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.

Overparenting….yes, there really is such a term


Yes, there is such a term called ‘over-parenting’. Read this Wikipedia article about the same.

I first heard (or actually read) about this particular phenomenon some months ago when I read this article about the book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ written by Amy Chua. You can read enough and more articles supporting and against this particular book and its concepts all over the internet, just google “Tiger Mother” and you will find hundreds or even thousands of articles.

What prompted this post was the fact that I came across this article in Firstpost about how today’s parents put too much pressure on their kids to perform well not just at school and academics but also outside of school, in the playground, at home, wherever they are, whatever they do.

My wife and me noticed the fact that most of the lanes around where we stay in Bangalore are crowded with pre-schools/play-schools and how all of them seem to have some or the other summer camp going on. From teaching kids painting, dancing, crafts, and all other assorted types of hobbies. We have started this daily walk habit and everyday we take a different route to walk in, and everyday we notice new pre-schools and play-schools, but one theme is common, all of them are in the Summer Camp season right now. This led to both of us wondering what we used to do when we were kids. And the consensus was that we pretty much used to spend time either at home, or at an uncle’s house with our cousins doing nothing focused, playing games at random, enjoying the summer sun, and the glorious outdoors with minimum adult supervision. Yes, we might not have realized our true potentials as painters, dancers or singers, but we turned out Ok, didn’t we!!!

Having said that, our parents led less hectic and tedious lives. They didn’t have to travel 25+ kms a day to office, they didn’t have to drive through ‘road-rage’ filled traffic, they didn’t have to contend with as much pollution, they didn’t have to fight tooth and nail to get good appraisals and promotions, they didn’t have to worry too much about job security, etc. As parents nowadays, all of the above items are realities. As adult individuals, if we face so many problems, then just add the children variable to the equation and it is quite clear that today’s parents are screwed.

Today, we have to necessarily worry about our careers and the money we make simply because pot loads of money is what is required to ensure that our kids have a good future. Something as basic and simple as a pre-school costs at least INR 5000/- for a trimester, and I am not even talking about the world-class pre-schools, but regular neighborhood aunty-variety ones. A school admission in any decent school (meaning one with qualified, accredited, good teachers) does entail some kind of donation irrespective of whichever politician or policeman you know. Add to this the cost of uniforms, books, school bus, other related items such as stationery, accessories, etc, and all of this in today’s prices adds up to quite a bit.

And guess what, given the number of kids that are enrolling in decent schools, the competition for any decent degree such as a BE, B’Tech, B Sc, B Com, BA, etc has also exponentially increased. Making our kids employable is another costly story which I am not even getting into.

The above two paragraphs kind of explain why today’s parents are anxious to ensure that anything and everything related to their kid’s development and education happen without a glitch. Where today’s parents make the mistake is when they get personally involved with their kid’s learning (not education but the learning process itself). Today’s parents are not allowing their kids to make mistakes and learn from them. Yes, kids require hand-holding, but it is only when kids fall down will they learn that falling down hurts, but they also learn that when they fall down, all they have to do is to stand up, brush themselves off and continue walking once again. They need to learn that falling down is only a temporary setback and not a permanent one. As parents, our responsibility is to ensure that kids learn to stand back up on their own, learn to brush themselves off, and teach them to start walking again. We need to teach our kids how to overcome temporary setbacks, rather than taking steps to ensure that they never face setbacks or failures.

In fact, this wonderful article from The Atlantic goes on to talk about why parents should allow their kids to fail once in a while, as it makes the kids tougher, grittier and stronger to face bigger failures when they are older. This other article from The Atlantic talks about how parents from different parts of the world perceive their children’s state of mind, and it is interesting to note that American parents seem to focus more on the cognitive development of their kids whereas European parents seem to focus more on the state of mind of the kid. Europeans seem more laidback when compared to Americans in terms of how their kids develop ‘scientific skills’ compared to ‘life skills’. I personally would love my daughter to develop more life skills as I believe these will anyways help her pick up scientific skills later on an ‘as-required’ basis and thank God, my wife agrees with me on this.

