Jill of all trades


We all want our children to excel not only at academics but also at various extra curricular activities as well. So much so that as soon as the kids are a little old enough, we enroll them in various classes, Summer Camps, institutes which specialize in imparting special skills to children and the like.

That being said, do we even pause for a moment and think about what the right way of identifying and encouraging our childrens’ talent is.

Every once in a while, my wife and me get around to talking about some of the hobbies that we have developed and how our parents were not particularly enthusiastic about our extra-curricular pursuits. Not to say that they discouraged it, but they didn’t put in any special efforts to try and identify the hobbies that we were good at or did not go the extra mile to encourage us to pursue a hobby to enjoy it completely.

While my wife at least had the luxury of learning the violin and later on learn the basics of Carnatic music, for me it was more of my parents trying to generate an interest in music, which due to the ignorance and innocence of childhood, I completely ignored. They did not push me enough to get exposed to any new hobby or creative pursuit at all and were content to let me be, just playing gully cricket with other boys my age.

Based on our childhood experiences, both my wife and me have decided to let our daughter (who is all of 2 years old now) have an exposure to as many extra-curricular activities as possible at an early age itself. And then, based on her interest levels and relative skills in comparison to her peer group, pursue one or maybe two hobbies seriously. Rather than put her through the grind of enrolling into various summer camps and talent workshops, we would rather that she gets the basic exposure required to figure out what activities she really likes and enjoys doing and then letting her pursue the same.

While, this approach brings with it the risk of her taking up an activity seriously initially, and then gradually losing interest in the same. It also allows her the freedom of being independent at a very young age itself and doing things which she is genuinely interested in rather than something her parents want her to do. After all, we are not anticipating another Saina Nehwal or Shreya Ghosal in the family (although that would be kind of nice, given the amount of adulation, adoration and appreciation that the parents of such superstars get in India, today :D ).

During our walks in the neighborhood during May and June, both my wife and me noticed the proliferation of summer camps which offered training in things as diverse as craft making to sports coaching. And, we also noticed that quite a few kids were enrolled in these and the classes went on for a good part of the day for a substantial portion of the summer vacations of kids. And this phenomenon is among one of the many things that completely turned both of us off of the summer coaching camps.

Per our reasoning, one of the main reasons for so many summer camps cropping up and loads of kids lining up to enroll for the same is due to the fact that most families today are double income families, i.e. both the parents are working and they have no other choice but to enroll their kids in these camps in the summer, so that they don’t trouble their grandparents too much for a large portion of the day. That being said, our personal opinion is that this will end up with the kids being “Jacks of all trades, but master of none” and that is something which is good in the short run, ends up being somewhat detrimental in the long run. Kids are better off pursuing one or maybe two hobbies which they enjoy and take up seriously and excel at, aren’t they?

I would really love to hear other parents’ viewpoints on this topic, as this is something that both my wife and me continuously grapple with almost once every fortnight.


Image courtesy : likethedew.com

Working parents and over indulgent grandparents


I am an only child who grew up in a nuclear family. To add to the fun, both my parents were working, my father in a private company and my mother in a nationalized bank. Given that these were the early 80s that we are talking about, they didn’t have to spend too much time on their commute to and from office, but having said that my father was a workaholic and my assumption is that he never used to get too much time to spend with me during weekdays including half days on Saturdays. My mother however, probably used to spend some quality time with me during the evenings. Even so, I give full credit to my maternal grandparents for bringing me up during those initial few years, until I turned 7-8 yrs old.

I remember my maternal grandmother, (I used to call her Ajji) feeding me, telling me all those old granny tales (quite literally in this case), playing with me, putting me to sleep and generally spending lots of time with me. And my grandfather also doted upon me and my cousin, given the fact that we were the only two grandchildren that he had in the same city that he lived in, Bangalore. While I wouldn’t say that my grandparents were over indulgent when it came to taking care of me, I would like to believe that I was well taken care of and was never left in need of anything that I wanted, be it toys, books, or overall items that kids usually want for.

The fact that both my parents were working and that I would see them only for a couple of hours in a day did not deter me from loving them as much as any other kid would love its parents. And even looking back now, with the lens of being a parent myself, I can undoubtedly say that I had a wonderful childhood.

