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Exploring the complex inner worlds of kids

THE ASIAN AGE. | SUNRITA SEN
Published : Jul 1, 2018, 4:47 am IST
Updated : Jul 1, 2018, 4:47 am IST

It’s not easy being a parent, but going by Paiva’s case studies it is even more difficult being a child.

Love & Rage: The Inner Worlds of Children by Nupur Dhingra Paiva Yoda Press, Rs 450
 Love & Rage: The Inner Worlds of Children by Nupur Dhingra Paiva Yoda Press, Rs 450

Scary? Reassuring? Child therapist Nupur Dhingra Paiva’s book Love & Rage: The Inner Worlds of Children is both. Drawing from years of experience in counselling children, young adults and parents, Paiva gives us a glimpse into the inner world of children, their emotional turmoil, their defence mechanisms, their struggles with love and anger and how these two often intertwine.

It’s not easy being a parent, but going by Paiva’s case studies it is even more difficult being a child.

Indian parents — and doctors and teachers — tend to focus on a child’s development in physical and mental terms. First comes weight, then height, cognitive abilities, then their grades, maybe manners. The need to understand and respond to a child’s feelings and help them grow in emotional or in relational terms rarely comes into the picture, Paiva writes.

Parents’ interaction with their child is mainly through instruction, advice, expectation and obedience. The mother’s antenna responds swiftly to hunger or physical discomfort but not as fast to signals of emotional turmoil.

The toddler who veers between love and hate with the arrival of a sibling and struggles with his emotions and bottles them up; the eight to nine-year-old whose behavioural issues are traced to an absentee father; the “air” that surrounds a child growing up in a home full of tensions arising out of difficult adult relationships. Paiva dwells on not unusual instances in everyday lives and the deep and long-term impressions they can have on the psyche of children.

That’s scary. As parents we tend to be largely instinctive about child-rearing and it looks like it’s easy to go wrong. We often don’t notice little ticks, even if we do visiting a counsellor or a psychotherapist isn’t usually an option that’s considered in India until things feel “seriously” wrong. That’s not how it should be, Paiva suggests.

“Ordinary life could do with psychotherapy — for both children and their parents. Nothing terribly traumatic needs to happen before we attend to our feelings about something. Ordinary living is full of difficult transitions and emotional upheavals and we gloss over them in an (often ineffectual) attempt to cope with them. Glossing is ineffectual because our emotional lives are a force of nature. You cannot bottle it up or shut it down any more than you can bottle the wind or push down an ocean wave; there will be repercussions.”

Vidur and Ajay were angry and violent, mainly towards their mothers and would hit them till they bruised. Their mothers said it started when they were about eight. Vivek and Krishna were angry and afraid of their own aggression. They would hurt themselves sometimes through deliberate self harm like cutting themselves or insidious ways like overdozing on sugar, becoming obese, breaking bones.

They were all 16 when they came to Paiva. “Deep down, a place they allow themselves to reach with immense difficulty after weeks of ‘emotional gym’ with a psychotherapist, these boys acknowledge the grief they feel about not having a father around,” she writes before dwelling at length on the importance of the role of a father specially for boys on the threshold of adolescence. And she also asks what sort of fathers would these boys make?

The role of the father, often absent or uninvolved in their children’s lives, is just one of a range of neglected and little discussed issues in Indian society that Love & Rage deals with and that’s why this book is reassuring. It helps us understand our children and the child within each of us, their emotional needs — our emotional needs — and the consequences of ignoring these.

Paiva talks of post-natal depression, the emotions around breast-feeding, the importance of play — through which a child makes sense of the world. She discusses anger and aggression, how losses and sadness tend to go unaddressed and grief unacknowledged, leading to deep scars.

There’s something for everyone here, it’s a book to dip into in search for — perhaps not answers, but at least an understanding of the child’s inner world through the stories Paiva shares with the permission of their owners.

“By sharing these stories I want to start conversations in people’s heads, between the child in them and the adult exterior and between generations in families, even if it is only a silent conversation with one participant,” writes Paiva in her preface. “Conversations that are too difficult, too sad, or too overwhelming to be had out loud because even a lot of love is hard to express.” The inner child in each of us adults holds the secrets to how we deal with children.

Children need more than being fed, bathed and have their homework supervised. Right from their baby years they need to feel safe, they need to be reassured about the reliability of their carers, to feel continuity in their worlds and spaces, they need acknowledgement of their progress and achievements and they need help to learn to accept diversity.

Every human has great inner resilience and creative ways of coping — some manage to sail through emotional turmoil or neglect in the early years with small bruises that stay hidden in hazy corners of their memories. Others struggle to keep it together and they need help. Not everyone manages to work their way to the scarce, often expensive, psychotherapist. And it’s not always that going to one works.

You may not identify with everything Paiva writes, but somewhere in those 200-odd pages you would certainly find yourself and some learnings that help you understand better your children, their parents and yours. If you are a young parent, it could change your child’s life.

Sunrita Sen is a freelance writer   

Tags: love & rage, emotional, adolescence