The Birthday Deal

birthdayfreebie1_11112011114449Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to be a part of many birthday celebrations for kids of all ages and have come to realize what a birthday means to the parents and the child; more so, since I have been celebrating my own daughter’s birthday of late.

On a typical birthday celebration, friends and relatives of the parents are invited along with some friends of the birthday baby. But wait a minute…what is the objective of a birthday celebration? I mean, why do we celebrate a child’s birthday? Broadly defined, it is an occasion for the parents to be happy and for it to be a special day for the child when he / she has fun. If that is the objective, then why would we want to make it such a big deal and make it a cause for worry and a social status symbol? Why would we worry so much about what the child wears, who all are invited, what the menu would be, what activities would we organize, where would we get a cake fancier than the last one we saw and not to forget, what party favors would be doled out to all attendees.

Many times, we tend to think about the last few birthday parties we attended as our benchmark and think about ways in which we can top that and provide our guests with a ‘newer’ experience. Let us say we do all that.

What happens on that day? We are unable to attend to all our guests and many of them do not even know each other. While there are activities for the kids, the parents, and nowadays, more often the maids, are hanging around, waiting for the food to be served. As for the food, while we do take the high ground with our own kids most times, on birthdays, for some reason, we propagate junk food, which the adults have no choice but to have. There is loud music, the activity coordinator is  yelling, while the birthday baby is showered with gifts, mostly passed on from what the attendees had received on their birthdays.

So, at the end of the day, what is the outcome? We have the parents of the birthday baby, awfully exhausted with the effort and expense and the hullabaloo. We have the kids who attended the birthday bash, loaded with junk food and some more gifts which their mothers would now wonder what to do with. We have the accompanying adults who are thankful that one more such party is over and they now have one less to attend. And let us not forget, we have the birthday baby, loaded with gifts of all kinds, which he / she probably does not know what to do with and who has got the following messages: ‘fun means junk food, noise and an excess of things which we do not need’. So let’s take a step back again. What was the objective of the birthday celebration again? A fun day for the child? Your being happy that the child has crossed yet another year in good health and that you are proud of him / her? Is it?

This blog post is a reproduction of my blog written for Parent Edge, one of India’s leading parenting magazines.

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The Power of Family Meals

family-meals-logoThis blog post has been reproduced with permission from ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. The post is written by Meera Srinivasan, nutritionist and food technologist.

Being a nutritionist I have always paid attention to what my family eats. But until recently, I was not aware that how they eat is equally important. Research has shown that eating together as a family is key to inculcating healthy eating habits in children.

Researchers at Rutgers University have looked at 68 studies that have examined relationship between family meals, eating habits and children’s health. Amazingly all studies pointed to a similar trend – families who had “meals together” during the growing years had children and teens who ate more fruits and vegetables, other nutrient rich foods and less of soft drinks. The research also indicated that they had a lower BMI (body mass index) than kids whose families did not eat together! Of course, this is not a magic bullet but with so many studies confirming this trend it will be good to pay attention to these findings.

So you may wonder about relevance in India – well the situation in urban households is no longer different, with both parents working long hours and juggling work and children’s schedules. Sitting down together for dinner in most homes is becoming increasingly rare and eating together has become a weekend activity and invariably not at home …

Along with healthier eating habits and lower instances of obesity, there are other significant benefits of family meals:

  • Dinner together serves as an anchor for the family, nurtures the sense of belonging. It is a time for everyone to share and reflect about their day
  • Conversations around meal time help increase children’s vocabulary making them better readers.
  • Children actually do better in school/academics!
  • Children become aware of current events and have better social skills. They learn to make conversations and also become good listeners!
  • Teens who eat dinners at home regularly are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs!
  • As mentioned in the January 2013 issue of ParentEdge children learn by observing and experiencing and not by being instructed. If parents have healthy eating habits children tend to have similar eating habits!

How do we make it work?

  • Meal time has to be a priority for everyone – make your family understand and once they start doing it, the benefits will ensure that there is no turning back!
  • If dinner is not possible, explore breakfast and to start, target a minimum of three meals during the week.
  • Make the meals interesting, get the family involved in menu planning and if possible even cooking. Many children these days are showing an interest in cooking and we can be thankful to the Master Chef programmes!
  • Turn off mobiles, television during meals, so children understand you are making meal times a priority.
  • Conversation starters can be as simple as “what was the best part of your day”, “what went well for you today and what did not?” – and before you realize children are talking and telling you things which may be difficult to get out from them otherwise!

At our home we have dinner together and I find this the most gratifying time of the day!

To Push or Not to Push!

594971-7428-48This blog post has been reproduced with permission from ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. The post is written by Aparna Karthikeyan, writer and beleaguered mother of a smart teenager.

Parenting is all about pushing; it begins with labour, and after that, there’s really no getting away from it. Initially, it’s all about the little things – push in one more spoonful of food, make the child sleep, potty-train, that sort of thing. And of course, you tell yourself that you’re so not going to be a pushy parent; that once the child can understand reason, you will make him/her come around to your way of thinking without resorting to parental pressure and authority. All because you don’t want to be a pushy parent; all because there isn’t a word with more negative connotations than ‘pushy parent’, is there?

Ever since Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ created a stir, we’ve debated on the concept of parents making the kids perform – be it in the arts, sports or academics. And in India, this debate, in many ways is pretty one-sided. Not because all Indian parents are pushy – far from it, but because most parents value super-achieving kids. Even if it is at the cost of childhood. I do not exaggerate; I see all around me kids as young as 4 or 5 going from one class to another – the weekday given over to more than three activities, so that the child gets ‘exposed’ to the arts, sports and academics at a young age. But which child of 4 or 5 enjoys it? Naturally, the child baulks at the idea of no-free-time and a string of extra-curricular activities. The parent, however, has water-tight explanations. ‘No, no, at that age they’re too young to decide’; ‘only if he/she tries it for a year, they will know if they like it or not’. And so on. But the same parents, however, find that the going gets harder as the child gets older, mostly because the child learns to resist. Mind maths? But why?Tennis class? Oh god, why? Dance class? Why can’t I skip and watch TV? Everything becomes a row; some escalate into wars; things turn ugly. Punitive measures are imposed; parental authority is exercised but often disregarded. And then the introspection starts – should we have done something differently? Are we ‘forcing’ the child to do something he/she is really averse to? But isn’t it for their own good? Won’t they be thankful we made them do this when they’re older? There are, of course, no easy answers.

What works for one parent-child, won’t work for another. In our household, for instance, things have always been very laissez-faire; so easy going that the daughter herself begged for extra-curricular lessons. At 12. And she enjoys her lessons (ballet and debate) and thrives in them. (That actually made me wonder if I shouldn’t have started her off earlier. But never mind.) But I also know of kids who took to sports at a very early age; found that they were passionate about singing/ dancing only because their parents wouldn’t let them stop music/ dance lessons even when they refused to go for them as 7-year-olds. I also know of cases when the child rebelled – and rebelled quite vigorously – that the parent-child relationship was messed up because they forced the activities on the child. And when it comes to academics, the line gets even more hazy. Are marks everything? But then, don’t they count towards college admissions? Except, 4th standard marks never do. So why are parents cracking the whip on a 9-year-old? To get them into the habit of hard-work? Isn’t it sufficient if they put their nose to the proverbial grind-stone in the years that count? I really don’t have the answers. And I don’t know which bunch of parents are right – the ones who decide their child should be a super-achiever/ perform to the best of their ability; or the ones who will sit back and watch the child learn by him/herself. I wish I had the answer. Do you?