Food for thought for young minds – Are you feeding the right emotional diet to your children?

Emotional Diet of Children
What to feed the minds of young children

Raven is barely 5 years old but he is not able to connect with the children of his locality. He often complains to his parents that the kids in the apartment are completely opposite to him. On being asked what makes him say so, Raven retorts that the kids here just want to play ‘zombie’ games which he is not fond of. His father makes him adjust somehow every time this situation erupts. 

For the uninitiated, zombie game involves scaring the players and pushing them around. I have been observing that most of the children in the present times are attracted to violence. How to prevent kids from resorting to violence? Violence is not the only problem lurking around kids.  Let’s take another example.

All of 7, Rashi is unlike her girl-friends. When they catch up for a get-together / play-date, they talk about the latest things their parents got them. Conversations revolve around make-ups, shopping and the like. Rashi’s mom had not exposed her to the concept of make-up and beauty. And hence, she doesn’t enjoy such banter. Rashi wants to talk about latest books she read or how she won the monopoly game against her cousins. She loves to talk about the doodling she does or play dumbcharades. And what do her friends love to play? They love playing fashion show /ramp walk or dress-ups or just gossip about other girls.

I don’t think Rashi is alone who feels like this. There must be many kids like her who are still their own self – kids. When I was young, we used to play hide and seek, hopscotch, pretend play, scrabble, boggle and the likes. Ironically, we had to study hard to lay our hands on toys. And television was off our limits for most of the times. Things have changed much since then. Any kind of content can be streamed at any place and at any time. And there is no age limit for content. At present, children are allowed to watch the content that they like. The problem is that parents do not understand the difference between right and wrong content and how much screen time is enough for their children. Parents also do not understand the type of reaction to give when they come across adult content.

Let us answer this question. What is your reaction when, while watching a movie with family, you come across a kissing scene?

  1. Fast forward the content
  2. Tell the kids this is ‘bad’
  3. You never watch such content in presence of kids
  4. Is there an option 4?

Let us analyze each option. When you choose option 1, you try to brush off the kissing scene. The children in such case are curious and will try to know more whenever they get an opportunity. If you have chosen option 2, you are creating a wrong impression on the young minds. Option 3 seems appropriate as children should not be exposed to such content at a young age. However, even animation movies for children have kissing scenes these days and it has become hard to avoid them completely. And hence, there is an option 4 available.

I met a family recently and I found their approach quite relatable. On encountering a kissing scene, it is pointless to brush it off. Instead, children should be made to understand that adults express their love through such type of kissing. It is not recommended for children, though. This way, children can be brought up in the right manner. Children, at present, not only need the right content but someone to make them understand content in the right manner.

The concept of emotional diet

Like you, I am a parent too. And my kiddo is an extremely sensitive child. Since her birth, I used to be very careful about what she watches and experiences in a day. And the thing that I was taking care of is known as the emotional diet. However, just like you, I was not aware of this phrase earlier. This is because we parents are very much concerned about the diet (food) of our children. Our minds have been conditioned by our parents and the society that we should always eat fresh, healthy food. While in the supermarket, we carefully read the list of ingredients. We skip those products that have refined flour, fructose, preservatives mentioned. However, in the hullabaloo of this diet, parents completely forget about the emotional diet of the children.

Each and every phase of the kid needs monitoring of the emotional diet. If you are a parent of a 3-month old child, remember that even she has started understanding things. And watching the wrong content in her presence might make an impact on her emotional diet. Let alone 3-month old child, even babies in the womb understand a lot many things. The story of Abhimanyu learning about Chakravyuh in his mother’s womb is an example of the same. Yes, emotional diet of the children needs to be monitored from the moment mothers conceive a child. Elders in every community make sure that the pregnant mothers watch the right content. However, young couples generally brush this concept off.

Let’s learn how to monitor the emotional diet of the children. For ease of understanding, I have divided it into five aspects.

What are they watching

This is the most important aspect of the emotional diet of children. This is because they watch and learn. Children learn more by watching and observing rather than being instructed. This makes it very important that children are exposed to the right screen content. It is very simple and easy for the parents of toddlers as they just watch rhymes and songs.

