Showing posts with label Parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parenting. Show all posts

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Book Summary: LEARN, DON'T STUDY by Pramath Raj Sinha


LEARN, DON'T STUDY by Pramath Raj Sinha

This is an insightful book written by Mr. pramath Raj Sinha. He is also known as an institution builder because of his track record of setting up ISB, Ashoka University and currently Harappa Online Learning.

In this book he picks up questions like What it takes to be successful in today's working world (4IR), the possibilities of changing careers multiple times, the gap between academic institutions and the industry and new guides and framework for embarking on professional journey.

To address these broad questions, he shares his life experiences from the world of industry (business) and education. He also shares insights collected from interviewing successful professionals from different walks of life (journalism, education, research, corporate, media, entrepreneurship etc) in the process of writing this book.

USP of this book - all the interviews conducted for this book where with professionals who have a direct connection to India, whether through birth, family, or education. 

“So much of what has been written about career development comes from the West, I wanted to present an approach that was uniquely Indian.” – the author.

I have written this blog it in first person's voice, and taing the exact verbatim (in most places) to retain the narrative style of the book, i.e., the author is speaking directly to his audience (readers).

Chapter 1 - You Can Do Anything

Most of us don’t know and that’s okay

Most of us during our lives transition from adolescence to adulthood are unsure of what we want to do in our life? We might have an inkling about what we like and dislike or about the things we are good at and not so good at, but we lack life experiences to translate these feelings into a clear vocational path.

Often many of us draw conclusion that there must be something wrong within us if we don't know exactly what we want to do with our lives. There is also a sense of fear of being left behind to our peers who seem to have it all figured out.

Sadly this fear psychosis is reinforced by the ecosystem around us parents, educators, peers etc.

Through the interviews the author presents scenarios where there were people who discovered what they want to do at a young age but there were also many who discovered it tinkering along their way and many also ended up pursuing multiple careers in their lifetime.

Don’t be overly concerned with money

The author mentions one of the primary obstacle to building a passion based career is obsessing about how much money you will make. If money is your topmost criterion for determining what you want to do with your life, it can often stand in the way of a deeper, more fulfilling and more successful career.

In India in particular the culturally conditioned fear of lack of adequate income, can lead young people to become overly anxious about their financial stability often at the expense off their long-term happiness.

In the early stages of career, the most important thing is to gain experience to discover one's passion and strength to learn and develop new skill sets and to build a strong foundation for success in the long run. Money should be a symptom of a well-rounded and successful career.

Anything is possible, with a twist

The three core principles:

It's possible to make a career out of doing something you love.

Your passion is usually something you develop.

You can have multiple loves and multiple careers.

These core principles helps you to think about yourself and your career in a more broader dynamic context, liberates you from the fixed mindset and makes you an explorer seeking to discover your passions and aptitudes as you move forward on your life’s journey.

You can do something you love

For many of us who are fortunate enough to get good education, the world is filled with more possibilities than ever before The definition of passion based career has significantly expanded and evolved to include a wide variety of options.

The author points out everyone he interviewed for this book has built at least one Career out of doing something they love. It is truly possible to do what you love if you are committed and dedicated to make it happen.

Your passion is usually something you develop

In a 2018 article for the Psychological Science Journal, authors Paul O’Keefe, Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton suggest that there are two general approaches to building a passion-based career:

Finding your passion, or

Developing your passion

The first approach represents 'fixed mindset' i.e. each one of us have a unique passion that we are meant to represent.

The second approach represents ‘growth mindset’ i.e.  viewing your passion or passions, as something you develop and cultivate.

There research points out the growth mindset approach of developing passion is more rewarding. Reason being, it opens up more possibilities and opportunities in one’s life.

So it is crucial to realize that you may not necessarily be able to know your passion without some experimentation. Passion is something you cultivate overtime.

You can have multiple loves and multiple careers 

The author drawing from his personal experience mentions that none of us are limited to just one passion or one career in our lives. As human beings we are much more complex than we often realize. You can have different passions and build different careers out of them in your lifetime.

Chapter 2 - It All Starts with Self-Discovery

 An ongoing process of self discovery

Self discovery, is a crucial element in building one's career. All the interviewees cited this ability to understand who they were, what they were good at and what they wanted to do with their lives as foundational to their meaningful success.

Self discovery is something you never stop undergoing. It's an ever evolving process.

You Can't force it

Usually Self discovery is an organic process that moves according to its own pace.

The author sites example of the popular Myers Briggs test which is used to generate personalized psychological profile and the list of careers best suited for the individual. He points out several criticisms of such psychometric assessments as they depend heavily on reductionist approach.

Human beings are not so simple or binary. None of us are only defined by one thing. After all we are not robots, our personalities are not scripts or algorithms. hence the process of self-discovery can't be robotic. It requires patience, trial and error most of the times. One has to go through real life experiences, experimentation and internship in various vocations to truly discover themselves. Such organic elaborate process does need time and patience.

Resisting the pressure

The Indian education system which is one of the most competitive in the world puts extreme amount of pressure on the children to make their choice of specialization at an young age and then to stick on that trajectory. Unfortunately, this leads to premature conformity.

One of the compelling reason for the author to write this book is to make young people and their parents understand that it's OK if you don't know what you want to do right up front. He wants to alleviate this pressure from within and outside, so that people can discover their passions and their strengths more organically.

Discovering what you’re good (and not so good) at

All the interviewees in this book mentioned that they needed real world experiences to really test themselves and discover their passions, strength, and weaknesses. Unfortunately, our traditional educational journey are usually focused on grade, marks and ranks.

