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My endeavor is to delve into certain issues to give you some perspective, help you understand the world better, attempt to understand why we do what we do, and maybe in all of this, make the world teeny-weeny better! 

Disclaimer: It may be a tad bit opinionated!

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Children and the pain of social rejection

As I sat on my recliner surfing through Netflix to check out a possible movie that I could watch, I was interrupted by my ten-yr-old daughter who came up to me weeping profusely. I asked her ‘Hey, you just went down to play with your friends, what happened and why are you crying like this?’ In a heart-breaking tone she replied ‘Papa, my friends didn’t allow me to play with them.’ My heart sank as I sat there helpless seeing those tears rolling down her cheeks. Though she was all smiles after we had a five-minute chat but I realized parents are often stumped by such situations, where their response could be a possible defining moment for their children. Often these are the moments where it’s time to take off your rational cap and put on your parenting cap because these are moments of opportunity in which parents can forge a bond with their children.

Young children usually struggle to conceive of anything that is beyond pleasure. Emotional pain is still a distant reality for them at this age and hence a young child’s identity is very fragile that can be easily shattered to pieces. She likes to play with children. She likes it if they tell her to play with them. She enjoys drawing. She enjoys dancing. That’s as far as her identity can stretch and this is because her Thinking Brain (click here to know more on it!) has not yet fully developed to give any meaningful narratives. It is because of this inability of the child’s brain to attach any coherent story to an event, do they go on to develop an antagonistic outlook or withdrawal or a subsequent fear when experiencing social rejection. Researchers have found that the pain of exclusion or ostracism perceived by a child’s brain is not so different from the physical pain experienced by way of an injury.[1] The resultant emotional response of the child including crying, hurt feelings, jealousy, loneliness, shame, anxiety, or embarrassment, must be interpreted as a warning sign to be heeded. Since children are unable to fathom their own emotional responses, it becomes imperative for parents to step in.

Perhaps this is one of the toughest tasks of parenthood i.e. identifying the opportune moment for value creation in the child’s life. Though it’s easier said than practiced – the most effective parenting involves inculcating the skill to get behind the eyes of their children, seeing what they see, thinking what they think, feeling what they feel, and then capitalizing on that opportunity to instill a value in them. In the initial years, the child mostly is in an exploratory phase in which values are still being shaped and value hierarchies still being formed. That’s why parents who do not gauge this, in an attempt to satiate their egos, instead of teaching their own child how to emotionally deal with the situation, are often seen engaged in a one-on-one verbal boxing match with another’s child, while the other child stands alone silently listening to them, but often thinking “wait till I tell my mom about this!” Some parents even go to the extent of adopting an aggressive stance on their own child, not realizing that in the process their aggression on the child doesn’t reinforce or produce any higher values. So no lesson is learned and no development takes place.[2]

I don’t mean to be preachy, but hell yeah I am!

Deep down this, I believe, is what essentially parenting boils down to and this is where the whole-and-sole of my efforts revolve around as a parent – interpretation of the meaning behind the child’s behavior and implementation of the correct consequences of the same - reprimand them for doing what’s wrong; reward them for doing what’s good and handhold them during the defining value-creating moments by instilling good values in them in those moments. Hell, this is tough but by doing so, in a way, you are teaching the child that - ‘neither is life going to be the way you want it to be nor are people going to be how you expect them to be.’ Parents who accidentally fail to do so or overlook this may face the repercussions of having to deal with a child who realizes this at a later stage in life and the shock of that learning may then be incredibly painful for the child (and the parent) to handle.

‘It is important to understand that adolescence is a condensation or composite of all training and behavior that have gone before. Any unsettled matter in the first twelve years is likely to fester and erupt during adolescence. ’ - Dr. James Dobson.

In this day and age, we often miss out on these subtle but crucial moments in our child’s life, on the pretext of being in a constant state of rush. And if you are like me, then chances are you will realize this missed opportunity once it’s passed and then be filled with regret later. (But I didn’t miss this one!) Yet there are others who miss out on this opportunity because they themselves are so stuck-up with the values they formed post-the-trauma of a possible rejection they had to face in their formative years. But make no mistake in understanding that – in the value-creation or defining moment, a value will get created in the child no matter what. Either you will help shape that value or the child herself or himself will form one. Hence, the cost of this missed opportunity may be significantly high!

The child’s identity is so fragile that when faced with rejection in the formative years, and if not appropriately dealt with can go on to make the child move around in the world with an assumed understanding that ‘others will never like, love or respect me unconditionally for who I am’ and that ‘if I am rejected then I am inferior’ thus adversely affecting the child’s self-image. Some things in life are just far more consequential than mere academic or professional excellence, and self-esteem is one of them[3]. A child can survive, without the ability to differentiate an adjective from a verb, but if the child is devoid of a support system – that will help develop some measure of self-confidence, instill personal respect and build a strong self-image - he or she won’t have a chance in life.

Footnotes: [1] Reference to ‘Pain of social rejection’ by Kirsten Weir on American Psychological Association, in which they studied ‘rejection’ under an fMRI scanner, and found that on being rejected socially, the same centers of the brain showed increased activity as those that get activated during physical injury. [2] References taken from ‘Why we don’t grow’ and Formula of Humanity by Immanuel Kant given by Mark Manson in Everything is F*cked [3] Reference from Dare to Discipline by Dr. James Dobson

[4] For more on 'Thinking Brain' and 'Feeling Brain' refer to my previous article on 'A journey to Fitness; How it all begins'





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