As it is the small things that later shape the personalities of our children and determine their futures, we have to put great thought into them. However, sometimes we are led by rules written by society or follow the examples set by our parents even though they might not be the best for our child. And so, we had an interesting sit down with Child psychologist and family therapist, Sherein El Rayess, to uncover some of the truths behind raising a child.
1. The effect of play on a child’s psychological state
Play is not just a way to keep your child occupied enough not to hunt for your crystals or decorate your walls, according to psychiatrist and family therapist Sherein El Rayess, “when kids play alone, it boosts their feeling of safety.” But it’s not just solo playing that is highly significant, bonding with your kid over a game that he/she enjoys develops your relationship with him/her in so many ways. “It has to be real playing though, you have to be giving him your full attention, you have to be 100% involved in the game, and not just half-participating while you are watching TV or cooking. And if you do so, a daily half an hour is enough for you to strengthen that bond” she specifies, adding that if parents can’t devote half an hour of their time for their kids, then their priorities are probably set the wrong way.
2. The recommended criteria for picking a school for your child
You might never find the perfect school for your kid, but there are schools that you can work with. “Parents should always ask about the antibullying strategies at schools. When they ask about it, schools will feel the need to develop strategies and provide counselors. You should pick the school that listens, one that has an open-door policy, that builds a teacher-parent relationship. If your child’s school spaces you out, you’ll never know what is happening to your kid because simply they don’t see you as their partner,” she explains.
3. How to protect your child from being bullied without raising them to become bullies
‘Elly ydrabak edrabo’ (Whoever beats you, beat him) is a common advice given by some fathers to their children. “You are basically urging your kid to become whoever he’s scared of, and if he can’t do that, he’ll be feeling weak and fragile and not good enough!” says Sherein. “As soon as he is under the impression that beating is permitted, he’ll be hitting everyone with and without a reason to.”
So, what do we do, just let our kids get beaten? “Of course not! Firstly parents should raise their kids to be confident. If a child is confident, he’ll know how to deal with a bully without anyone’s help. But if not, there is always a way to show him how to protect himself without attacking anyone. You can ask him how he was beaten, and can show him a model of how to protect himself. You can teach him some defensive moves, like to hold the attacker’s hand, or to take a few steps back. If that doesn’t work, he can then tell the teacher and ask for help. But you can’t advise him to run to the teacher first thing, because he’ll gradually start believing that he always needs the help of an older person and if no one is around to save him, he is screwed. The most important thing is to remember that the bully is also a child, and he is a bully for a reason,” warns Sherein.
4. Why your child has a rough time following your instructions?
It’s the one complaint all mothers have in common; my kid won’t listen. “Children with guidance problems are the ones who are constantly being directed. ‘Enta esh fahemak?’ (What can possibly make you know better?) is a common Egyptian-mothers’ saying. Even if parents know better, they have to leave their kids some choices to make! Let them pick out their own toys or clothes! There is no such thing as ‘it doesn’t fit together’. More importantly, listen to them and don’t interrupt. For instance, if they tell you they will make a cake without putting it in the oven, just agree with them, don’t say ‘how come?’ don’t wrong them, just let them be confident about their choices,” Sherein suggests.
5. How wrong is it to tell your kid, “Go kiss Uncle, and listen to older people”?
We all say it, we all do it. We want our children to look friendly, well-behaved and adorable. “You can’t teach your kids to listen to older people no matter what, because that only makes them easy victims for abusers. If I order my kids to kiss someone ‘3eeb, roh boos 3ammo’ I teach them that if an older person approaches them and kisses them, they can’t pull away or refuse. If those same kids are later exposed to any type of harassment, and someone does more than just kissing, the kids will be confused and won’t say no to it. Unfortunately, it is in our culture to feel embarrassed if our kids refuse to kiss our friends or relatives, but it is something we must change. If my kid doesn’t want to kiss anyone, then so be it. I can’t teach him to blindly respect and follow older people, because abusers approach kids based on those foundations, with statements like ‘You must listen to older people, or I will tell your mom,’” Sherein advises.
