The Emperors New Clothes

Growing up on a diet of fairy tales, fables and Enid Blytons, there are some stories that are etched in my mind and come to fore at intervals.

As I stood along the back wall of a huge community hall watching cute little kids sing small bhajans or recite shlokas off key, I looked around to see some interested faces capturing their kids in a camera or a handycam. Unless it was their child performing, parents looked listless and tired. Driving back home, I was biting back words. I did not have it in me to go gaga over mediocre performances. Perhaps if it were my child performing over there, I would have ooh’d and aah’d and thought that my little star was shining bright. I don’t know.

I thought back to my childhood. Growing up my parents and grandparents called a spade a spade. As I practiced beginners steps from my bharatanatyam class in the space separating the main house from the outhouse of our old style home in Coimbatore with my cousin in tow, my granddad used to smile and say I looked like an elephant stomping on dung. It was all taken in good spirit and I either went on to improve or gave it up altogether. When I sang off key, siblings would imitate a donkey braying. It was what it is. I either had talent or not and it was fine.

Looking around me now, I see friends reward their children for pooping in the potty with candy, or little ones being told “Good Job!” for just being themselves. While I am guilty of spoiling my niece rotten, I am also cynical about our tendency to reward kids for everything. What happened to good old competition and wanting to excel at things? How about putting a child on stage because they are exceptional? When did everyone start getting As for effort? Looks like I missed the bus.

** Now don’t stone me. I probably will eat my words if ever I do become a mom.

18 thoughts on “The Emperors New Clothes

  1. I totally agree with your points. Maybe we think too much before we talk these days. Even I end up doing the ‘Good Job’ routine. Thankfully, haven’t been to the ‘Prize for Pooping’ route with the first one.

    But one thing I realized that had our parents/grandparents been a little more appreciative of us trying new things, maybe we would have been competing like Chitra Subramaniam or MS Subbalakshmi. You never know, it will always remain the Path less taken for that day and age.

  2. Completely hear you on this one – I thought growing up my parents were encouraging, if I suck they didn’t say I sucked but did tell me that I needed practice to get better and if I did well, of course, they appreciated it. Now, I see parents rewarding kids just for attempting and not for doing well – not sure if that is the right path to tread.

  3. The world has become Politically Correct (PC), we have to praise and reward in order for life to go by. I know that I have to bribe my son for him to do things, which is wrong and I do explain to him that he should do things without expecting a reward. He is disappointed when I don’t get or give him things but how else is he going to learn, if I don’t teach him.

  4. Guilty as charged. I was the one who cried seeing my daughter just standing confused on stage. The hubby turned and asked me if I was crying for her performance or lack of it :).

  5. Those moments captured on handycam are often to be found on youtube. I don’t think it’s fair on the children (or on us unsuspecting viewers!).

    Silent Reader-why confused? We weren’t praised at school when we sang off key I assure you…:). But tell me why you’re confused and maybe I can try answering your question?

  6. Ra- your post was a brilliant one , I in fact have a cousin who went to your school, did go to Delhi School of Economics, cracked the IAS exams and is right now in London . May be you even know of him. But when it comes close home I think my child needs small victories like a good job at the potty or some competition to get him motivated. I understand where Lakshmi comes from , that the standards of excellence have dropped in this generation of parenting. But there is a theory of Whale Done too check this link.

    My confusion is when I really want my child to experience a K school he really needs the discipline of a regular school(since he is not self motivatd) , competitive sports is something that drives him. I want him to be a poet ,a writer, an administrator but he wants to play football(as in American- he might be a place kicker with his frame :) tell me will a K school offer that ..what if he is lost there and does not know how to structure his day.

    Lakshmi sorry to steal your space, may be I should write to Ra

  7. It depends on the mental make of the individual.Some people thrive on competition and others wilt under pressure.Parent’s should find out their child’s aptitude and encourage them in that direction.It would be beneficial if they point out the mistakes,analyse and correct them.
    I am an individual who hates to join the rat race.I like to do things at my own pace and ultimately i will reach my goal.What if i don’t reach there first.It’s important to finish what you started than leaving it halfdone.I have observed that people who achieve things are not perfectly happy either.I haven’t understood till now why people are in a hurry to do this and that.Where are they running off.
    I won’t hurry S to do things either.She can do things at her own pace and will.
    I am not even sure now if what i have written is relavant to this post or not.These are just my thoughts.

  8. Interesting post Laksh!
    I agree to a certain extent with Anila. Some kids perform better under the pressure of competition while others crumble under it.
    I think this generation is more about one self, and how one should be appreciated for what he is, and what he can do. Every person is different and unique in his/her own way. Why should be compare against someone else? This is what has brought us here.
    I think its not a bad thing because it promotes a sense of individuality in the kid and increases his/her confidence, instead of breaking it. Parents can reward and appreciate their mediocre work and then continue to encourage them to do better.
    Every kid is different.

