My baby, my design?

babyTailor made – everything! Your personal fitness instructor, your personal diet plan, your personal virtual assistant, your personal music tutor and everything else under the sun is going that way too!

And what about kids? Sure, they too, wouldn’t we wish?

Even before a child is born, some of us would like to have decided his / her school and pretty much have carved out their lives, just as, we might have liked to lived ours. Whether we admit it or not, most times, our unconscious mind is busy making decisions about our child’s future  Ironically, many times, our view of our child’s future is really about us and what we want.

Well, here is a math view of parenting. Each of us is a unique individual. We meet our spouse and over time, an intersection of two seemingly separate sets emerges. It is our shared values, interests, passions, etc. Out of that intersection, at some point in time, a baby is born. However, where the parenting equation falsifies itself is the place where we forget that the baby is not meant to stay in that intersection. That baby is a unique individual too. The baby, your baby, is born with some traits and over time, develops emotions, choices, preferences and styles that define him / her. How much time do we spend in getting to know this individual and how much time do we spend in directing him / her to do follow our design and to be the way we want him / her to be?

Agreed that as parents, we need to guide our children, to be there for them, teach them right for wrong. Hopefully, however, we would not be imposing our design on them and would involve them in making decisions that are likely to impact them as they grow older. We cannot have a child decide which school he / she goes to but perhaps we can enable a child to make decisions about the kind of activity he / she wants to engage in during a play date. Enabling a child to make a decision is one of the best things we can teach him / her. It is really the pencil which will allow him / her to design a life moving forward.

So how can we keep a check on ourselves and not become overbearing? Here are three handy tips:

a)     Specify the outcome ‘what do you want to accomplish’?

b)     Paint the big picture. ‘Why do you want to accomplish that?’

c)      Stay away from the ‘How should you accomplish that?’ unless you would like to specify acceptable and unacceptable ways (not as per your standards but as per generic standards that exist in the world, like ethics, for instance).

Delegate your child’s life design to your child.  Be there to guide the child and share your experiences and those of others around you. It is the toughest ask of a parent. Are you up for the challenge?

This blog post is a reproduction of my blog written for Parent Edge, one of India’s leading parenting magazines.

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Raising Self-Reliant Children

391This blog post has been reproduced with permission from ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. The post is written by Sudha Kumar, CEO of Prayag Consulting, which publishes ParentEdge.

As a mother of two strong willed teenagers, I have been learning how to be an effective parent while, at the same time, letting go, in the last few years! Figuring out that balance is the hard part, especially when you are an involved parent, which I like to believe I am J My daughter is now in 9th grade. At the start of this grade, she had to make her subject choices. For one of her electives, she picked Art. My husband and I, both the hard core science types, did not expect this. Add to this, our son, also one of those hard core science types, claimed that these courses were very hard, and good grades would be hard to come by.

We had to make a choice- either to support our daughter in her decision (even though we may not be able to actively help her in the subject) or convince her out of it citing our experience and saying we knew best. I knew my daughter wanted to take the course badly. And so, I said to myself, how does it matter even if she does not get an A in this course? After this, she may not have a chance to explore a subject like this again.

So, after much consideration, we let her be with her choice. This was at the start of the year. Fast forward to the present. My daughter is not finding the course a cake walk, but she loves it. The outcomes are not always commensurate (the grades I mean). She does get disappointed at times and once even wondered if she should have taken Computer Apps instead. But, she resolved to fight it out and figure out how to up her grades rather than “cop out”. Since it was her decision, she is doing what it takes to improve and is backing herself to do better even though she has had her moments of doubt.

I realized that this “growing up” experience will be far more valuable than the experience of scoring a relatively easy A in a more conventional course. As parents, we need to consciously stop being over protective and all-knowing and let our children experiment and take their own decisions, as they grow up. That is, if we want to raise self-reliant children! Do you agree?

Are we raising entitled kids?

entitled-child2-640x320It is definitely true that our parenting methods are vastly different from generations past – we have far fewer kids, and we treat them as friends and equals, trying to make the family a democracy instead of what was earlier essentially a dictatorship. Earlier, responsibilities came before rights. But by giving kids rights much before they have responsibilities, if at all, we have created extremely entitled kids.

Much of the blame lies with us as parents. When a kid wants, she gets. With both parents working, most families today have more money and less time, and this reflects in our interactions with our kids. Many parents want to be the cool parent and the nice parent and this, along with the constant guilt of not spending enough time with our children, leads us to give in to their demands. But what starts off as an indulgent gift of another Barbie soon escalates into an entitled child who wants everything ‘right now,’ and thinks that the world owes him. This behaviour is not just limited to families; these children are bringing their attitudes into the workforce. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, corporations like Land’s End and Bank of America are hiring “praise teams” to keep up with Gen Y’s demand for constant positive reinforcement.

So can we change this sense of entitlement? For many teenagers, two of the methods most advocated are volunteering and going out to work. One way is to get kids to feel more empathy, by volunteering among the less fortunate. This will give them a real sense of what ‘need’ really is – ‘need’ is not the newest fashion or the latest toy, but food in the belly and just a single piece of cloth to cover oneself. And though it may not always be possible for all children to do, kids who go out and work quickly realize how hard it is to earn money, and soon develop a healthy respect for money – how difficult it is to earn, and how easy to spend.

