Parenting in Ancient India

A very common practice in the country in the recent decades, has been to look up to the west, idealizing their practices and habits, trying to implement the same within our own households, in an attempt to stay on the right side of modernization. Parents too join the bandwagon, attempting to raise global citizens of the future, taking every trend they come across, as the gospel truth. Although there is nothing wrong with keeping up with the times, we are perhaps distancing ourselves from the gems buried in our own land, that the world crosses oceans to learn about. The wisdom and lessons of parenting in ancient India, is one such fine example of the true treasure our ancestors left us with.

Parenting in Ancient India

Here’s a look at a few ideologies and practices of ancient Indian parenting, that ensured overall development of children.

  1. Attachment and Detachment
    Ancient Indian culture managed the fine balance of parents attaching and detaching from children at the right ages. From ages 1 to 5, children were given undivided attention, with utmost importance being laid on their physical and mental development. The idea of considering children to be the very form of God, comes from this attention and respect given to them in order to be brought up in a truly holistic environment. In the years that followed, students were sent to Gurukul, where teachers were the parental figures in students’ lives, and parents learned the art of detachment for a child’s development. The practice throws light on letting children finding their own identities and values, forming their own experiences, devoiding parents the opportunity of helicopter parenting. As a result, children were more responsible, mature, and self-sufficient, as they grew up. Although complete detachment may not be practical in in the current times, learning to detach when appropriate, and be present when needed, would help children carve their own learning path, without being too dependent.
  2. Emphasis on Education
    Education was almost a given in ancient India. Education was advocated as a must, to attain order and peace in the family, as well as society. Contrary to popular beliefs, girl children were also encouraged to be educated, although the system of education differed for boys and girls. An entire stage among the four stages of life, as mentioned in the scriptures, was dedicated to education and learning. Children were not just taught to take education seriously, but also revere teachers accordingly. In the years that students stayed with the teachers, or imparted learning from them, teachers took the role of parenting in children’s lives.
  3. Co-ordination between parents and teachers
    Parents and teachers worked together, in the greater interest of a child’s development. Teachers were given the same respect and place of parents, in a child’s life, considering the impact they had on the child’s development. Teachers and parents had open communication and feedback, all in the interest of the greater good of the child. Parents were considered an extended part of the teachers’ community and vice versa. This seamless understanding, communication and mutual respect between the children’s caregivers in their growing years, ensured smooth upbringing and overall development of the child.
  4. Health and Nutrition
    Child development in Ancient India, had strong foundations with focus being laid on it, even before the child was born. Several traditions and practices were followed by the mother, to ensure a healthy growth of the foetus, and the birth of the child. Texts in Ayurveda, which was the norm followed in ancient India, extensively advocated the relationship between human development and nature. Food was considered to have direct impact on mental development too, thus encouraging parents to consciously choose the diet and nutrition provided to children. Physical and mental relationship between the child and the mother was much in focus, ensuring that children received undivided attention for personal growth in the early stages of life.
  5. Leading by Example
    Parents in ancient India were expected to behave in the highest moral conduct, and behave the way they expected their children to behave. Leading by example, parents taught values such as discipline, kindness, and social manners, making it easier for children to take the same route. The scriptures discouraged parents from indulging in materialism, thus paving the way to a rich, authentic upbringing that focused more on the values imparted in children, than the money spent on them. Such approaches led to children not losing their innocence before time, and learning to appreciate the little joys of life.
  6. Equality
    Children were treated equally, irrespective of their gender or biological history. Boys and girls had equal rights to education. Adopted children, step children, and illegitimate children too, held the same rights in the family, including the right to inherit property. The scriptures list 12 types of children, based on their backgrounds, all holding similar respect and status in the family. Thus, the foundation of equality began at home, imparting the same values in children too.
  7. Role of Grandparents
    With utmost importance being laid on family values, joint families were the norm. Even when families didn’t stay together under the same roof, they shared a common compound. Children were brought up with grandparents in their close confines, whose wisdom and guidance, laid the foundation of strong physical, mental, and emotional development in children.
  8. Emotional Intelligence
    Children were encouraged not to give into emotional impulses, and weigh their thoughts before reacting. Constant support from the family and society, helped children deal with their emotions in a tactful manner. With emphasis being laid on self-control, children learned not to act on every impulse and urge. Yoga that was commonly practiced, also helped children become more mindful and patient.
Parenting Tips from Ancient Indian Texts

Tirukkural, a religious text written over 5000 years ago, by the Indian poet Kaalingar, lists a few parenting tips, which goes on to show the wisdom and understanding of parenting in Ancient India. Here are a few lessons for parents on child psychology, from the texts, that holds good even today.

  1. On trust and reliance - If your child lies to you often, it is because you react too harshly to his inappropriate behaviour. If your child is not taught to confide in you about his mistakes, you have lost him. If your child doesn’t listen to you but listens to others, it is because you are too quick to jump to conclusions.

  2. On confidence and self-esteem - If your child has poor self esteem, it is because you advise him, more than you encourage him. If your child does not stand up for himself, it is because you have disciplined him regularly in public, from a young age.

  3. On emotions - If your child has anger issues, it is because you give too much attention to bad behaviour, and much less attention to good behaviour. If your child gets jealous often, it is because you appreciate him only when he completes a task successfully, but not when he shows progressive improvement in other tasks that may not have been completed. If your child acts cowardly, it is because you generally jump to help him too quickly.

  4. On children rebelling - If your child rebels, it is because he knows you care more about what others think, than what the child would. If a child takes things that do not belong to him, it is because you don’t let him choose when you buy things for him.

  5. On respect – If your child does not respect others’ feelings, it is because instead of having a discussion with your child, your order and command him. If your child talks back to you, it is because they watch you do it to others, and think it is okay to do so.

  6. On seeking attention – If your child disturbs you intentionally, he is seeking attention, because you don’t show enough physical affection.

Conclusion

Times have changed, and so has human nature. However, one can still draw parallels between children of the ancient ages and modern times, with the need for overall development in children being the same. So while the world has a lot to offer on the parenting front, there’s a lot to be learned from our own ancient practices. In the interest of children’s growth, parents today, can have the best of both worlds, taking the holistic wisdom of ancient parenting, and the modern approaches of the current one.

- Jiji Tharayil

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