When you decode parenting, there are nine concepts that effective parents work towards teaching their children.
Parenthood is as instant an occurrence as they come, and it smashes your understanding of the world! One instant you are a free bird and the next, you are looking down at a small human being with the thought that what I said and did to him/her could have an influence not only on him/her but on all whom he/she met, not only for a day or a month or a year, but for a lifetime—a very challenging and exciting thought indeed.
Over the years, while I could never claim to be an ever-present parent, I was moderately successful in letting the kids know that they had a safety-net underneath them and I would like to think that this made them unafraid to fall, secure in the knowledge that they would be caught and set upright again. I was inspired early on in my life by a quote from a great soul – “See everything, overlook much, correct just a little!” This principle, believe me, works just great in parenting, I think my own Father followed this and so, I tried too, really tried!
Having been asked to share my thoughts around parenthood, an activity in which I can claim marginal success, now that my eldest is over 30 years old and in good shape, I would like to structure my thoughts on the underlying nine key pillars that successful parents work towards strengthening in their children and their associated realities:
The First Pillar
Associated concept: Grace
I will borrow a quote from Zig Ziglar to explain the interface between children and gratitude. “When we neglect to require our children to say thank you when someone gives them a gift or does something for them, we raise ungrateful children who are highly unlikely to be content. Without gratitude, happiness is rare. With Gratitude, the odds for happiness go up dramatically.” Being grateful is a way of life; it is a way of life which smoothens life’s road suddenly making it seem broad and obstacle free. As a corporate executive, I have always evaluated people by the way they show gratitude to those that serve them, like waiters, drivers, and janitors. For example, during a job interview, you may deliberately ask a waiter to come in with some water and put it in front of the candidate. Their response is a character indicator.
Grateful kids grow up to be grateful people and grateful people are more likely to become true leaders. I was once neighbors with a family who had two little girls. The girls were about 5 years apart in age. The younger child, right from infancy, showed classic signs of being a grateful person – smiling joyously when you gave her something, jumping when you called her name and as she grew up, she put her gratitude in words – thank you for candy, food, toys, ice cream! Everything you gave her, including plain affection was treated as if it was a heaven-sent gift. The elder child was more reserved and while she was not an ungrateful sort, the exhibition of gratitude from her younger sister gradually put a shroud over her entire personality, growing up reserved and introverted, while the younger one was star-attraction wherever she went. Gratitude gave her wings, it gave her beauty, it gave her friends, it gave her information – gratitude opened closed doors for her, it gave her Grace, grace in appearance and grace in behavior. You can also teach your kids to say thank you and be grateful for the smallest gift – it will enhance their personality in graceful ways you couldn't even dream about!
The Second Pillar
Associated concept: Respect
Trust is the most essential part of parenting. If we keep listening to them when they're little, they'll talk to us when they're big! Trust is built by keeping your promises and being honest with your child. If you say you'll read them two stories tomorrow night or take them out for ice cream later, keep your word—because you want them to keep their word with you later. This is the foundation of that important component of trust, being able to believe in and rely upon what our loved ones say. Trust is also built through being present and an active listener. In an age of parenting with constantly beeping and buzzing phones and other devices and distractions, we must be cognizant of giving our kids appropriate attention.
The safety net I talked about at the beginning of this article – that is born out of trust. Trust created when they were toddlers when they knew I would catch them if they fell or wandered off. As they grow, we must allow them space to grow their identity by not hovering too much. I always felt that not hovering is a great way to show trust and respect as they grow. The key outcome here is that trust begets respect – two-way respect, you respect them and vice versa!
The Third Pillar
Associated concept: Perspective
A sense of humor can brighten family life. You can blow raspberries on a baby's belly, put on a silly hat and chase a 3-year-old, or do funny things to amuse a 5-year-old. As kids grow into preteens and teens, you can share puns and jokes as their sense of what's funny grows more sophisticated. Laughing together is a way to connect, and a good sense of humor also can make kids smarter, healthier, and better able to cope with challenges. A sense of humor is a learned quality that can be developed in kids, not something they're born with.
Kids with a well-developed sense of humor are happier and more optimistic, have higher self-esteem, and can handle differences (their own and others') well. Kids who can appreciate and share humor are better liked by their peers and more able to handle the adversities of childhood — from moving to a new town, to teasing, to torment by playground bullies. And a good sense of humor doesn't just help kids emotionally or socially. Research has shown that people who laugh more are healthier — they're less likely to be depressed and may even have an increased resistance to illness or physical problems. They experience less stress; have lower heart rates, pulses, and blood pressure; and have better digestion. Laughter may even help humans better endure pain, and studies have shown that it improves our immune function.
Kids can start developing a sense of humor at a very young age. But what's funny to a toddler won't be funny to a teen. To help your kids at each stage of development, it's important to know what's likely to amuse them. I have personally learnt that a good sense of humor is a tool that kids can rely on throughout life to help them see things from many perspectives other than the most obvious. Humorous kids are spontaneous, grasp unconventional ideas or ways of thinking, see beyond the surface of things and above all do not take themselves too seriously.
The Fourth Pillar
Associated Concept: Bonding
Almost every parent tries to develop hobbies among their children. Hobbies, especially common hobbies, which both parents and children share, allow children to develop valuable life skills.
