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Looking beyond Sharper, Stronger and Smarter Children – Derek O’Brien

Remember the song, Jame Raho! from Taare Zameen Par? It’s the perfect satire on how life has become today, and more so, how we parents have become! We are called the human race, and I guess it’s for a reason, after all aren’t we always racing from pillar to post to achieve something? If you stop in your tracks for a second, to think about your day, you will find that you are either rushing to work, or rushing back, or rushing your child to school, followed by tuitions, tennis class and music class with  karate or dance classes squeezed in somewhere in the middle! Phew, the list is almost endless! And which finish line are we really heading towards in the end? The answers are different for different people, but they are all spelt with the same letters – S U C C E S S!

The question that arises then is, is enrolling your child for 5 classes through the day going to ensure that he/she will be sharper, stronger and smarter? The simple answer: NO! But let me explain that further. Picking up from my own experience, when my brothers and I were growing up, our parents gave us a lot of free time. Sounds unthinkable! Let me draw an analogy – A child is like a flower and if a gardener is over watering the flower, if the sun is constantly beaming down upon the flower and if a person comes and touches a flower too often, then the flower gets spoilt very easily! Similarly parents too tend to over burden their child with activities. What you need to do is take a step back, and let your child, just like a flower, blossom on his/her own! Of course, that does not mean that you do not look after them, or nurture them or love them, but what it does mean is that you stop treating them like a project, that needs constant activity.

What you could focus on, however, is developing certain life skills which will aid your child throughout his/her life. These skills are the ones I would like to call success skills! For instance, one of the key areas that determine success in today’s world is how you present yourself.

Now, that certainly does not mean looking for yet another class to enroll your child in, but alternately you could start by just trying some of these simple tricks at home:

  • Mirror Test: Start by making your child stand in front of the mirror. Let him learn to express himself in front of the mirror, and let it be a medium to build his confidence and act as an amplifier to his thoughts and emotions. I used to play this game with my daughter, wherein, she would stand in front of the mirror, and I would cue her on what face to make and she would make it, be it sad, silly, angry, happy or something else.

But apart from expressing yourself well, there is another extremely important aspect of presentation, which is content – what you say, not just how you say it! This brings me to my next home trick, the Potty Test.

  • The Potty Test: No, it doesn’t mean what you think it does! Give your child an early start in the habit of reading the newspaper. Every morning, ensure that they sit on the pot with a newspaper in hand. This inculcates the habit of reading, and reading relevant content at that!

However, this is just one aspect of life skills that can help a child as he/she enters adulthood. Another important part of growing up is learning to accept failures. And this is perhaps the most important. Have you ever asked yourself, what is that one key ingredient to success? While it is a combination of hard work, diligence, a little luck and talent, of course, the biggest ingredient for success remains FAILURE. After all, nothing teaches in life like failure does. My suggestion to all parents would be to embrace failure in your child’s life, and celebrate it! That’s the way I have grown up, and it has helped me to never be afraid of it and in fact has helped me develop an insuppressible fighting spirit. I remember the time when I had failed in Class 8, my reaction was to be afraid, and I thought I am grounded, but instead, my parents took me out to a nice Chinese dinner! They celebrated my failure, and this in turn taught me to learn from it and move on.

It’s skills like these, that can make your son or daughter smarter, sharper and stronger, in the true sense, not the 20 classes that he/she is attending, or the grades he/she scores in academics.

As a start, I would just like to share a few practical tips with all you parents and urge you try them with your children today!

TIP 1

Drop everything and read – Take 15 minutes out of your life everyday to spend time with your child and read, make it a habit at one particular time of the day, whether it’s at night before they go to bed, or in the evening. What you as parents need to do is make sure you are switched off from all distractions and are spending those 15 minutes with your child doing nothing but reading. There is no doubt you will see the benefits of this in the long run!

TIP 2

Go outdoors – To begin with I would like to ask all you parents 3 questions:

  • Has your child ever climbed a guava tree?
  • Has your child walked barefoot on a beach?
  • Has your child ever spent 3–4minutes in a day with an animal or a bird?

If the answer to any of these is no, then eventually you will see your child grow up to be a master of the screens he/she uses, whether it’s the mobile phone, or the computer, or the television, or video games. As parents, you need to take it beyond that, and open your child’s view to a whole world that is out there for him/her to see.

Foster creativity – While I hear a lot of parents stressing on how they want their child to be creative, they usually go about encouraging it through only one route – by enrolling him/her in an extra curricular class/activity. What I would suggest is taking your child for a movie or a play instead, and then the next day give him/her a start to a story and ask him/her to complete it. You will see how wonderful your child’s imagination is and how differently he/she thinks.

At the end of the day, a smart parent is one, who allows his/her child to find his/her true calling and encourages the child appropriately, without creating additional pressure in an already competitive world. Engage with your child, walk his/her talk and create new points of conversations with your child everyday – that’s what parenting is about in today’s day and age!

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