Guest interacts with a child, in a typical Indian context!

I am mostly amused when I watch a typical guest interact with a child!!

I hear the three standard questions asked to a child when a guest meets the child (in the same sequence):

  1. What’s your name?
  2. Which class are you in?
  3. Which school do you go to?

I am amused because mostly the guest is lost on how to interact further, after the questions are answered! 

I have also seen the reactions of the child to these questions and the child is mostly relieved that she is granted permission to leave after answering the three questions!! Thank God!

Let’s go over the entire interaction a little more in detail. 

After the first question is answered, the response of the guest is usually something like, “Oh! Lovely”, “Good”, “Hmmmn”… The child, I am sure, is left wondering on what’s good about her specific name!

The second question is interesting in a different way. There are 3 possibilities:

  1. The child looks smaller than usual for her class
  2. The child looks larger than usual for her class
  3. The child looks normal (in the eyes of the guest!)

The response of the guest to the child’s answer is something like, “Oh! 4th Standard! Wow!” or something like, “You said 2nd? Oh!”… 

In either case, the child feels that something is wrong with her! Not a good situation to be in!

Regarding the third question, there are 2 possibilities:

  1. The school name is very familiar to the guest
  2. The school name is not familiar to the guest

The response of the guest to the child’s answer is something like, “Oh! Great!” or “Which school? Come again?”. In the first case, the child feels special, BECAUSE of the school (not because of something ABOUT HER) and in the second case, the child feels low again!

 At this point, usually one of the parents would intervene and say something like, “She is going for music class or dance class etc.”. Then the guest says, “Really?”. The child thinks, “Of course! Do you think my parent is telling lies?” 

Then the adult asks, “Can you sing a song for me?”; the child wonders, “Why should I? He doesn’t seem to know music!”—lucky every child has the maturity not to say it loud!!

Sometimes, the parent says, “she is a topper in her class”! Then the guest says, “Great! Keep it up!” (many times, in such a scenario, the guest feels low or says something like, “even my son is a school topper” and ends up feeling better!!).

If you closely observe the entire interaction (which is almost always repeated with every guest!!), the child is made to ONLY respond to precise close-ended questions and also to just do what is told!! Of course, if the child chooses to exercise her free-will to refuse to do what is told, she would face disciplinary action after the guest leaves!! The parent feels that their child has brought down their pride and prestige!! There are times, when the child takes a little more time to respond to the standard questions, may be because she is frustrated at such interactions or because she is angry at her own helplessness on such situations—and the parent prods the child very quickly—wondering why is my child so slow in response (not realizing that the problem could be genetic!!!)

The harsh truth in this whole scenario is that the guest lacks “conversation skills” and the parent lacks “parenting skills”!!

The child is perfectly okay!

I have made similar blunders surely and I thought through it. 

Some years ago, after my enlightenment (!!), I tried something different when I went to my friend’s house and he introduced his 8-year young daughter. I said, “Your name must be Angel! You look like one!”… First, I noticed that the child was taken aback at NOT being asked a question! Then I saw that the child feeling shy, good about herself and she said, “No, my name is Sruti!”. But, I could see that she way happy! 

I said, “I will still remember you as Angel and call you so. Is it okay?”… I deliberately avoided questions on her school and class; I also sat on the floor, met her eye-to-eye, smiled and gave a nice high-five and moved on… 

Apparently, Angel keeps asking her father when I would visit again!!  

We all have the responsibility to build Self-esteem in not just our own children but also in every child we interact with, through every interaction.

“Our children are not our children. They are creations of cosmic-longing to express in different ways!!” 

~~ adapted from Khalil Gibran’s work

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