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Monday, June 25, 2012

So, What’s in a Value? (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Everyone knows about “family values.”  Some values people may have include education, religion, intelligence, attractiveness, money, responsibility, honesty, prestige, etc.  Intellectually, we also know that values are neither right nor wrong.  I cannot judge someone's values no more than they can judge mine.  So, the real question becomes whether we think about our values regularly to help guide us in our parenting. 

    Values provide a framework in parenting. This framework helps us to prioritize and make decisions effectively in our day to day parenting.  As parents, we have to constantly make decisions that pertain to our family and children’s welfare.  Some of these decisions are easy and others are very difficult.  Add to the mix, competing demands or other people trying to influence our decisions for whatever reason.  Now, it is a great recipe to make a parent's head spin. If you do not like making decisions, then your head is spinning even faster! So, I propose you use this approach so we can all avoid dizzy spells. 
The Approach

1.    You have to identify what your family values are. 
2.    Discuss these values with your partner and come to a mutual understanding.
3.    Regularly reflect on these values so they are fresh in your mind and heart.
4.    Rank order your values with the most important being at the top and the least one at the bottom.
5.    When decision time rolls around, use the most important values to help you make the decision!

The Examples

    In practical terms, what does this look like right?  People have told me that they like it when I use my personal examples so here goes another.  Couple of months ago, our 7 year old son’s school had a STEM Night Fair.  For those who may not be familiar with STEM, it stands for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics.  This is a nationwide initiative in the US to stimulate interest and foster a long-term commitment to these areas of study in our school systems.  Of course our son wanted to participate since the students would be "earning" medals. I cringed a little when I learned this latter piece, but succumbed to the notion that if this were going to spark an interest for my child, then so be it.  Well, that same night our son also had a soccer game.  The dilemma we faced was deciding between the competing values.

    YES, soccer is a value in our family, which I learned the hard way.  The other obvious value is education.  Our son wanted to do "half and half."  When he suggested this solution, the other value that crept in was that we believe in doing things all the way rather than “half way.”  So, we decided that attending the STEM would be more important than the soccer game.  Explained this to our son and went happily to school that night. We all had a great time, learned a lot from the other projects, and he earned a medal! 

    Let us contrast this with another example.  A few days after the STEM Night Fair, our son woke up looking sick with a pink eye, which could very well have been allergy symptoms.  Ding, ding decision time again.  Should he or shouldn’t he miss school?  Did I mention that he has never missed a day since he started school?  Our son is very aware of this fact and quite proud of himself, as he should be.  Well, you already know how important education is to us. This time, the competing value was not soccer, but health.

   How can health not trump education? I mean without health, what good is an education right?  Needless to say, he missed school and visited his pediatrician instead.  It turned out to be allergies and he was back to school the next day.  Interestingly, his report card does not reflect this one absent day.  I wonder if the secretary thought the recorded absence was a mistake. Shhh, we’ll just keep that between us (wink). 

    These two examples illustrate how a parent can use their values to guide them in their parenting.  Furthermore, the importance of values shifts depending on the circumstances and/or competing values.  Therefore, prioritizing our values is critical in the decision-making process.  Without strong family values, decision-making can be much harder than it needs to be! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Think You Just Answered Your Own Question, My Friend (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Every parent knows that there is no cookbook to parenting. However, this does not stop many from trying this approach.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I cannot tell you how many times I have encountered people in my professional and personal lives who say they have “tried everything” to get their child to do whatever. A variation of this may be them complaining that they have researched online or read parenting literature and tried the strategies the experts recommend, but they-simply-do-not-work.   When people have come to me in this semi-crisis mode, I usually ask them two questions: what strategies have you tried and how long have you tried it for?  Typically, the strategies themselves are reasonable and some are even creative, but the answers to the second question baffle me.  I am usually told days, no more than a month really.  So, what is happening here?