  9. @Silent Reader and Ra: Don’t go away. Am loving your discussion. My two cents are that while it is OK to reward the child for small victories, my grouse is when it gets carried into the public domain. It is great to encourage your child to sing/dance/play instrument at home, practice etc and lavish them with praise so they do not give up easily. But think before uploading videos to youtube or performing in front of an audience. Demand excellence is all am saying.
    @Anila: Totally with you on what you say. Each person has his or her way of doing things. When I mean competition, I mean there has to be a standard before performing in public. Mediocrity is not OK. Of course it is just my opinion. πŸ™‚
    @Sunita: Welcome here! Like I said I will eat my words when I do become a parent.
    @Kiran: Exactly my point. If we mollycoddle and pamper our kids who is going to stand up for them in the big bad world?
    @Akay: Glad to have you back on here.
    @manchus: I guess that will always be a point to debate.

  10. Lakshmi , thanks for the welcome and I am here to stay. I come from a family big on everything . Dramatics,sports,music or any art form. My niece learns dance from Chitra Visweswaran ( a comment above seems to have confused Chitra and Padma). My cousin learns mandolin from THE U.Srinivas. They have a different school of thought , the students are not allowed to give public performances until the Guru believes he or she is ready. I

    My child learns an instrument, A has talent -how do I know ,the teacher said so. But A does not practise ! A loves the idea of playing it ,listening to music emanating from it and visualises being a meastro ! The teacher lets the students perform in an annual day just for the parents in a small group to remove the basic stage fright. It is a sort of award ceremony where every body receives one irrespective of talent but a lot of effort is put into the performance. The school of thought is not any different from the above. But do I want my kid to perform in school or in public , I do not know. Is my kid ready ..I do not know that either. This is regarding music . But sports is another domain, you want you kid to perform in competitive sports.

    The point I am trying to drive is my kid would do great in a K school , but A needs a few small victories , an award , few goals to work towards. In a sport you have that , you are working towards something , does not matter if you win or not but there is a strategy. But again A is a dreamer , very perceptive, very artsy ..that is why the confusion. The learning style is very different for each child.

    I am just using A to drive a point. But the public school system is not the best either , we have something in our neighborhood , I know kids who go there and love the way they grow but is my kid ready for such an environment with a different learning style is the question.

  11. Laksh-thanks for the welcome! Some of those videos on youtube make me cringe so much, I have to spend an hour uncurling my fingers and toes later!

    Silent Reader,
    I wasn’t a very motivated person (lazy) and can still be that way. At my alt school I felt like doing things. Also we had LOTS of routine. Up at the crack of dawn, off for PE, and fixed times throughout the day for everything, including “homework” (i.e prep) which I actually enjoyed doing because we sat together in a classroom and did it together in the evening (supervised) whereas when I was in my regular school I would try and find ways out of doing it at home :). The day was totally structured, though we were allowed freedom within it, eg go for violin class instead of vocal, tennis instead of volleyball.

    Competition-there weren’t any “houses” or medals. But if we did a good peice of work we were praised. I still have my notebooks with laudatory comments on my essays! And remarks on where I could improve. For me, the motivation was my teachers’ interest and encouragement, but this can vary from child to child.

    If you show a special talent for something you’re often given extra attention-eg my husband was sent for special math since he was so good at it.

    As for football,they played it at my school, but you’d have to investigate the different schools to see which one offers the best opportunities there at this current moment.

    Hope this helps and feel free to mail me any time you want.
    ps: the link didn’t work.

  12. Laksh

    Your article abt raising children is too close to home πŸ™‚ Actually i have thought abt this at length too.. Whether to offer praise/ reward only for great behavior/things done or for just being their normal selves..

    I guess the answer depends on the parents outlook towards parenting and life in general and also their childhood experiences!

    Personally speaking, i believe kids have passion, great confidence and are curious beyond all. And i believe the primary responsibility is that we do not kill their “spirit” by well-meaning but hurtful words. You have to ensure that self-confidence/esteem is not broken. Because home is primary place to feel safe and parents should provide that, with good encouraging words.. Because i know my son looks at me and my husband primarily for approval.. and you should see the pride in his face when we say he did do a good job.. may be if you look at his “drawings” you might not see anything else other than circles and straight lines, whereas i see the effort he made to visualize his subject and draw it out with his current skills and knowledge. that needs to be appreciated.. and as parents we tend to do is i think an almost animal instinct to protect and cherish our young πŸ™‚

    And for an honest effort, there is nothing wrong in encouraging it.. we can always ask them if its the best they can do and encourage to stretch.. but each age a kid is in, they need to be approached differently.. a 2-3 yr old is not going to understand logic entirely.. they just start developing some basic understanding of cause and effect πŸ™‚ but an 8 yr old has to be handled and encouraged differently..

