Laying the foundation

March 22, 2009

I concluded the previous post emphasizing the critical role of parents in laying the foundation of core values in children. Parents need to be the role models for children. Their actions talk best. Getting involved in the affairs of children holds the key and provides opportunities to parents to lay a strong foundation: brick-by-brick. We all come across situation like these:

• In a children’s game of Football or Cricket, the ball hits the neighbour’s window and breaks the glass. Parents can ignore it thinking it is not only their child who did it. On the other hand, Parents can take the child to the neighbour’s house to apologize and offer to get the glass replaced. This simple act teaches the child some important lessons: accept responsibility for your action; apologize if your action has caused inconvenience or harm to someone; and how to be a good neighbour.
• Children are generally excited in their moments of successes. Parents need to find time to join them in such moments. However, it is essential to discuss with them how did they achieve what they did. The child may confide in us (that is where an open and friendly communication helps), for example, the referee or umpire could not notice the fault which the child or one of his/her team member had made, and they won the game. Now, we have an opportunity to impart another lesson of integrity: how you achieve something is more important that what you achieve. We can explore the options of correcting such a mistake like accepting it before the other team, coach or umpire, saying sorry, even returning the trophy, if possible. If the child does any of these, we must show our instant appreciation in words and action.
• The moments of failures also provide opportunities that must not be missed. Parents often make the mistake of burdening the children with huge expectations. This puts them under a lot of stress. Some children even take the ultimate step and commit suicide if they don’t achieve the desired result. What is the big deal if they don’t get above 90 %, don’t get selected in an entrance examination or win in a sport? We, as parents, need to acknowledge the effort put in by the child. It is a good idea to celebrate the effort of the child by taking him/her out for dinner or to a movie. The child feels good and is encouraged to try harder the next time and learns important lessons: put in your best effort and don’t worry about the result; there is always a next time; and even if you don’t achieve what you are aiming for, it is not the end of the world… there are more opportunities to explore.

There may be many more examples of actions that parents can take. Each action is like laying a brick in foundation of building character of our children. If the initial bricks are not laid properly, the building may not be strong.

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When my father was a child…

February 22, 2009

I recently read this story by Alexandra Ruskin in my son’s text book. It is an interesting tale in which a child talks about his father’s childhood dreams. The story goes like this…

When my father was a child, he was often asked what you would like to be when you grew up. He had different answers each time. First he said he would become a night watchman so that he could roam around freely when everyone else was asleep. Next, he wanted to be an ice cream vendor – have as much ice cream as you want, and yet be able to roam around. Later, he aspired to become a railway engine driver. His parents would laugh at his answers. Father’s dreams kept on changing with time – becoming a pilot, to becoming an actor and so on. Finally, he said he wanted to become a dog. As a dog he could run fast on four legs, bark at people, run after them and laze around – all at his will. He had one problem though. He was unable to scratch his back with his leg like dogs do. He started spending time with dogs to learn the trick. One day an army officer passed by and asked him, “What are you doing with dogs”. Father replied, “I am learning how to be a dog”. When the officer asked why, father said,“ I have been a human for some time and now I want a change. The officer asked him if he knew what a human being was. The father said no and asked him to explain. The officer said, “think over it yourself” and left. Father kept on thinking and realized that he must first learn to become a human being. This time when he shared his desire with his parents, no one laughed. Father had finally got his lesson of life:be a good human being.

My son told me that the teacher asked children the same question in their class after the story. Most children wanted to be achievers in terms of position or money. Only a small group said they would like to be a good human being. When I asked about his response, my son said, “I wanted to be in the group that opted for good human being but most of my friends were in the other group. I was not sure how will I defend my choice. So, I also went with the other group”.

I asked him what does being a good human being mean to you. He thought for a while and said doing good deeds, helping others, etc. I said that is very good and posed another question, “If you see some people beating a man mercilessly on road, what will you do? Will you join the party who is beating because it is in majority or you will try to intervene to make peace and help the man. He said, he will try to intervene to help the man. Then we discussed what is meant by being a good human being. We summarized the discussion with three points: a) we need to do what we believe in and what we feel is the right thing to do. If a large number of people do something, it does not make it right; b) being a good human being does not mean that you can’t be an achiever. You must try to excel in your chosen field and yet be a good human being; and c) in race of life, never compromise on your values.

I hope my son will remember this. I need to reiterate this from time to time though. I shared this episode because it has learning for parents and teachers. Peer pressure plays a dominant role in forming values throughout our lives but is more central in formative years.  We need to talk to children as friends and lead by example. Times have changed. Parents have lesser time for children. Children are living in an environment in which everyone wants to get rich quickly. But we need to lay the foundation of core values in our children. We can’t afford to fail in this.