Making mistakes

There was a piece titled ‘Bossy moms curb kids’ creativity’ in the Times of India yesterday. It quoted research done at the University of Missouri, and ended with “European-American mothers are less directive generally than African-American and Mexican-American mothers”.

How directive are Indian mothers? Do we control their choices too much?  Do we let them make mistakes and learn from them? Do we protect them too much and curb independent thinking?

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Our child is going to have to think for himself throughout life. Why don’t we start by giving him choices with food and clothes when he is a toddler who has discovered the words “No!” and “No want!”? This way we reinforce the notion that he has the power to choose, and in doing so, is responsible for the consequences. In any case, do we really want a robotic child who will only obey instructions?

As parents we would  like to protect our little ones from everything that could hurt them. Is that helpful in the long run?  Quite often, a child realises when he has made a mistake. Isn’t that how we all learn?  If we go down on our haunches, down to his eye-level, we can see the confusion and maybe even a little fear, in his eyes. Asking him why he did it is futile. He will find it as hard to explain  as we  do when we make mistakes in our adult world. The usual answer is “I don’t know”, from which we gain nothing.

It could be a genuine mistake, a careless mistake or wilful mischief. As far as the first two are concerned, rather than get into a frustrating Q and A session, we are better off warning him not to do it again, and enlisting his help to clear up the mess, if there’s one. We can often easily figure out the ‘why’ of it using what I think of as baby logic, viz. what he might have been trying to do, from his perspective. Wilful mischief, especially one that is destructive or cruel, needs watching.

All this isn’t to say children don’t need guidance. Where do we draw the line between guiding, being directive, and taking over completely? 

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5 thoughts on “Making mistakes

  1. True Doc, what we as parents need to do is to empower our kids to to help them achieve to their highest capacity, rather than be controlling and turn them into puppets.

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  2. Great piece of writing Dr. Shyamala! …and yes, Indian parents – esp. moms, are overprotective and overbearing. I think its a vicious cycle where – esp. in joint families – if a mom is not hovering constantly over the kids she is considered a “bad mother”. From a very young age we stifle our child’s creativity and independent thinking (speaking generally now). It carries on in school, college, etc. No wonder we produce generation after generation of ‘followers’ rather than’leaders’ – we are good at following rather than leading, innovating, and thinking out-of-the-box. (Please forgive me for generalizing but I do believe that’s the norm.)

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    1. Thanks for saying it as it is. . . we really need to let go of the insecurity that makes us (I’m generalizing too) control our children and push them down safe beaten paths. Take heart, the generation that is now around 20 seems different. Maybe there is something to the ‘indigo kids’ business after all 🙂

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  3. Very interesting subject. I was European raised and now I’m raising my children in the US and I can definitely say European mothers are more hands-off, which is good for some things, but maybe not for others. American mothers are overly controlling of their children’s activities, with a full schedule every single day. My kids have one extra-curricular activity a week, and that’s it. We are out and about on the weekend, but every afternoon after school is free play, except for homework time. They can play whatever they want and the way they want. I can assist and participate, but I don’t tell my kids how to keep busy. And they’re never bored!

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    1. I guess it’s always a balancing act – when to let them be and when to get involved. The tricky part is that there’s no formula that works for both the kids and you have to intuitively find the right approach for each one.
      I agree that too much structure doesn’t work for some kids. Plus, open-ended time is necessary for thinking, imagination and creativity to develop.

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