Image courtesy: http://blessedexistence-blessed.blogspot.com

‘Vicarious’ grand-parenting


We have all heard of parents living their lives ‘vicariously’ through their children, ie, parents trying to get their children to do everything that they couldn’t do when they were children. We can see numerous examples of this in India today, like parents forcing their kids to take up IIT JEE exams simply because they were not good enough to clear them and make it to the IITs when they were younger, parents forcing their kids to learn singing and dancing so that they can participate in and hopefully excel at the various reality shows on television, parents forcing their kids to join Cricket Coaching Camps in the anticipation that there just might be a budding Sachin Tendulkar or a Virat Kohli in their kid, the list goes on.

But then, how many of us have heard of grandparents living vicariously through their grandchildren’s lives!!! Case in point, the first thing that my dad said when he saw my lil one’s fingers on Day 1 – “She’s got such long lovely fingers. She can become a surgeon.” And this was before my daughter had even begun suckling at her mother’s breast and was all of 14 hrs old!!! Now I might be reading too much into my dad’s statements, but it goes on to show that my lil one’s grandparents have some unfulfilled wishes which even me (courtesy of being the only child) have not been able to satisfactorily fulfill so far. Given my dad’s first reaction at my daughter’s fingers, I am guessing becoming a doctor was somewhere in his list of unfulfilled wishes from me.

Now I have always had ‘working parents’ and as a result, most of my toddler years were handled by my maternal grandparents. While my mother did spend time with me in the mornings and the evenings, I am assuming most of this time was spent in ‘transactional activities’ such as feeding, bathing, sleeping, etc, rather than any real time spent by my mother in understanding my ‘real personality’. Not that I am saying that my parents don’t understand me, am just trying to make the point that they probably didn’t have the time to get to know the ‘real me’. I am not blaming them at all given that they had to put in the time at the office to ensure that they were able to support all my needs financially. I understand this a little more today given that no amount of money is enough to make me feel that I can provide for my wife and daughter financially, what with the increasing costs of education, and even normal things such as fruits which will enable my daughter to have good health.

With this background, it is quite clear that while my parents brought me up well, they probably have a few things which they wanted me to do and didn’t quite get the time or the inclination to teach me when I was younger to get me to do those things. So they go ahead and do the next best thing they can – start gradually influencing my toddler to show an interest in things which they feel she might be good at, for eg, buy her books so that she starts reading at a very young age, buy her educational toys so that she starts her stacking games earlier than other kids, etc. As if this wasn’t enough, they are also ensuring that they spoil her like mad (something they didn’t have the time to do with me when I was young) and cater to all her whims and fancies like giving her snacks (which me and my wife are somewhat against as we want her to avoid ‘junk food’ for as long as possible), show her TV (which once again me and my wife want to avoid for as long as possible).

While both my wife and me understand that some of these things come with the ‘grandparenting territory’, we are just about to formalize various rules and regulations which are ‘non-negotiable’ especially around what the toddler can be fed and how much TV time she gets in a day, etc. I guess some parts of us are also living ‘vicariously’ through our daughter by enforcing these rules for her.

What is the point of this long post which borders on a rant? The fact that I am moving back to Bangalore to live with my parents in around 3 months from now, the fact that this is the first time that my wife would have to live with her in-laws in 6 yrs of married life, the fact that at this point in time there are just too many differences in the way that my parents and my wife view life in general. This is something that is looming large in my head and something that I spend a lot of my time thinking about. I just had to get it out of the system and what better medium than this blog to do so.

Welcome back the smiles…

While all of us pretty unequivocally agree that children make us happier and smile more, this particular statement was proven without a doubt in a recent few pictures of myself.

From a very young age, I have been extremely self conscious about seeing myself in photographs. I don’t know why but I have never ever liked myself in any photos so far in my life. I have never stopped to wonder what exactly it was about me that I didn’t like in photos, but the fact is that I absolutely hated to stand on the other side of the camera so far. In fact, during my post graduation days, when me and my friends took a trip to Leh-Ladakh, the entire group took more than around 1000 odd pics and I can safely say that I am in probably only around 5-10 of them. That’s the extent to which I am self conscious around a camera.

However, my daughter turned 1 yr old just a couple of weeks ago, and we had a small religous function at home last week. As is the norm with these functions, being the father I pretty much had to take centre stage and be an integral part of the function itself. This meant that I would be part of most of the photos that would be taken of this particular function. Added to it was the fact that the extended family (read uncles, aunts, cousins, etc) all of them wanted separate group photos with my daughter, my wife and me and this meant more and more photos in which I would be there. In summary, this was probably going to be an album with lots of photos with me having an extremely self conscious expression on my face.