The key to self-discovery is real world experience. You just can't do it in a vacuum. You must test yourself to discover yourself. You need to get your hands dirty in the real working world to figure out what aspects of who you are might be valuable to the development of your career.

Self-Discovery is a lifelong journey

The author mentions one of his key takeaways from all the interviews was there is no one common path for self-discovery. Self-discovery is unique for each person. For some the clarity of what one wants to do in life emerges at the very early age and for many this becomes a lifelong journey of introspection, trial and error, coupled with perpetual growth. This is the beauty of self-discovery it's a never ending process. You will keep discovering things about yourself as long as you continue to be engaged in the process of inquiry.

Chapter 3 Balancing Breadth and Depth

The author refers to David Epstein 's book Range: Why Generalist Triumph In a Specialized World, has been one of the most thought provoking book he has read in the recent few years.

David Epstein challenges the notion of specializing as early as possible to thrive in one's vocation. He put forth research that that argues the case that those who succeed in the long run are those who developed a wide range of skills and experiences early in their lives which they can apply to the rest of their career.

However, our current education system runs contrary to delaying specialization, hence it becomes a herculean task for students to go in another direction.

The author categorically mentions he nor any the interviewees are against specialization. However, specialization should not come at the expense of learning a broad range of skills. The key is to find that balance of breadth and depth of variety and focus.

Choosing your educational path

The author provides a general guideline and perspectives from his and the interviewees life experiences:

You don't have to know (yet) - If a student is unclear of the choice of subjects, it's okay. They need not stress too much on it.

The institution matters more than your major - If a student is unclear on the branch/major, then it may be a good idea to pick up the school (reputation) over the branch. A reputed school can open many doors in future.

Liberal Arts style education generally serves you best in the long run - Liberal Arts curriculum covers four general sectors: the arts, humanities, social and physical sciences. The objective of liberal arts is to cultivate an ability to think critically across disciplines and to see the interconnects between them.

A study published by Stanford University in collaboration with HSE university Moscow in Nature Human Behavior tracked 30,000 engineering students across India Russia China and USA through their four years of undergraduate degree to monitor the development of their critical thinking skills. The study found that Indian engineering students (along with the Russians and Chinese) significantly lagged their American counterparts when it came to critical thinking.

In an article for the Higher Education Review, Mimi Roy, an associate professor at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, explains why she believes Indian students are falling behind. “The pedagogy at most techno institutions is not thought provoking and relies mostly on route learning and exam-based lock step methods.”

Diversifying your education and experience

The author mentions attending a liberal arts college isn't the right choice for everyone, nor it is always an option. Some people from an early age are aware of their specialized field of education while others might not be able to afford and liberal arts education as most institutions tend to be more elite. It is possible to gain many of the benefits of a liberal arts education even if you don't attend a liberal arts college. Student can expose themselves by attending diverse classes beyond their core subjects, by actively choosing diverse opportunities on campus which will help them develop new and diverse skill-sets which will help them to build a wider network of peers and mentors. Such wider exposure makes students well-rounded and they set themselves for success in the long run.

Learning how to specialize

One of the interviewee Nikhil mentions, the point is that while you shouldn't be too narrow in your approach, we should also avoid being too broad. We need to strike a balance between the breadth and depth. David Epstein 's book range also articulates this key principle: generalize early but specialize late.

Striking your balance

The author concludes the chapter by stating, give yourself the time and space to experiment, pursue diverse opportunities, pursue different topics and interest. Aim for balance not expedience. Don't be afraid to take a longer and more winding path. It will benefit you in the long run.

Chapter 4 Focusing on the Right Skills

Transferable skills for a non-linear world

Outside of technical skills, the author identifies five general categories of THRIVE SKILLS (Harappa Education):



Critical Thinking

Problem Solving


Technological innovation and automation has put pressure on the workforce to evolve and adapt. Tasks that used to be performed by humans are now being taken over by computers applications and machines. But there is one domain that remains relatively immune to automations rapid advances: Soft skills or Social skills. 

National Bureau of Economic Research shows since 1980s, most of the job growth has been within careers that require extensive social interaction. Jobs that include a high degree of analytical and mathematical processing but relatively low levels of social interaction have declined. Similarly, the higher paying jobs tend to be those that require the most social skills. So, it’s crucial to develop these soft/social skills as we venture forward into the brave new world dominated by technology and machines.

Chapter 5 Picking Up (and connecting) the Dots

The author quotes Steve Jobs famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, “You can't Connect the Dots looking forward you can Only Connect them looking backwards. so, you must trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

The author builds on this further by stating, “If you want to be able to connect the dots in your own life, you have to be willing to pick them up first.” He mentions, the willingness to pick up new experiences was a universal quality among everyone he interviewed in the process of writing this book. None of their career paths were linear, they all galvanized diverse experiences and skills to create their own unique story and career path.

Your life is an experiment

Through interviewee’s Paroma Roy Chowdhury story, the author showcases the importance of willingness to take risks, try new things, to experiment, to follow one’s instincts. Every opportunity is a working hypothesis, which helps to move on to your next hypothesis and continue to learn and grow forever.

Overcoming the fear of failure

Through Uday Shankar's story the author tells us the importance of overcoming your fear of failure which in turn helps to seize opportunities and act. He emphasizes once you have made your decision, you need to do everything in your power not to fail.

So, what’s the best way to overcome fear of failure? Uday’s advice is not to take yourself too seriously.

Another way is to reframe what ‘failure’ means. Failure can be looked as an experiment, there’s no right or wrong results, there’s only more data one can use to create the next experiment. So, failure is not literally a failure, it’s an opportunity to learn, grow and refine.