         The parent who tries tactics after tactics without giving it sufficient time is not going to get the results they want from their children.  This is like Baskin Robbins advertising their flavor of the week. It works for an ice-cream parlor, but not parents. Although parenting is not a cookbook; however, there are fundamental principles that make the job more effective and much easier.  Here, the one that is most at play is consistency.   Unlike a recipe, human behavior is complex and to change it takes time, effort, and teamwork.  When a child has learned a particular behavior that has worked for them for years (however maladaptive it might have been), it will take consistency on the parents’ parts to have a fighting chance to unlearn it. Otherwise, it will be a very difficult battle.

     A battle with a slew of issues that can arise when parents are not consistent with their child. Here are some of them:
•    Negative parent-child relationship develops.
•    The child gets labeled as a “bad kid” at home, school, and in the community with serious negative consequences in terms of academic and social functioning.
•    Gets misdiagnosed, such as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), various Anxiety Disorders, Depression, etc.
•    Parents start blaming the school for the problems, which quickly turns into a negative parent-school relationship and does not benefit the child at all.
•    The child becomes the identified problem, when in fact it is a parenting problem and this can negatively impact the marriage.
•    If there are other children in the home, then detrimental sibling rivalries can develop because now we have the “good child” and the “bad child.” Think about all of the drama that can come out of this unhealthy dynamic!

         Therefore, consistency is important not only to change a behavior, but also to prevent undesirable situations.   Please allow me to sidetrack just a little here to make a point.

         So, I recently read an article that adeptly pointed out that in our society we have a very interesting view of risk taking (  Often, we consider the risk of doing something and the negative consequences associated with that act.  Moreover, this view may be even more prominent in litigious societies.  The argument being that when we take this approach, we may be missing really great opportunities for growth personally, professionally, and in other ways. Rather, the risk of not doing something may be a more effective approach.  Therefore, in terms of parenting, consider the risk of not being consistent with your child.

         Now that we are all motivated to be more consistent in our parenting, here are some tips to guide you:

1.    Each parent has to be consistent with the child. For example, if Johnny gets in trouble for stealing cookies from the cookie jar on Monday. If he tries this again on Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. then he should get in trouble for this behavior again on each occasion.  This will send Johnny a clear and consistent message not only about stealing cookies, but stealing in general. The flip side is that he gets punished on Monday, but not on Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday so on and so forth. If this inconsistency is happening over and over again, then Johnny will be very confused about what is expected of him and will not effectively learn what his parent is trying to teach him.  After all, being a teacher is a huge part of the parent’s role!

2.    The parents have to be consistent with each other.  This by far, is the most common problem I have seen in my professional experience as a therapist and a parenting coach.  Going back to the same example, if Johnny’s mother reprimands him for stealing the cookies, but his father tells him to go ahead and enjoy the yummy cookies, then there is a consistency problem between the parents. No doubt this is difficult at first, but once the parents are on the same page with each other, parenting becomes much easier, enjoyable, and beneficial for the child. Here are some ways to accomplish consistency between the parents:

•    Do NOT undermine the other parent, especially in front of the child.  It may look something like this. Now, Johnny wants to go to the mall to hang out with his friends. He asks dad whether he can go and dad says “yes.” Mom overhears this, and she may say this to dad (probably in front of Johnny) “Why would you say yes, when he still has to clean his room?!” To Johnny, mom says “No, you can’t go and that’s final.”  If this happens consistently, then this is a HUGE problem!

First, mom has just communicated to Johnny that dad has no authority in the family, and she is the boss. Second, this will be a blow to dad’s self-esteem, which will ignite resentment towards his wife and over time this will negatively impact their marital relationship in more ways than one. Third, Johnny will not only be confused, but will probably use this inconsistency between his parents to his advantage, probably not in a good way.  We have a very scientific name for this process and it’s called manipulation

•    If the decision does not have a serious consequence, go with what the first parent has said to the child.  Since dad said it is okay for Johnny to head to the mall, mom should just let it go (aka L.I.G). Letting go is an important life skill in and of itself, wouldn’t you say? A common question people have is this: “Well, isn’t mom undermining her authority by doing this?”  The answer is No because there will be plenty of opportunities for dad to support mom in this way.  At the end of the day, it all works out beautifully because the partnership works best this way!

