The gift called childhood

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The gift called childhood

Mom: She can stay at home. I could quit my job. We can try home schooling. They do that in the West, right?

Dad: What about her tennis practice and swimming? And dance classes?

Mom: I don’t know! What do we do?

With cases of three-year-olds and six-year-olds raped and abused at schools coming out in the public domain, the dread among parents is more than palpable. Your child may not be a victim today. But who’s to say what will happen tomorrow.

Imagine the plight of those hundreds of children studying in the schools where these abuses have been reported.

While the courts may uphold justice in due course of time, what do the parents tell their little ones in the meanwhile? You don’t have to go to school for a couple of days because people are protesting outside? Don’t talk to strangers or teachers? Don’t get out of the house?

Some clouds don’t have the silver lining. It’s a heartless world out there. When our children look back on their childhood days, what would they see? Hopefully, a time filled with infinite love and affection, solid sense of safety and wellbeing, countless dreams and aspirations. Despite, the obvious testing times.  

As powerless as we – parents, teachers, family and the society – may feel, the fact remains that we have the power to safeguard this little world. The key is to start with things that are within our control. Things that we sometimes tend to take for granted.

“The most important gift we can give a child is unconditional love and affection. The love and affection needs to be there amongst all the family members, too, as it directly affects the upbringing of the child,” says Surabhi Verma, director of Sparsh for Children, a Delhi-based organisation that works with children with special needs.

“Where there is love, affection and understanding between family members, there is also an ability to understand the problems of the child better,” she maintains.

To understand the problem, one needs to first acknowledge it. Sometimes that’s the most challenging part. Take childhood obesity, for instance. We are conditioned to think of chubby kids as healthy – it’s the ideal Indian parents strive for. So, when doctors tell you that the child is overweight, they are likely to be outnumbered by family, friends and almost everybody else, who thinks otherwise.

So, well-meaning parents continue to force-feed infants and toddlers, laying the ground for a bumpy, bulky way ahead. “We want them to receive good nutrition, but we don’t do it the right way,” rues Taranjeet Kaur, metabolic balance coach and senior nutritionist with AktivOrtho, Delhi.

“When children are overfed, the number of fat cells increases. An overweight child, who grows up to be an obese adult, will face extreme difficulties in losing weight because s/he has more fat cells. Kids, who stop eating when they feel full, are less likely to become overweight,” she explains.

Obesity is known to predispose children  to diabetes and cardiovascular ailments. According to a recent research conducted in Germany, in obese children part of the heart muscle – the left ventricle – was thicker on average, which in an adult would be a sign of impending cardiovascular problems.

“We do not know if these changes are reversible with weight loss or how they will impact future cardiovascular disease in these subjects,” said the lead author, Dr Norman Manager, cardiologist at the University of Leipzig.

He offers the usual advice: Follow a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and get plenty of exercise. “The changes seen in obese children are in the wrong direction of normal development and should therefore be taken seriously, and as an incentive to change lifestyle,” he warns.

Dr Antony Robert, paediatric consultant, Columbia Asia Hospital, Bangalore, could not agree more. “It is important that children indulge in some sort of physical activity on a daily basis. It could be cycling, playing a sport or just playing with their neighbourhood friends in the garden.

Regular outdoor activities not only aid in weight control, but also help maintain  strong muscles and bones; decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, improve sleep as well as one’s outlook on life,” he says.

Now, this is where things can get really tricky. How do you get the little one to ditch the iPad and sweat it out at the playground, when you can’t bear to be separated from the blinking smartphone in your hand even for a minute?

How do you inspire the tiny tot to eat healthy greens, when you don’t miss a single opportunity to order in pizzas and French fries? The best way – and perhaps, the only way – is to lead by example. Eat healthy, stay active. And watch junior try to follow in your footsteps.

Think through your choices, though. According to a recent study published online in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, scientists found that children who drank milk only from sources other than cows were almost three times as likely as those who drank only cow’s milk to have vitamin D deficiency.

What’s more, among children who drank both kinds of milk, each additional cup of milk consumed from another source was associated with a five percent decrease in the vitamin D level. In other words, while parents may believe that they are making a healthy choice, they may actually be causing the child much harm.

When it comes to children, they have an innate desire to please, to garner attention, to soak in the adulation. More than anything else, what they lack today is role models, someone they can look up to, aspire to be like when they grow up.

Parents, teachers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, older cousins, neighbours, friends,
family…everybody can chip in. Show them how to lead a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.

This November 14, celebrated as Children’s Day in memory of the man who loved children and roses alike, let’s make a pledge to do our bit to make this world a better place for the citizens of tomorrow. Not sending them to school, locking them up at home is hardly a solution. It’s like caging a bird because you are afraid of the predators. Birds are meant to fly. Children are meant to enjoy their childhood. Without fear, without distrust.

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