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A ‘little’ connect with the ‘BIG’ world

Our kids are growing up in a paradoxically smaller and smaller world- where they have to make less and less effort to connect with what’s ‘out there’, whether it is people, places or information. Friends from far-off locations are accessible on mini-sized screens, global foods and cuisines are available locally, and schools are turning ‘international’ too. All our systems are geared towards creating global citizens with a global awareness. And that is great!

But there is another ‘bigger’ world out there- that of the wild, the forests, and the very sources of civilisation. That of beings and species beyond those seen in urban spaces alone. That of the origin of food and what makes it available to us. That of rivers and wide open spaces. A world which needs a different set of skills to navigate and survive in. A world which is often hidden from urban view yet so inextricably linked with it.

How wonderful it would be to plan a little trip to help our children connect with this world ‘out there’. My recent visit to the Chambal Safari Lodge showed me what such a connect could do.

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Located at just about a five hour driving distance from Delhi-NCR (a comfortable enough road trip distance when travelling with children), slightly ahead of Agra, the Lodge offers a wonderful mix of comfort, along with a gentle, well thought-out introduction to nature and its many wonders. Its well planned excursions, some on-site and some off-site, are guided by enthusiastic and well-trained naturalists who have just the right skills to keep the little ones engaged and involved. The boat safari on the Chambal River, which allows you to spot a diversity of fauna including muggers, gharials, some spectacular birds and the occasional jump of the rare river dolphin, from the safe distance of your boat, provides a gentle yet wonderful introductory connect with the wild.

On-site activities are all gadget and screen-free (no TVs in the rooms), yet offer exciting possibilities- guided nature walks around the lush green property grounds with their own treasure house of birds and wildlife, bicycle rides around the adjoining wheat fields, board games and children’s books in the library. Feel free to carry your own badminton rackets or cricket equipment as the sprawling grounds provide enough space for these outdoor activities.

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The food deserves a special mention. Not only is it homely and mildly flavoured enough for kids, the chef’s skill in transforming regular (read boring :P) veggies into mouth-watering delicacies is above par. So yes, here’s a wonderful opportunity to get your kids to try out tori, lauki and baingan, not only because no junk is available on the table but also because it is really and honestly yummy food. Mostly home-grown on their farms too. Mr. Singh also told me that they organise natural farming experiences for visiting kids and families on their farms to help them rediscover the connect with food and how and where it comes from.

The Lodge is a purely eco-friendly property, based on sustainable and pro-environment practices, including natural irrigation, waste recycling and water conservation. In their endeavour to spread awareness, they not only urge guests to follow suit but also organise a number of conservation and awareness campaigns for children in local rural as well as outstation schools.

More than anything, what makes this ‘connect’ meaningful for me is that the skills needed in the forest are the exact opposite of the ones we need, and yet constantly strive to ingrain, in our urban world. You have to necessarily be silent and watchful for the forest to open up to you. It is the patient gazing across the stretch of the river that rewards you with the fleeting jump of the river dolphin.

You have to listen, and watch, and be mindful. Isn’t that what we are constantly telling our kids they need to do?

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Happiness is…the BIG Picture!

I don’t know if you guys have read (although I wonder if that’s the right word for that book) Ralph Lazar & Lisa Swerling’s latest book called ‘Happiness Is…’. It is a simple yet heartwarming book which gave me a great idea for an interactive/collaborative art project for my room. I stripped down my massive pin board to bare and, in colourful letters, wrote the prompt, ‘Happiness is…’. And really, that’s all that was needed.

The little and not-so-little ones I work with, and their parents, my friends, clients, colleagues, the young, the old…this simple but visually obvious prompt on my pin board did not fail to pique the curiosity of whoever entered my room. Since then, I have had a series of absolutely delightful contributions, in all shapes and sizes, in words as well as in doodles, in song, and in lyrics. I have bemusedly watched adults get to the task with childlike glee, even asking for coloured markers! And children spouting inner wisdom that has left me humbled.

