Imaginative Parenting with Fictional Characters

Kids are the fastest evolv­ing species on this plan­et. Par­ent­ing tech­niques become out­dat­ed faster and faster. How­ev­er, I think many under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples remain the same.

I think good par­ent­ing is not an acquired skill – because it needs con­stant acquir­ing. I need to be learn­ing and adapt­ing all the time if I am to be a good par­ent, because today’s kids are learn­ing and adapt­ing all the time.

I want­ed to share the lighter side of this enrich­ing and enjoy­able part of my life – the use of fic­tion­al char­ac­ters to encour­age dis­ci­pline in our 2.5 year old daugh­ter.

The Deterrent

Beta so ja, nahi to Gab­bar Singh aa jayega” (Child, go to sleep, else the dacoit will come – a famous line in Indi­an cin­e­ma).

Par­ents have always need­ed exter­nal deter­rents to dis­ci­pline kids. Every­one imag­in­able – from police and teach­ers to demons and ghosts – has need­ed to be sum­moned to assist the help­less par­ent.

Boom Boom Bah

Our deter­rent fic­tion­al char­ac­ter comes from a Marathi song from an album for kids that has become the rage among all kids in Maha­rash­tra. Kids from a few months to a few years old dig this album like crazy. It fea­tures one song about a ghost, Boom Boom Bah, with a nice rhyth­mic pul­sat­ing beat, replete with screams and night­mar­ish laugh­ter.Parenting Cartoon

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, this guy Boom Boom Bah has become a friend to many Marathi par­ents. Go to sleep, oth­er­wise Boom Boom Bah will come. Not tak­ing your med­i­cine? Boom Boom Bah will give you fever. Not brush­ing your teeth? Boom Boom Bah will take them away. And so on.

But, I didn’t want her to imbibe an irra­tional fear of an imag­i­nary ghost. So the Boom Boom Bah char­ac­ter has mutat­ed into an obnox­ious fel­low who’d rather be avoid­ed at all costs. Our daugh­ter has even learned to scold him if he doesn’t behave.

Not all deter­rents need to be fic­tion­al. Our daugh­ter knows the Chair­man of our res­i­den­tial soci­ety as he has a young kid who some­times plays with her. After sev­er­al failed attempts at try­ing to stop her from end­less­ly play­ing with the tap water while wash­ing hands or get­ting her out of the show­er, one day her moth­er warned that Mr. Chair­man will shut off all the water sup­ply. This was more than a year back and the trick still works!


Deter­rents root­ed in real­i­ty don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly work, because chil­dren don’t see and under­stand the world like we do. Use deter­rents that exist in their world.

Change, refine, and adapt the deter­rents to suit the sit­u­a­tion, age, and cul­ture.

The Incentive

Can­dies and choco­lates in excess can be harm­ful incen­tives. Harm­less incen­tives require out-of-the-box think­ing. Our daugh­ter is now tir­ing of a meal-chair that she has used for more than 18 months. Rather than sit­ting and being forcibly enclosed in the chair, she would like to prance around. A direct, straight-for­ward direc­tive “Sit in the chair” doesn’t work.

There’s a pic­ture of a baby on the chair. “If you don’t sit in the chair, the baby will feel lone­ly, and cry. It wants you” works.


Pro­vide incen­tives, not instruc­tions.


This was a mas­ter­stroke by my MIL. Anu­ja is an imag­i­nary friend of the same age as our daugh­ter, who likes to hang around with her and her cousins. In short, she is part of their kids group. This was estab­lished over a few weeks of bed­time sto­ry­telling involv­ing Anu­ja and the real kids. Now, Anu­ja is becom­ing a more use­ful con­cept than any deter­rent, since she is very flex­i­ble.

On-Demand: You don’t want to fin­ish your din­ner? Shall I give it to Anu­ja?

Sto­ries with Morals: Elab­o­rate sto­ries at bed­time about how Anu­ja did not behave prop­er­ly in some way or the oth­er, lead­ing to her pun­ish­ment.

Good Behav­ior: Good behav­ior on our daughter’s part makes Anu­ja very hap­py.

Indi­rect Scold­ing: Direct scold­ing leads to cry­ing and is fre­quent­ly counter-pro­duc­tive. If our daugh­ter behaves incor­rect­ly in some respects, Anu­ja mim­ics her at the same time, and it is Anu­ja who gets the scold­ing, not our daugh­ter. Some­times, this is suf­fi­cient for our daugh­ter to mend her ways.

These are just a few exam­ples; the list is end­less. I am sim­ply amazed at how all this works!


Use Incen­tives as a first recourse. If they don’t work, then resort to Deter­rents.

This entry was posted in children, parenting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • As soon as I read your title, I knew Gab­bar would be there. I expect­ed to be told of new deter­rants. My Ma use to talk about some Kiror­i­mal Baba to make my sis drink milk. It was not a very suc­cess­ful trick, my sis­ter rather took a com­bat mode to beat up dev­il. So when much-feared Kiror­i­mal didn’t make any appear­ance, she assumed it was scared of her. 😀

    But the Chair­man trick is very good. I have baby-sit many of my cousins, and keep­ing them away from water was a tough task at times. 🙂

  • We are fac­ing a sim­i­lar dan­ger of Boom Boom Bah nev­er mak­ing an appear­ance! 🙂

    Today, the water stopped because of an elec­tri­cal prob­lem with the pump. You know who did it? 😉

  • Remind­ed me of my child­hood

    Boom boom bah is way to mod­ern … a toon influ­ence??

    ps ur mils anu­ja idea was smart indeed
    noth­ing works bet­ter than rev psy­chol­o­gy