Parenting has no hard and fast rules and that’s what makes it the toughest job on earth. Parents who say parenting came easily to them are not being honest with themselves, it is by far the boldest and most daring adventure of life!
These two books are definitely useful in guiding parents and reassuring them that there will always be situations and scenarios where it will be really difficult doing or saying what you need to do or say, but in the long run, it will all end up well as long as you maintain the fine balance between being firm but empathetic.
Om Swami’s The Children of Tomorrow is a light, breezy read with lots of interesting illustrations and numerous examples of real-life parenting challenges and strategies to handle them. The book has several examples from his own family experiences while he was growing up and it also has a long list of articles and books that can be explored for further reading. According to the author, parenting is an art where everything is relative and subjective, and given the right guidance at the right time, any child can be made to realize her true potential.
Quoting from a Danish book on parenting, the author considers the word parent as an acronym where P is for play, A for authenticity, R for reframing, E for empathy, N for no ultimatums and T for togetherness, and he goes on to describe the relevance of each of these in detail. The book is broadly divided into three sections titled ‘Understand’, ‘Build’ and ‘Nurture’. Talking about the prevalence of lying, he says that everyone lies, no one is completely honest. When children or even adults lie, it is mainly to avoid conflict and children start lying as early as at two or three, and this is in fact a sign of their intelligence! But when parents realize that their child is lying, they should avoid a confrontational approach and instead handle the situation tactfully because ultimately it is only love and acceptance that can foster an environment of trust and bonding. Demonstration of anger either by hitting or by verbal abuse will not help discipline a child, instead it will scar the child for life. Children learn a lot by observing others and if the parent shows restraint and thinks for a few minutes before showing the first reaction, it would go a long way in setting an example.
In the section titled ‘Build’, the author emphasizes the importance of building an identity capital early in life by exposing children to all the avenues and possibilities that life has to offer so that they can make their own calculated choices. Children need to be exposed to reality and there is no point over-protecting them. They also need to be taught patience and perseverance and to appreciate the joys of delayed gratification. Since nothing sets a better example than actions, parents should be mindful of their deeds and more importantly, their words, because relationships can be wrecked by saying the wrong words at the wrong time. Talking about a few core values of parenting, the author says we can all be effective parents if we are compassionate, friendly and devote quality time to our children. We should give freedom to our children to explore and experiment, experience happiness and joy and whole-heartedly celebrate their accomplishments.
The author says, ‘Somewhere, we have to trust nature, have a bit of faith that in this vast creation where billions and billions of life forms are thriving, our children too are connected with the same cosmic intelligence and that they would be guided by their own intuition, aptitude, skills and other forces of nature.’
Sparks of Genius is a sensible treatise on parenting and the importance of teaching children to think for themselves and be able to solve problems, in this age of information overload. Since information is always available at our fingertips at the click of a button, retention and memory take a back seat and the ability to make sense of this information is critical for success. The author also emphasizes on how a good sense of security and self-esteem is essential for children to become confident and happy and how parents and teachers play a critical role in this process. Distractions are aplenty for today’s children and since thinking involves focusing on one idea or task for a long time, children should be guided by parents on the use of devices like smartphones and rules and restriction should be in place.
The chapter on critical thinking gives an overview of Bloom’s taxonomy and how it can be used as a tool, even in a regular classroom to make learning an enjoyable process, resulting in the development of a well-balanced, successful individual. Many simple examples that can be easily used are mentioned and the need for experiential learning as the way forward is highlighted, because an experience is something that is remembered for life. The chapters on movement and learning and memory give insight into the various aspects of memory and emphasize the fact that physical activity enhances cognitive functions and stimulates the brain, reiterating that outdoor games are very essential to refresh both mind and body. Various strategies that can be used to enhance memory are also suggested.
The chapter ‘The Teen: A Different Kind of Human’ is exhaustive and insightful, covering all major points that parents generally worry about: the teenager sleeping all the time, behaviour problems, boredom and peer pressure, etc., and can help reassure parents that their teenager isn’t unique and the most difficult person on earth! Emphasizing on the drawbacks of being ‘ Tiger Moms and Helicopter Parents’, the author recommends an authoritative style of parenting where expectations are high and realistic goals are set but the parents are not hovering around their children waiting to facilitate everything for them. They should instead be empathetic listeners who love and respect their children and are always available to support and guide them when needed.
Bela Raja believes that there is a bit of genius in every child and an expert is capable of drawing out this potential. By using the guidelines and strategies mentioned in her book, the author hopes that every parent can understand her child better and play the role of that expert!
Asha Sharma lives in Bangalore and has been teaching in schools for the past thirteen years.