•    If there is a major consequence to the first parent’s decision, then the second parent can offer valuable information to the first parent.  In other words, let’s just say that Johnny not cleaning his room will mean that the soon to arrive out-of-town guests will be scrambling for a room to sleep in, which would really add stress on the whole family.  What mom can say to dad is: “I don’t know if you knew this, but Johnny has not cleaned his room yet.”  Mom has conveniently given dad new information so dad can make a wiser decision, but the decision is still dad’s and mom will respect it.  In this way, dad is not being undermined by his wife, but just simply being informed.  A very different message is being communicated here to Johnny. That is, mom and dad are on the same page and therefore, a team in parenting.  Johnny is outnumbered, so it would be foolish to challenge this.  In case he does challenge it, again mom and dad will handle it like a team and things will run much more smoothly in this household. If this is something you need to work on in your family, try this approach and let us know how it works for you (after sufficient time)!

3.    Parents should ask themselves: “Am I being consistent?” or “Are we being consistent?”  This has worked very well for us as parents.  When our son was having some social issues with his peers in kindergarten, it took us a while to figure this out, but we realized that somehow we had fallen of the consistency wagon. This can easily happen if you have competing demands like jobs and other responsibilities. The important thing is to get right back on the consistency wagon. Similar to bike riding, after a fall you get right back on it or you will not learn how to ride a bike. Once we got back on the consistency wagon, our son’s behaviors improved. Since we are usually consistent with each other, it did not take very long for our son to realize that mom and dad are on the same team again so I better not mess with them! If you practice consistency regularly but sometimes forget, then getting back on track and seeing the results may only take few days.  Likewise, if consistency is lacking in the family then it can take some time because it is a process where "things may get worse before they get better."  However, the time and effort it takes will be well worth it!  

    In other words, there are no “quick fixes” in parenting. So, the next time somebody tells me they have tried every trick in the books and they are not working, and asks “What should I do?” You know what I’ll be saying: “I think you just answered your own question, my friend!”    

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers are More than Breadwinners (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

     This is a modified re-post in honoring fathers on this special occasion.

     Happy Father's Day to all of the wonderful dads out there! Wonderful, meaning those fathers who seem to have mastered the art and science of fatherhood, as well to those who are trying their best to be great fathers despite obstacles. In most societies, fathers tend to be the breadwinners, but fatherhood goes beyond this role. Somehow, fathers do not seem to get the recognition for their hardwork as mothers tend to do in our society. 

     It is no doubt that mothers get lot of attention in our society.  You have to look no further than the advertisements leading up to Mother’s Day and compare it to the ones leading up to Father’s Day.  Does it feel like Father’s Day seems to “sneak up on you?”  If it does, then you are not alone. In my opinion, fathers are way undervalued in our society and do not get the credit they deserve.

    An involved father makes significant, positive impact in their children’s lives in terms of psychological well-being, academic achievement, cognitive abilities, and social behavior (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006).  This is true for both sons and daughters, although the father-daughter relationship differs from the father-son relationship.  Consider the following findings, some may surprise you.

