Competitive spirit must be kindled with care in children

Competitive spirit must be kindled with care in children

By KORAL DASGUPTA | | 2 April, 2016
Often parents end up pushing their kids way too much, burdening them with high expectations and wanting them to excel in all competitive fields, while overlooking their strengths and limits.
Children today pick up so many weird symptoms. Maybe these happened in the earlier decades too, but given that societies were more open, neighbours were family and family wasn’t just about two or three odd people, they disappeared in good company. Since things are more open these days, children are constantly exposed to constant comparisons and competitions. We as parents don’t even realise when we have said or done something which has hurt their tender minds, or what negative inference they have gathered from something which is apparently harmless. Nevertheless, they end up pressurising their brains and exhibit those through behavioural complications. Not necessarily such stimulus is picked up within the boundaries of family or friends or school or social circles. Little brains might pick up clues from absolutely unexpected and unrelated areas. Do we as parents, with our own busy schedules, have something within our capacities to protect these young minds? Let’s explore.
We want our children to be intelligent and competitive, but we don’t want them to lose their balance while trying to stay ahead. Competition must be healthy. Not self destructive. From a very early stage, we as parents need to understand their strengths and limitations, and help them understand those simultaneously. The moment we know their strengths and weaknesses, we know what to work upon and what to encourage. Parenting thus becomes result oriented without necessarily hanging a strict target on our heads.
Having studied in a missionary school and grown under the supervision of strict parents, I have always been a disciplined woman. But in my journey as a mother, I have faced many hurdles in my attempts. I still do. As a young daughter, I knew that there’s not much that exists beyond what parents are saying. I grew up in an environment where I was exposed to my maternal side very prominently; my paternal side was comparatively dormant and out of touch. Hence, values matched and my social circle didn’t quite have contradictory ideals.
For my child, his maternal side is as active as his paternal child. I value the presence of both sides of the family immensely, because it is important for a child to know that he has a huge support of people, all of whom love him unconditionally. Trust me, every child understands the concept of “family” even before anyone has explained it to them. How many of us have taken time to explain the difference between “uncle” who is father’s brother and “uncle” who is a friend? Even if they meet the uncle from family much lesser than the uncle who is a friend, they naturally know who to demand pampering from and who to remain formal with. While this is true, we need to be extremely careful about what we are communicating about the immediate family in front of the child. Even if we are not happy with our immediate family, it is better not to discuss our displeasure in front of our children. Under no circumstances must we hurt the beautiful interpretation of the word “family” that exists in their brain. That’s when perhaps, they start questioning and losing trust from every kind of ownership.  
Since in nuclear families children only have their parents to fall back upon, they have to play many roles at the same time. Parents have to pamper like the uncle, love like the grandmom and also remain strict at times.  To restore balance, we must control our emotions and play careful. My advice to parents is, never to scold the child together. When she does something wrong and needs to be corrected, one of the parents must play the good cop.
In my family, as in many other’s, where both paternal and maternal sides are equally active, the child is exposed to different versions of parenting. I for example, believe in disciplining my child by setting certain rules that are not to be violated. Many in my family don’t conform to my ideas of discipline. They pamper him, at times going overboard. They say that give the child the things he wants because that’s the way to restore his internal peace. Else, if he protests and cries and feels that his demands are getting ignored, he would become stubborn! As much as I would like to dismiss this logic, I can’t. I have known some of my cousins who were endlessly pampered when they were kids, each of their demands fulfilled to perfection. Today they have grown up into fine human beings; their logic towards life impeccable and compassion absolutely undubious. Hence, it makes sense for me to do what I believe is correct and let others do what they believe is right. I have had friends complaining against grandparents pampering their children hoarse. But no grandparents would even want the apple of their eyes to suffer. It’s important for us, elders, to strike our own balance in family so that the child doesn’t suffer our stubborn ideas of parenting!  
Since in nuclear families children only have their parents to fall back upon, they have to play many roles at the same time. They have to pamper like the uncle, love like the grandmom and also remain strict at times.  To restore balance, we must control our emotions and play careful. My advice to parents is, never to scold the child together. When she does something wrong and needs to be corrected, one of the parents must play the good cop. That is where the child would come to seek solace when she is cornered. They must never be stripped of an emotional shelter. 
Having said all of the above, the realistic story is that none of us are Gods and Goddesses of patience. We often lose our cool and say things that we don’t mean. It is very important hence, to constantly reassure them. Tell them repeatedly how much they mean to you, how much you love them and how important they are in your life. Tell them that they are the best gift of God. More consciously, tell them about their friends who are also doing well. Try to inspire them with examples. But avoid comparisons. At times unwantedly we end up comparing them with their friends, cousins, neighbours. To undo the ill-effects of that, once again, reassure.
And on the reverse, when you are feeling down, ask them to reassure you back. They will. And you will be surprised the way they do and what initiatives they take to make you feel better when they know that you are sad! This exercise helps achieve wonders. While they understand that you are no super-humans who are beyond grief and you too have moments when you need that love, they simultaneously learn to value your emotions and take care of you and nurture you just like you do to them. It helps them to grow up with the knowledge that they are responsible for the well being of their parents. Allow them to be your emotional shelter as much as you are for them. Let the dependence be mutual!

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