Children and the freedom of expression: insights from child development expert Urvi Sheth
Letting children explore their identities and allowing them to express themselves without inhibitions is an important part of early parenting. Bringing a child up in a positive and encouraging environment will benefit them as they grow up and learn to have an open mind.
In a Community Chat on the HerStory Women On A Mission Facebook group, Urvi Sheth, the Founder of Beyond Books, and an expert in child development shared her insights on the importance of letting kids be themselves, with community members.
Urvi interacts with parents and understands the concerns they have with their children, and has helped find many holistic solutions. She is also well-versed with the education sector, and has global experiences in teaching.
Here are a few excerpts from the discussion.
Q. How can parents teach children to embrace, love and express themselves? How can they help them not get pulled down by the pressures of having a perfect life in the virtual world as they grow?
Urvi Sheth: Children learn from what they observe. They will only give importance to the virtual world when they see the way people around them act on it. If parents can set clear boundaries of how much they share of themselves in the virtual world and can talk to their children about the importance of having personal relations with people they care about, there is no reason why children will feel the pressure.
Having said that, I do understand the factors apart from parents such as peers, 21st century technology as exposed in schools. It is important to have close, personal relations with children, for them to understand that everything they see online is not true. Once they realise, they will be able to handle the pressure with more ease.
Q. How do parents teach their sons and daughters to not conform to gender roles, given that they carry unconscious bias and their own social conditioning?
US: This starts at a very young age where parents and family members set gender stereotypes often through their gifts - blue for boys, pink for girls. Instead, mix up the colours. Let them do activities that challenge gender-biased roles.
Let boys come in the kitchen and help you in cooking. Share stories of women who have broken the glass ceiling and made a name for themselves in the corporate world. Change the dynamics in the households where women have to take on the homemaker’s role and talk to them about how it is not restricted to a particular gender.
If children see you accept roles that go against gender stereotypes, it will have more impact as compared to a simple talk.
Q. How can parents better equip themselves with answers to 'awkward' questions from kids as they grow?
US: I think it is more important for the parents to accept and be open about the awkward questions if they want to be able to talk to their children about it. The best way to deal with this is to prepare for such talks beforehand and talk to them before they wonder and explore more about it.
If they ask a question that you aren’t expecting them to ask, then be honest and tell them that you need some time to be able to answer the question in a way that clears their doubts.
Parents need to also accept that children will have questions earlier in life that they had when they were younger. Unfortunately, there is a lot of exposure online which is easily accessible.
Counsellors also are equipped with handling many such queries and are qualified to answer. Seek the help of a school counsellor and keep them in the loop of such questions as they are qualified to answer these questions and can help in accelerating the conversation for you.
Q. What role does the digital world play in teaching the children about their identities?
US: To be honest, the role that the digital world plays now is that of a double-edged sword. While it exposes children to a lot of useful information, it also exposes them to unnecessary amount of information in some aspects.
Certain topics and situations need to be dealt with one-on-one and with someone who you trust. I strongly feel that while it is good to provide exposure to children about the world, there should be a line drawn as to what is accessed.
Use the online world to show how people may be different in races, nationalities, cultures and yet are one. But ensure that you reiterate the fact that all may be different but all are equal and should be respected.
Q. How can schools help children understand their identities without making the conversation too heavy, and encourage each other to be kind towards each other?
US: First of all, let’s accept that children today are exposed to much more than we were in our school days. They mature faster than we did. We were quite naive when we were their age!
Schools today are clearly aware of this fact. School counsellors train the teachers in the beginning of the year, in order to handle a lot of questions that may come their way. The counsellors also often hold sessions for children around the year where different topics are discussed keeping their age and grade level in mind.
A topic such as gender identity and good and bad touch (including respecting one’s body and privacy) may be discussed in grades kindergarten and grade 1! Examples and the kind of conversations that are encouraged are age-specific and time-specific. Often, teachers observe the talks children have and sessions dealing with those topics are planned right away by the school counsellor so as to avoid any speculations and research from children.
Schools keep in mind that there may be questions that arise from these sessions too. And teachers are trained to answer these questions one-on-one with children by the counsellors.
To be part of more such conversations, join us on the HerStory Women On A Mission group on Facebook.