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The Power of Identifying Instincts


Dr. Gayatri Bezboruah

"If you knew you were wrong, why did you say it?" Teaching our child to pay attention to and trust the "knowing" feeling inside them sometimes takes a backseat to protecting them. Although as parents we do need to watch over their little ones and keep them safe, we should be careful not to extinguish the natural protective instincts or feelings of knowing we are all born with.

Our world is not always a safe place and not all people are good. It would be wonderful if we could shield our children from the reality of dangerous people and situations. The truth is, we are not always going to be with our children. And life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Teaching our little ones to trust their instincts and to be aware of their surrounding can be as natural as all the other things we teach them as they grow.

With babies and very young children, the primary way of preserving their natural protective urges is to validate their feelings with words and body language. They need to get feedback from us as they experience the world. When they startle when a pan hits the floor, casually saying, "That was loud, wasn't it?" as our affirmation of their everyday experiences will help them trust all their feelings.

As they get a little older, we have to feel free to discuss what they already know to be true. "That lady on TV was scary!?Or, "It hurts to be left out."?Reflecting back in a simple way what we see our children experiencing will let them know their perceptions are valid.

If our way of relating with our children about feelings common to everyone - pleasure, love, anger, fear, has been natural and consistent, then talking to them about dangerous situations and untrustworthy people will be natural also. Letting them know that their protective feelings or instincts are real and that they should pay attention to them will set the stage for later discussions.

We need to tell them a few simple rules: Always stay with the big person you're with. If anyone tries to give you a gift, or asks you to help them and it feels like a trick, it is. Scream "No, you're not my Mommy (or Daddy).?And run to the nearest mom, policeman, store clerk.

Children are born with natural protective instincts. Reflecting back what our children are experiencing in the moment helps preserve those instincts. Teaching them to trust their feelings can keep them safe. Keeping safety rules simple minimizes hesitation when instincts are activated.

Children have an innate knowledge of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness and of safe and unsafe. As they develop a greater awareness of the world around them, some of the trusting innocence is lost to reality. Stranger danger should be explicitly taught to them. Also, teaching them simple self-defense can build confidence in their ability to survive a dangerous situation. Role playing various scenarios can empower older children to trust their instincts and respond quickly.

All danger aside, we want our children to be able to trust the information they are receiving from their senses. Believe them, show understanding. Sometimes help them sort it all out. Just letting them know that we trust their perceptions and their instincts will give them permission to trust them too.

Dr Gayatri Bezboruah is Professor of Paediatrics, Gauhati Medical College, Guwahati. She can be reached at or


Q. My school going son is not motivated to do anything. He just wants to watch TV or play games on the computer. He is not interested in school work or outdoor activities. Please help. (Name withheld)

Ans: This could be so due to the fact that your child is feeling discouraged. He may be going through distressing emotions. He could be feeling angry or anxious. It is important to find out the underlying emotion than put a label that he is naughty or lazy. Please try and find out what is actually troubling him. He may be feeling inadequate himself and thus avoid these activities. Watching TV or computer games gives relief with very little effort so he may feel temporarily relieved with an immediate feeling of success. Every time he does some activity, do make sure to appreciate his gesture. All of us have an innate need to feel good about ourselves and be praised. Use plenty of it.

Q. My 2 year old daughter likes to play by herself. She sits and plays with blocks, or just transfer them to a bucket, etc. I am worried she will become unsocial later in life. Please advise. (Name withheld)

Ans: At the age of 2 years, your daughter is too young to be able to play in a group setting. Children may play alone and it is a natural stage of development for them. Children learn a lot through play and they play alone before they play in social situations. Its helps them to think, explore and create. It is therefore not necessary for them to constantly be interacting with adults or other children.

Q. Dear Madam, please share some tips to follow during exam time. What should we do? I am always confused. (Name withheld)

Ans: You can adopt the following tips.

. Make sure you eat a good breakfast on the morning of your exam. This is very important.

. Have a good night's sleep the day before the exam.

. At the exam, be sure to read all instructions slowly and carefully. Don't be in a hurry.

. Revise all answers before submitting your answer scripts.

. Leave hard questions till the end. First complete the questions you are comfortable with.

. Keep all required stationary ready and available.

. Relax! Take deep breaths in between if required.

Ms.Gariasi Dutta, MSW (TISS) is Psychological Counsellor with Down Town Hospital, Guwahati. She can be contacted at 98640-55560 or

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