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Parenting: How to handle pester power
Kanchana Banerjee
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March 20, 2007

Are you yet another parent who is being held to ransom by your tiny tots?

Many children, especially in cities today, want the moon for their birthday. And they are even getting it. Recently, an article in one of the national dailies talked about the harrowing experience one mother had whilst celebrating her little girl's birthday.

According to the story, it was very stressful for the parent to measure up to the kid's demands and also prove that she could outdo what the best friend's mom did for her birthday! All this hullabaloo for the birthday of a 5-year old!

In India this trend is slowly but surely creeping in.

Expensive gifts

It is not uncommon for parents today to gift their children personal plasma televisions, that latest video games (that cost more than the average person's monthly income), designer watches, et al. Gone are the days when children were content with dolls, board games and books. Today, some kids might consider these gifts pass�.

Suneil turned seven last month and his birthday gift is a colour television in his room. His mother Asha, 27, who works in a five-star hotel in Mumbai says, "There were big fights between Suneil and my mother in-law over the television. She wants to watch her serials while he wants cartoons. My husband and I are out to work and come back late. We hate to come back home and see the child and grandparent at war. So we bought him a television for his birthday."

Sunaina, a 28-year old single mom, who works in a foreign bank in Kolkata, bought a battery-operated miniature bike for her five-year old son. "I really feel bad about leaving him with the maid all day long. I work long hours and need to travel frequently. After my husband's death, I don't want him to feel deprived. The bike is very expensive but the look of joy on his face made it worthwhile."

They know they can

Kiddie pester power is on the rise. If kids want something, they seem to know how to 'lovingly' whip their parents into relenting. Suneil cajoled his parents by lamenting how lonely he felt while his parents were at work; having a personal television would make him happier as he could watch his favourite cartoons sans grandmum's constant nagging, Sunaina's son just had to say, "If dad was here, he would have got it for me."

Techniques range from emotional blackmail to temper tantrums, cajoling to manipulation -- but the fact remains that an increasing number of parents are succumbing to relentless pestering. Most parents can see through but give in nevertheless. Says Sunaina, "I know my son armtwists me into agreeing to his demands but I give in. He doesn't have his father and why do I earn if not to give him what he wants?"

The kiddie brigade is also influencing adult decisions of purchase. My friend and her husband upgraded their car from the humble Wagon R to Chevrolet Aveo because their six-year old went on endlessly about how miserable he felt driving around in the Wagon R!

Working parents' guilt

Psychologists point to the spurt in dual-income households. Families now have fewer children and working parents feel guilty about not being at home more often. Anjali Chhabria, a child psychologist with 20 years of experience who manages her own practice in Mumbai, says, ''Parents try to give their kids opportunities they didn't get when they were young. Parents often try to live vicariously through their kids and make up for many of their own shortcomings."

Psychiatrist Dr Shetty opines, "Parents also want whatever little time they spend with their kids to be pleasant and tantrum-free, so they give in to the child's demand." The usual line of thought is 'We can afford it, so let the kid have fun.'

Child psychiatrists feel that today's children are confronting a new world with new rules, where they are taught to be more assertive, more independent and to make choices. But teaching your child how to make choices is one thing and allowing them to have their way at any cost is quite another.

How to tackle the problem

The how-to list is never ending. The crux of the issue is that you have to be firm. Children emulate parents. So, if you are extravagant in your expenses, you can't blame the kid for making unreasonable demands. 

~ Teach your child how to take 'no' for an answer

The most valuable and important lesson you teach your child is to accept rejection. Life abounds in disappointments and rejections. Unless they learn to cope with it, their years ahead would be full of misery.

~ Be firm

When kids make expensive demands, be firm. Teach them the value of money. But all this will fall on deaf ears if you don't practice what you preach. If they see your fritter away your money; they won't feel wrong in demanding extravagant gifts from you.
 
~ Discourage comparisons

When they say that they should have a grander birthday than their best friend, sit down and talk to them. Tell them that there's no end to compete on such trivial issues. There will always be someone with a better car, a better house, etc.

Explain that competition is good at sports and studies but not in such trivial things. Once again, you have to show the way. If you compete with your friends in buying the bigger car, bigger diamonds, etc, you can't blame the kid for competing with his/her friend.

~ Beware of the guilt trap

There's no reason to feel guilty if you are working. Whether you work to keep the family afloat or to achieve your personal ambitions, you have no reason to feel guilty. If children or others in the family begin the emotional blackmail on you, nip it in the bud. Let them know that you dislike such comments and they wouldn't get anywhere with such tactics.

Whoever said parenting was easy -- didn't have kids!


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