Touch wood!

"Why do we say touch wood mamma?"

"Why do we have to stop and turn back because a black cat crossed our path?"

"Why are you putting kajal on my cheek!?"

"What is this rahukalam? What happens if we step out now instead?"

"What is wrong with the number 13?"

Ah, the questions! 

Questions are pretty much an inevitable part of being a parent. And the dreaded 'why' even more so! From 'why do I have to go to school?' to "why does Daddy get to sleep with you but I have to be a 'grown up' and sleep in my room!?" children ask all sorts of questions. While most of these questions are kind of simple to answer, there are some questions that really test our patience as a parent. And every once in a while, there comes a question, with no warning, that leaves us just, baffled! 
"Mamma, why do we say 'touch wood' and not 'touch metal' or 'touch plastic'?" my little one asked me the other day. "Well, this is an ancient belief and there were more trees around then than now and there was definitely no plastic then...," I ventured. (But, I am a parent, what was I thinking!) Even before the words were out of my mouth, I was hit with a barrage of questions: "What ancient belief? What happens if you say touch wood? What happens when you don't? Why should you say touch wood.....?" 
Now I was stumped. I had no idea when I had taken up using the phrase myself and had to look the answer up. "It is a custom to literally knock on the wood or say 'touch wood' whenever you say something favourable, or boast or make some statement about some event that is not in your control," I finally found out.  
But this whole idea of superstitions got me thinking. One, because, I had to look it up myself, which clearly told me I was following something I did not completely know about. And more importantly two, because, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to explain it to my kiddo, just yet. I have nothing against 'touch wood' mind you, but it is the whole idea of "superstitions" that I wasn't sure my child was ready for yet.... In fact, I even started looking at my own behaviour closely, to see what other superstitions I was following in my life that my child was watching. 

Be it believing in a particular good luck charm or being wary of the black cat; knowingly or unknowingly, we exhibit a lot of superstitious behaviour in front of our children. Behaviour that, we have ourselves, picked up, inadvertently, from our surroundings and held on to.
Children pick up behavioral traits, just like us, from their surroundings. And just like us, they too, observe things and people around them and model their behaviour accordingly. We see certain events taking place at the same time after a certain thing is done or not done; and draw an inference that it is a fixed occurrence. 
The reason why these things happen could have logical or scientific reasons - such as a light coming on by flipping a switch; or could be because of mere coincidence - say you having a bad day on the '13th' or something you wished would happen not happening on the same day that a black cat crossed your path when you left home that morning. 

Now, what has a logical explanation is very easy to explain, but things that just happen, with no explanation have a certain mystery to it. And this mystery creates fear, to overcome which, we device certain rituals, believing that they keep the unfavourable results away. Most superstitions have been born this way and then have trickled down the generations and found their way in our lives. 

Understandably, our children have picked up on these and thus, we are faced with a couple of important questions - do we want our children to believe in superstitions and lead a superstitious life? And more importantly, would superstitions help them or impede their lives? 

We at Ramblings, therefore decided to look up superstitions and their incidence in and impact on people; and we came across some surprising findings. 

Michael Brody M.D., child psychiatrist and representative of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says: 'Superstitions give us hope'.
Infact, studies have found that superstitions help children handle anxiety and give them a sense of control. It was also found that superstitions are fairly common in 8-12 years-old kids. 
So is it okay then, to let children cross their fingers when expecting something good to happen....or say a prayer or chant at bedtime to ward off the monsters of the night? Well, the answer seems to be, yes. However, what we must note, is that superstitions, while positive, can also have a negative impact. And we need to be careful they do not turn into an obsession. 
If rituals such as knocking on the wood or using certain words or carrying a lucky charm around everywhere start occurring too frequently, these can have an impact on the children's lives. At an age, when they cannot vouch for the science behind things yet, children can start blindly believing in the superstitions or in the 'magic' that makes the lucky charms work. This can reduce their will to try for something with all their might or give their best shot at things, believing - often mistakenly - that the lucky charm or the chant or a certain phrase will guarantee a favourable outcome anyway. 

Parents need to be extra careful therefore, and look closely at their children's behaviour. There is a very thin line between children merely following a ritual because they have seen us do it and the superstition becoming an obsession with them. When parents see this line blurring, it is time to intervene. 

One needs to then sit the child down and have a tête à tête. It can also help to break a superstition or two in your children's presence, just to see what happens. Maybe, you could leave that lucky charm behind once in a while, or maybe you could go out on the 13th and have a fun day? 
It is important to discuss the outcome of such experiments with children as to what happened when the superstition was broken. Was the outcome that bad? Did you encounter any 'bad luck' really? What 'bad luck' is supposed to befall on someone breaking a superstition is subjective after all, isn' it? 
Ideally, a person (children or adults) should be able to break a superstition whenever they feel or wherever it is necessary. That is healthy. However, if this does not happen, then the person is too dependent on the superstition and may have to seek professional help.  

As long it is a healthy belief, therefore, there is no harm knocking on the wood; and as long as you are not psychologically dependent on it, there is no harm in carrying that lucky charm. No one knows what tomorrow holds for us and rituals and superstitions are just our way of hoping to have some control where we have none. 

Superstitions, therefore, are just one more cultural element woven into the fabric of our lives; and like all things cultural, we take them along with us hoping to be benefited by them. 


  1. I too make a conscious effort of practising what i preach or want my son to follow / behave!:-)

    1. That's the way to go Shabda! Really, parents nothing but lead by is us who have to be responsible :)

  2. Very true Rash..There are lot of things we do for which even we don't have an answer as to why.We never questioned and just followed what we were told,but now with the Gen next kiddos its time to go ahead and find out the reasons for this.

    What we advice,kids may not follow,but how we behave kids would definitely follow. So more than words our actions are going to be an example.

    1. Yes Kavi, when it comes to children, we must be on our model behaviour at all times... :)


Post a Comment

Popular Posts