Can we parents ask ourselves "Why Not"

Your teenager asks you: 


Can I go for this party? 

Can I have a new phone? 

Can I streak my hair? Or shave my head? 

Can I go for a late-night movie show? 

I like that girl. Can I call her home? 


As a parent of a teenager, when faced with such questions, the first word that pops out of my mouth is ‘No’.  I am so full of fears. 


If she goes for that party who knows what is happening there? They may be having alcohol. 

If I keep giving in to his demands for new gadgets he doesn’t understand the value of money 

Streaking her hair. What's wrong with her? What will other people say about my child? 

Night show… My mother in law will say I have no control over my children. 

Boyfriend/ girlfriend… This is not the age for all this. It will harm their studies. 


When I observe these thoughts, I realize that most of my decisions are coming from a place of fear and societal conditioning rather than being open to the needs of my child. And with every blanket ‘No’ I say, I have pushed my child further away. She feels she is neither heard nor understood.  She slams her door, goes into her room and says, “You are the worst parent in the world”. I start wondering what I should be doing differently. I go back to what I have learnt about my teenager and her brain. 


What is happening with my teenager? 


According to neuroscientists, this is the age when their brain is propelling them to separate from the parent and learn to survive on their own. In this process, survival means depending more and more on their peer group. It's like an animal facing death in the wild because he has been separated from his pack. There is a similar process happening for humans too.  According to Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, for adolescents having that new phone, going to that party or streaking their hair FEELS like a matter of life or death. They are overcome by emotions which tell them that if they do not fit into the “pack” their survival is at stake. Along with this they have entered puberty where sexual attraction is most natural. Telling them they “cannot feel attraction” goes against their own reality.  


Moving from ‘No’ to ‘Why’ 


Knowing more about the teenage brain and body has helped me move away from quickly saying ‘No’ and starting each conversation with curiosity. Why is this so important to my child? So, I try to begin with statements like; “Looks like you are really keen on having this particular phone? Tell me more”, “You really want to go for this movie with your friends? Why?”, “Wondering why you want to streak your hair?”


These conversations convey to the child that I am genuinely interested in understanding her point of view. And then we can have discussions in which I too can present my views and concerns. I do realize that each child and family is different and we all come from varied family values and culture. It is not possible for anyone to arrive at a list of what we should or shouldn't allow our teenagers to do. What is acceptable to one family may not be so for another.


I found value in pushing my own boundaries of thought and asking myself “Why not?”. A parent from a conservative family recently shared with me how she said ‘Yes’ to her daughter who was very keen on shaving her head. She even went along to the parlour and it was great bonding moment. She said if this mattered so much to the child and it was not harming her in any way then “Why not”. 


Listening to her story made me realize how when we convert these ‘Nos’ into ‘Why nots’ we actually grab an amazing opportunity to connect with our children. And there will be times when we need to set limits when we believe it will harm their safety and wellbeing. During those times both we and our teens will know that this ‘No’ is not coming from unfounded fears but from genuine concerns for their safety and wellbeing. 


Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.

Cultivating Joy in Reading – Part 2

Last week we looked into how to introduce books to infants and continue to read a variety of books that help children develop a love for reading. This week, we will look at pointers to help parents gently expose the joy of books and reading to children.

Reading a story versus narrating it - Narration involves bringing the story to life rather than merely reading the words written in the books. Feel free to add your own elements to the story, change some parts which resonate with the values you want to pass on to your child - the hare and the tortoise reaching the finish line together, for example. Change the language of the story to the language spoken at home if that makes you more comfortable to narrate it. Making a story lively by using different facial expressions and exaggerated tones and actions would make you a popular story teller! 

Here are a few concerns that parents might have:

All my child’s friends can read, but he still can’t. - Every child learns to read at his own pace. That magical breakthrough moment - when the child begins to show interest and an aptitude in stringing letters into words happens at different ages for different children, even within the same family. It can seem like they’re not trying hard enough, but for some skills, we are able to see their competency only when it happens in leaps. If we force them into it, it could make them lose interest in reading. Perhaps you can have your child turn the pages as you read so he feels like he’s contributing to, and controlling the pace of the story. Or you could mutually decide for him to read out one paragraph as you read out the next? Such gentle ways of encouragement could help the child to move towards reading independently.

My child can read, yet she wants me to read to her. - As children grow older, such uninterrupted moments with parents can be of great comfort to them. If being read to is a way your child feels close to you, use that as a special way to be with her. 

My child asks a lot of questions while reading and it interrupts the flow of the story. When the child has questions or comments about the story, it shows that he is engaged in the story. Maybe he related something in the story with an incident that happened in his life. Making time for interruptions makes way for conversations. This builds an understanding about each other’s perspective which otherwise is easy to miss in the rush of the routine. Reading at home needs to be a fun, inspiring and a curiosity quenching experience! 

My older child does not pick up a book to read by herself - We never know why some children resist reading. They may find it a struggle due to having a different style of learning which is more auditory. Listening to audio-books which are mostly freely available on the internet will bring them in touch with the stories and the knowledge of books. 