Fathers and Daughters (
•    Fathers tend to have more impact than mothers in these areas with their daughters:
(1) achieving academic and career success—especially in math and science
(2) creating a loving, trusting relationship with a man
(3) dealing well with people in authority—especially men
(4) being self-confident and self-reliant
(5) willing to try new things and to accept challenges
(6) maintaining good mental health
(7) Expressing anger comfortably and appropriately—especially with men

•    After their fathers’ deaths, many daughters regret not knowing their fathers well when alive.
•    Daughters who are raised by single fathers are just as well adjusted and as happy as daughters raised by single mothers.
•    Fathers and daughters are usually closer when the mother works full time outside the home while the children are growing up.
•    Most fathers want to spend more time with their children, but can’t because of their jobs. Just imagine the amount of stress this creates for the father.
Realities: (1) Eighty percent of the fathers in our country earn most of the money for their families. (2) Counting the time spent commuting, working, doing house and yard work, and being with the kids, the average father has 5 hours less free time each week than the average employed mother. (3) On average, employed fathers work 10 more hours a week than employed mothers.
•    Many fathers believe that their wives and daughters’ feelings for them are partly—or sometimes largely—based on money.
•    A father usually has a closer relationship with his kids when the mother lets everyone in the family know how much she appreciates his ways of parenting—especially if his way of relating to the kids isn’t exactly like hers.
•    A daughter has a better relationship with her father when her mother does not rely on her for advice or comfort on adult issues—especially issues involving the parents’ relationship with each other.
•    When parents are unhappily married, most children side with their mother against their father.
•    Sadly, there are mothers who feel uncomfortable or jealous with the idea that their daughter might share as much time or as much personal information with her father as she does with her mother.

Fathers and Sons (
     Fathers and sons have an interesting relationship pattern that Dr. Williams explains with the acronym IDEAL.  The circle of father-son relationship goes as follows.

I= Idolize. This happens when sons as children feel their dads can do no wrong. They imitate the father’s behaviors by walking like him, talking like him, etc.  The need to please and gain approval and acceptance is very strong at this stage.

D= Discord. Conflict seems to be the central theme in the teenage years. Sons often reject their fathers’ expectations and values, rather taking on non-traditional philosophies and often creating tension between the father and son. This may carry on to the early twenties.

E= Evolving. There may still be emotional distance, but also the need to please and gain approval continues.  It may seem like the son is in competition with the father.  At some point in their twenties, the tide moves in the positive direction.

A= Acceptance.  As adults in their 30’s and 40’s, sons start to accept their fathers for who they are, recognize their strengths, forgive, and even admire their fathers’ qualities that once repulsed them.  Fathers and sons may even become friends during this time sharing common interests and expressing opinions without all of the drama of the earlier years. This is also the time when the sons have sons of their own and the tables have turned.

L= Legacy. In their 50’s, sons become a legacy of their father’s influence for better and worse. Time has eased the pain of earlier years full of contention and has been replaced with respect and appreciation for the difficult job fathering entails. Those older adult sons who have not resolved their issues with their fathers, tend to have similar conflicts replayed with their own teenage or young adult sons.  If elderly fathers are still living, a role reversal occurs where the older adult sons are now taking care of their aging fathers.


Nielson, L.  Fathers and Daughters: Eye Opening Facts. Retrieved 6/20/2011, from

Rosenberg, J. & Wilcox, W.B. (2006). The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children.  Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, US. Children’s Bureau. Retrieved 6/22/2011, from (  

Williams, D.C.  The Life Cycle of Father-Son Relationships. Retrieved 6/22/2011, from (

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

5 Things Every Nepali-American Parent Needs to Know (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Having lived in the United States for nearly thirty years and in various other countries, there is no other nation that compares to the diversity America embodies.  It is not just a place where people of all different ethnicity coexist together, but truly integrate with one another.  Sure, it still has more work to do when it comes to diversity issues such as racism and equal rights, but it is the best representation of how a multicultural society can function.  With any culture, there are both positives and negatives, and America is not immune to this. For us, it is paramount that we take the best of both worlds approach when raising our two children.  This is true for any multicultural parenting.