Funnily enough when the CD with the photos was given and I saw them, I was extremely surprised to see me actually smiling in almost all the pics in which I was there. There was genuine happiness and joy displayed on my face. This got me thinking trying to figure out how in God’s name I managed to get such a natural expression of happiness on my face in almost all the photos. While recreating all the photos, I recollected that all the time I was busy trying to get my daughter to smile for all of them, and in the process I was enjoying that so much that I had ended up smiling in all the photos myself.

My daughter manages to help me get rid of all kinds of self consciousness whenever she is around me. I don’t mind getting down on my knees (and on my back, if required) down in the middle of the road if it means that she will laugh at it. The things I might do to keep her smiling and happy don’t seem to have any kind of limitations on them. And I am more than willing to bet that all fathers and mothers are like that, and will go to any lengths to keep their children smiling and happy.

It is so true when people say that parenthood (both for fathers and mothers) is almost like being reborn again and reliving your entire childhood. I guess it is time to welcome back all the smiles all over again 🙂

Image courtesy: Google images search for ‘smiles’

One year old dad

The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fatherhood) defines the term ‘fatherhood‘ to include
(1) the state of being a father
(2) the qualities of a father

While I am taking the easy way out here and agreeing with the definition, the fact remains that these two meanings/definitions pretty much encapsulate all that there is to fatherhood. The terms “state” and “qualities” are broad enough to encompass all that fatherhood brings with it such as the drooly smiles, the messy mealtimes, the hilarious attempts at dancing to songs, the thoughtful babbling with rapid hand gestures, the joyful screaming tantrums, all of it.

R turned all of one year old on 25-Aug and man, did the birthday bring back a flood of memories or what!!! I sat down with all the pictures that we had taken of R during the year and it was so hard to believe that the little one had grown up so much during the course of just one year. While the year itself had run past both my wife and me in what seemed like a short time, the fact still remains that our daughter has just traversed what probably was the most important year of her life quite well.

All the important milestones, turning around on her tummy, sticking up her neck on her own, crawling forward, sitting up, standing up with support, standing up without support, babbling her first few baby words, walking a few steps on her own, all of these were done in good time. Her weight-gain has been normal, her teething has been normal, her verbal abilities are normal, wow, given that she has done all of these, she has pretty much has had an extremely busy year, hasn’t she!!!

In the process of this one year, both my wife and me have learnt a lot about each other and ourselves in terms of our ability to handle our patience levels, handle our levels of sleeplessness, our levels of tolerance to each others’ stupidities, overall I believe that R has managed to help us understand each other like never before in the last 5 odd years of our marriage. Additionally, R has also managed to redefine both my wife’s and my professional goals as well, in an extremely positive manner. At various levels now both of us understand our priorities in life and have adjusted our professional ambitions and goals accordingly.

I could go on and on about how much fun and laughter R brings to our everyday lives, but then trying to put those feelings in words would just be an exercise in futility as they are emotions that need to be experienced for oneself rather than narrated. The fact that the very thought of these things brings a smile to my face speaks volumes to the impact they have had on me. Suffice to say that R has brought a smile to my face whenever I think of her and I owe a lot to her just for this.

There is such a long way to go before R develops her own personality, grow her wings and starts flying on her own. The conscious realization that her personality is going to be impacted by her upbringing, her environment, her circumstances does weigh down heavily on me at times. But it is this same realization that makes me want to be a better human being, a better dad and it constantly keeps me on my toes to keep questioning each and every little decision that I make and carefully weigh the consequences of these decisions. So far, this exercise has helped me in clarifying my priorities whenever there have been conflicts and I am sure at the end of all this, I will emerge a far better person than I otherwise would have been.

Wow, what intended to be a ‘fun post’ about R’s first birthday turned out to be quite a philosophical post and all that. Guess that’s the effect that little daughters have on fathers, huh!!!

Image courtesy : Google Images search for ‘dad baby hands’ 🙂

PS: This post has been selected for BlogAdda’s “Spicy Saturday Pick” on 1st September, 2012.