It is important for parents and adults to understand that some children will love reading and will always want to engage with a book, while some may not enjoy it as much. Not everyone has an equal liking for sports and music, and books are no different. So if a child doesn’t show a great interest in reading, let us not perceive them or ourselves as failures. As parents, we can make the world of books joyful for our children, so that they have a desire to engage with books all their lives.


Author: Manasi Dandeker is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.

fatherhood: The struggles of New Dads

One of my favourite childhood stories is one about how my Uncle rushed to the local post office to send my Dad a telegram about my sister’s birth many decades ago, when phones were almost non-existent. My sister was born in a small town in Tamil Nadu where my maternal grandfather worked, while Appa was posted in Pune. I have never asked my father what his reaction was when he received that telegram!

In most circumstances, the news of an impending birth is greeted with great joy, and promptly the dad-to-be is instructed on how to look after the expectant mother. Families and friends gear up to assist the new mother to be, and the father moves into the main supporting role. Becoming a parent is as momentous and life changing for the father as it is for the mother. Yet, no one ever really thinks about, or asks the dad how he is feeling, and what he may be going through, not just at the announcement or arrival of the baby but also, into the first few months following the birth. Why is it, that do we not focus on new dads also?

Societal norms and the new Father

 In our country, for the majority, it is the norm for the mother to be, to move to her maternal home for the birth of the child, and the first few weeks following the birth. This is done with the intention that mother and baby can receive the utmost care and support.  So there is a physical separation for the father to be, not only from his partner, but also from the process of pregnancy and childbirth, barring maybe the hospital check-ups and pre-natal classes. After the birth, the new dad may be looking forward to connecting and bonding with the new arrival. Being around his wife to both support her, as well as reconnect , as parents. Often he is deprived of this. In every area of childcare, be it carrying, feeding the baby, diaper changes or swaddling etc., there are other more competent adults around the new mother and child,  that take over, all the while, lovingly, yet firmly pointing out the new dad’s ineptitude and lack of experience.A lot of this is driven by a societal belief that there is very little a father can contribute in the first year of the child’s life. This, besides placing enormous pressure on the new mother to take up all child care duties, also sets up the system to deprive the father of ways in which he can be there for his wife and child. Can we pause here then, and think about,  all the ways fathers can and may want to get involved, and why we deny them that.

Taking on the role of a Father

Many men may have a lot of areas of concern and stress with regards to taking on the new role as a father. Mothers have the advantage of bonding and connection with the child from conception. For fathers it is not so natural, and they need to take extra effort. If they are the primary breadwinner, the added financial responsibility for the new addition to the family can be stressful.  Additionally, the mental and physical health of their partner, in the first few weeks, post-partum, may also affect them. Lastly, the new state of their relationship with their partner, the loss of both physical and emotional intimacy for an extended period of time could impact new fathers deeply.

All of the factors mentioned above, contribute to anxiety, and in some cases, even lead to depression. In fact, studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate that almost 50% of new dads are at a risk of depression. 

As we see it, our cultural and social structures are geared towards supporting the expectant and new mum and baby. Very rarely have expectant dads and new dads had their thoughts, needs, and feelings acknowledged. Subsequently, there is no system in place for those who require emotional support. Informally, talking and venting to their buddy group over a beer or a coffee may work for some, and yet there could be others who need more assistance and/or professional help.

The effects  of impaired mental health of an expectant or new dad is wide ranging. It directly impacts the new mother and baby. It influences family life, the connection between the couple, and between parent and child.

So, keeping this in mind, we see that it is important for family members and friends to support and lend a helping hand  to an expectant or new dad as much as the new mother. Be it listening to and acknowledging their fears and anxieties, or, helping them get more involved and hands on with taking care of the baby, and spending time with their partner. During this life changing transition into fatherhood, if we as a community are able to provide new dads with this manner of guidance and encouragement, we really will be doing them, and their families a huge service.

As for my dad, I am going to ask him now how he felt on receiving that telegram which changed his life forever. 


Author: Seemanthini Iyer is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.

The ever-evolving Manual of a Parent of a Teenager

“Amma ...the Batman movie is finally here!”, says my excited 15-year-old. “Shall I book tickets for us?”, I say equally excitedly. My response is met with an indignant violent reaction – “ Who said I want to go with you and Appa.” I find it tough to keep a straight face, my heart breaking. My husband reminds me for the nth time, “Don’t take it so personally”!

I have two teenage children, a 19-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son.  Over the years, I have discovered (the hard way many times) that the teen years are as turbulent for parents, as they are for the children. We seem to need a different set of skills when working with them! 

So often, parents feel hurt by the way teenagers respond and interact with them. However, knowing about how the teen brain develops helps us to not construe our teen’s behavior as a rejection of all that we are. It also helps us better understand them. Today, studies in Neuroscience tell us that the thinking brain develops fully only by the mid-20s. Teenagers do not have impulse control and most of their behavior is an attempt to discover their own identity, or for peer acceptance. So, when our teenagers are hell bent on getting that crazy haircut, dressing differently, or wanting to go for a party, it is literally a matter of life or death for them. Their brain is pushing them away from their parents, towards their peers, in the pursuit of preparing them for adulthood. This is a natural part of evolution and not a reflection of whether we are valued by them. 