    Within this melting pot, there is a subset of immigrants from Nepali descent, to which both my husband and I belong to. The Nepali culture is a collectivistic society where group values play a dominant role in day to day functioning.  In contrast, the American society is very individualistic where the individual’s needs take precedence over the group values.  Merging the Nepali and American cultures will surely present challenges in parenting.  To optimize the best features of both cultures, the Nepali-American parent must employ the best of both worlds approach.  This multicultural parenting approach will yield the best results in our children.  It is not an easy task, but is attainable with perseverance and an open-mind.  Here, I have outlined five concepts that I feel impact the Nepali-American household and can wreak havoc in the parent-child relationship if it is not appropriately understood and handled.

    Interdependence is a common family dynamic in the Nepali parent-child relationship where as independence is encouraged in the American home.  Children in the Nepali family have obligations to their family.  Family members have clearly defined roles, and individuals need to act according to those role expectations in the Nepali home.  Parent-child relationships are very tight in the Nepali home, especially between sons and their parents. Once a daughter marries, she becomes part of her husband’s family where she has very defined roles.  According to the Nepali culture, sons are expected to take care of their parents in old age and extended family members such as grandparents assist in child caretaking.  This family social structure in the Nepali culture is changing due to more women entering the workforce and children enrolling in daycare.  Nonetheless, this interdependence is still prevalent. 

    In contrast, the American family members do not have such strict individual roles but relate to one another in an intimate fashion.  Families tend to be smaller and usually consist only of the nuclear family, although blended families are increasing.  This allows for a strong bond in the parent-child relationship. Children are encouraged to break away from the family and pursue an independent life where they assume adult responsibilities like having a job or going off to college, cooking and cleaning for themselves, and managing financial responsibilities just to list a few.  These two opposing family structures and society at large, set up the perfect backdrop for family drama and conflicts when a Nepali parent is trying to raise a child in the American culture. 
     Now that the Nepali parents have decided to settle in America and make a future here, it becomes imperative that they try to compromise between the two cultures so their children get the best opportunities possible.  The goal is not to reject the Nepali culture and become “Americanized.” Likewise, just immersing in the Nepali culture where you expose them to only Nepali people, food, language, and traditions in hopes that they learn about the American culture in school is not good enough. Our children have to be exposed to the “American people”, whatever their national heritage may be, as well as the American lifestyle.  Additionally, the Nepali-American parent has to make genuine efforts in doing so.

     If I could point to just one thing that would help a child get an edge in this wonderful nation called the United States, it is social networking (outside of Facebook, Twitter, and the like). Relationships matter in America. You will be surprised to know how early these social networks form and develop into lasting friendships.  I would highly encourage you to take your child to the birthday parties that start very early in the school years.  Perhaps, you can view this as interdependence on a different level than it would be in a Nepali home.  The American saying: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of sums up what I am trying to convey here about interdependence in our social relations.  
    Respect is another important concept in the Nepali parent-child relationship.  Filial piety means that children must respect their parents and their elders.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts. Respect can come in many different forms in the Nepali culture. In the most basic way is using the highest level of the word you such as “hajur” or “thapai.”   Greeting parents by bowing to their feet or offering your head for their blessing is another form of respect. Listening and following through on the advices from a parent would be another way of conveying respect.  There are many ways a child ought to convey respect to their parent.  This expectation creates conflict when Nepali parents are trying to raise children in America because respect is demanded in the Nepali home whereas in the American culture it is earned.  For example, a parent who abuses their child is not respected, but feared which are two, very different concepts in America. However, in the Nepali culture respect and fear tend to go hand in hand.

    So how does respect in the American culture look different than in a Nepali household?  In America, people have to earn and maintain respect regardless if it is towards a parent or another elder, authority figure. This is in contrast to the Nepali culture where respect towards a parent or an elder is expected or demanded.  Merely being in a position of power or using fear tactics does not grant someone respect in the American culture. Here, everybody starts at zero, which I believe is a beautiful thing. Being honest, friendly, assertive, and confident are some of the qualities that earn a person respect in America.  Behaviorally, maintaining good eye contact and listening without interrupting are also forms of respect for Americans.  However, not major concerns for the Nepali people. 