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Here are the many, many ways interactive and collaborative art projects are a great idea when working with little and not-so-little people:

  • Art has huge therapeutic benefits. It generates enthusiasm, while also having a relaxing effect on our physiology. It alerts as well as calms. Collaborative art also has the added benefit of teaching kids to work with others, to pick up from where others have left off.
  • Doing a collaborative project means learning to wait. I may have done my little bit but I need to be patient while the rest of it comes together, bit by little bit.
  • Helps them see the bigger picture. When working on our individual bits, we tend to take a worm’s eye view, focusing on every little detail yet working within our comfort zone. As soon as I put my little bit into the larger whole, it becomes something else altogether. The whole is always bigger than the sum of its parts. A wonderful lesson in perspective taking.
  • Kids get to learn so many new ways of thinking and responding to the same thing. “I used to think happiness lies in playing video games alone, but hey, many people my age seem to think doing art makes them happy…and some say sports..and for some simply humming a tune seems to do it..hey wait! That one makes me happy too!”. For therapists working with children, such projects open up a world of insightful discussion and peer-modeled skills.
  • It is the process rather than the product, that matters. It is how the project comes together, how another person’s idea triggers off something in this one’s mind, how some kids jump straight into theirs while others labour painstakingly through theirs, wanting to get it ‘just right’. These are the processes that reveal the greatest insights and stay on, lingering long after the project is done and dusted.

Go on, start one today and be surprised!

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Brain Training for ‘Luminous’ Minds

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Since I often work with children with executive function difficulties, I am constantly on the lookout for apps and games that can help them in this area. Given the amount of time children and young people are spending on gadgets, it would be worthwhile channelising some part of this time into games and apps that will actually help them in real life, and yet, are fun enough for kids to want to spend time on them.

Lumosity is one such personal training app that can help your child get some daily exercise…for their brain! It creates a training program that is personalised for them, based on neuroscience research from top universities around the world. Lumosity scientists have taken common neuropsychological tests out of the lab and transformed these scientific tests into over 40 fun games! There are 5 games in a daily workout, each targeting an ability fundamentally important for school-aged children- memory, attention, problem solving, speed and flexibility.

Training with Lumosity 15 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week, can actually help kids challenge and exercise their brain, in a scientifically proven but fun way, that has enormous appeal for them. Remember that skills acquired through video games and apps will always have limited generalisability to real life, but there is no doubt that they do ‘fire those circuits’ and are definitely a better bet than endless hours spent on the same screens slaying vampires alone!

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When We Were Very Young

Many of you who love little people’s literature, or just good, heartwarming writing in general, would be familiar with the work of A. A. Milne, of Winnie-the-Pooh fame. Milne’s works, full of the most charmingly written insights into the world of children, are my constant source of comfort and inspiration, and I personally cannot imagine a little people’s blog without a post dedicated to him.

Milne’s inspiration for his writing came from his own little boy Christopher Robin, and his various stuffed animals, the most notable among them being his stuffed bear Edward who later took on the name of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Milne embodies the child’s voice in his or her world, as it is. Complete with imaginary companions who are just as, if not more, real than the ‘real’ ones. It is so rare to find your own voice, without judgement, put out there in a book written by an adult. And that for me is the greatest appeal of Milne’s work.

Apart from the Winnie-the-Pooh books, Milne also wrote two lesser-known treasures called When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, and these are my personal favourites. All his books have been beautifully illustrated by the notable English artist and book illustrator Ernest H. Shepard, whose strokes make them come alive.

Here’s a poem that I especially love from Now We Are Six and read over and over.

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Milne’s writings make for immensely enjoyable together-reading for children and adults alike, and touch upon themes that can provide brilliant entryways to talk to children about friendship, togetherness, and the power of imaginative play. More than anything, they remind us of the parts inside us that are still very young…sometimes six, and two, and twenty, and sometimes everything in between 🙂

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P.S. Here’s a 1929 audio recording in which Milne reads excerpts from the Pooh book in his own voice. What a rare treat!

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Hair We Go!

A_Colorful_Cartoon_Mischievous_Boy_That_Has_Given_Himself_a_Bad_Haircut_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100716-169710-208053Haircuts can be challenging for kids, especially when it’s their first time, or for those who may have sensory sensitivities. It must be remembered that the concept of a haircut is a social one; kids are not born prepared for haircuts, and therefore their first time (and in many cases in India, after a particularly unpleasant first time mundan experience) can create a fair bit of anticipatory anxiety. For kids with sensory sensitivities, unlike for many of us, the simple stroke of a hairbrush, the snipping sounds of scissors, getting their hair wet, the hot air coming from a hair dryer, are all components in an overall experience of seriously uncomfortable proportions. Add to that the anxiety caused by being in an unfamiliar place full of loud noises and unfamiliar people, such as a salon.

