During one of my talks on ‘Inculcating basic skills in your child’, when I started talking of how we see a lot of children today lacking initiative with more and more kids dependent on parents/maids/others for smallest of chores and how they should be taught to do small things on their own early enough, a young mother of a one and half-year old girl, got up and said, “Most of us take a break from a lucrative career to look after our kids and wish to enjoy each moment doing so; and now you say we should not be doing so!”
“Yes” I replied “if you wish your child to maintain a tidy shelf of clothes at five, you need to start early”.
“What is that got to do with initiative?”
I knew she was voicing the thoughts of most of the young parents in the audience and took time to explain.
“How many of you had to face repeat obstacles in life before arriving where you are today?”
Almost all hands went up.
“At each obstacle, how many of you always had a guardian angel to guide you?”
Only few hands went up. I said triumphantly “So, most of you surmounted the obstacles on your own?”
Lot of nods!
“You were able to do this because your parents taught you initiative at a young age”. I proclaimed.
“Obstacles are a part of life; and endless ones at that! So, is it not prudent that our kids learn how to overcome challenges and obstacles since we know they will have to face many more obstacles than we ever faced (despite all the money and love we can give them)”.
Now I had their attention.
“I have a 3 yr old son. How do I know if he has initiative?” asked one of the fathers.
It will be obvious from smallest of activities.
“When he returns from his pre-school, does he dump the bag anywhere or goes and places where it is to kept?”
“Does he remove his shoes and socks himself?”
“If you have a girl, will she at 3 wear uncoordinated frock and hair clip? Or demand / take a matching one?”
Then I narrated one my most proud moments. I was visiting my daughter at Chennai, when my eldest B, called to her 18 month daughter, N “Show Nanu how you draw?”
N, my angel, held my hand and took me to a chest of drawers, opened the third carefully and I was pleasantly surprised to see, well laid out drawing books and a doggy bag. N took out the doggy bag and 1 book, placed them on bed and gently slid the drawer shut. Patiently she opened the zipper on the doggy bag, selected 2 crayons, opened the book to a blank page and scribbled few lines (last thing you can call drawing). After few minutes, got bored. Put crayons back in the doggy bag, zipped it close, shut the book, placed them in the drawer and slid the drawer shut.
I beamed; my training had not been wasted.
With the harsh reality of late marriages, still late child births, mothers either not available or available too much (taking break for a few years) a child’s world is reduced to a set of organized, structured and parent led activities, beginning, in some cases, at the tender age of one and a half to two years. Busy parents, expect the child to live according to a programme – Mom home at 4, spend 1 hour playing. Dad home at 7 – spend 30 min quality time etc. Is it any wonder then, that kids have little or no initiative?
Is inculcating initiative really important?
Yes, the following facts will substantiate it:
- IQ of a child accounts for less than 25% of life success; a child’s initiative and ability to handle emotions accounts for most of the rest.
- Kids who lack initiative have a high incidence of depression and boredom; and boredom is linked to delinquency in later life.
- Routine classroom teaching, homework and planned summer camps do not help develop initiative.
A child needs to be left alone, with toys, with crayons & a blank notebook. A child needs to learn how things unfold in real life and how a relevant action is to be triggered. Not to mean – leave them alone! Supervise them for safety.
Few tips for parents who wish to teach initiative:
- Always be available, but on the sidelines, to help children’s learning.
- Encourage your child to get back on his own after a fall; show that you believe in them.
- Involve them in small activities; in my last post – when a jam bottle was broken, said ‘come, WE will clean it!’
- Always be a guide as your child identifies challenges; help them arrive at a decision.
- Develop listening skills; watch, listen and guide
- Child needs a role model; who better than a parent! Show them how you do things on your own but don’t do anything that they can do themselves
- Encourage – the value of positive reinforcements can never be over emphasized – how you feel when you are praised for your cooking/looks/demeanour!
A child can only learn taking initiative, if allowed; Initiative is a great precursor for laying down processes in later life.
Dr Chander Asrani, father to three daughters and grand father to one, is a post graduate in Family Medicine. He has over 35 years in clinical practice, launched www.growingwell.com in 2000 and since then has been writing on various subjects. Know more about him at about.me/drasrani.