As parents and teachers we are constantly being called on to raise our children’s self esteem and inspire them to reach their potential. For this month’s Ilm o Amal, Shahrezad Samiuddin interviewed Mahenaz Mahmud, Academic Programmes Advisor at TRC and her daughter Sabeen Mahmud, founder and director of Peace Niche and T2F, about the challenges of growing up and having the courage to dream and achieve.
This month’s Ilm o Amal is dedicated to helping you help your children and your students shine their light. This is something a lot of us want for our children, but are often clueless about exactly what we are expected to do.
For this article we decided that it would be easier to understand the process of developing a strong self-image, if we spoke to two women who have turned setbacks into triumphs and hurdles into opportunities to achieve excellence in their respective fields.
Following are excerpts from an interview with, Mahenaz Mahmud, Academic Programmes Advisor at TRC and her daughter Sabeen Mahmud, founder and director of Peace Niche and T2F. The mother and daughter candidly discuss growing up in an environment that was frequently at odds with their deepest values and also talk about the trials of bringing up children under challenging circumstances.
On low self-esteem
MAHENAZ “There are many points in my life when I felt a sense of low self-esteem. I had a really smart older brother and as a child I was extremely sensitive and used to cry at the smallest things. My brother would bully me and my mother would say, “Don’t get teased, because if you do, he will tease you more”. Now a child doesn’t know how to not get teased by an older brother.”
“When I was 12 or 13 years old, I didn’t like the fact that there were so many servants in my home. My parents enjoyed socialising and some days I would barely see them. I always had breakfast alone and some other meals too and that’s when I decided that when I have a child, I will not have an ayah (caretaker). I just didn’t want my child to face emotional deprivation.”
On becoming stronger
MAHENAZ “I was an introvert in a family of extroverts and also I wasn’t a very good student in a traditional school. In school I didn’t always concentrate on what the teacher was teaching … school was more about being with my friends. In university, there was more freedom and I enjoyed some of the challenging classes. I think I truly started becoming comfortable with who I was when I had Sabeen. I became much stronger … I was in control now. I had majored in Psychology at university and understood who I was and who I could be in relation to others and how I could raise a self-confident, self-reliant child. Sabeen jokingly says to me, ‘So, I was your lab rat’ 😉 ”
SABEEN “I never had any self esteem issues. Never. Any self-doubts may have been fleeting, because my mother made me strong. For instance, I studied at Karachi Grammar School, and she made sure I wore the dull Liberty Uniforms sweater while others would wear imported sweaters. That used to upset me, but Amma always said, ‘We are Pakistani aren’t we? So what’s with the not using or wearing Pakistani products?’ Then once somebody said something derogatory about my locally-made bicycle and she told me to go back and ask them who they are, and where they come from?”
“So while I was always given a lot of support and encouragement, if ever things got tough, Amma always gave me perspective by asking, ‘What is the issue in this?’ She never let it escalate to the point where it became an issue.”
On dealing with it
SABEEN “Also Amma never said ‘Oh you poor thing!’ or that ‘Other children are so mean and you are so oppressed and marginalised.’ Children can be cruel, but I was given ammunition to deal with them. I was never told to go fight with them. It was more on the lines of, you know what you are doing, you have a good life, and you have whatever you need. So let them talk.”
On childhood tantrums
MAHENAZ “Sabeen wasn’t the kind of child who would throw tantrums. However, one time I remember that we were on Tariq Road and she had a tantrum about something. I just did not give in. I walked away from her, to make it clear that I was not going to give in. It was not very far though and I was definitely keeping an eye on her. The message however was clear … this is NOT the way to communicate.”
“I think the reason she didn’t throw tantrums as a child was because I made it a point to do a lot of things with her. We talked all the time and even when I was cooking or stitching her clothes, I would give her something similar to play with. I kept her involved all the time. We used to read together, go to the park and play together. So there was no time for tantrums.”
On teenagers arguing with parents
MAHENAZ “Teenagers argue with their parents and so did Sabeen, however it is important for them to know that there is a point beyond which there is no point arguing. Parents need to set limits and stick to them, because it is natural for children to try and push a point and try to get more out of the parent.”
SABEEN “Also my parents made it a point not to argue in front of me. They had a united front in front of me.
On running a company at 17
SABEEN “I got my exposure to the world at a very young age. I was 15 when I started working for a company called Solutions Unlimited while I was doing my O’ levels. SU was also a repair shop for computers and so I quickly learnt that people frequently lied about what was wrong with their computers just to rip people off. So I was exposed to power and petty politics at quite a young age.”
