Ask Your Counselor

What’s in a name? A Lot…

I am the mother of a ten-year-old girl child. I wasn’t happy with the name that I had given her at birth so when she was three years old we changed her name, and we didn’t notice any major change in her behaviour. But then when she was eight, on the insistence of our family astrologer, we changed her name again. I don’t think she is very happy with the decision. She says her friends tease her and teachers in school are also annoyed with the name change. She has become moody and short-tempered. Do you believe the name change will affect her personality negatively? — Rekha Raja, Chennai

Children derive a sense of identity and belonging from their name. As you say, your child didn’t display any annoyance at age three but now that she is ten, as her personality and identity develops, she is expressing displeasure about these name changes. You need to talk with her and ask her what name she would like to be known by. Please respect her wishes. For official paper work, you can continue to use the officially registered name. At all other times, please call her by the name she prefers. She can also ask friends to address her by that name. My intention is not to belittle your cultural beliefs but from a psychological standpoint suggest what’s best for your child.
My son is 12 years and still refuses to sleep in his own room. Friends tell me it’s because he is an only child. But I don’t believe that is the problem. Maybe he is just nervous about sleeping alone. Every night I have to lie down with him until he falls asleep. Sometimes I end up falling asleep in his room. Other nights, he wakes up at midnight and comes knocking on our door. How do I encourage him to sleep alone? — Maryam Joseph, Bangalore

You need to have a discussion with your son and reiterate that you expect him to sleep in his own room and that you will support him through the transition. It helps to set a bedtime routine — a meal at least 90 minutes before bed, no gadgets for at least 120 minutes before sleep and dim lighting. If he agrees, he could also also have a warm bath before bed-time. Initially, sit beside or read to him until he falls asleep. Make sure you don’t doze off yourself because your son may start delaying his sleep to ensure that you fall asleep first. Discuss his fears and anxieties with him and install a low-voltage night light in his room. For the first few months, even if he comes back to your bedroom, make sure that you send him back to his room and tuck him into his own bed. 

My 11-year-old son performs above average in academics, extra-curricular activities etc. He is not brilliant but he does well enough. I have no complaints. But he suffers an inferiority complex, especially when he hears about the achievements of others. How do I boost his self-confidence? —  Selvakumari Sundaram, Coimbatore

Some children are more motivated by external rewards and accolades than by experiencing the joy of pursuing private activities and hobbies. This happens when children get used to praise over appreciation. While praise should be reserved for doing/completing an unusual job well, appreciation is an acknowledgement of efforts made and success in everyday tasks. Since you have noticed this complex, move to appreciating and supporting him through the process of acquiring new skills and not merely praising his achievements. Also refrain from making sibling/peer comparisons. Observe carefully if any adults at home/friends resent his growth and success. Children learn by observing adult behaviour. In short, start appreciating his efforts with limited emphasis on results.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)