Finally, the best way to overcome your fear of failure is to actually fail. You will find that you recover from failure faster than you would have expected. You will go on living and growing.

Intelligent failure

Duke university’s Sim Sitkin in his 1996 article Learning through failure: The strategy of small losses for the Journal of Organizational Learning, coined the term intelligent failure. He articulates Don't throw caution to the wind and recklessly attempt to do big things. Rather, take up initiatives and challenges that you have considered and prepared for, but that you understand might not work perfectly.

How to fail intelligently?

Be in an environment where experimentation is encouraged, and failure is accepted.

Challenge yourself by taking on difficult tasks where you will likely experience some degree of failure.

Adjust your mindset to see failure as a natural part of a creative life.

Make sure that you are not trying to fail. Rather you're doing your best to succeed, but ready to learn from any failure that might occur. 

You don't have to feel like an Imposter

In the year 1978, a team of Psychologists Suzanne Imes, Pauline Rose Clance, first identified Imposter Syndrome as a pervasive phenomenon and attributed it primarily to women. In a 2011 article in the Journal of Behavioural Science, 70% of the people surveyed reported to have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. 

Imposter syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy, one feels they don't belong in this group of high achievers and they attribute their success to luck rather than their hard work and talent.

Since imposter syndrome is subjective distortion of reality, one of the best way to gain objectivity is to talk to someone i.e. approach a friend, colleague or mentor and share what's going on in your mind. Maybe experiencing imposter syndrome from time to time is a natural phenomenon and hence expect it, be ready for them and find a way to overcome it.

Get as much experience as you can

The author emphasizes the importance of experience by stating you can have all the education in the world, but it can't replace the value of real-world experience. Experience helps us in our exploration and self-discovery. So students are encouraged to participate in experiential learning programs, volunteering work, taking up opportunities your school and college such as hosting events etc.

Chapter 6 The Power of Mentorship

The author through his life story and from the life stories of all the interviewees, highlights mentorship as one of the most important ingredients in a successful career. Mentors play an important role, not only in early professional and educational decisions but also in many of the critical junctures of one's professional journey. Mentors help to identify one's trends, refine their passions and push them towards higher degree of excellence.

A trusted voice outside of your family

The author presents Indra Noogi’s story, which highlights how her mentor’s advice (voice) was accepted with trust by her family.

A good mentor’s primary interest is your future and betterment, without having any conflict of interest. Mentor can often be more objective about you than your family can. A mentor looks at you as a possibility i.e. who you will be in the future than who you have been in the past.

Helping You to Find and Connect the Dots

A mentor being an objective observer of our career can help us to see the dots and connect the dots. They play a huge role in our organic process of self-discovery, by helping us discover our strengths and make sense of our experiences and situations. A mentor also holds you to a higher standard, thereby raising your level of thinking and performance. A mentor also helps in modelling new pathways i.e., can open your mind to new opportunities you weren’t aware of or didn’t think possible. Mentors can also be role models and they can be a guide, friend, philosopher who gives you the confidence to make a career move, a career transition and to overcome career challenges.

Chapter 7 Advice for Parents: Tapping into the Secret Sauce

The author highlights the rapid change in our society in just one generation. Parents today are facing a unique generational conundrum, i.e., there is a disconnect between our experience of growing up as a child and that of our children who are growing up now.

Therefore, parents should be cautious not to project their own life experiences onto their children, because what worked for us won't necessarily work for our children.

The room to experiment

The best gift a parent can give to their child is room (time) to experiment. Help your child in cultivating a dynamic growth mindset from a young age, which will be critical to their long-term success.

They are different from you

As digital natives today's children have been shaped by a completely different world than you had. As parents, we need to acknowledge and learn about these differences in order for our guidance to be relevant and effective.

The Deloitte 2021 millennial and Gen Z survey found that among young people in India, personal beliefs (ethics based work) are more influential over the kinds of careers they choose [72% millennials and 66% Gen Z) than the global average break 44% millennials and 49% Gen Z). Mental Health is also an emerging value among younger generation.

Help them figure out what they love

The best role you can play as a parent is to help them discover themselves, gradually and without any pressure to figure it out quickly. Parents should avoid becoming overly concerned with grades. Grades, are important, especially if you want to get into a good school. It's just that you shouldn't think that just getting good grades will ensure you a successful future. Rather, having a well-rounded base of experiences and skills to draw from will serve you better in the long run. Encourage them to take up hobbies, help them to take up internships for gaining real world experience and parents should do their best to learn about how the world is changing.

Prepare them, don't instruct them

Srikanth Shastri, one of the interviewee, calls this approach to parenting as ‘guidance with the light touch’. He believes the best advice focuses on the process of making decisions rather than the decisions themselves. He advocates of teaching young people how to approach the decision in their life that is how to break it down into its component parts, how to weigh the pros and cons, how to think through all the potential outcomes and how to ask all the right questions. In short, teach children how to think, and not what to think.

Ofcourse parenting has to be sometimes heavy-handed and prescriptive but these should be reserved only for instances when the mistakes are of a catastrophic nature.

Building Agility and Resilience

In a rapidly changing world, where change is the only constant, young people need to be made comfortable to embrace this brave new world. Agility and Resilience are two qualities today’s children need to inculcate, to thrive in this new world.

Expose your children to diversity (new skills, new experiences, new environments, new scenarios) so that it develops adaptability and agility in them in due course of time. In-short as parents help to diversify your child's toolkit so that they have many more skills and experiences to draw upon in their future.

As parents, give your child the opportunity to fail, especially early in their lives. As parents we first  need to overcome our own fear of failure. Parents who exhibit this in their own life will be a learning model for their own children (learning by observing/role model). Secondly, encourage your child to take up challenging assignments so that they can taste disappointment that comes with failure and learn why they failed and learn how to bounce back e.g. try learning a musical instrument, try learning a foreign language, apply for a challenging school, take up sports etc.

