Thursday, March 7, 2013

How To Praise Kids

Have you ever thought about how you praise your child? 'Good boy !' , 'Wow', 'You are such a nice girl', 'Very good', 'Amazing!  I am so happy', 'Awesome'...these may be phrases which might cross your mind.

Very often the praise we give to our kids don't have the desired effect. You will be surprised to know that many a times it leaves a child confused.This is usually because our communication is made from the point of  view of the adult. The child is given a message that the praise giver is happy but it leaves the child wondering what exactly caused you to be happy. Hence the child focus shifts to making mom or dad or teacher happy, instead of doing more of  the act which elicited praise.

Here's a EASY way to give effective praise to children.

E: Provide Evidence - what did I observe - state it clearly
A: What Action from the child caused it
S: Say what  the actions tells about ...
Y: ...Your child   [ Highlight the quality you want to see more of ]

Examples?  Here are a few:

What a clean room this is ! (Evidence)  You have taken care to put your toys away after playing with them (Action). I am so happy means you are a child who can be so responsible about your belongings and your room.

I see you have finished your homework. You did it on your own without a reminder from me. It shows you can very well manage your studies when you decide to do it all by yourself.

I noticed you were very kind to your younger sister when you let her play with your toys. I am very pleased. I know that you can be a kind and caring child .

Your plate is clean !  Wow have finished eating all your food. I know you want to be strong and eat all that is given to you.

Some Do's and Don't

Be explicit in stating the qualities that you want in your child - courteous, punctual, tidy, caring, responsible, funny, sensitive, brave, etc

Avoid leaving a negativity at the end of the praise - 'Wow you have finished your food, this time at least', 'You are on time, for once'

 Be enthusiastic in your praise

When someone else praises your child, make it EASY for him or her by explaining the actions which obtained the praise.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Manage Children's TV Watching

One of the serious problems of TV is that it robs us of the opportunity to perform one of the most important functions of the human mind , imaging. When you are watching TV, you are in the experience and the work of the mind in imaging is preempted. The image is there for you. The child's CPU is off, it is a mostly in  a dumb receive mode.

The world of imaging is one of the most important in developing  the minds of children. Children need a few cues to start think freely. They need to develop the pictures in their mind using their own imagination, rather than having the images filled up and deposited into their minds. The creation of our own minds is far more powerful and satisfying - the reason why the movie based on a book you have read is at times less enjoyable than the book  itself.

Young children's minds are also psychologically affected by the content of TV , as much as the parental influences. The subliminal modern day messages about consumption, comparison, competition, win-lose relationships , inconsistent morality and sensitive topics such as alternate sexuality, divorce, death etc can leave deep impressions, if left unregulated. Advertisements with sexual innuendos can leave completely wrong messages with children. The recent crime incident in Delhi has perhaps robbed an entire generation of kids of their innocence. A generation of ten or eleven year olds have been  rudely introduced  by prime time TV to the terrifying concept of sexual brutality even before they learnt their own naughty version of sex  through whispered jokes and classroom giggles.

What Can We Do as Parents?

It's perhaps very simple - Plan your TV usage. Decide the TV programs you want to watch and make time for it. Make your children choose the TV programs they want to see. Make them choose and engage in a open dialogue with you. It forces them to use planning and decision making skills. You can also set a expectation of balance of choices- informative programs vs pure entertainment. Planning TV time  help us to not to be seized by guilt or frustration - whether it's about your own or  your children's TV watching habits .

Also be very firm about the content which is consumed by children. Should they experience something which needs explanation, we must end confusion by clearing the air about sensitive matters. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Developing the Disciplined Mind

As parents we can help our children develop disciplined minds by identifying the gifts of the children, modeling the way of thinking and behaviour, urging them to complete a signature assignment and by providing them with useful feedback.  If you child is good in language, it will mean firstly to affirm the child in your belief ("I see you are very good in English"). The child must also see you set an example  in the pursuit of excellence in a area of your choice. A signature assignment may mean setting a goal for the child - e.g to write a set of stories and publish it in a school journal or on the net. The feedback has to be non-judgemental, supportive and helpful.

Gardner believes that by the time a student reaches college he or she must have mastered the major disciplines of science, mathematics, history, one art form (drawing, music, acting etc). These disciplines are gateways to a range of other disciplines. Without mastering the gateway disciplines, we become dependent on others to make decisions of life or hold viewpoints on important issues- e.g health, politics or economics.

I my last psot  had discussed about the five minds of the 21st century postulated by Howard Gardner.
Here are some guidelines to develop the Disciplined Mind, the first of the five minds.

1. Whatever subject the child is studying, ensure that you identify the truly important topics or concepts
2. Spend a lot of time on these important topics and use a variety of examples to explore the topic.
3. Any lesson is likely to be understood when approached from a variety of entry points. Stories, logic, debate, humour, role play, videos, graphics, computer presentations and even linking to behaviours and attitudes. A diverse approach to think about a concept demonstrates genuine understanding and vice versa.
4.  Ensure that there is real evidence to show understanding by testing  or assessing what has been learnt.  When we examine children  by exposing them to questions which they have not encountered before, we test their real understanding. We can be sure that they can use the knowledge they have acquired only when we test them in unfamiliar situations.

So the next time, you feel content when your child  has completed the syllabus and answered all the questions in the book correctly, think again.If your school is not challenging the child, you must step in as a parent and try out new ways to approach the topic or test the understanding. On the contrary, if the school is stepping out of the syllabus then do not pressurize teachers to stay within the syllabus all the time. Enjoy the situation when your child gets surprised in a exam and do not rush to defend or rescue him.