     You will often witness a Nepali forgoing good eye contact and talking on top of another Nepali without either one feeling slighted, unless of course, you are an Americanized Nepali.  Perhaps, that should be a test of "How Nepali Are You?" :-) I guarantee this will not go very well in the American culture. As a Nepali-American parent, you have to first decide what respect means to you and find ways to teach this value to your child.  It is very common for a Nepali parent to accuse their child of being disrespectful, when the child is just simply being assertive.  Asserting oneself is in opposition to the next highly valued concept in the Nepali culture. 

    Compliance is another expected behavior from a child in the Nepali culture.  When a parent tells their child to do or say something, whether it is a simple greeting or a career choice, compliance is expected or disappointment and conflict arise.   Compliance implies that the person does not have much choice in the matter and this is not highly valued in the American culture.  American parents want their child to adhere to rules and social boundaries, but they also encourage their child to challenge them if they seem unjust or nonsensical.  To do this appropriately, an open line of communication is fostered between a child and parent in the American home so children can learn what is right and what is wrong. Whereas in the Nepali culture, challenging a parent or any other authority figure is a social taboo and can be a source of embarrassment for the family.  Over time, a communication gap in a Nepali parent-child relationship becomes apparent.

    I have often heard Nepali parents boast that their child does whatever is being told or expected of them.  Therefore, is a “good boy” or a “good girl.”  To this, I am first silently thinking: "Are you kidding me?!" Then, I think or sometimes voice that I want my child to challenge and question me.  Otherwise, how would they learn to critically think for themselves and navigate a complex process called Life?  With that being said, a Nepali-American parent would need to be mindful exactly how much their child challenges authority because Life does not permit too much challenging.  A fine balancing act is in order here.

    Saving face is highly valued and practiced in the Nepali culture. This is a sociological concept that means an individual does whatever necessary to protect one’s dignity and honor.  A child’s behaviors reflect the family’s dignity and honor.  The family will go to lengths to protect their reputation. This does not become a problem in Nepal because everyone is practicing this and saving face maintains harmony in the family system. However, this will undoubtedly create conflict in America because saving face ultimately compromises honesty, which is a highly regarded value in the American culture.
    Honesty is the building blocks of trust.  Without trust in the American home, the family crumbles.  Maintaining harmony is more important than trust in the Nepali home.  Nepali people are very patient and forgiving people, even though they may have been wronged very badly.  Even by close family members. Living with extended families is very common in Nepali homes so maintaining harmony is very crucial to a smooth functioning household and saving face is a big part of this process.  As a Nepali-American parent, we want both harmony and trust in our family.  Fostering this in our parenting is trickier than one might think.

    Some situations that may call for saving face in the Nepali home include: poor academic performance, negative parent-child relationship, marital discord, abuse, engagement in illicit behaviors like drug use, dating at a young age,  disruptive behaviors, suffers from mental illness or a disability, etc.  Ignoring, minimizing, and lying about such circumstances are common saving face mechanisms used and justified in many Nepali families.  Furthermore, this inhibits them from seeking much needed professional help for themselves or their children.  To an American, this seems outrageous and maybe even neglectful, but for a Nepali parent it is a way of preserving the family unit and dignity.  The negative social stigma is too much to bear for the average Nepali family so saving face becomes a defense mechanism.  This speaks volumes for societal self-esteem, confidence, and courage. 

    However, the Nepali-American parent would not want to compromise so much in order to save face.  They would have to determine which situations call for saving face and which ones do not.  The consequence of either saving face or not for each situation should be examined first.  For instance, because dating is not encouraged at a young age (traditionally, even before marriage, but changing now) in the Nepali culture, your teenage child dating may be worthy of saving face, but not if your teenager is suffering from a mental illness like depression, which requires professional intervention and the consequences are too risky.  But then again, depending on the individual family, who knows. If a Nepali-American parent wants to practice saving face, then it may be wise to do a risk/benefit analysis first. 

