associated with cognitive, social, emotional and language delays. Additionally, excessive media use during preschool years is associated with increased risk for obesity possibly related to food-related ads, decreased physical activity and watching TV while eating/ snacking, which, as we all know, makes for “mindless overeating.” Excessive media use has been associated with decreased sleep even in infants, maybe from the screens’ “blue light” and the content watched.

Content is so important. I have had patients who were “expelled” from daycare for hitting and hurting other children. While some children are more “physical” than others, I often find that many of these children have been watching inappropriate or violent content. A patient of mine would sit on her parent’s lap while the parent played “Call of Duty”. She regularly hit children and was asked not to return to daycare. I think it’s preferable to watch media with your child but unquestionably something gentler.

There are times when parents use media to soothe a child, for example, during a plane flight or a doctor’s office visit. That’s not unreasonable and is sometimes necessary, but it is also important for children to learn how to regulate their emotions and soothe themselves. Boredom is not a bad thing and is known to stimulate creativity.

It’s not just the kids. Parent media use also decreases parent-child interactions. And parents who use devices heavily have kids who do.

The AAP recommends “…time limitations on digital media use for children 2 to 5 years to no more than 1 hour per day to allow children ample time to engage in other activities important to their health and development and to establish media viewing habits associated with lower risk of obesity later in life. In addition, encouraging parents to change to educational and prosocial content and engage with their children around technology will allow children to reap the most benefit from what they view.”

In summary (Adapted from AAP)

  • For children younger than 18 months, limit media use other than video-chatting.
  • Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; children will figure them out quickly once they need to.
  • For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media- choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together (co-view) with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided. Use only quality products (eg, Common Sense Media, PBS Kids, Sesame Workshop).
  • In children older than 2 years, limit media to 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Co-view to promote enhanced learning, greater interaction, and limit setting. Help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
  • Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
  • Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
  • Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent-child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their own phones during these times.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Try not to use media as a calming device unless absolutely necessary (we have all been there with a screaming child); work on setting limits, finding alternate activities, and other ways to calm children. See references below for ideas on how to implement these.

Resources and References

  1. AAP Statement- Media and Young Minds- Council on Communications and Media: Http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591
  2. For parent resources on finding appropriate content, ideas and how parents can limit their own media use: https://tinyurl.com/nrcwvdv
  3. Developing a Family Media Use Plan: https://tinyurl.com/hv3bh48
  4. https://www.commonsensemedia.org
  5. https://www.apa.org/topics/kids-media/
  6. A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley https://tinyurl.com/y49jm6zj
  7. Let Children Get Bored Again by Pamela Paul: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/opinion/sunday/children-bored.amp.html
  8. What’s the Hurry? Let Children be Children by Malavika Kapur: https://tinyurl.com/yy76bovh
  9. Silicon Valley Nannies Are Phone Police for Kids https://tinyurl.com/ybure8an
-Svapna Sabnis

memory and nostalgia

Memory, nostalgia are a part of food.

One of the socio-psychological infrastructure of a community is it’s food practices and rituals. The rituals, mores related to it, have a binding quality. At the same time these are the reason for oppression in many ways. But how are they oppressive? Lets break it down in a way where one can dissect and examine it.

Food is an integral part of a life as it provides the nutrition needed but also a social fact wherein it is consumed in an environment that has the companions, significant others that participate in the process. If the food is bought, it has a easy albeit a monetary value but is also a matter of affordability and can be seen in two ways. If you can afford to buy optimal, nutritious and good food, then you belong to the high income economic bracket. If you are unable to buy it but instead buy sub-optimal, low on nutrition, cheap food then you belong to the low income category. There are variations to this which can be explained but that is another write-up.

Food interrupts lives on a daily basis and this interruption is something of an ongoing challenge. It is in a sense oppressive as one is always having to think of food for the self, for the offspring and maybe a partner if that is available. First it is in this sense about tastes, likes and dislikes of all the people mentioned second it is about tradition that may or may not be healthy and third, it is about preparation- which is all work with a set agenda. This is an interruption because it keeps one away from engaging in otherwise useful pursuits. (And yes, there is an argument to be made for making this interruption a useful pursuit in and of itself).

Some of the tropes that come to mind, growing are stories around food, festivals, rituals, ways of life that are still the binding factor for families and communities.

Food is about the nostalgia and at the same time a battleground for oppression.