Nourish Children With Tonic Of Your Tongue


(A Tale From East Africa)

Many years ago, a great chief lived with his wife, son and daughter in great wealth and comfort. But the chief's two children were unhappy. They wandered through the village, yawning and weeping. They never smiled or played with other children! They grew so thin that they looked almost like skeletons. Their eyes, so dark and haunted, frightened the small children and old people.

In the village there also lived a poor man whose two children were always glad. They sang songs all day long and played joyfully with their friends. They smiled day and night, and their skin was soft and smooth, their limbs plump and strong. Their eyes gleamed with light, and everyone who knew them loved them.

When the chief saw how healthy and happy these poor children were, he called upon their father and asked him for the secret.

"Chief," said the poor man, "I feed my children with the meat of the tongue, and this fills them with health and happiness."

The chief was delighted at this simple solution. He hurried home and ordered his servants to fetch him tongues of every beast. He instructed his cook to prepare tongue roasts, tongue stews, tongue soups, tongue fried, boiled and grilled. These treats he fed to his children, day and night.

Still the chief's children would not smile. They grew thinner and more pale, and their eyes filled with tears.

The chief was at his wit's end. Once again, he called upon the poor man. "You have given me bad advice," the chief said angrily. "Your punishment is this. You must give me your children, and I will give you mine in exchange."

In the village the chief's word was law, and the poor man, though he was sad, could not argue. He gave up his beloved son and daughter, and the chief's unhappy children moved into the poor man's home.

Time passed, and the chief's new children began to grow sad, thin and pale. The chief offered them toys, games and jewels, and still they would not smile. The chief ordered marvellous birds in golden cages to sing to the children, but the children would not listen or sing. No matter how much he tried, he could not make his children happy. He watched in horror as they grew more and more listless.

The poor man went about his work each day. Every evening he returned home and talked to his new son and daughter as they ate their evening meal. He told them tales about the wonders of the world. He described the rising sun, the stars and the moon. He drew pictures of the fields where he worked, and when the children were ready to go to bed, he sang them songs until, with smiles on their faces, they fell fast asleep.

Soon the poor man's new children were smiling! Within days they began to laugh, and soon they were singing and gaining weight. Colour came to their cheeks and they woke with a sparkle in their eyes. They played with the other children of the village. The poor man's new children were happy indeed, for they loved the tales their new father told them. They loved the way he shared his knowledge and the stories of his ancestors.

The chief, meanwhile, grew weary of trying to please his new children. He packed their bags and sent his servants to return them to their father, asking that his own children come home in return.

"We do not wish to return to our father's home," said the son.

The servants returned to the chief and told him what the children had said. The chief was furious, and he ran all the way to the poor man's house.

"Children," he cried, amazed at the change in his daughter's look, at the joy he saw in his son's eyes. "What has this poor man done? How has he made you so happy?"

The chief's children told him the tales the poor man had told them. They described the sun, the moon and the stars, and they sang the songs they had learnt.

The chief listened, and suddenly he understood. "The meat of the tongue," he said, nodding, taking the poor man's hand in his. "You are a wise man, indeed," he said, "For you know the greatest gift a parent can offer his children! It is his companionship, his wisdom and his words. You have taught me well."

The chief's children, seeing that their father had understood the real key to happiness, returned home and forever afterward, the chief gave his children the greatest gift imaginable. He gave them his love, time and attention and filled their lives with songs and stories.

Do the children of the chief remind us of the 21st century youngsters, who grow up showered with good treatment, gifts, gourmet, and comfort and yet have the highest rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-harm tendencies? 

While children today have an abundance of things, they continue to be starved of time, attention, and patience. 

Ever notice how children strangely develop an accent although no one around speaks in one (Thank you – YouTube and Netflix!)? Or how a child sounds so adult-like and critical when they talk? Or worse still, that a child shows a sudden and strong aversion every time you try to have a conversation with them?

Well, there is a remedy to all these problems. And it is a universal cure – the Tonic of the Tongue!

Talking to children is an essential facet of parenting. It starts in infancy, as mothers talk to the baby while they feed and change them, or even just engage them in pointless chatter while doing chores. Active conversations during playtime, of course, are priceless!

Several studies have proven the significance of this talking to the child’s cognitive, language as well as social-emotional development. This is probably why indulging the never-ending “what’s” and “why’s” that children wear us down with becomes invaluable. It is important in building their understanding of the world, enabling their rapidly-building vocabulary, validating their sense of self, and nurturing their innate curiosity. Avoiding, snubbing, or curbing these conversations with kids has a damaging effect on their wellbeing, personality, cognition, and confidence. Children not only learn to respond to others in the same way, but also have many unanswered questions which they seek to understand, often using questionable means.

The tonic of tongue shapes, grooms, nourishes the young minds in their growing years. Adults who nurture children with the tonic of their tongue raise children who make them proud. This is the first human connection for every child born; the connection with parents, and this connection is experienced mostly through the conversations and quality of communication they experience throughout the day. 

The ideal prescription for the tonic of the tongue is (and yes! This is universally applicable to all parents and children of all ages)

  1. Be Present: Not just physically, but mentally too! Listen to children and respond to them patiently and extensively. Give them time and attention; this is fundamental to cultivating great conversations and bonds. Preaching and rushing never works.
  1. Listen: Actually listen! Drop the phone, turn off the tv, put down your book and look your child in the eye while you engage. Listening is an essential part of talking. When modeled well by adults around, children become good listeners quite naturally. 
  1. Choose the right time: Make time for the conversations with kids. While it is imperative that dinners are time for talk, the family dinner may not be the right time to bring up delicate issues. Such conversations may be best dealt with one on one, privately. 
  1. Check your voice: Most communication shutdowns happen due to the tone and pitch of the voice. Often the message remains unheard, and people are triggered into an emotional reaction if the tone is aggressive, sharp or domineering. Loud pitches too tend to shut down the listener and trigger the flight response. Therefore, it is important to be gentle and soft while communicating with children.
  1. Be open: Each one learns from their own experience, and walks their own journey. Allow your child to reflect and find their own means and path. If you have followed points 1-4 so far, your child will confide in you at each stage, is more likely to seek your opinion, and value it too! Don’t get too hung up on your child avoiding mistakes. Instead, focus on them learning. 
  1. Use the right words: Conversations are more dangerous than useful when they aren’t constructive. Avoid critical, reprimanding, or condescending conversations. Remember that we, as adults, don’t respond to them kindly. Neither will your child. 
  1. Share perspective: Now this is tricky, and therefore saved for the end. Children value perspective immensely. That’s primarily why they turn to us. Ensure your perspective is just that and not a sermon, or you’ve lost your audience immediately! 

The world is in extremely short supply of parents who are responsive, sensitive, patient and invested in talking to their children.

So, this New Year, let’s pledge to reclaim our rightful place as parents – replace advice and information from reels with our own. Ditch the audiobooks for bedtime stories filled with fables and folklore that continue our legacy, heritage, and values. Rekindle the spark of laughter and candour as we celebrate being ourselves over being perfect. And reorient ourselves to be catalysts in our children’s lives, and not puppeteers. 

All of this can happen when we parents ensure that the tonic of the tongue becomes a part of every day of our lives. For without it, parenting can become a hard pill to swallow.