    Control is a very common parenting strategy in the Nepali home.  This is a way to protect the child from harm, failure, save face, etc.  Contrast this with the American child who is given choices to make their own decisions, encouraged to develop their own ways, and taught to take responsibility for their own behaviors.  Since a child’s behaviors reflect the family’s dignity, parents are major stakeholders so they feel compelled to limit freedom to their child. Nepali parents view too much freedom as a source of problems in their children and family.  It is not uncommon for Nepali parents in America to complain that there is too much freedom here and that contributes to our child going in the “wrong direction.”  This is anxiety provoking so hence, the need to control the child or situations ensue.  Like saving face, imposing control is another defense mechanism in dealing with internal anxiety. If this sounds like it is coming from left field, then consider when a person starts a new job.

     The anxiety of not knowing what is expected of you at a new job compels the person to exert control over their environment like getting super organized and overdoing the preparation for the first few days.  After some time has passed and you feel comfortable with the new job, the super organized you can now relax a bit.  This is adaptive at a new job, but when you are parenting, it becomes complicated because now you will enter a power struggle with your child. Over time, this power struggle will ignite a whole host of unpleasant emotions and can severely damage the parent-child relationship.

    What the Nepali-American parent needs to understand is that parental control is valued in both cultures, but how they go about maintaining it is very different.  The Nepali parent uses strategies such as manipulation, shame, guilt, and punishment (physical, emotional, and/or verbal) to gain and maintain social control over their child.  The American parent values setting boundaries and limits, effective discipline, self-expression, independence and self-reliance as ways of maintaining control in the family.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but think about this statement: “the more you try to control, the less in control you feel.” Does this ring true for you?  In other words, the more you try to hold onto your child, the more they want to be free since the American culture fosters breaking away from the family and becoming more self-sufficient.  Given the cultural context, this is healthy and should be encouraged by the Nepali-American parent.  Happy balancing the two cultures!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Back to the Basics: Manners 101 (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Humans are social beings.  We thrive when we have good relationships with people.  Strong bonds with people take time, effort, and skills. The building blocks of good relationships are good manners.  Manners are more than just being “nice.”  Without using good manners, it will be very difficult to establish rapport with people and cultivate a lasting friendship.When we use good manners (e.g. please, thank you, good eye contact, etc.), we are essentially communicating to the other person that they are important, valued, interesting, respected, etc.  In other words, we validate them as being worthy of our time and effort. This in turn does wonders for a blossoming friendship!

     Everyone wants to feel appreciated and validated.  It is a thirst that we all need to quench whether we admit it or not.  As a parent, we have to help our children understand this so they are able to empathize and build healthy friendships.  To do this, a child has to do more than use their staple manners such as “please” and “thank you.”  This is not to downplay the importance of these very basic manners, but to understand that there are other basic manners that are required in positive human interactions. However, even though these basic manners are learned very early on, they still need to be reinforced throughout childhood so they are being used regularly to foster good relations.   Below you will find five more important manners that foster positive human interactions that may be overlooked by parents.  This is not an all inclusive list, but a good start in teaching our kids good manners!

5 Manners Your Child Should Know: 

1.    Introducing yourself.   Once a child is in a formal school setting, it is a good time to start this skill. During these years, they are meeting new people who they will see on a regular basis.  In other words, this is when they start making friends. 

     Some things a child needs to consider when introducing themselves is whether they actually want to meet the new person, decide on a good time to do it, actually walk up to the person and introduce themselves, and wait for the other person to respond.  This also helps in knowing what to do when someone comes to introduce themselves to them.  Children often do not shake hands with each other unless they are older. However, depending on whether the child seems mature or “ready,” parents may want to encourage shaking hands with adults.  The parent and child can role-play this at home if there is an upcoming event where the child will meet a new person like at a party.  When a child introduces themselves without much prompting, they will feel proud of themselves.  This is a great way to build self-esteem, assertiveness skills, and appropriate risk-taking, which are very important in good mental health and relationship building.