As parents, we can provide our children a safe space, a safety net, so that they can experiment with their life, learn to fail in a safe environment and eventually build agility and resilience for the long run.

The Secret Sauce

“Parents can instill in their children the values that help them to succeed, but do it in a manner that doesn't project their own worldview, which was shaped in a different era.” – Monica Hariharan

According to Monica, the secret sauce for everyone looking to succeed in today's world is to take all of those deeper values and find new ways to express them.

The author sums it up by stating, this secret sauce is infact the age old ethical template defined by hard work, excellence, rigorous thinking, dependability, resilience and adaptability. The key for parents today is to give their children this template without being too prescriptive in how to apply it.

Conclusion unlocking a Growth Mindset

The author connects Growth Mindset (by Psychology Professor Carol Dweck) with Marc Randolph (co-founder of Netflix) 2022 commencement speech at Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts.

Marc says, “follow your dreams” might be the worst thing to tell young people. He continues, the advice perse is not bad, but no one tells you ‘HOW’.

He advocates that young people should ‘Stop Thinking and Start Doing’. He believes it's more crucial to learn how to execute your goals so that when you do discover your dreams, whatever that may be, you will be in a position to practically make them come true.

The author states instead of telling people to follow your dreams we should say discover your dreams. Which means your dreams are in some fixed entities rather they are dynamic and changing. They are something to be discovered through the process of your own career journey. Discovering your dreams requires experimentation. It requires throwing yourself into new situations and over time, figuring out what you are best at and what gives you the most sense of fulfillment. In other words, it’s about inculcating a growth mindset.

A growth mindset propels us and makes us break away from stagnation of fixed mindset. It makes us a person who is ‘work in progress’, who can learn new skills, gain new knowledge, continue self-discovery, explore new opportunities and continue to pivot through their lifelong journey.

Pramath Raj Sinha (image courtesy - Harappa Education)

The author Pramath Raj Sinha, concludes in his own unique style – “I want to leave you with a nugget of wisdom. As you peer into your career, whether it be from the vantage point of a high school student, a college graduate, or a mid-career professional, it's imperative to do so with patience and curiosity. Don't fall victim to the pressure from your own peers or teachers or family or society to prematurely figure it all out. If you're not certain about what you want to do with your life, that's OK. The world isn't certain. So how could you be? As you take the next step in your career journey, try to see it as a learning opportunity. And one day, you’ll look back, connect the dots of your squiggly career and will be amazed at how much you’ve achieved.” 


I highly recommend checking out the book 'credit' by Pramath Raj Sinha and published by Penguin Publication. This book summary is intended for educational purposes to spread the ideas and knowledge presented in the book. However, I strongly suggest getting an in-depth reading and gaining deeper insights by purchasing the book. It's definitely worth it! 



Saturday, July 29, 2017

Parenting Series (5/5) - Financial Literacy (money management, a life skill approach)

There are many memories from college days, which stays with us for a longtime. Among them, one of my memory is of a classmate who used to maintain an Expense Log Book, keeping a track of his monthly allowances (pocket money). (We were in a residential program, living away from our families).

It has taken me two long decades since then to today, to fully appreciate my classmate's good money management skills & habit (maybe being a parent makes you wiser). Ironically, during our college days, most of us felt his daily ritual of accounting was overtly practical & boring. For us, college days were supposed to be carefree & careless. Running out of our pocket money by middle of the month, phir wohi udhari, len-den :-) (borrowing & lending), eagerly waiting for next month's money transfer & the cycle continued. In fact, by end of the academic year, our entire friend circle would be in debts :-).
In contrast this classmate of mine, would always have money in his bank account. Let me explicitly mention, so that one does not assume him to be a miser or a rich guy. He too enjoyed - watched movies, went to eateries, pooled in for birthday parties, joined us on excursions etc, all well-managed within his reasonable monthly allowances (pocket money). On top of it, he was our go to person (money lender) when we used to run out of cash (he financed us, without any interest %) ;)

After graduation, we all took different paths & we drifted away from our friends....knowing such intimate friendship would never be forged again in our adult - professional life.

In this new phase, with no best buddies around, it becomes a necessity to suddenly switch over from being careless with money to becoming careful & methodical with money management. Unfortunately, for many of us this transformation does not come naturally. For years our orientation towards money management has been random & lacked awareness. It's an uphill task to expect an overnight 180 degree turn in our conduct, from campus life to professional life.
In reality, our money management skills & habit, may take years to reach an optimal level & sadly for many of us, it may never transcend to the highest level of wealth creation.

At a fundamental level, my personal experience touches upon two key aspects:

1. Kind of people (students): 1st kind - Financially Literate (optimal money management skills/habit) & 2nd kind - Financially Illiterate (sub-optimal money management skills/habit).

2. Why Financial Literacy levels are different among people (students)?

In my opinion, the answer to Why Financial Literacy level differs? can be found in our approach towards parenting. And Financially Literate or Illiterate, is just an outcome of our approach towards parenting.

Think about it!

Our parenting style does not originate out of thin air, isn't it?
Rather it is deeply rooted in our socio-cultural-belief systems & it manifests itself from this paradigm.

Referring back to my personal story, during my growing up years my exposure to managing & understanding money (financial literacy) was negligible. Reflecting back, I realise it was a natural outcome of my socio-cultural background & my upbringing in a Bengali educated-working-middle-class family background.
Financial illiteracy during growing up years is not just limited to my personal experience, rather this is a typical scenario a child experiences during their growing up years, in an Indian educated-working-middle-class-family background.
Our Parenting approaches are more focused on formal education, good marks, entrance examination & aiming for a good job. In this road map of upbringing our children, sadly imparting life skills - Financial Literacy, is excluded from the syllabus.