6. How can you make your child tell you the truth?
No matter what we do, kids can’t be under our supervision all the time. Sometimes we need to ask them questions, and we need them to give us honest answers. “Kids who lie to their parents, do it originally because of the reactions they get when they admit to the wrong things they’ve done. Starting from age 5, kids start practicing lying on simple things, for example if they draw on the wall, and you ask him who did that? And he says the doll did that. If you automatically laugh, he’ll be under the impression that when he tells the truth you get mad, but when he lies you laugh.”
What is the solution then? “You have to be a very good listener; your responses can’t come fast. You have to only ask the open-ended questions. For example, if a friend of your child encouraged her to cheat, you can’t ask her, ‘and did you cheat?’ because that is a yes or no question, and she’ll most probably answer it with a ‘No’ even if she did cheat. Instead you should ask, ‘And why did she want you to cheat?’ You can’t promise your kid that you won’t do anything if she tells the truth and then punish her when she does,” warns Sherein.
7. How to deal with your child’s insecurities and fears
“What most people don’t know is that from the moment they are born up until at least second grade, kids are always scared. The world is just bigger than what they can comprehend; they are always expecting something to happen with each minute that passes by. It’s a big deal when it’s the first time for them to see a dog, a cat, or even the weird “Tante” that approaches them unintroduced,” Sherein explains. How we deal with their fears certainly determines the permanency of such feeling. “When your kid says, he is scared of the dark, don’t demand him not to be. Instead, tell them that you were once just like him, that you feared darkness as a kid too. Then, take their hands and switch on the lights. Show them there is nothing to be scared of in the room. Whatever you do, never underestimate what scares them, they are exposed to so much,” she advises.
8. Why hitting your child is not the answer?
He breaks your priceless vase, or stains his white t-shirt and you automatically flip, whatever comes next is something that your calm-self wouldn’t be proud of. “If you hit your kid because he has done something wrong, he will go and do something even more wrong because he is angry with you.” Sherein says. But what is the answer then? Do we let them do as they please while we stand and watch? “Of course, not. First you should try and ask them to fix what they have done wrong, and give them enough space to do that. Then if that doesn’t work, you have to teach them that there are consequences to their wrongdoings. If they break something, they will have their I-Pad taken away for a day. If they don’t eat, they won’t get their favorite chocolate…etc. However, be careful not to turn them into materialistic individuals in the process of constantly granting them materialistic rewards,” she concludes.
9. Everything children see and hear is engraved in their brains
Most kids can multitask, they can be playing with a toy and still listening to their parents fight. “If a kid listens to his mom say something like ‘I can’t take this anymore, and the weight of the kids…etc’ he’ll translate it into that his mom doesn’t love him, which will result in an awful a lot of insecurities. If he hears something like, ‘I’ll leave home and go’ he’ll be hysterically scared and it will shake his feeling of safety and stability,” Sherein tells.
10. Children digest what we tell them in a literal manner
“If you tell a child that is in pain, ‘don’t cry because men don’t cry’ he’ll take that in literally, and so he’ll start questioning why he is in pain when people are expecting him to be stronger. The next time someone hurts him, he’ll bottle it up and he’ll keep it in. You’ll have taught him to repress his emotions. And he’ll grow into that. Most women complain that their men are cold-hearted or emotionless, and they are probably like that because someone told them when they were kids, that men don’t cry. The problem doesn’t just end there, we also teach our children that it is not okay if boys cry, but it is if girls cry, because boys are strong but girls are weak. This urges boys to grow into bossy men who are used to women being submissive to their dominance. You can’t shame your boy for playing with a doll because they are for girls and have a disgusted face on, because then boys will be raised with a negative attitude towards girls. You also shouldn’t fear that your boy will be girly if you are delicate with them, if you hug him too much for example,” Sherein advises.
“On the other hand, the most wrong idea we engrave in a girl’s mind is, ‘you are a princess, you are beautiful’ and so when she hits puberty, all she ever wants is to put on makeup and go out with guys that praise her beauty. Mothers don’t have to raise tom-boys but their beauty-talks with their daughters can’t be too much either because it will only turn their daughters into shallow and superficial people. Girls should be beautiful, and stylish but also smart and confident,” she warns.