     One precaution would be when there is a safety concern when a child introduces themselves like during a telephone call from a stranger.  Here, the parent would have to not only talk about stranger danger, but also make sure the child is ready to handle taking phone calls.  Again, role-playing and then observing the child navigate the phone interaction would be a good teaching tool.  The parents should first instruct the child to not give their name when the caller asks “who is this?” rather the child should first get that information from the caller.  Taking down the information like the caller’s name and number would be the next step. Finally, ending the call by letting the caller know the message will be passed on and thanking them.  To successfully handle a phone call independently, the child really should be able to listen and write well. However, they can always hang up if they feel uncomfortable at any point. There is no specific age when this should happen, but parental instincts can guide you.
2.    Maintaining eye contact.  In most Western cultures, maintaining eye contact during a social exchange is a sign of respect and conveys that the listener is interested.  However, in some Eastern cultures, it may be a sign of disrespect.  This would be useful information to have when interacting with people.  Having said that, if you are raising a child in a culture where maintaining good eye contact is important, then by all means this should be encouraged. Explain that good eye contact conveys respect, interest, and fosters good communication in maintaining friends.  Also, let them know that if you do not look at the person speaking or when listening, then the other person’s feelings may be hurt because this is rude behavior.  Gentle reminding and practicing this skill at home will be helpful. 

3.    Apologizing. Children need to first understand that everyone makes mistakes. Then, they need to learn that when we make mistakes, we need to apologize for it.  This is about being accountable for our behaviors and making amends when necessary.  Nobody wants to be friends with someone who cannot admit their mistakes.  With that being said, forcing your child to say “sorry” is counterproductive.  Essentially, when an apology is forced, then it is not meaningful and “fake” for lack of a better word.

     Additionally, the forced apology situation opens another can of worms where the parent and child interaction now becomes negative. Instead, a parent may ask if the child wants to apologize and then gently encourage them to do so.  If your child insists on being “right” and does not feel they need to apologize, you could just simply tell your child “I understand, I cannot force you to apologize if you honestly feel you did not do anything wrong.” Another way to respond is to let your child know that they can apologize later if they want to.  You may want to add in a shrug with a smile too so the other child or their parent know that you tried your best. You may be pleasantly surprised with what may happen next! 

4.    Giving and Accepting Compliments.  Who doesn’t like to get compliments? They are an ego boost! Almost everyone likes to receive compliments, but they may not know how to handle it in a socially-appropriate way because they may feel embarrassed or other emotions. This good manner of giving and accepting goes hand in hand.

     First, model to your child how to give a compliment to others by giving them compliments on a regular basis.  Then, ask them how they felt when they were paid a compliment.  Usually, it is either pleasant or embarrassing.  Next, discuss ways to accept a compliment like saying “thank you” or also giving credit to another person if it was a team effort like “Joe helped too.”  Lastly, have your child give a compliment to someone (you or sibling) to practice this skill.  Usually, when it is a young school-age child, they may first focus on physical attributes like “I like your clothes/hair/etc.” This is perfectly fine and they will later learn to compliment on things like effort (e.g. working hard on a project) or personality traits (e.g. being thoughtful).  Aside from being an ego boost, giving and accepting compliments really enhance a social interaction in a positive way.

5.    Smiling. I believe this is a manner that is often overlooked.  We need to encourage our children to smile more often.  Smiles are priceless and reap great rewards! There is much research to support the notion that a simple smile has many benefits (  Just think how it makes you feel when someone flashes you a smile for no reason at all. Besides, it is the most inexpensive way to improve one’s looks, don’t you think? :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)      :-)    :-)      :-)      :-)