Let's ask ourselves, what are the consequences for being Financially Illiterate?

Well not a rosy picture - financial bad habits, debts, low on savings & investments, risks not covered, no financial goals, forever dependency on job, lack of wealth, not achieving financial independence......a gloomy list!.

As a matter of fact, for our future generation, Financial Literacy will become far more important than ever before. Our children are going to live as adults (working professionals) in a future economy (world), which probably would be more uncertain & fast-paced change would be the only constant. Consumerism, targeted marketing (data analytics), push for instant gratification, easy loans, EMIs, spending through apps, digital wallets are going to be their constant companion. Therefore, Financial Literacy is a necessity for today's children & should be inculcated through their growing up years, before it's too late.

By being little creative, as parents we can develop 'N' number of ways to introduce Financial Literary (money management concepts) to our children. Listing out few broad approaches, in this direction:

  • During Late childhood (approx. 6 years to 12 years)
  1. Inculcation of Numismatics (coin collection) hobby in our children, is an interesting way of raising awareness about money/currencies.
  2. Piggy bank - introduces children to concept of savings & delayed gratification.
  3. Introduce children to concepts of M.R.P. (price), quantity (weight, ml), expiry date, best buy options, verifying bills etc. A fun & effective way of doing this is through experiential learning. Give them opportunity to shop, make payment, check bills in super-market/shops, under your guidance.
  4. Give them understanding of household cash flow (i.e. you work to earn money). So that children don't assume for long, ATM machines are Santa Clause in disguise :-)
  5. Introduce children to different modes of payments (hard cash, online, digital, cheque, DD etc)
  6. Opening a minor bank account, introduces the child to simple concepts of banking. Guide them to put their money in their bank account (e.g. their piggy bank collection, money they received as gifts/blessings during birthdays, festivals).
  • Adolescence (approx. 12 years to 16 years)
  1. Giving children pocket money (weekly/monthly allowances) & offering them basic guidance on how to effectively manage their expenses, within their budget (allowances). 
  2. Encouraging children to keep track of their allowances. As parent, you can go through their expense tracker on a periodic basis. (the idea is not to scrutinize, but to engage with them in a dialogue & help them learn best practices)
  3. Gradually & systematically, introducing our children to advanced concepts: Investments, Risk covers, Loans, Assets-Liabilities, Tax filing, Financial goals etc. You can offer them experiential learning by involving them in your regular finance management practices.
  4. Encouraging children to think, to ask questions, & to express their opinion. (Don't super-impose your thinking about money on them. The idea is to educate & empower our children by making them well-informed & not to sub-consciously super-impose our socio-cultural-beliefs of money on them).
  5. Last but not the least, the most difficult act - being a good role model :-) Children learn by observing. All the above strategies would be less effective, if they see us walk the talk. We will have to lead by example.

Food for thought!

All of us teach our children, 'HOW to earn money', by educating them to become independent working professionals. Unfortunately most of us, don't teach our children, 'WHAT to do with money', once they start earning!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Parenting Series (4/5) - Jab Self-Control ho Out of Control....

Aal Izz Well mantra, jab life ho Out of Control :) (Image courtesy: 3 Idiots movie)

Jab life ho Out of Control, toh hoton ko kar ke gol.............Aal Izz Well :)

A simple yet profound philosophy, told in the song 'Aal Izz Well' from 3 Idiots movie.

In a nut shell: Life in or out of control, is dependent on random events, on which we don't have direct control. Hence no point in fretting about it, instead let's have a positive self talk - Aal Izz Well... & face the challenges in life head on.

However, when we withdraw from the outward world & look inward, we can start singing a similar rhyming song: Jab Self-Control ho Out of Control...... but in our right senses, we will fall short of concluding the stanza - Aal Izz Well.


We can attribute life 'in or out of control', to random events which our beyond our direct control. Hence we can try to make peace with the situation at hand & deal with it with positivism (aal izz well).

However, the attribution of Self 'in or out of control', ends up only with self (ourselves). Hence, we can't pass on the buck & have a pep talk. The only two possibilities left for us are - self acceptance of our own flaws or to take ownership for self-improvements. All of us know, these are easier said than done.

Image courtesy: 

Before we even embark upon the uphill task of dealing with the issue of our self-control, let's first evaluate the need for self-control, by exploring it's relevance & it's pervasiveness across various dimensions.

Relevance: (listing out few of the direct outcomes of lack of self-control)

  • Addiction
  • Hyper consumerism (impulsive buying, wants over needs)
  • Eating disorders (over-eating, imbalanced towards junk/fast food)
  • Inappropriate social behaviour (inability to manage emotions)
  • Delinquency (wasting time in unproductive activities)
  • Mis-management of personal finance (instant gratification - spending over savings/investment) 
  • Mis-management of self (inability for time management, discipline)
  • Lack of focus towards achieving one's goal (inability to avoid distractions, impulses)

On mapping the above list of relevance, it becomes alarmingly evident to us, the issue of lack of self-control is pervasive, i.e. percolates into every dimensions of our life. Health, Emotional well-being, Social life, Career (profession), Personal life (as an individual, in a family unit), Financials, Academics, Success & Failure.

When an issue has such high relevance & is all pervasive, it should be dealt proactively. 

The concept of self-control, it's dynamics, it's relative strength among individuals etc are a complex myriad of topics. With the objective of drawing one simple, practical lesson, this blogpost is focused on 'Parenting strategy for developing Self-control in children'.