“Finally when I was in college, my boss said he was going for a holiday for a month and that I would have to run the company. I was 17 and it was the summer holiday. He left and I found I had to put myself out there and either swim or sink. The company survived, but that experience was the end of innocence for me.”
On money and fitting in
SABEEN “I have never been ashamed of the fact that we didn’t have ‘money’ or that I didn’t have the academic ambition. If I had said to my parents that I wanted to study in the US, they would have done something such as getting a loan to send me there.”
“Also a lot of my old schoolmates have an attitude about where you go to college. And I went to Kinnaird College in Lahore, which would not register with a lot of them.”
“Ironically, my class’s first reunion happened right after I appeared on a top 100 list in a magazine and there was acceptance and pride amongst my old classmates. They thought I was a celebrity. After years of not quite fitting in, I was amused.”
On children and technology
SABEEN “I don’t think in this day and age, you can deprive children of technology, because you are using technology and social media yourself. You cannot tell children that they can’t be on Facebook because the rule is that you can start using it when you are 13. If I had a child, I would not want to deprive her of the things that are now common.”
“I would never blame any technology or any form of communication for the problems that are inherent in people. I mean wasn’t it Shakespeare who said ‘The fault lies not in our stars, but in us’?”
“It is the easiest thing to blame somebody else – a foreign agent, foreign hand, TV and social media – for spoiling your kids.”
On openness with parents
MAHENAZ “I have always encouraged Sabeen to be very open with me. I told her that she doesn’t need to sneak around to meet anyone and that she could invite friends of both genders to the house.”
SABEEN “I used to tell my mother everything and I still do. I never felt that I couldn’t talk to her. She never judged me for what I did or thought. Any advise she had came to me in the form of a question. I would also like to give the example of a friend who was sending his daughter to study abroad. He didn’t tell her not to do this or not do that. He just told her to be safe and behave responsibly in whatever she did, and that really made a lot of sense.”
On being resourceful
SABEEN “I was encouraged to be resourceful. I knew that we didn’t have a car available, or a driver. If I had to go for extra sports practice after school I was encouraged to find my own way and we had a carpool to and from school. So I had to learn to be responsible”
On being upfront
SABEEN “Amma was very upfront with me. When I was about five, she told me that we don’t have the money to go to London for summer holidays or anywhere else for that matter. She said it very matter-of-factly and not in an apologetic tone saying ‘Please don’t mind that we can’t go for a summer holiday’.”
MAHENAZ “That probably came from the fact that I had an affluent childhood. So I didn’t have any bee in my bonnet about being deprived. Naturally I wanted my daughter to have nice things, but I used to sew nice clothes for her or save up to get her something really nice. The only thing I was willing to spend good money on, was a good book. Books were the treat for all occasions.”
On leading by example
MAHENAZ “I wasn’t just telling Sabeen to go buy books. I was also buying books myself at the same time. I would opt to buy books, instead of buying clothes or handbags and children can see this and pick up on it. You don’t have to sit and lecture them all the time. You have to lead by example.”
SABEEN “I was always encouraged to do what I wanted to do. I can say today that I have not deferred any dreams. Whether it was starting a company, or going to a concert in another part of the world or meeting someone I admired, I have always done it. I sold stuff, I took loans and I did it.”
“Amma has been a great enabler that way. She always said if you feel like it and you can justify it to yourself; go for it. As long as I was not hurting anyone or anything in the process.”
On academic expectations and facing consequences
MAHENAZ “I was never after Sabeen to get 7 A’s or even 2 for that matter in O levels. I never told her that you have to come first. I just asked her to do her best and when the results came, I never asked her how someone else did, nor did I compare her to others. It was irrelevant.”
“I was known for saying to Sabeen one day before an exam, when she hadn’t studied that there wasn’t much she could do in a few hours, so she might as well play! I also never hounded her regarding homework. I just told her to do it and if she didn’t, I told her to face the consequences.”
“It was tough love and I never bailed her out. You do (or don’t do) something and you deal with the consequences.”
On consistency in parenting
SABEEN “Even though I was brought up with a lot of rationality there were times when my parents would just say to me that ‘You cannot do this, because we are telling you that you can’t’. They would rationalise some of the time, but they didn’t owe me an explanation.”
“However that only worked because my parents were consistent. My mother believed in dressing simply, so it wasn’t like she dressed in Gucci and I dressed in Liberty Uniform sweaters. Or that she watched TV and told me I can’t.”
