In Jo's Blog

If there is one thing I prize above all else, it is generosity. I love the open hand, the quick yes, the ready spirit, the willingness to share.

Indian woman, holding mike, one hand pointing upwardWhat I hate is hoarding, hiding, holding back. The niggling, the counting, the tallying of accounts. Especially, especially, from people who have something important to give.

Vibha Krishnamurthy does not have that problem.

Her problem, in fact, is just the reverse: she doesn’t seem to have the “No” gene. Ask for her help and she is on the next plane.

I’m not complaining.

Vibha Krishnamurthy is a developmental pediatrician and there are way, way too few of them in India. We need them because childhood is such a neglected part of life here, because children are seen as incomplete adults and because so few of us really understand the vital importance and sanctity of the early years.

Did I say sanctity? Sanctity means holiness, by the way. I chose the word deliberately.

I think Vibha would agree.

Woman directing two other women on which way to goBecause those early years determine everything. Get it right then and chances are high that your child will do well in all the years that follow.

Vibha was here in Dehradun to deliver the 11th in the Sir Ratan Tata Distinguished Lecture Series on Education and Inclusion. It was our biggest turnout ever. Nearly 300 people gathered to hear what she had to say about the development of the infant brain. It was surprising and yet it wasn’t. Because every parent wants the best for their child. Every single parent.

The problem is that so many have no idea what “best” is. Vibha had some advice. A few ideas. A road map. The eager audience (including ourselves) listened avidly while she pointed us in the right direction.

Responsive Parenting. Let the child lead the way. Watch to see what your child is interested in and follow her cues. Don’t leap in with the answers, don’t be too quick to drag her to the next level. If your baby is cooing and babbling at you, coo and babble right back. Don’t try to teach her the alphabet. If your toddler wants to investigate the mud puddle by the gate, squat down and see what’s got him so interested. Don’t start teaching him about precipitation and the life cycle of worms.

Mother and baby smiling at each other

Your child’s brain is not an empty box. Resist the impulse to fill your kid’s mind with every piece of information you can think of. Children are learning all the time, just by being in the world. Parenting is a relationship not a vending machine.

Child walking up a treelined road with a big box over her head

Scaffolding is not just for houses. Build on what your child says and does with expressions of interest, leading questions and enhanced vocabulary. Say she’s drawing a picture of a house. You could exclaim about what a nice house it is, but that doesn’t leave much for her to tell you. Instead, try saying something open-ended like: “Look at all those firm, strong lines you’ve drawn! What’s happening there?” Not only have you offered her two new descriptive words (Firm! Strong!), you’ve avoided telling her what she is drawing. And that’s lucky because it turns out it’s not a house at all but a forest and she has a long story she wants to tell you about the animals hiding in the bushes and the scary monster that’s coming to eat them all . . .

Child showing a woman her drawing

The point is to be present. Because the most important thing you can give your child is not your money or your education or your superior knowledge. It’s your time. Your attention. The gift of yourself.

Beautiful Indian woman smiling at another woman

That’s what Vibha gave us. It’s what she does. She gets my vote for National Treasure.

Photos by Manik Mandal, Umashankar Bahugana, Ken Carl, Edmund Cluett and me)

Showing 3 comments
  • Aruna Singh

    A rare insightful article a must read for every parent

  • Sree

    If I could add one more point to those brilliant ones by Vibha, it would be stop the temptation to “compare”. Yes, you can compare how your child was a couple of months ago to the present. That’s healthy and important. But, comparing her with other kids is dangerously counterproductive. I mention it here because that’s the most common faux-pas most parents indulge in.

    Thank you for this valuable post!

    • Jo

      Thanks, Sree! I totally agree with you. Counterproductive and really stupid too – what possible good does it do to make a child feel inferior to another who happens to be a totally different person?

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