Cartoon depicting Donald Duck's challenge as a parent, in instilling self-control in his child

Sharing from my personal experience as a father, in our home there are occasional instances of my son (now 8 years of age) overshooting his pre-determined screen time (half an hour per day). The typical scene would be, he will ignore our reminders, he will say "the game is almost over", "the game is just about to get over, wait", "2 minutes"! If pushed a bit harder, tears, tantrums & resentment are quick to follow. Last week, one such incident went a bit out of hands. He was not at all receptive, he refused to listen to us, was crying, showing frustration, anger & was desperate to take an additional 15 minutes of screen time. As a natural reaction, my wife scolded him & she stood her ground turning a blind eye to his tantrums & tears.

I am not debating on right or wrong approach, rather just speaking from my own personal experience from my growing up years: yelling, punishment, threats, supervision, external control do not yield long-term gains. These approaches produces temporary results, but it is associated with collateral damages: emotional drama, adverse affect on parent-child bonding, the foundation of self-control is not put within the child, rather the controlling is driven from outside supervision (parent/guardian).

Just look at the above mentioned list of relevance & pervasiveness - it spans across lifespan & percolates across all dimensions of life. Can we parents, all the time hover over our children supervising them?  The answer is obviously a Big No. 

So what is the answer, for dealing with our children, jab Self-control ho Out-of-control?

At the risk of sounding cliche, let me quote the answer "Responding & not Reacting".

Development of Self-control within a child is to be looked as an organic process & like any organic process, it takes time & takes efforts to nurture it. 

One of the practical tool for instilling self-control in a child is making use of 'Parent - Child Behaviour Contract'. (Google search will provide you lot of free resources (templates) for Parent-Child Behaviour Contract). 

The principles of contract as we know in adult world remains the same, when it is used in parent-child scenario. 

Let's ask ourselves why contracts works in adult world? Or why we follow contracts as an adult?
When I as an adult enter into a contract with another individual or an organisation, there are terms & conditions, which are jointly discussed, reviewed, mutually agreed upon. There are consequences (gains & penalties) attached with the contract. Since I am involved in the contracting process & I voluntarily agree & sign, I am internally driven to abide with the contract. 

This same logic translates to the child, when they enter into a parent-child behavior contract. The child is in discussion mode with the parent in a cold emotional state (when there are no emotional tantrums ongoing). Hence the discussions, questioning, clarification, mutual agreement etc are based on logic, mutual love, respect & understanding between the child & the parent. There is no upper hand, rather the child & the parent are equals. Thus the child is more likely to exhibit intrinsic self-control (desired behaviour), while in real time action (i.e. lives up to the spirit of the contract).

Coming back to the issue I shared about my son & his undesirable behaviour of over-shooting his screen time while playing video game. On that particular day, to avoid the reaction (tantrums) & to move towards a responding mode, I made a one time, brief behaviour contract with my son (image shared below).

Parent-Child Behaviour Contract (video games) between me & my son

I agreed upon giving him additional 15 minutes of screen time & we mutually agreed upon the consequence (if he does not stop after his allocated extra time, he misses out on playing video games for two subsequent days).

Since this approach is scientific in nature (behavioural science), the probability of it's success is high & it did work for us on that day.

The plan for us now, is to have a longer contract with our son on his video game usage - pre-determining the screen time/per day & incorporating some rewards (milestone based) & penalty (outcome based). Over a period of time, when his self-control grows stronger, the contract can be modified or scrapped. And as necessary, we can forge a new contract for a different problem at hand. I am sure, such problems will be in abundance, it's part & parcel of parenting :) but it's fun! It's a journey of learning & growing together.

Note: Images from internet search, no copyright violation intended.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Parenting Series (3/5) - Simple tips to cultivate a lifetime Reading Habit

In general, there is a growing consensus about the phenomenon of declining reading habits in today's society. In UK, Nielsen Book had conducted a survey (year 2013) on 2,000 children & parents. The data revealed a 28% increase of non-readers. Though the sample size is small & the study is localized to one country, it still serves as an indicator towards today's global trend - 'increase of digital entertainment, which is eating up the book reading space'.

Reading books has various benefits ranging from intellectual development, stronger skills (analytical, communication, writing, language), exposure to wide array of subjects & serves as a relaxation technique. If reading habit is not inculcated early on, development of these important skills & attributes can be seriously dented.

The cultivation of a lifetime reading habit in a child, can be achieved by consciously practicing the following simple tips:

  • Reading Log is an effective tool for the following reasons:
  1. Facilitates goal setting
  2. Reading log provides a tangible outcome, hence facilitates monitoring (self or parental)
  3. Facilitates positive reinforcements (rewards/appreciation), based on target/milestones
  4. Facilitates social recognition, if reading logs are shared periodically with friends, teachers etc
  5. Visualising successful accomplishments of goals, enhances self-confidence & self-esteem
  6. Provides insights to types of books, choice of books (liking) of the reader
Below is a reading log template, I use for my child. One can customise it, to suit their style & need.

Fiction/Non-fiction etc
Category (Novel/Short stories etc)
Page no. read

  • Role modeling: as parents, we have to position ourselves as a good role model. When our children see us reading, they tend to learn from us through observation.
  • Creating a reading environment: as parents, we can incorporate books into our lifestyle. For example: personal collection of books at home, daily ritual of reading books, discussion about books in family conversation etc.
  • Experiential learning: as parents, we can generate interest of books among our children through occasional visit of book stores, book fairs & literary festivals. Participation in book clubs, library membership are effective measures for developing interests in books.
As parents (guardians, teachers) our primary duty is to generate a spark of interest (motivation) towards books in our children. Only if the motivation is intrinsic (self-driven), the reading habit will be sustainable & life-long. Hence our approach towards cultivating reading habit, should be empathetic, reasonable, age & interest appropriate. We should exhibit patience & not trading off long-term gains over short-term outcomes. The key is to instill willful reading & making the reading experience pleasurable for our children, through the above mentioned tactical approaches.