Here are a few things that can go a long way in making this ritual more manageable, for little people as well as those accompanying them:

  • Preparation, preparation, preparation. Do not jump a haircut as a surprise on your little one. Adequate preparation, which could include telling them when and where you will be going, along with pictures of the place or photographs/videos of previous haircuts, are extremely helpful. You can also go a step further by prepping them with a towel or sheet around their neck and playing make-believe. Feel free to use your imagination (and theirs!) and tell them it’s a superman cape!
  • Graded exposure. If haircuts are a major struggle, understand that you may not walk out triumphant the very first time. It is okay, particularly with a highly anxious child,  to do just a round of the salon and come back, maybe even meet the person who is going to cut his or her hair, and do the actual haircut on another day.
  • Keeping them engaged while the haircut is on, is pretty helpful. Let them carry their favourite video or toy, or a fidget object, that they can stay occupied with so that not all their attention is taken over by what’s going on with their hair. However, do remember that gradually increasing their awareness of the process will, in the long run, help them acquire a sense of mastery and they may even begin to perceive it as a pleasant experience.
  • Helping them connect this process to its final outcome, and celebrating it with them. After the haircut is done, show them the mirror, take pictures, dress them up…these will all help to create favourable memories and associations.

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  • Finding a hair dresser who understands your needs, is good with children, and has the patience and willingness to work through this with you. This last one is the toughest part. But we have heard of such places, and have also managed to find someone very close to our centre who we now take some of our kids regularly to. Our man Arif at VLCC, Safdarjung Enclave, is playful and greets our kids with a beaming smile and high five. He is task-focused yet very open to taking inputs, and intuitively working in tandem with the parent or person accompanying the child. He is also happy to give them breaks or even arrange to do the haircut in a quieter, private room if needed.
  • Other handy tips include- putting cotton in their ears to dull the sounds, asking for softer textures like towels rather than synthetic sheets to be draped around them, making sure they have a support under their feet rather than their feet hanging loose from the chair.
  • Remember there is NO sensation more prickly or unpleasant than bits of hair sticking to your neck after! So don’t forget to carry a change of clothes and even ask for a quick shower if the place allows it.
  • Most important of all, don’t lose sight of the longer-term goal. It is not about breathing a sigh of relief till your child’s next haircut but about gradually helping him or her build a desirable and favourable association with the experience.Therefore, talking them through the process, naming each step as it happens, creating a connection with the final outcome (“You’ll look like such a smart, handsome boy!”) and applauding them for every little step towards that goal, is vital above all else.

Credit for many of the amazing inputs in this post go to my dearest friend, co-therapist and yay-maker Lavina Nanda, who continues to work her magic with kids, and is always generous enough to lend me some, as she did here 🙂

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Roots: A Great Place to Go, With Kids In Tow!

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In a city full of dazzling lights and ‘malling’ preoccupations, it is getting rarer and rarer to come across dine-in places that are child-friendly in terms of food, as well as ambience and recreation. With its ‘leisurely’ location in the Leisure Valley Park in Sector 29, Gurgaon, Roots- Cafe in the Park, still stands out as a welcome relief. This place ticks all my boxes for being a child-friendly place for many reasons:

  • With its part-enclosed and part-open seating space, punctuated with little winding paths, trees and lush yet non-manicured lawns, it provides enough space for kids to climb, run, prance, dance, and everything in between!
  • Slides, swings and trees still serve as age-old and time-tested ways of recreation, rather than the more widely seen TV and X-Box screens intended to ‘keep the little ones occupied’
  • They use fresh and truly organic produce to whip up a simple yet scrumptious menu that is interesting enough for children to want to try, yet as wholesome as ‘ghar ka khaana’. What kids love most is choosing their own order and writing it on the little notepad brought to each table.
  • It isn’t just their food that is organic and environment-friendly- everything about their decor and energy use is too- a wonderful way for kids to see energy-saving in action
  • The adjacent Leisure Valley Park and Energy Centre (it even offers solar car rides!) are excellent add-ons for an enjoyable and fun family outing
  • They let out their open space for birthday celebrations- outdoor games, swings, balloons hanging from the trees…really, what more could a child want?
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For Girls Growing Up

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I am constantly looking for ‘growing up’ resources that are informative and yet written in a language that kids find easy to read. This book, brought to me by one of the little girls I work with, has been one of my best finds in this department yet.

Just for Girls: A Book About Growing Up’ by Parragon Books tells girls all they need to know about what bodily and other changes to expect, along with simple explanations of why they are happening. I particularly liked the simple and affirmative language they use to normalise differences in bodily and other domains of development, along with other necessary inputs on self care, hygiene, along with a portion dedicated only to bras and tips on how to select the right one.

I spent an entire session taking turns reading it aloud with this little girl, and answering her questions. Because of the child-friendly and easy-to-understand way in which it is written, it makes for excellent together-reading with any little girl on her way to growing up 🙂