Have you used any other methods to change this sense of entitlement in your kids? We’d love to hear from you!

This blog post is a reproduction of Gayatri Kulkarni’s blog written for Parent Edge, one of India’s leading parenting magazines.

The Final Outcome

8list-child-safety-headerThis blog post is a reproduction of my blog written for Parent Edge, one of India’s leading parenting magazines.

In one of the discussions I was having with a group of parents on raising kids, one of the fears expressed by most parents was that of protecting their child from the unknowns in the environment. Every day, we witness a new form of ‘unsafe’ and it seems paranoid to assume that our child will experience it at some point of time. But that’s how we tend to be. We tend to be paranoid and rightly so. The truth is that anything can happen at any point in time so one can never be careful enough for what might be in store.

To be able to expect that we can protect our child from all evils may be a bit like saying that we will start living in Mars.

So, what do we do? This is a tough one for sure, but when in doubt, it is best to go to the basics. Consider starting from ‘A’ : ‘A’ as in Awareness.

How much time do we spend in trying to get ourselves up to speed on what is happening around us…for instance, what do we know about party drugs? What do we know about webcams that can act as spy cameras? Do we know how to handle a fire?

Agreed that it is tough to know everything while we focus on earning a living and managing a household, but well, our being aware is really the first step to our making our kids aware of the evils that exist. Educating our children about the ways they could be harmed might be our best shot at keeping them safe.

The next question is, however, when is the right time to educate the child. As a parent, I believe, our best guide is really our intuition. The more tuned in to our child we are, the more we know the best time for something or the best way to get a point across.

Many of us might already be on this track but for those of us who have not yet embarked on this journey, here are some tips to get us started:

a) Establish an ‘awareness regime’ for yourself – Earmark a particular time in the day or week when you would be able to spend time reading up the issues that are plaguing today’s generation, what are the happenings in your city, what are some issues your child’s school is working on addressing, etc.

b) Earmark some thinking time – Reflect on instances when you believe communication with your child seems to have not worked. Did you fail to get a point across because you might have been using an authoritative stance? What do you think might get your child to listen to you?

c) Create a communication window – We don’t really plan the time we spend alone with our child. It may be incidental and hence, communication might not be clear or complete. Try sitting around the table after a meal or at tea time or hang around after a hobby class. The frequency is not as important as the quality of that time and how intentional you are about communication.

The ultimate outcome of parenting, perhaps, is an individual who is aware of what is out there and who is confident enough to make a choice. If the child is aware and educated about the environment, chances are, he / she would make an informed choice or hopefully, want to communicate to solicit advice. In the absence of a communication window, the child is likely to be drawn towards experimentation and the rest may become an uphill task to deal with.

Parenting Lessons from the Cricket Field

family-playing-cricket-beach-19683791This blog post has been reproduced with permission from Parent Edge, a leading Parenting magazine in India.

I have been a fan of cricket for as long as I remember. Though I don’t have the time or the inclination to watch every match that is aired on TV anymore, I do follow the progress of the Indian team with great interest and sneak a peek at the occasional IPL match. And so, it is with much delight that I have been tracking the spectacular performance of young Team India at the Champions Trophy. I thought about what may have caused such a dramatic turnaround. To be termed the best time on view and, what’s more, the best fielding side in the tournament is no mean achievement. What can we, as parents, learn from this?

Instill self-belief: To me the biggest factor in this transformation is the belief this bunch of 20 somethings have in themselves. They do not care too much for past records, nor do they seem to worry all that much about media and expert opinion. Instead they are oozing with confidence and a can-do spirit. Likewise, in our interactions with children, if we can consistently demonstrate that we believe in them, and that they should back themselves, it can go a long way in making them well rounded, confident and purposeful.

The sum is greater than the parts: The current Indian team is devoid of legends- it has no individuals who overshadow the team with their individual talent or their personality. However, as a team they seem to be performing way beyond expectations. And that is the second lesson- as parents, all of us are eager to make our children feel very special. Our focus is all the time on honing their talent and sharpening their skills. Not to say that we should stop doing that, but can we also educate children, even as they are growing up, on the importance of doing things together, looking out for each other, and developing a genuine sense of team-spirit? In this super competitive world, I think this is really important.

Learn to spot the hidden levers: Dhoni has been crying himself hoarse for a long time now on the need for fresh legs on the field. I must admit that even I at times thought the point was being exaggerated. But, I stand corrected. The fielding by India has been top notch, and has proved to be a great source of “competitive advantage”. Swift and canny fielders have saved precious runs and, as importantly, got critical breakthroughs. There is an important insight for parents here- often, we emphasize the obvious things- like, learn to bat well, or become a good bowler- but miss laying emphasis on the seemingly peripheral related areas. There are many related aspects that add up to delivering a good performance and often by ignoring an area that does not seem like the core, we may end up under-performing. Children will be prone to be carried away by the obvious. It is up to parents to do a more complete assessment of any situation and guide children.

