Do nothing this summer

TAKE A BREAK

Do nothing this summer

Here is a recommended ‘To Do’ list for children (and their parents) for the rest of this summer:  Fail; Make wrong choices;

Lose interest; Don’t learn; Do Nothing.

Fail

There are many reasons to let children fail:

*One is to bring down the premium on success or on winning. In life we would possibly have about 50% success and 50% failure. It makes sense for children to accept this fact.

*Much more learning happens when you fail than when you win.

*It’s strange that we first create expectations and then attend stress management classes. A newspaper report talked about a school in Bangalore offering its middle school children stress management sessions!

Let the rest of this summer be a time sans expectations, when children enjoy failures too. Once we learn to enjoy it, failure can be a good reset button. Let them attempt slightly difficult tasks. In our observation parents step in too soon when children endeavour tough challenges. No wonder the cry of “I can’t” is so common. Tell, mean, and show kids that, “It’s fun to try, even if you fail”.

Two of the areas where failure is almost guaranteed are: sports/ games and cooking. Let children lose games, let them cry and throw a tantrum. Let them know that losing is part of the deal. Let the child cook and churn out an impossible-to-eat dish. The advantage of activities like sports and cooking is that another chance is immediately available.

Make wrong choices

The mother had encouraged him, goaded him, wished and prayed for him. He had confidently told his mother he would win the race. As he came back from school, his mother expectantly asked, “You won”?

He replied, almost triumphantly, “Neeraj won the race. I wanted him to win, because he wanted to win so much. I helped him win. But I feel like a winner!”

Yes indeed he had won — not the race but his friend's heart.

It’s great fun to make wrong choices. The fun part is not the wrong part of it – it’s in the making of choices. And the sooner we learn that no matter what we do, no matter what age we are, wrong choices are as much a part of our life, as right choices, the better for us.

So stop making decisions for your children and encourage them to make their own. Let them realise that there are no wrong or right choices, just that each choice leads to a different consequence. By making wrong decisions children learn that consequences can be anticipated, and taken care of in advance. Parents should encourage children to accept and live with the consequences of their decisions.  

The rest of this summer, let children decide how to spend their time, what to buy (give them a budget), what to wear, whom to play with and so on. A common concern of parents is that if they let the child decide, she would end up watching TV the whole day.

Our counter argument is that, in most cases, the child’s choice is not completely accepted. The very fact that the child knows about the parents’ disapproval of watching so much TV, is what goads her to watch more of it. We should let the child decide and accept the child's choice. Only if required should we make the child realise what other options he or she has other than TV.

Lose interest

In my childhood I attended all kinds of hobby classes like painting, clay modelling, photography, music, guitar, computer, mehandi, salsa, tailoring, pottery, stained glass, bakery, embroidery, tennis, swimming, yoga ...

Some I liked, some I did not; some I left in between, some I did with zeal and enthusiasm; I learnt from some, I didn’t from some others. The most important aspect however was that there was no pressure from my parents. With loads of equanimity they let me leave one hobby for another.  

Losing interest per se is not a sign of lack of grit or determination or concentration or any of those qualities many parents are worried about. Losing interest is just a common human trait. Watch any adult surfing channels and you’ll understand what we are talking about.

Don’t learn

Learning as a goal can in itself be a hindrance or limitation. To quote Hermann Hesse from his book Siddhartha: “When someone is seeking ... it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything ... because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.”

It is not very surprising, that when we ask children what they learnt we get few responses. But ask them what they enjoyed and we are bombarded with excited responses.

Our five-year-old wanted to learn the tabla. He started learning under a teacher, who began to push him to practice regularly and properly so that he could go on stage as soon as possible. This resulted in our son losing interest in the tabla class altogether.

We wished then that the teacher had only focused on him enjoying the tabla. But perhaps he is normally surrounded by parents who have a great many expectations and that is why over the years he too has started pushing children to learn. We hope more parents and teachers would realise that the moment the monster called, “have you learnt it” pops its head, many children simply get turned off.

If you watch children, you will realise that they do not do things to learn something. They do things because they find them enjoyable. When the learning within that also becomes enjoyable they learn. Summer is a great time to let this inherent learning happen. See if you can avoid putting children into various summer classes with the expectation of learning, performing, or becoming better.

The irony — best at display at a swimming pool — is that many parents themselves do not know how to swim and yet are constantly goading their children to learn to swim in 10 days, rather than just letting them enjoy playing in the water.

Do nothing

One reason we are not able to appreciate the joy of doing nothing is because we have made our lives very busy. Yoga gurus, medical practitioners, spiritual thinkers — all advice a daily dose of doing nothing.  It is nature’s way of recuperating, of restoring one’s inner harmony, of enriching oneself. The next time you are out with your child try doing nothing and learn to just be with each other.

Again ‘doing nothing’ reduces the premium on achieving. We are not against achieving, but too much focus will only increase stress levels.

(The writers are founders of Geniekids)

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