Encouraging Talent In Children

Taking up an idea prompted by Divya Rao’s post – Confusions of Modern Parenting, which was in line with something that I have wanted to post about for a while, this post shall talk about children, their talents and how to encourage them.

Encouraging Talent In Children -  Discovering Your Child's Talents

Every once in a while, my wife and me get around to talking about some of the hobbies that we have developed and how our parents were not particularly enthusiastic about our extra-curricular pursuits. Not to say that they discouraged it, but they didn’t put in any special efforts to try and identify the hobbies that we were good at or did not go the extra mile to encourage us to pursue a hobby to enjoy it completely.

While my wife at least had the luxury of learning the violin and later on learn the basics of Carnatic music, for me it was more of my parents trying to generate an interest in music, which due to the ignorance and innocence of childhood, I completely ignored. They did not push me enough to get exposed to any new hobby or creative pursuit at all and were content to let me be, just playing gully cricket with other boys my age.

Based on our childhood experiences, both my wife and me have decided to let our daughter (who is all of 2 years old now) have an exposure to as many extra-curricular activities as possible at an early age itself. And then, based on her interest levels and relative skills in comparison to her peer group, pursue one or maybe two hobbies seriously. Rather than put her through the grind of enrolling into various summer camps and talent workshops, we would rather that she gets the basic exposure required to figure out what activities she really likes and enjoys doing and then letting her pursue the same.

While, this approach brings with it the risk of her taking up an activity seriously initially, and then gradually losing interest in the same. It also allows her the freedom of being independent at a very young age itself and doing things which she is genuinely interested in rather than something her parents want her to do. After all, we are not anticipating another Saina Nehwal or Shreya Ghosal in the family (although that would be kind of nice, given the amount of adulation, adoration and appreciation that the parents of such superstars get in India, today :D).

During our walks in the neighborhood during May and June, both my wife and me noticed the proliferation of summer camps which offered training in things as diverse as craft making to sports coaching. And, we also noticed that quite a few kids were enrolled in these and the classes went on for a good part of the day for a substantial portion of the summer vacations of kids. And this phenomenon is among one of the many things that completely turned both of us off of the summer coaching camps.

Per our reasoning, one of the main reasons for so many summer camps cropping up and loads of kids lining up to enroll for the same is due to the fact that most families today are double income families, i.e. both the parents are working and they have no other choice but to enroll their kids in these camps in the summer, so that they don’t trouble their grandparents too much for a large portion of the day. That being said, our personal opinion is that this will end up with the kids being “Jacks of all trades, but master of none” and that is something which is good in the short run, ends up being somewhat detrimental in the long run. Kids are better off pursuing one or maybe two hobbies which they enjoy and take up seriously and excel at, aren’t they?

I would really love to hear other parents’ viewpoints on this topic, as this is something that both my wife and me continuously grapple with almost once every fortnight.

Jairam Mohan is a 33 yr old father, of an almost 2-year-old daughter, settled in Bangalore. He and his wife tend to see the funny side of things in life which helps them maintain sanity in their otherwise crazy and stressful working lives. While his day job involves poring over Excel spreadsheets and preparing PowerPoint presentations, his other hobbies include frequent updation of his blog on varied topics and watching/writing about movies.

  • You’e right Jairam! 😀 While my folks did not actually discourage me, I wasn’t really pushed towards developing my talents, such as they were, even though they really appreciated everything I did. Those days, one’s main goal was to become a doctor or an engineer or appear for the IAS exam, depending on gender, of course, since one had to take into account that women would be married off and make kathrikka sambar or vetha kozhambu and worry about what to cook for the next meal.

    Nevertheless, I did do what I wanted to do, and did it well 🙂 and my Mom happily supported me. Now, my son is 15 and in Class XI and we’ve given him full freedom to choose what he wants to do. He has taken up science as his preferred subjects – but I would neither be surprised nor shocked if he decided to switch later.

    He sketches rather well and we did not want to narrow his abilities by enrolling him in a class, although the whole world and its friends’ aunts freely give us advice. 🙂

    My blessings to your daughter – may she be the next Saina Nehwal or Shreya Ghosal – better still, Asha Bhonsle! 🙂 Cheers!

    • Jairam Mohan

      @Vidya Sury, similar to your folks, mine also did not actively push me towards any particular extra curricular activity. Similar to your story, mine was to become a Chartered Accountant (which I did not become ultimately).