Happy reading to all!

CBR - Computer Business Review - Children's reading habit on decline (27-Sep-2013)
Image courtesy -

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Parenting Series (2/5) - Emotionally Sensitive Child

In layman's language, Emotional Sensitivity is a common personality trait that causes some children to feel physical & emotional pain more deeply than others do.

Manifestation of Emotional Sensitivity in a child, can vary in it's forms:
Active expression: Crying, Angry, Jealous, Fight, Tantrum, Appeasement etc.
Passive expression: Withdrawn, Fearful, Resentment, Avoidance etc.

At this juncture, let me briefly elaborate the genesis of this blog post:

Couple of weeks back, we had been on a family outing at Freedom Park (Bangalore). The venue was hosting a day long event for children called, 'One With Nature'. During this event, I came across two incidences which left behind a long lasting imprint on my mind.

Science exhibit
In one of the Science exhibit, there was a fun experiment with static electricity - hair of the person rises up due to the charge accumulation. From the audience, a cute young girl child volunteered herself to be the subject. When her hair rose, the exhibitor & audience started cheering & laughing. The young child burst in tears & she was crying inconsolably, leaving all of us feeling sorry for her.

Probably, the child would have internalized this experience (cheer & laughter) as people mocking on her. Possibly, she became overtly conscious about her self-image (looks) & felt deeply hurt within. 

Experiential learning workshop
In one of the Experiential learning workshop, the on-stage facilitator screamed out for five children volunteers. To her amazement, many children rushed & jumped on stage. The first five children who reached on stage stayed on, for the rest the facilitator requested them to return to their seats. One cute child, ran down sobbing & tearful, straight to her mother looking for comfort.
Probably, the child would have internalized this experience (turned back from stage), as rejection. She might have felt publicly humiliated as she was send back in full public glare.

Infact, from my personal experience of being a father, I too have found my son being emotionally sensitive on several instances. Just to narrate a few: becoming over-conscious in social setting; becomes withdrawn when someone (other than his parents) corrects his misbehavior etc.

These observations has kept my mind pre-occupied & concerned for a while now. As our children will grow up through their academic years & gradually step into the real-world, they will constantly face many challenges, hurdles, rejection & set-backs. Hence, our children would need support to gradually overcome their emotional-sensitivity for better self-management in leading a happy, successful life. 

Although children won't outgrow their feelings, they can learn to control their reactions. Let us explore the various parenting strategies, to help our emotionally sensitive child in effective self-management:

1. Rule of Thumb:

  • Unconditional Acceptance - of the child's emotional sensitivity (temperament) is the first & foremost step. Don't try to change your child's temperament. Teach your child to cope with difficult situations in a socially appropriate manner, while recognizing the difficulties the child experiences. 
  • Self-esteem - of the child should always be protected & nurtured. As parents, we should ensure the child feels good & has a healthy picture about themselves.
2. Immediate/Interim strategies: 

  •  Empathy - towards the child should be demonstrated first, irrespective of the issue being trivial or inconsequential. If in the first instance, we brush off the matter the child feels ignored & this makes the matter worse. Though one shouldn't reinforce the crying by only focusing the attention only on the emotions. Gradually move towards guiding the child towards coping skills/problem solving mechanism to overcome the issue they encountered. For example - "I completely understand it must be hurting you a lot....(provide comfort by embracing the child.....after the child's emotions have been validated/understood, the parent can move the attention towards coping skills/problem solving mechanism)....Do you think we should apply an ointment or a bandage?, May be after the medication, you rest for a while so that it heals fast! 
  • Distraction strategy is also a very powerful tool as it takes away the child's attention into other things. However, the mistake most of us make is in implementing this strategy immediately without displaying empathy. Once the empathy & validating/understanding the emotions are taken care off, distraction strategy works more effectively.
3. Regular/Long-term strategies:

  • Authoritative parenting - is regarded as the best parenting approach from the child's development point of view. The authoritative parents establish rules & guidelines that their children are expected to follow, however their parenting style is democratic (they involve their children in discussion & explain them the 'Why' part of the rules). The authoritative parents are responsive to their children & are willing to listen to them. When the children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing & forgiving rather than punishing. The authoritative parents are assertive, but not intrusive & restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. This kind of parenting approach, ensures healthy self-esteem of the child is maintained & it nurtures the child to develop into socially responsible, self-regulated & a cooperative person, over a period of time.
  • Over-protective instincts should be avoided by the parents, as in the long run it robs the child from the opportunity of learning life-skills. The child should be allowed to get exposed to real-life scenarios/out-door activities etc & the parent can still provide the protective shield by displaying their encouragement, support, understanding, love & empathy. This approach, will eventually empower the child & develop their self-confidence.

  • Source of inspiration - can be provided to the child, through the world of books, movies, plays, cartoons, newspapers etc. As parents we can expose them to inspiring stories where the protagonist overcomes various challenges to meet their goals. The child will eventually understand that challenges are universal & will be able to draw inspiration from these stories.
  • Efforts should be applauded & not just the final outcome. Praise the child's effort, even when he's not successful. Hard work, Perseverance, Incremental Improvements etc should be praised, so that they child recognises the importance of these attributes & is not dejected by failing to achieve the final outcome (especially as the child is emotionally sensitive, they will be more vulnerable to dejection upon failure).