However, as kids start growing up, their viewing habits take a leap. And parents are not able to demarcate the boundaries when this leap takes place. Suddenly, from nursery rhymes, your child may want to watch and learn from movie songs. Initially, it is fun to watch your child mimic the movie characters. But if this becomes a habit, it may become an embarrassment for you. You cannot prevent the exposure in any manner because there are a thousand and one sources for the same. However, you can limit the duration of the exposure. And further, when the child starts understanding, you can condition her mind about the suitability of the content.

In the example stated in the beginning of the content, the kids Raven met in the play-area were being exposed to violent content. Some children get addicted to such content and want to watch it repeatedly. But, it’s the onus of the parents, not to give child, everything that he demands or he likes. Similarly, friends of Rashi might have come across YouTube content wherein girls their age were pretend-playing with make-up products. As I explained earlier that children get exposed to content from different sources, but it is the responsibility of parents to take a call at appropriate ages – limit the content or limit the duration of the content or make the child understand if she is able to.

What are they reading

So the screen time of the kids should be in limits. What is the next option to kill the lots of spare time that kids have. Books!!! Yes, books. If the books are right, they form the healthy emotional diet of the children. And so, parents have been flocking book stores and online stores and discount stores and even used book stores to buy tons of books for their kids. Authors of children’s book finally have something to rejoice about. However, not all children’s books have the right content. And that is what I am trying to explain. Every age has an appropriate content.

There is a different set of books for toddlers, likewise for kids who are five years old. A book should not be judged just by its cover, but also the content – be it illustrations or the language. Before investing in a children’s book, it is advisable to go through the entire content. Some stories do not have appropriate morals, language or illustrations. There are stories that are biased based on gender, race, ethnicity or even morally. It depends on how you want to bring up your child.

When a child starts reading on his own, it is necessary to monitor how he is taking up the content. Parents should ask questions to the child pertaining to his understanding – he might not have got the content right. Asking open-ended questions help a lot. I am in this phase. My daughter has started reading by herself. She doesn’t wait for me to read stories to her. And that’s the reason that I have to be all the more careful. Likewise, children these days, operate gadgets on their own – especially, the modern menace, mobile phones. Parents need to be all the more conscious during this phase.

What are they listening to

Kids cannot be reading books all the time. So we expose them to music. They love humming nursery rhymes as toddlers and then they graduate to songs. Even listening to songs passively forms the emotional diet of the children. We love their version of ‘Closer by Chainsmokers’ and laugh it off. However, we might not realize exactly when they begin understanding the lyrics. And hence, it is necessary to make them hear the right songs or make them understand about the aptness of the lyrics. The way lyricists use the ‘f**k’ word liberally these days, we have to teach our kids that the word is not right and we might want to skip some songs that have this word used multiple numbers of times. In such cases, the old songs are quite good. As at that time, the songs actually had good lyrics, most of the times.

What are they playing

Children love to play what they watch and see. There are hundreds of pretend play videos on YouTube. Toddlers and young children love watching the videos and emulate them. However, children wander off to similar videos offered by the video channel in suggestions. Similar videos may not be age appropriate at times. Such videos influence the emotional diet of the children in the wrong manner. Hence, it is always advisable to keep a close watch on what the children watch and what they play, be it at home, at play-dates or even in playgrounds. The change in their behavior, language and the games they play give a hint of their recent experiences. Tapping the behavioral changes can help parents take actions if required.

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What are they experiencing

Experiences play a major role in the lives of children. Whatever they see and observe and experience in their environment forms the emotional diet of the children. Conversation among parents, among parents and their friends and also the peers of the children contribute to the experiences of the child. If a child is brought up in a nurturing environment, she is being fed the right emotional diet. Just like good food results in good health, good emotional diet results in strong minds. If we feed our kids’ minds with ‘junk’ all the time, they’re going to be mentally unhealthy and it will manifest though their words and actions! On the flip side if we feed their minds with goodness, it will reflect in a more positive behaviour.

It’s high time that parents start monitoring the emotional diet of their kids. Children who are fed good emotional diet do not face the prevalent issues of stress, anxiety, loneliness and the like. Mentally strong kids are always able to cope up with extreme situations, and take things in their stride.

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