      Regarding your son’s sketching abilities, good to hear that you are encouraging the same despite the maamas’ and maamis’ advice against it. Am sure he will sketch his own dreams well.

      And it would be great if my daughter becomes the next Saina or Shreya or Asha. At least I can piggy back off of her success 😀

  • स्वाति जैन

    oh yes jairam..we were not supported for our hobbies….but ya we can definitely do it for our lil ones…
    i second this thought, that instead of getting enrolled kids in a no. of classes ( which happens every now and then around), why not focus on one or two at home. And they have max fun and learning when u also get involved with them…
    My son, 3+ is a lover of crayons and water colors…we do sit with him quite often with our own respective sheets and complete the job….he has the acumen of making contrast and shades….and this is the right time to support….
    but u see, that’s how playschools are earning, endless camps…lot of art, craft, horse riding and what else…

    • Jairam Mohan

      @disqus_Lr1VH54Hw6:disqus, yes, while I was not specifically discouraged from picking up any talent when I was younger, the truth is that my parents did not actively encourage me to pick up any extra curricular activity as well. Net result, it took me a while to figure out that I was good at quizzing and I started that seriously only when I reached college.

      Good to hear that you are encouraging your son to pick up the art of colors, am sure he will have a ‘colorful future’ 🙂

  • Reema Sahay

    Yes, that is a topic which is doing the rounds at our home too. You know, being in cities, our are kids are fortunate that they have opportunities and exposure. My mom really wanted me to pursue singing since I had a good voice. She took me to a teacher when I was very young. He said I was too young at that time. And then I could never really get around to do it. Now that wasn’t my passion, it was my mother’s. For our son, ideally we would like to expose him to a plethora of things because we don’t know which one he would eventually like to pursue. Another very important thing is timing. May be the reason a child is rejecting a hobby is because the timing is not right for that kind of hobby.

    • Jairam Mohan

      @Reema Sahay, well, yes, the approach that you intend to follow with your son is what we intend to do with our daughter as well. Let us see how it goes. All the best in this regard 🙂

  • Rekha

    Jairam, I must tell you that our opinions match to a very large extent. I must also tell you that it is true that parents like us (both working) need a safe, better, richer space for the kids to spend time at. I have never enrolled my kids for any summer camps till now. But they end up spending their vacations at home with the domestic help and watch television, read books, do painting or fight with each other. So I believe summer camps, even though just make them Jill of all trades, at least keep them engaged in a productive manner. Phew!!! I wonder if our parents ever thought so much about our hobbies. Ney, they didn’t or rather there weren’t so many options back then. 🙂

    • Jairam Mohan

      @disqus_z6rV768TBF:disqus, I was not trying to diss Summer Camps through this post here, rather the only point I was trying to make was that instead of putting them everything that we want them to do, it would be better that we try and identify what they are interested in and enroll them to those classes.

  • I think playing gully cricket is talent. The author of this comment was the best batswoman the neighbourhood had produced, after the super mango-tree climber that is. 🙂

    “the freedom of being independent at a very young age itself and doing things which she is genuinely interested in rather than something her parents want her to do.” – We’re on the same page. I intend doing what you are following. I also agree with you that instead of making our children into museum artifacts, let them run free and pick what they like to do. If they don;t like an activity, they will never want to excel in it. 🙂

    Great post!

    • Jairam Mohan

      @sakshinanda:disqus, actually having read quite a few of your pieces all over the place over the last two months, I don’t find it too hard to believe that you were probably the best batsperson in your nieghborhood.

      And love your comment when you say that we should not strive to make our children museum artifacts and instead should let them find their happiness…

  • Sunita Rajwade

    Children must be encouraged to try out new things that help them discover skills even they never knew they had.While children should be encouraged to have hobbies (helps them learn, create) and play games (develop motor skills, strategy and socialisation) they should also have the freedom to just lie on their backs and think about nothing, stare out of the window and make castles in the air.

    • Jairam Mohan

      @sunitarajwade:disqus, oh absolutely. In fact I would really love it if my daughter developed a fertile enough imagination and cultivated it as far as converting it to stories of her own…that would be real fun

  • The trick is to find what the kiddo is interested in and not as a way to fulfill the latent unfulfilled dreams of the parents. This is a slippery path and no perfect answers. On one side are kids going to summer camps which could be more to fill their time during summer vacation and on other are the 10 year old doing pelvic thrusts on prime time tv for 15 minutes of fame in dance reality shows….