As a parent, I was not ill-equipped to develop the children’s hobbies, especially since I was a trained pianist and a bit of a sportsman. But, as is usually the case, the children developed other hobbies, in the case of mine, it was flying including hand gliding and driving.
But hobbies, bonded us, our relationship was better for hobbies. Hobbies generate conversation, generate research, generate friends, and make one read. I always felt that we bonded over hobbies – a kind of melting pot where we were not parents and children but just people bonding over an interest area.
Children who grow with productive hobbies can perform well in their life, both personal and professional. Hobbies can help children to develop social, academic, and moral skills. Hobbies in children act like catalysts that can fuel mental and physical growth.
The Fifth Pillar
Associated Concept: Diversity
The concept of Unity is too well known; however, divisive tendencies are rearing their head in society of late. I have tried to inculcate the concept of unity, inclusivity, and its associated concept – diversity, in my kids from an early age. Today, I am proud to see how well the kids are doing in diverse environments in a foreign country, managing the elements of multicultural, multi linguistic and multi-ethnic societies with skill and aplomb. While narrow societal divisions are easy to transmit to kids, it will do us good to remember that the world is indeed a global village, and every single person is in a minority in some group where he is called upon to operate. For example, an Indian kid who goes to work in Japan could be in a linguistic or religious minority among his teammates to speak nothing of the gender minority.
We must work hard, therefore, to develop unifying, inclusive tendencies in our children as opposed to narrow divisive tendencies. Adoption of unity will also lead to adoption of diversity which will serve our children well in their future lives.
The Sixth Pillar
Associated Concept: Perception
There was a wise man who once said he values reality over ideas; that is not to say that ideas are not important – ideas get translated into reality. It is the ability to make the effort which translates ideas into reality that is the hallmark of leadership.
Just as translating ideas into reality is a tough task, so is acceptance of the bitter realities which life keeps throwing at us. And while learning to accept and live with reality, I have always told my children three things: - 1. Once bitten, twice shy, 2. Guard your tongue, 3. Go easy on yourself.
The Seventh Pillar
Associated Concept: Rationality
Deductive reasoning (Logic) is a concept which sets apart human beings from most species on earth. The ability to reason and deduce is the keystone of societal life. It is important for a parent to introduce the principles of logic to a child early on in life. As we teach a child to grapple with reason, the associated outcome is more often than not a sense of rationality which will hold the child in good stead through their lives. Most of the scientific developments especially in Mathematics and Physics are the result of logical reasoning and rational thinking. The building blocks and Lego sets which we procure for our children are indeed tools to teach basic logical reasoning. One would do good to put logic and rationality into a kid’s mind at an early age.
The Eighth Pillar
Associated Concept: Ethics
In the world of today, biases of varying kinds are becoming more and more visible. Racial bias, religious bias, gender bias, to name the most common. Bias affects us all. No matter how rational or objective we believe ourselves to be, we make mistakes in reasoning, evaluating, recollection and other cognitive processes, usually because of holding onto our preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information. In parenting, one of the most common errors is passing on our biases to our children. Make no mistake, biases are sometimes a result of flawed value systems which are outside ethical boundaries.
People sometimes confuse cognitive biases with logical fallacies, but the two are not the same. A logical fallacy stems from an error in a logical argument, while a cognitive bias is rooted in thought processing errors often arising from problems with memory, attention, attribution, and other mental mistakes. I always remember my grandmother saying, “think it through for yourself”; basic, but valuable advice. Make no mistake, biases will remain, but if a parent can inculcate ethical values in kids and teach kids to think based on available information ethically, logically, and rationally and arrive at conclusions, they would have done the kid a great service.
The Ninth Pillar
Associated Concept: Space
My father, on his deathbed, told me that he was serene in the knowledge that time prevails over space, unity over conflict, reality over ideas and the whole over the parts! And, I thought, but isn’t that what he was trying to tell us all through our lives? He gave us time, he gave us space but unconsciously he put it into our heads that time prevails over space, unity over conflict, reality over ideas and the whole over the parts.
With respect to time, some of the basic relations are simultaneous, before, and between. With respect to space, it is not easy even to make a plausible preliminary list of basic relations. It is hard to believe that such relations as north of and east of—though they are clearly spatial relations—can be in any way basic to the subject. For example, is Asia Minor east or west of North America?
With respect to parenthood, it is sometimes good to inculcate in the kids a sense of the space-time continuum and the abstract logic which goes with it but for on-ground practical purposes, give them time in infancy and early childhood and give them space afterwards!
Love holds it all together!
You may have noticed that I have not covered the most important aspect of parenting as yet. It is indeed Love and if you have got half as much love from your children as you have given them, you can call yourself a successful parent.
Parental love shapes cultures and individuals. While most parents know that their love and emotional availability are vital to their children’s well-being, many of us do not understand the profound and long-lasting impact we have in developing our young children’s brains, teaching them first lessons of love, shaping their consciences. At a time when society calls on parents to seek their worth and personal fulfilment in things that take them away from their children, love is the bridge in time/space that will bring the parents back to their children.
About the Author
A licensed pilot and trained pianist, Mathew George is a regular speaker at international events and teaches a variety of topics, including Cultural Sensitivity. A Mechanical Engineer by qualification, Mathew has done Post-Graduation in Finance from XLRI and a Post Graduate Diploma in Brand Management from UK’s Ashbridge Business School. He is currently the General Manager, Corporate Planning at Indian Oil, New Delhi.