  • Compliment the child when they are able to manage their emotions. Praising them at the right time, with specific examples, provides a positive reinforcement. 

  • Sports, Performing arts, Community services - are off great value, in helping the child in overcoming their emotional sensitivity. Team work, Leadership, Perseverance, Goal orientation & overcoming challenges, Self-expression, Compassion etc are some of the invaluable qualities the child would learn through these engagements. 

  • Life skills - helps in coping mechanism & in effective self management. As parents, we should impart life-skills in our children in a systematic manner through their formative years. Examples of Life-skills are: Self-awareness, Empathy, Critical thinking, Creative thinking, Decision making, Problem solving, Effective communication, Interpersonal relationship, Coping with stress, Coping with emotions. 

Parenting with a little bit of sensitivity & being mindful of these parenting strategies, will ensure the right nurturing of our emotionally sensitive child, through their formative years into well adjusted, happy & successful adults, ready to step into the real world. HAPPY PARENTING!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Parenting Series (1/5) - How to find out if a Movie is Appropriate for a Child?

Children undesirable emotions - while watching age inappropriate movie

When the movie Gravity, released (Bangalore, India), I was quite excited, because I had liked the movie trailer & I am fond of space, science-fiction movies.  We planned a family outing to catch up with the movie. Our son, was then FIVE Years old. Through the movie, my wife & me, where taking turns to explain our son some parts of the story so that he could follow the story. During the course of the movie, he seemed to be quite engrossed into the movie & seemed to be enjoying it.

In the days to come, it dawned upon us that the movie had left behind a deep imprint on his mind. During our casual conversations, he would frequently talk about certain scenes like dead astronaut floating in the space, blasts, the protagonist drifting & floating away into the space to be lost forever. At night, when he was about to sleep, he would suddenly become alert & tell us "the images of the dead astronaut is coming in his mind". He will express he is feeling scared & we had to counsel him by reassuring him about our presence. 

The intensity & frequency of his fright, gradually faded away....but it quite a long drawn process. It took about 3-4 months, for him to completely come out of this issue.

This episode was an eye opener for me as a parent & I realised the importance of doing my homework on the media content before subjecting it to our children. After all children are vulnerable to explicit & age-inappropriate media content.

My approach towards parenting has always been cautious & I am quite conscious about parenting best practices. This is what made me to introspect, how I overlooked the movie's appropriateness from a child's perspective.

I realised in our country, the film certification is quite vague & broad. We have only three categories: U, A & UA.
U certificate means, it is appropriate for all age group.
UA certificate means, 14 years onwards can watch it (under parental guidance).
A certificate means, restricted only for adults.

In fact, I wasn't aware of UA being applicable 14 years & above. Only when I did my search online, I came across this definition. 

Also, till date I haven't experienced myself nor I have seen someone being stopped at our multiplexes, theaters, if they have a child under 14 years of age, for a movie with UA certification. 

When this lacuna of our exhibitors & our certification board dawned into me, I realised we as parents have to be pro-active, well-informed & thoughtful, after all parenting is our duty.

Next time around, when Amazing Spiderman 2 & Jurassic World were releasing in India, I watched the trailers on Youtube. It did appear to me these movies were leaning towards violence, especially for my son 6 years of age. But the certificate given to the movies, didn't restrict it only for adults (if I recollect it was possibly U or UA rating). As far as I remember, ironically these movies were being advertised on Children's channel (like Cartoon Network etc).  

I then did a Google search, to find out the certification given to these movies in UK, USA & Australia. To my surprise, the certification on these countries where lot more specific & they did indicate Parental Guidance, mentioned specifically it is not suitable for children below 12 years of age & provided narratives of the inappropriate contents.

Upon further search, I came across few very useful movie review sites, which were running by posts contributed by parents. It was nice to come across these review sites, which were unbiased & written from a parent's perspective. 

I am listing down these reference sites, which will be helpful for other parents, when they want to do their homework on the movie's appropriateness for their children:

  • British Board of Film Classification - 
  • Motion Pictures Association of America -
  • Australian Classification for Media -
  • Reviews by parents community -
  • Reviews by parents community -
  • Reviews by parents community -
  • Reviews by parents community -
  • Reviews by parents community -
The question which remains unaddressed is - What about Indian movies? (all the above websites cater to English movies).

From my search, I haven't come across such review sites catering to Indian movies. So till a Samaritan puts up such a website catering to Indian movies, we as parents need to use our own judgement & do our homework, to decide on what's appropriate for our children. 

I have noticed many Action movies (for e.g. Singham) is being advertised on Cartoon Network & these are being promoted to children through these channels. It's unfortunate that there is no strict regulation in place from the broadcaster's side nor parents are stopped by the exhibitors, if they bring along their children to UA certified movies. 

However , with little bit of thoughtfulness, it should be easy for a parent to make an informed decision for evaluating the movie's appropriateness for their children.

The checklist for evaluation are as follows:
  • Theme of the movie
  • Type of message (Positive/Negative)
  • Protagonist/Role model (Positive/Negative)
  • Sex & Nudity content
  • Violent/Gore/Disturbing content
  • Crude or Profane language
  • Drug & Alcohol content
  • Consumerism/Products (movies do tactfully promote products, lifestyle which can mislead the children)
In today's world, with internet connectivity, smart phones & media explosion, our children are being exposed to all kind of contents. Sometimes, I feel our children are being robbed off from their innocence. It may not be practical (& not necessary too), for us to insulate them completely. All we need to do is to be little mindful & do our little bit as parents for keeping their childhood & innocence alive.

Happy Parenting!