Ahimsa means ‘do no harm’. It is a well known concept in our country as many religions speak volumes about the value of Ahimsa. A shining example of the power of Ahimsa is the Indian freedom struggle in which we fought for independence without using violence.
Interacting with numerous parents and teachers through the years of my work, I notice this is how most adults typically communicate with children. It comes from a place of societal conditioning that believes that children don’t know enough, that they need to obey the elders. Just because they are born to us does that give us a right to control and command over them? Ruth Beaglehole, Founder of the Centre for Nonviolent Parenting and Education defines violence as anything that harms the heart, body, mind and spirit of an individual. This definition gives a much broader perspective to what we generally consider as harm.
Going by the above definition, to my horror, I drew up a long list of what qualifies as violence against children.
Threats: “I’ll give one tight slap if you don’t listen to me.” OR “If you don’t sleep, the police will come.”
Shaming: “Your sister is so neat... Why can’t you be like her?” OR “You’re such an idiot... How can you not understand this?”
Commanding and yelling: “Behave yourself” OR “Come here right now!”
Physical punishments: like spanking, pulling ears/hair, pinching, pushing, dragging etc.
Infliction of emotional pain: Like withdrawing love, giving time-outs, name calling or nagging
Manipulating using rewards: “I will buy you a cycle if you come first in class” OR “you’re a good girl isn’t it? Finish your milk quickly!”
Our intention is always to help our children learn values or instill discipline in them. And, when we pause and look at the impact of the above statements, they either induce fear, shame, and guilt, a low sense of worth, rebellious behaviour or submission. The latest research on the brain suggests that any acts of violence towards a child, whether in action, or words, only pushes the child’s brain into alarm mode and hence hampers healthy brain development.
So, if we were to parent the Ahimsa way, what would be some things we could focus on?
Perhaps, viewing children as younger human beings would be a good start. Referring to them as younger human beings draws our awareness to seeing them as individuals, which impacts the way we interact with them.
Another aspect of Ahimsa is to be kind to ourselves. Very often, we tend to be harsh on ourselves and have doubts if we are parenting effectively. It helps to remind ourselves now and then that we are parenting to the best of our ability as per the knowledge available to us. It is our job as parents to raise our consciousness, reflect on our beliefs about parenting and be committed to interacting with ourselves and younger human beings in our life with compassion and care.
Ahimsa in the family would mean moving away from punishments, rewards and other strategies that exert power over younger human beings. We could make our families a place where we share power - believing that in our home every person’s needs are respected and rules are made together for the common benefit of all. Parenting the Ahimsa way offers us the opportunity to use our daily interactions with our children to role model effective communication and managing emotions.
It inspires us to see ourselves as coaches in our children’s lives rather than only figures of authority and discipline.
When younger human beings in our homes have a say, can express their opinion, and parents work with them in a collaborative way, then that very family becomes an agent of social change. By committing to parent the Ahimsa way, we can hope to build a society of compassionate human beings- one family at a time.
Prerna Kalra is a certified Parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up on www.parentingmatter.in