PARENTING AND CHILD MENTAL HEALTH

Dr.Krishna Prasad Sreedhar

Mental health of children depends on the way parents interact with them. Though every parent wishes to provide the best at home, they may not be giving the best to their children as no fool proof method of bringing up children has been invented. This is because no two children are alike. There are more differences between children than we ordinarily believe. More over, culture, society, gender of the child and a host of other factors interact with the upbringing of children.

Psychologists point out that there are different styles of parenting. They believe that parenting styles can be put into four categories depending on two factors. They are parental warmth and parental control.

PARENTING STYLES

Type – A (High on control low on warmth)

Some parents believe that being strict with children is the best way to make them good adults. In that process parents tend to become over strict. They forget that every child has a natural tendency to grow into freedom and autonomy. Children should become free, independent and autonomous. A fully developed personality manifests freedom from unnecessary inhibitions. It also ensures high level of independence and autonomy. Over strictness kills the spirit of freedom. Children get the wrong idea that being free and independent is undesirable. In the present competitive world a child should be self-confident. This is achieved only through parental support. In a situation where parents employ only strictness and control and no love, children lose their individuality and fail to take appropriate decisions in their life as the parents have always taken the decisions Psychologists feel that it could amount to ‘authoritarian’ parenting. Children of authoritarian parents do not become independent and develop severe anxiety under situations that demand decision-making. They tend to play secondary roles in all their activities. Such children fail to become leaders. There is always the possibility that they feel inferior to others in all respects. In effect such children can never achieve the expected goals of life.

Type – B (Low on control high on warmth)

This is another type of parenting in which parents show lots of love without exercising adequate control. In fact punishment of all types are avoided under the misconception that Psychologists are against punishment. Children need proportionate punishment depending on their actions. Reward and punishment are the only two ways to make the child discriminate between what is right and what is wrong. Values of the culture are imbibed through the punishment and reward given by the parents. Children need to be punished if situation demands it. The common fault is that on the one side many parents indulge in inconsistent punishment. A child is reprimanded for his wrong doings on one occasion and praised or ignored for the same action when it occurs again. This confuses the child and is objected to by Psychologists. On the other side parents do not punish or disagree with the child even if punishment is required. It is opined that parents can always punish or disagree with the action(s) or behavior(s) of the child but should not disapprove the child as he is. The motto is accept and love the child but reject and punish the specific action of the child. This conveys to the child the feeling that parents do love him/her but disapproves the action or behavior only.

In the ‘Type – B’ situation, children are likely to become spoiled and would manifest antisocial and criminal behavior patterns. We do not want this at any cost!

Type – C (Low on control low on warmth)

Children cannot grow in an emotional vacuum. If the parents do not show any love, life becomes barren to the child. Children are naturally emotional than rational. True development of personality is a harmonious blending of the rational and the emotional. The art of this amalgamation takes place only if parents are able to show love and control in the right proportion. Children are creatures of instincts and circumstances. Thus they are basically impulsive. When parents control the behavior of children they come to understand that exercising control is absolutely necessary to have a smooth social life.

So also children need to be loved. The hug of the mother when a child is under fear reassures the child. Body contact between the mother and the child is the first sure indicator of love to the child. As the child grows, words of reassurance would become sufficient. Needless to say that expression of love in some form is an absolute must for the healthy development of the child. It is obvious that love and control in the right proportion is the surest way to healthy development. In the absence of these, the personality of children gets distorted. Emotionally deprived children cannot become good partners in their marital life as life between two individuals is successfully mediated through the emotion of love. Emotions are uncontrolled expressions of a primitive nature. Thus emotions need to be regulated in an acceptable way. Control by parents gives children the essential guideline for emotional expression. It also gives the necessary structure within which emotions can be expressed. Parenting without control and love is not desirable. This is why Psychologists call that type of parenting as ‘Negligent parenting’.

Type – D (High on control high on warmth)

From the above it is very clear that the best parenting is the one with good control and adequate love. Parents with high level of expressed love give clear indication to children that children are loved unconditionally. They differentiate between the child as a person on the one hand and the child’s behaviors on the other hand. Parents in the type – D category clearly differentiate the ‘child’ from his ‘actions’. They also reward children for desirable behaviors and punish or withdraw rewards for undesirable actions. These parents are consistent in their behavior with children. They do not confuse children by punishing them for one kind of behavior and rewarding them for the same behavior on a later date. Children, like all of us, understand consistency much easily than erratic behavior.

The most important point here is that a child when punished for his behavior understands that parents still love him as a person. The opposite of this is an action from the parents that amounts to total rejection of the child. When a child feels that the parents reject him totally the child experiences intense loneliness and misery. This can lower the self-esteem of the child and drive him to self-mutilation, aggression and even suicide.

Let us look at the following expressions from parents.

Samples of communication in undesirable parenting.

Mother – "You are a naughty child. You always cause misery to all in the family. You are bad".

Father – "You bet your brother. You are born "bad". You are really bad".

Samples of communication in desirable parenting.

Mother – " You broke the flower vase. This is not good behavior.

Here after do not break household articles".

Father – "You bet your brother. This is not a good behavior". He is very young.

You must learn to restrain this behavior with your brother".

Type – D parenting is what Psychologists call as ‘authoritative’ (not authoritarian) parenting. This type of parenting never rejects a child totally, but only depreciates one of his several actions. In this kind of parenting the child gets the clear idea that parents disapprove one or two actions of him and do not out rightly reject him. This is very important as out right rejection by parents brings in the greatest insecurity.

A continuously insecure child is a ‘time bomb’ and he might explode with severe aggression at any moment. Children can also become severely depressed, as depression is aggression turned to oneself.

Having understood these why don’t we go ahead with the most desirable parenting style, the type – D? It is possible. After all every one of us wants our children to be assets to the family and good citizens to the nation.

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