    i have seen well meaning parents, just to be truthful or make their kid competitive, say words that some how deflate their young kids.. they think it helps.. but each word we speak register in to minds of children and they start believing it.. and we have to be very careful of about what we speak to them and about them.. i see parents saying to their kids that they are too lazy, or too slow, or too quiet, or too shy, or do not have talent for this or that etc.,. never realizing that child will start believing it … again not everyone gets it, some parents do not see the damage they do to their kids.. and after kids grow up wonder why the kids are not affectionate to them or relate to them?

    it takes enormous amount of inner effort to grow out of these words and find the real you as you grow up.. hence my belief that we do not “label” a child or “define” what the child is good at or going to do.. best thing is let them explore, figure out and learn.. as parents we can offer them opportunities to make choices, stand by them and encourage them, make sure their self-esteem remains strong, and be the person the child knows will love them no matter what..

    sometimes we do tend to push a child and sometimes a child does need to be pushed i guess..for example,. my son never used to play in the kids play areas where they had slides and where he had to climb around up and down, an yr back.. we took him often to the park, told him it will be alright (made sure we never said that he is afraid or he is scared to his face or to any people standing nearby), we have to push him the first few times.. but suddenly one day he was able to do it.. its only a small thing when you look at big picture but for me its a valuable lesson πŸ™‚ it took us 3/4 attempts i guess. but it was worth it to encourage a child in a positive manner rather than say negative things abt the situation..

    anyway as i said earlier its the style of parenting.. you just need to make sure you make the right choices as much as possible πŸ™‚

  13. Thanks Ra. I guess I would not know until I try it . If the links are not working or are broken , google for Waldorf- Kimberton.Whale Done is a book by Kenneth Blanchard.
    Will mail you if I have any questions. Thanka again.

  14. Hi Laksh. Good post! Hubby and I argue on this topic often. I praise my children for effort all the time, while he says I am rewarding mediocre when I do it. I had been confused on this matter,.. until recently – when, I had to do something I had never ever done before – get on stage and take part in a saree fashion show in front of an audience of 900+ people!! I was a cool cat until I stepped out on stage. Never knew what stage fright was about until that very point. My body was totally out of my control and my mind was in a state of utter confusion. (Now I know the meaning of “mind-blowing”!! Ha! Ha!). Anyway, the point is this: As I walked off stage feeling miserable and guilty of possibly letting my friends (others who took part) down,.. I was greeted by smiles, pat on the backs and encouraging words for the effort that I had put for doing what I did…. All these from the very friends that I had thought I had dissapointed!! Instantly, and quite magically, I felt transformed again. This time, I felt good about myself,… and belive it or not,.. I felt like I wanted to get on stage and do it again!! Now,… if this is what I am “giving” my children when I praise them for effort, Laksh, I am never going to stop….

  15. Laksh,
    I neither stand mediocrity nor reward it. I do reward good behavior, discipline and the attitude to keep trying and learning more than excellence – For excellence is a very relative term often measured in other’s yardsticks. Even as a parent, I have often cringed and avoided going to places where mediocrity – both Child and adult abound(dancing, singing, badly-written plays the list is endless) . With adults even the cuteness factor is gone. The problem is excellence is a relative term. Also For example I certainly point out off-key singing because I know when the kid goes offkey. Now imagine if the same kid is learning French and I like the idea he/she is learning it and want to encourage but have no clue whether he/she’s doing it right.. This is often the case with many parents. Another thing that happens with parents is a need to project all their own aspirations, childhood misses through their kids thus making people into pushy, hungry for instant success parents. It is regrettable but at some point there occurs a levelling ground and the child itself will realize that he/she does not really have what it takes, loses interest and focus on other things that matter to them as they grow. Oh and lastly I also have this to devil’s advocate thing to add: I have seen some remarkably-mediocre young people suddenly transform themselves in late teens into talented artistes, performers. So what do we say to that?

  16. When it comes to singing, personally I think everyone can do it, with very few exceptions, just that different levels of effort are required. What is objectionable is pushy parents shoving their kids on stage before they are ready. If the mediocrity comes out of laziness it should not be praised, but if there is effort, the effort should be commended, but lets see what happens when I am a parent-may eat my words!

  17. I am just catching up on comments here…and I so LOVED Anila’s comment, please pass this message on to her Laksh.. thank you… Anila, hats off to you, you are so grounded in many ways…for one so young – it is rare that I hear Indians make such a comment as you have done – and I say Indians because I see this kind of rat race more amongst Indians/Chinese…and your thoughts reflect how I feel personally…loved it. Thanks Laksh for allowing me to write on here…

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