Instilling confidence in children
It is natural for parents and teachers to want to instill confidence in their children, so that they are equipped to take on any challenges that come their way. To find out what parents and teachers are doing to support their children and building their self-esteem, we conducted a small survey in which we asked the respondents the following questions:
• What do you do consistently to increase your child’s or students’ self esteem?
• What discipline issues do you find difficult to deal with?
Read on for some of the interesting and insightful responses that we got.
Naheed Parveen: ECE Teacher in a Government School, teaches 3-5 year olds
1. I try not to scold the children in my class. When they bring me their work and if there is something that is wrong with it, I don’t tell them outright that it is wrong. I also talk a lot to the children in my class to stay in touch with what they feel and their likes and dislikes.
2. The children I teach are very young and the only area where I feel they need to be disciplined is when they talk too much during the class. Actually they are so young that it is not possible to keep them quiet. That’s why I keep them busy. With such young children you can’t expect them to stay quiet unless they are the quiet types.
Kashif Masood: Father of a girl and a boy aged 17 and 19
1. I encourage my children to be as independent as possible. Children should not just be doing well in their A ‘levels, they should also know how to cross a busy road!
2. The issue that upsets me the most is when my children come home past their curfew.
Mahjabeen Gul: Former teacher (Class 1-7) and currently Academic Coordinator
1. I find theater to be a great confidence-builder. My experience is that if you take a child with low self-esteem and put them on the stage they really come into their own. They are really able to express themselves on stage. I have seen theater change children’s lives. Once a quiet child, gets up on stage, I find that they go from strength to strength.
2. In senior classes (Grades 9 and 10) I find that students tend to ignore teachers. They don’t listen to them. You can call it silent rebellion.
Adnan Khalid Mahmood: Father of a boy and a girl aged 7 and 4
1. To increase their self-esteem I let my children do more and more by themselves. I also encourage them when they do something well and try to be positive even when they don’t get things right. I encourage them to try things and not be afraid of failure.
2. Discipline issues are mostly about getting to bed on time and waking up for school on time. What seems to work is when I tell them the night before that even if they feel tired waking up the next day; they will still have to be up on time.
Sajida Abdullah: Head of Government School New Kumharwara No. 1, Lyari
1. I try to build confidence in children by encouraging them to say whatever they want and also by asking them to take decisions. For instance a few children used to come late to the morning assembly, so I asked them to suggest a solution for that.
Another issue was littering. Children used to throw litter all over the place knowing that the school’s maasi (cleaning lady) would clean it. So I asked the children what we could do to solve the problem and let them come up with the solution. They now throw their trash in the garbage can.
2. The biggest discipline issue I face is that children fight a lot and often the fights become amplified and reach their homes. I can’t really blame them because the school is situated in Lyari and the general environment is this part of the city is very stressful.
Amir Haleem Syed: Father of 3 daughters aged 12, 10 and 5
1. I love all my children unconditionally and equally. I keep the lines of communication open with my daughters. If they do something wrong, they can tell me quietly about whatever they have done. We negotiate a deal whereby they set their own punishment, in case they repeat the offence.
When I was a child one of the most traumatic things for me was being scolded endlessly for the smallest things. So I promised myself two things: one that when I am angry I will not talk to the person for 60 minutes which gives me time to cool off and tackle the situation in a more intelligent way. Secondly, I make it a point to not be angry with the child after that. It is extremely stressful for them to know that I am upset with them.
Also if the child is honest with me I will not punish them no matter what the crime.
2. Because of this I don’t think I have ever had any discipline issues.
Sheeza Zuberi: Mother of a son and daughter, aged 7 and 5
1. I consider positive reinforcement a really good tool, so if I see my son or daughter picking up their clothes or doing homework without being prodded, I praise them. But I am careful not to just say ‘You did a good job!’ Instead I try to talk about what was good about what they did. So for instance I will say, ‘You very responsibly finished your homework early today’ or that ‘You shared your pop corn with your brother and that is very kind’.
2. Where I really struggle is when they fight amongst themselves. It drives me batty and I end up screaming
Nazia Azfar: Mother of 3 sons, aged 5, 11 and 14
1. I try to encourage my children whenever I see them making an effort. I also try to avoid criticising them unnecessarily.
2. The issue I face is when my children become overconfident and stop listening to my advice. In which case I have to give them advice without making it sound like advice and that is not always easy.
Saadia Kashif: Teacher Grade 4-5
1. I try not to embarrass any child in front of the whole class and I try to appreciate any effort that they are making. I also try to reward them for their achievements, whenever possible. I usually reward them by giving them responsibilities such as making them class monitor so that they feel proud and continue their behaviour.
2. I find rowdy behavior very difficult to deal with.