With this new awareness, here is my attempt to list a few crucial things a parent with teen children could keep in mind while interacting with them, and still building the bond.

  • Being mindful of our responses when teens share things: “Amma, my friend and I are doing a challenge for the coming school break. We are going to be binge watching a TV series.”  I earnestly find myself saying, “What a waste of time...instead you should be challenging each other to learn a skill or something constructive.” My response gets a roll of the eyes and a firm, ‘I knew I shouldn’t have told you about this plan!” In another instance, my daughter who studies in another city said she was going for protests in the midst of communal tensions. My worried interrogation was countered by a matter of fact response, “Amma, all my friends are going without telling their parents. At least I’m telling you.”

Disapproval or strong opinions from us parents makes teens defensive and unwilling to share. As they are growing into adulthood, we have to  train ourselves to be open to their thoughts and choices, and find  common ground, or agreeing to disagree. This is challenging, and yet one of the key elements to  ensure connection with our teens. It makes them open to receiving advice and guidance from us when needed. 

  • Connecting with teens by taking interest in what interests them: When my children were younger, they would organically  go along and participate in activities we suggested,  whether it was a sport, music or art, relatives and friends homes, temple visits, or beach walks … whatever we planned. Through the teen years, I found that as they discovered their own identity, their own likes, dislikes and interests, they were gradually less involved in my plans, and absent from conversations.  A colleague shared how she had started learning about cars so that she could converse with her 17 year old son. 


This made me realize that it was time for a role reversal. Now, we parents need to be curious and enthusiastic about our  teen’s interests,  available when they are in a mood to chat. Over the years, I have found myself learning about pokemon, anime, origami, rap music, poetry, football and much more. It has been a rewarding experience, and has also helped strengthen the relationship. 


  • Being vigilant: At a school meeting, my children’s school principal said that though teenagers look grown up, now is the time they need us the most. How true! Having a brain that is still under construction, frequently experiencing strong emotions and dealing with the pressure of  building a bright future can be really daunting. Our children need us to be around, watching over them with empathy. However, this is tricky. One really has to be alert whilst respecting the privacy of the teenager. 

I go to my teen’s room frequently, always knocking before entering. Having conversations with our teens is another way of gauging their understanding of things and assessing if they are stressed or need help. Alcohol or cigarettes, if any at home, could be locked away to avoid teens from getting tempted to try them at an inappropriate age. Rules around screen time need to be arrived at collaboratively with the teens and upheld firmly. 


 Each of us with teen children will have our own manuals which keep evolving as we grow alongside our young ones. My experiences teach me that after a long innings of holding my children through childhood,  it is time to rework the relationship as two adults. Can we detach ourselves while keeping the attachment?


Prerna Kalra  is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.

Does parenting need to be taught

Parenting –isn’t it something we are all supposed to do by instinct?  After all, generations have raised children without the help of articles, books, or workshops. So, do we really need to talk about parenting?

Yes, we do!! We might all be parenting on what we think is instinct but it is really beliefs and practices handed down by earlier generations. We raise children interacting with them the way we have always seen adults interact with children. And can we assume that all these actions are beneficial to the child? Today we are in this amazing position where years of research and studies on brain development are actually able to tell us how parent child interactions impact a growing child’s brain. And some of these discoveries are startling!

Take this example. Research today tells us that for healthy brain development children need an environment free of fear. When we share this with parents in our workshops their first reaction is this- “If our child does not fear us what control do we have over the child. The child should fear at least one parent”. Well, according to neuroscience the brain seeks safety more than anything else as survival is the main function of the brain. If a child does not feel completely safe, all aspects of his development - learning, health and behaviour are compromised. In fact, when children experience too much stress and fear then the stress hormone called Cortisol is released in the brain. Cortisol actually kills brain cells!!

So now we know that using the age-old methods of fear and threats to shape behaviour actually do not help children at all.

Is this true of all our age-old practices? Not so! In Indian culture, we have never believed in letting a baby cry and we strongly believe that babies should always remain near the mother- held, carried and sleeping close. This has been thoroughly endorsed by science. According to the Centre for the Developing Child, Harvard, practices which make a child feel safe and responded to, build
healthy brain architecture.

Do I need all this science you may wonder as a parent? We could consider ourselves lucky.
The information revolution may be confusing but if we learn how to find the right information, we can use it to nurture the best in our children.  

For all of us as a society to benefit we need to talk about parenting. We need to give it
the importance it deserves and bring it to the forefront. For every job in the world people receive training, but this is the most important and the most challenging of all. We are expected to know what to do without an instruction manual!

Let us make parenting a topic to be discussed in our schools, workplaces, and even social
gatherings (not just for mothers but fathers too). Let us learn what we can do to bring up the next generation with care and compassion. Imagine a world where children are raised with this knowledge and understanding. We will have a society of confident, caring, balanced, responsible adults. We, parents, have the power to change the world.


Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families.