All my friends at school and college who had siblings had only one term to use for me when they came to know that I was an only child – “spoilt kid”. Back then I used to wonder if I really was a spoilt kid. The way I saw it, I had to struggle as much as any other kid to get my parents to buy me the latest toy, to buy me the latest children’s book, to give me what I wanted. I never really understood what my friends meant when they called me a spoilt kid. It was not like my parents ever gave me more than what any normal kid got. It was not like I got a Maruti Car the day I turned 18 yrs old (I wouldn’t have even gotten the ‘hand me down’ car from my father if he hadn’t had his back problem which prevented him from driving). I used to face the same pressure from my parents regarding studying well and scoring high marks that all my other friends used to face. I had the same time curfews at home that all my other friends had. So I never quite understood how and why I was a spoilt kid.

I guess it was the fact that I didn’t have a sibling who competed for my parents and grandparents attention that probably made me a spoilt kid. I never had anyone who I had to give up things to, sacrifice toys for, and fight with for love and affection and that probably made me a spoilt kid. That being said, the combination of ‘working parents + over indulgent grandparents’ did not spoil me as a kid. If anything, both these couples ensured that I inculcated an awesome value system and taught me that only things that came to me as a result of my efforts and struggles would stay with me for long. They taught me that there are no free lunches in life (in a manner of speaking). Therefore, adding to my equation, working parents + over indulgent grandparents + value systems = good kids.

Why am I talking about this equation in my post….because my daughter R faces the same situation today. Both my wife and me are working, and my daughter has equally (or probably more) indulgent grandparents than I had. While my wife and me make it a point to spend quality time with R on a daily basis, talking to her, playing with her, reading books to her, taking her out to rides and walks, the fact remains that she spends a good amount of time with her grandparents on a daily basis.

I have observed my mother reading out books to her and explaining the morals of the stories to her. Values such as sharing, cleanliness, punctuality are all being taught to her (as much as her 2 yr old mind can absorb) by her parents and her grandparents. Every once in a while when she throws a tantrum, all of us ensure that we don’t necessarily fall prey to her emotional blackmailing tactics and distract her away from the cause of her tantrum. Both couples, us as parents and my parents as grandparents, are constantly learning on the job, in terms of adjusting our behaviors to how R reacts to situations. We continuously exchange notes on how to handle particular types of tantrums and effective ways to overcome them.

I would love to hear from the readers as to what they feel about kids with working parents and also about kids with over indulgent grandparents.

Image courtesy : http://static.andertoons.com/img/toons/cartoon4037.png


This post was originally posted at Parentous, India’s largest growing online parenting community.


Learning by doing or doing after learning…


One question which has always bugged me regarding parenting is ‘how much is enough?’ At what stage, or at what juncture do parents need to stop ‘parenting’ their children and let them figure out things for themselves.

Being a father of a 23 month old girl, this is one question which I ask myself whenever I intervene in anything she is doing, be it something as simple as when she is having a ‘messy meal’ or when she throws a small tantrum insisting upon doing something which is not appropriate like walking on the streets without holding anybody’s hand. At these points I stop, pause for a moment and think, is this where I draw the line and lay down the rules, or do I still give her some leeway and let her figure things out on her own?

While there is a chain of thought which advocates that children learn by doing, ie, just put the food on a plate and let them eat on their own, this is probably the best way they will learn to eat, the fact remains that this particular technique might not work really well in many cases. Take for example, taking the child for a walk. In today’s day and age, there are no exclusive walking tracks where people are sensitive enough to children and elders walking. Even during walks, people are in a tearing hurry and walk as if they are there to break the walking world record. What’s even worse is that most people are listening to music or peering at their mobile phone screens even while walking. This automatically puts little toddlers in danger of coming in the path of such ‘busy walkers’ and they end up falling, scraping their knees, elbows, etc.

There is this other chain of thought which advocates parents teaching their children things until they develop a certain degree of proficiency in the same, and then letting the children do that particular task on their own. For example, one parent initiates the child to holding a pencil and start doodling on a piece of paper. For the first few days, the parent sits with the child and ensures that the doodling happens within only the paper and does not extend to the floors, walls or other surfaces. Then gradually the child learns that the pencil is to be used only on the paper and nowhere else, which means that now the parent can be rest assured that no doodling disasters will occur.

I personally am neither a proponent nor a critic of either of these approaches, as I have found that both these approaches work well in different occasions. While the ‘learn by yourself’ approach works well where the dangers involved are less (doodling, coloring, writing, etc), the ‘guided approach’ works well where the dangers involved are a little more (walking on the street, playing in the kitchen, etc).

However, my question still remains where is it that I draw the line? What are the occasions on which I let R learn things on her own, and when do I intervene and teach her the ‘right’ way to do things? I guess there is no one right or wrong answer to this question and has to be determined on a case to case basis. I would really love to hear how the other parents who are reading this grapple with this question and what their suggestions are.


This post has previously been published on the Parentous.com website where I have recently joined as a regular contributor.