If only my father let me sing rather than ‘your job is to study.' I love music. I hum songs. My soul dances along the melody. I sing from my heart, my happiness and my sadness. I couldn’t have become Elvis Presley or Lata Mangeshkar but given an opportunity I would have become the best of what I was capable of. Only, if my father…
Academics has always been at the center of our family life. Even more so of a middle-class family like mine. We know we better study or we become beggars. So, what do we do? We do what our parents say- We study. We do what our school curriculum lays out for us. We study. And some who don’t, I wonder how they are surviving as beggars. (pun intended).
Later, I stepped out of home at 17 to study more so that I don’t become a beggar. The journey which started then, continues. But every time I get to witness a sunset, I sing.
School and academics do not teach LIFE. They prepare you to get a degree to get some bread home. That is the long and short of it. But they forget that LIFE is larger than the bread.
And while degrees ensure that the bread comes homes, life skills ensure that the bread eaters live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
So, what are we talking over here? Teaching our children few life skills which will help them stumble, fall, rise and fall again and RISE again and change their shoes or have water or change the track and start the race again. Trust, the bread will also come home.
What are those life skills? Is it some safety net? NO. NO.NO.
There are no safety nets in this world. I have seen mosquitoes entering the net I use at night, and I have seen viruses fooling the best of the firewalls. These life skills neither assure success nor happiness. Then?
They just ensure our children are ‘life ready.' For whatever life brings, I have something in the armor to face it with courage and optimism. Sounds philosophical? Ask yourself. Is your biggest battle today about getting the bread ONLY?
Try to foster these abilities in your child, because all children need them to succeed, and they don't figure in the school curriculum.
The first that comes on my list for my four-year-old- sonny boy is -
DEVELOPING SELF CONTROL
Having the ability to regulate one's emotions, thoughts, and behavior in the face of temptations and impulses. This one is on the top of my list.
Children are impulsive by nature because they are yet to learn self-discipline and self-control and the art of regulating their feeling, emotions, and behavior. How do we teach them self-control?
When you call your child, teach him to come to you at one call. Not to reply with an angry ‘what?’. If he does, call him and talk, every time it happens and reinforce the accepted way of talking.
When you make corrections in his behavior, it is natural for him to feel upset and not listen. Help him look why you think a behavior is not the best. For example, ‘It was wrong of you to hit your younger brother. He is hurt, and it pains. Hitting hurts. Use your words, not your hands.' Praise him for the efforts when he behaves the right way but do not reward him instantly. Rewards can wait. For every good behavior, you cannot be waiting with a candy in hand. :)
Self-Control make children learn that sometimes they need to give up something, something that they like doing to do something else.
Any sport, organized activity, martial art builds self- discipline. Encourage your child to go for such activities.
Involve him in age appropriate household chores. He gets to know that everybody participates in the family.
Cuddle time is best for teaching self-discipline. Review the day with him. Ask him what went right and what didn’t go so right. As a preschooler, he may say very simple things, later these talks will mature and provide a window for more mature conversations.
Make them wait for rewards.
If needed, do not rush in to help your child as and when he calls or you. It's fine to say “I can’t help you now, but I will after cooking.” Those ways he learns to tolerate the frustration of waiting. Slowly and steadily, your child will be a better self-controlled person. Research shows that building self-control in one aspect of life will have a spill over other aspects too. And later in life, this self-control will make him think twice before embarking on many dangerous temptations, risk taking behavior such as substance abuse, unsafe sex etc.
NURTURING HIS CURIOSITY
Next time your child shows interest in that sewing machine kept in your house, do not shut him up. Next time he shows interest in the plants kept outside, don’t keep him away unless it compromises his safety. Nurturing curiosity only ensures that he develops interests outside books and promotes love for learning beyond school. Help him explore whatever inclinations captivate him. It is our responsibility to notice what sparks his interest and then to provide him with the necessary tools to develop the interest through books, instruments, extra classes, or a teacher.
HELPING HIM DEVELOP HIS PASSION
And that leads us to passion. Once you have spotted your child's interest, give him the three T’s to transform his interest into passion and master it. The three T’s are - tools, a teacher and time. When done dedicatedly, it turns into passion. But learning it requires ten long years. Geoff Colvin, the author of ‘Talent, is overrated’ believes that be it any field- academics, arts, sports or music no one becomes great without ten years of hard preparation. Is having a passion necessity? It may, may not give bread (depending if you start earning out of your passion) but it gives larger meaning and purpose to life. It is therapeutic in nature. If you ever had a passion, you would have noticed that it helps you distract (it's a positive distraction), heal and grow. Writing is my passion. It never fetched me a penny, but it helped me hang on against all adversities.
HAVING TOLERANCE FOR FAILURE AND PLAYING FAIR
Sweet are the fruits of adversity. And while he continues to pursue his passion or live his life or study, the fear of failure is the biggest one to deal with and overcome. So, what if he is talented? So, what if he works hard? There is no guarantee that failure will not strike in some or the other form. And then what does one do? Withdraw? Shatter? Lose hope? Not try again?
How do we raise a child who knows how to accept failure, not only accept but endure and bounce back?
To answer this first ask yourself-
Are you a graceful loser?
Is it easy for you to accept failure?
Can you lose without feeling ashamed?
Do you worry how you would confront others post your failure?
Can you applaud, appreciate and clap for your opponent who won?
Does losing make you feel incompetent and inadequate?
Do you conceive it as a black spot which is going to stay with you forever?
Upon failing, do you dwell more on your feeling or the gaps in your performance which needs attention to succeed next time?
Do you resort to unfair means to win next time?
If you answered the questions in the following format, we have TROUBLE. Even if your answers match 50%, we still have a problem at hand.
If you cannot handle failures, what will you teach your child? His one failure will evoke all these emotions in you, and he will learn that FAILURE IS THE END OF LIFE.
So, what should we do?
The child should have one interest which is time-consuming and doesn't give instant result. One activity which he is not good at but pursues. Those ways he gets to know what it takes to master an activity, it's a different experience to work on something that one is not good at until one has mastery over it. Knowing that one must stumble before one can succeed is a valuable life lesson that inspires children to push ahead in the face of difficulty.
Engage in discussion, comparison but no judgments. Also, when failures strike, avoid getting judgmental and make it look shameful. Failure doesn't mean that your child is less capable or doesn't have the ability. On the contrary, one of the best ways to build self-esteem is to take corrective actions after failure and get back with renewed efforts. It also increases a person's self-efficacy.
Parents have a significant role to play. If they are let down by failure, what they reinforce in their child is that failures are bad, failures are permanent, and failure is not acceptable. So, do we celebrate failure? DO, if you want to, but one can reflect on it with positivity. Every failure has a lesson. Teach your child where things went wrong and how to overcome the next time. Attacking his personal competence and shaming him will only make him less resilient to failure.
Coming up next is my favorite, the one I have used the most. Who taught me? Dad? Naah. Life taught me, and it taught me the hard way.