Build resilience: Another most important lesson (linked to the point on self belief) is that there are going to be ups and downs, but if we stay committed, and do the right thing, the tide will turn. Team India has demonstrated this beyond doubt under the astute stewardship of Dhoni. As parents, if we can do the same with our children- back them when they fall, help them stand up and run again, all the time teaching them that all of this is par for the course, we would be taking important steps in building resilience in our children. To me, resilience is the single most important attribute needed to make something of yourself, and it is better to start young!

Written by Sudha Kumar

Raising Smart Kids

Smart young boy stood infront of a blackboard

This blogpost has been reproduced from the Parent Edge blog with permission. Parent Edge is a leading Parenting Magazine in India.

The world overvalues smartness and undervalues hard work and effort. So, you would be surprised to know that research done at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, tells us exactly the opposite.

Dweck’s book Mindset talks about two kinds of attitudes with which individuals approach situations- fixed and growth.People with a fixed mindset believe that their basic qualities like intelligence and talent are fixed traits. They spend time in holding on to their intelligence rather than developing them. More importantly, they believe that talent alone creates success.

People who adopt a growth mindset on the other hand believe that ability can be developed and strengthened through hard work and effort. Talent you are “born with” is just the starting point. This view creates a love for learning and equally significantly resilience.

Now why is this so important for parents and society at large? Because unwittingly or deliberately many of us subscribe to the fixed mindset worldview- and how does this manifest?

By holding “bright” children in high esteem, secretly wishing our kids are tagged the “super smart” or gifted, applauding our children when they figure things out quickly, and also believing that talent is the biggest determinant of success.
Even last week end, when I was anchoring a discussion with parents, one of them said, my son is average in everything he does- he is not exceptional in any area- what does the future hold?

As parents, we categorize our children quite quickly and, as a consequence, we do not do what it takes to motivate them continuously.
If we subscribed to the growth mindset, on the other hand, we will encourage or children to keep trying, praise effort rather than outcomes, motivate them when they are struggling, share with them stories that so called genius is a product of at least 10000 hours of hard work, and inculcate an attitude that effort counts as much, if not more, than innate intelligence.

According to Dweck, the mindset shapes a child’s attitude towards learning and expanding one’s horizons. In life these are attributes that often determine success. An experiment carried out by Dweck among school children showed that a “smart child” with a fixed mindset is reluctant to take on risks, is afraid of failure, and so is unwilling to try the hard problem whereas the child with a growth mindset, even if he is not as smart, is willing to try the same problem, and does not worry as much about not being able to get the right answer.

No prizes for guessing which of the above kinds of children will grow up to be a Rahul Dravid ( someone whose performance has far outstripped his innate talent)!
Ps: I stole the title of this post from that of an article written by Dweck for the Scientific American!

(written by Sudha Kumar)

Too much choice?

image-20150303-31835-kbn4ubIn the good old days when I was growing up in the India of the 70s and the 80s, we had very few career choices.  You either chose science and became a doctor or an engineer, or took commerce and became an MBA, a CA or a banker.  I don’t remember any of us bemoaning the lack of choices – most likely because there weren’t any, but also maybe we were too young and un-exposed to really know what we wanted?

Fast forward to our children’s generation, where they are faced with a bewildering number of choices. And Indian universities are still a little behind their western counterparts – here, the enormous range of courses a kid can study in college, and the ability to mix and match courses to create a unique degree of your own, is mind-boggling.  As my son gets closer to going off to college, the brochures landing in my mailbox make my mouth salivate – wow! this college allows you to mix a minor in liberal arts with a major in engineering! That college has a wonderful co-op program, that helps you work and study from the second year itself!

But while I am drooling over these options, I see the opposite reaction in my son, and his many other friends.  Faced with so much choice, they are bewildered and confused and don’t know what to choose.  So in some ways they are on the other end of the spectrum from their parents – we had so few choices and they have so many – but on the other hand, it is the same conundrum –  are the kids too young to be making career choices at this age?

There are various studies showing that too much choice confuses the consumer. One of the best books I have read is The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar. Her research shows that  we can handle more than a few choices, but an overabundance can paralyze us.

So, what can we as parents do?  For one thing, along with my son, I am doing detailed research on the various courses available, and how they will fit in with my child’s interests and abilities.  So much has changed between our generation and our children’s that it is important we find out as much as we can about the various options.  At the same time, education has become expensive, and the world intensely competitive, so it is also important to find out the career prospects and employability of these courses – this is something I find kids are too young to have a good perspective about. And again, because you as the parent know your child so well, it is important to ask the right questions to understand why your child is interested in a course – is it really his interest, or is it because all his friends are talking about it?

As parents, there is a strong a role we play in our children’s career choices, and it is important that we play it well.  For more details on this, do our read the article, “A Parent’s Role in Career Choices,’ in our latest issue of ParentEdge.  You will learn a lot!

This blog has been reposted with permission. Written by Gayatri Kulkarni for Parent Edge (http://parentedge.in).