I often get asked about how I was able to positively influence my children into focusing at the right areas as far as their academic careers go. In reality much of it has been done by themselves, though I have been a constant presence. More importantly, I think many parents try to emphasise on the financial part of the education by investing for their children, so that they can pursue a course of higher learning, when the time comes. While this is definitely very important, a much more important aspect, often neglected, is what are you doing to invest in your children?
Whether we like it or not, parents remain the single most important source of influence for their children, till pretty much the teen years, when their peer groups and friends take over the role. If you are able to guide them properly and instil the right values in them during the pre-teen period then you would have done something really good for them. The mind of a child is akin to a blank canvas in the first 6 years after birth and this is really the right time to influence them in the right manner.
So how does one go about doing it? Well, for starters, even without any effort on your side, you have already played a role by just being their biological parents. The genes you have passed onto them will determine to a degree, how they turn out to be in future. In many ways, they will inherit your good qualities and unfortunately, most of your poor ones too. While this is something, you cannot do much about, how you come across to them is going to play a large part in the creation of their value system.
It is important to understand here that children learn the most from observing things. If there is a contradiction between what a parent is saying and doing, the child will pick up the second. Therefore, it is pointless to pontificate on the virtues of punctuality if you do not go to office on time yourself or are unable to keep some appointment you have fixed with your family. Yet, this is precisely what I have seen many parents do, time and time again. One of the key areas for you to look at as a parent is to achieve consistency between what you say and what you do. This will instil a core value in your child – words are important to honour, and your credibility as a parent will also be on a good footing.
So, in very simple terms, be a living example for your child. Whatever attributes you want him to pick up such as good manners, usage of proper language, honouring your commitments etc, must be things he sees and observes in you with unfailing regularity. Falling short of the standards ourselves and then complaining that our children have not grown up to be like how we wanted them to is really meaningless.
How can you play a role in personality development of your child? The problem is most parents try to focus on what career they want their children to have, rather than what kind of individual persons they should grow up to be. Focus on the process and the outcome will take care of itself. Give confidence to the child that he/she can attempt all that they want, it is all right to fail at times. Our role as parents is to guide, provide for and facilitate – leave the acting to themselves. Building the self esteem of the child is really the most critical aspect of their growing up and we must never forget this. So, be it in studies, sports, music, reading or any other activities, encourage the child to try out the best possible and do not be worried about the results.
Specific to academics many parents get very agitated if their children are not doing well in school in terms of the marks that they get. It is important to be ambitious for your children but, here again, focus on the process and not the outcome. Try to guide them into being interested in what they are learning, once they are keen on that their efforts will be automatic and the results will follow. For example, if they develop an interest in Maths they will do well in it at whichever level they study it. Unfortunately, way too often we focus on short cuts, not realising that even if this brings in some short term results, the effects of these are not going to be lasting.
At the end though, you also need to steer them in the right direction when they falter. This will inevitably occur in their teens, when they are confused and a little insecure about how fast their world is changing. As a parent, you need to help them focus on the important stuff. I keep reminding my children that while college life must be fun and they need to have their fair share of it, it is also a crucial stepping stone to their future careers – one that needs to be on a firm footing. I think I recognise the potential and capability of my children, it is important for me to point it out to them.
Of course, in terms of directly being involved in their academic careers, I have been so from their early school days and continue to do so to the extent possible even today. I have been able to do it as they have chosen streams where I have a great deal of knowledge. However, even if they had studied Medicine or Commerce, the basic principles would have remained the same.
To summarise, help your children to become better human beings and they will be successful in whatever they choose to do. Even if you have not got their college fees covered, they can always get an Education loan. The question really is whether they can secure admission to a good college – that is something you can play a role in.