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Open Book, open Mind! Learning Life Skills...

The adorable little model for my blog post today is my nephew Ajay. Ajay lives in the US and he’s busy reading all about how to be a big brother—an essential skill, especially as he prepares to welcome his new sibling into the world soon!

Most of us equate books with education or improving our general knowledge. But as Ajay demonstrates, books can serve a far more important function—they can influence the way we think, feel and react to different situations. And that’s why children must ideally be exposed to reading at an early age, when their minds are a fertile ground for good habits.

When my own son was 3 years old, I remember a time when he was well and truly addicted to chocolate. Candy bars, toffees, chocolate flavored cakes and cookies—anything that had chocolate in it would be munched away in minutes!

For years, I’ve reported on health news and I was painfully aware of how powerfully addictive sugar could be, but I watched helplessly as doting relatives, a sister with a sweet tooth, frequent birthday parties in pre-school, visitors who came bearing gifts (of the sweet kind)—in short, the whole universe conspired to fuel this crazy craving for chocolate.

No amount of lecturing, coaxing, pleading or cajoling could get him to stop. I was always afraid that cavities would weaken his milk teeth and that chocolate would replace the healthier foods in his diet. I couldn’t be the Chocolate Policewoman forever and yet, it upset and frustrated me that I couldn’t set things right.

Fortunately, when I was at my wit’s end, I stumbled across this delightful interactive ebook about Princess Chocolate by Allen Plenderleith (God bless him, by the way!).

You can download it here:

Princess Chocolate is an imaginative tale of a young princess who is so enamoured by chocolate that she even brushes her teeth with it. She eats chocolate vegetables, chocolate coated everything! My son was horrified when she accepts magical chocolate from a witch and eats so much that she turns bright green. And I know this because he kept glancing at himself in the mirror for days, just to check if he had an emerald tinge too (ah, vanity)!

The book concludes with the Princess toning down her sweet tooth and discovering the joy of sharing her treats. And slowly, almost miraculously, (as we kept reading the book together) his need for chocolate ebbed. Much to my relief, he took a more balanced approach. Today, chocolate firmly has its place as an occasional treat.

The experience helped me realize that merely telling a child something wasn’t good for them wasn’t enough—you need to grab their attention and then show them why.

And that’s why I advocate reading as a natural means of learning life skills. You’re introducing your child to stories with beautiful illustrations, inhabited by characters they can deeply relate to, who go through problems and situations that are so very familiar. As the character resolves the conflict in the book, your child too will discover a way to deal with his/her own troubles—often resolving issues that they didn’t even know how to voice.

There are plenty of good books that can teach life skills without being preachy or moralistic. My choice would be the ever popular Berenstain Bears series—which deal with so many contemporary childhood issues such as sharing your toys, learning good manners, waiting for your turn at the park, dealing with the outcome of telling too many lies or eating too much junkfood, coping with a working mother or realizing why you shouldn’t watch too much TV.

You can find it here:

If you’re looking for an Indian version of these stories (these are brief, crisp and contain simple language) then I highly recommend the Growing Up with Bubble’s and the Learning with Pepper series by Sterling Publishers.

There are plenty of books with a gripping plot that teach life skills in an intriguing way. As you read these together, remember, with every turn of the page, you’re teaching your child to cope in a world that may be less than ideal.

You’re telling them that it’s okay to make mistakes (as long as you pick yourself up, never quit and benefit from the rich wisdom borne from different experiences). It’s like planting the perfect seed--a truly priceless way to prepare your little one to face a rather imperfect world.

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