The Discipline of Memorization  - Is the Indian Tradition of Rote Still Important?

Some may argue that that that ability to think diversely is all very good, but without knowledge of facts and figures, we can't really use the ability of disciplined  mind.  It is true that we must respect the people who know a lot of facts. However it is also true in the hyper connected world of  internet enabled devices, access to facts is almost equal to everybody. So memorization as a skill becomes less useful.

However it is still good to enjoy the memorization of a speech or a poem, or a mathematical table, for its own satisfaction  and not under the pressure of performance.

The Other Type of Discipline

The concept of discipline as the imposition of rules and conformance is not to be confused with the disciplined mind.  It remains fairly controversial whether stressing on importance of daily drill, study, practice and more homework really leads to creating a useful ability in the child.  Psychologists have furnished enough evidence that it leads to no real good in the primary years, yet schools and parents diligently pursue this approach

In the future we need more of the internalized sense of self-discipline, not the ritualized discipline of two hours of homework every day. The disciplined mind develops the realization that one has to be a life long student and truly enjoys the process of learning.  The disciplined mind does not fatigue or wear out and remains curious and enthusiastic about creating life long habits that allow one  to make steady progress towards mastery of a subject, craft, art or profession.

The Five Minds We Must Develop in Children

In a workshop with parents which I was conducting, I was asked a question which put me in deep thought. Are our schools really preparing our children for the future which will confront them tomorrow?  Before one could answer the question, it was  important to understand whether we had a common shared view of the our 'future'. Which set us all thinking about what is going to be the future like...

If you are the parent of a pre-school going child, it is not hard to calculate that children today  enter their job life in 2030s and what they learn must be relevant well into the 2070s.  So, as parents and teachers are we making the rights assumptions of  what life and career situations we are preparing  children for? What if my assumption is that my child must a master a couple of subjects but it completely turns out otherwise. It is quite unnerving,  isnt it?

The people who research the subject of social change and make predictions about  the future are social scientists and new age thinkers. Howard Gardner is one such luminary who has written extensively on the subject and helped parents, educationists and teachers  to make choices  about what we should be teaching children today so that their learning is relevant to their work 50 years from now.

Howard Gardner tells us that the 21st century child will need to have 5 distinct types of  'minds'.

1.  A Disciplined mind - disciplined in the art of thinking, asking questions
2. A Synthesizing mind - which helps a person in assimilating various pieces of information which is freely available to all, thanks to the internet, and is able to take  learnings from one subject and apply it to another
3. A Creative Mind - the ability to create new patterns of thought and think outside the box. To be able to impact the way people think.

The next two minds are most interesting.

4. The Respectful Mind - which is tolerant to differing view points and able to work together with people with very different behaviours and attitudes

5. The Ethical Mind - which is trained in making the right decisions in difficult situations and the ability to put interest of society ahead of  self.

The moot question is how do we develop these abilities in our children. Read the next post on this blog for more on this

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Favourite Books on Education, Parenting and Psychology

The Leader in Me This is one of the first books which inspired the journey of Indus World Schools towards a 21st Century learning framework and confirmed our belief in the affective over the cognitive.

Summer hill... a very deep book on every aspect of education from one of the early father figures of progressive education

Howard Gardner's insightful book on what our children must learn today to be successful 30 years from now


Schools must adpt 21st century workplace cultures, if those values need to be passed on to the children. A must read for school leaders who want to break the boundaries of hierarchy and create open culture in school.

The ultimate book of parenting communication. A must read for all parents of young children.

The self reflection and self-awareness book for all. This book is NOT about smart management of time or priorities. Use it for value clarification and questioning life's priorities. School teachers and educators should read this alongside Leader in Me.

A timeless classic. For creating some deep insights on how personality gets shaped in children from the earliest ages using some simple easy to use constructs. Another very useful book for reflection and self-awareness.

The Last Lecture
As a parent, what legacy of life-scripts do I want to leave for my kids? Join Randy Pausch on his journey of exploration and reflection in the final phase of life.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Choosing A School  - Part 3 - The Process of Decision Making

In the first two parts of this series, we discussed the different types of school and their value systems and the role of a school in scripting your child’s character. A child centric school has strong value systems and script our children in ways to make them winners in life.  In the concluding part of the series we look at the process of decision making itself.

Am I or the System to Blame?

A lot of us parents have grown up blaming our education system and our schools for the various problems they created in our lives. Some of us have gone through the trauma of insensitive teachers who took the life out of a subject, or the huge demands of a stressful examination culture which sacrificed true learning at the altar of marks.
As parents, our own school experience is behind us,  but we do have the responsibility in making a crucial choice for our children.  These choices should be an outcome of  highly involved decision making. This awareness is very important.  If your child doesn’t enjoy his schooling, will you be able to blame the system? Perhaps not.

Decision Making : Who Holds The Remote Control?
There is a very dangerous trend in the brand conscious consumerist  Indian society today when it comes to choosing schools.  We want social reaffirmation for the choice of school they make. We want to be seen as sporting the right brand. Many a times, the need is to show to others that I too can afford a expensive school. Often we use our adult world views to decide our children’s schools - the notions of 5 star ambience, air-conditioned classrooms etc tend to dominate the decision making process.

Many parents see their children as a instrument of winning social approval by claiming that their child goes to so-and-so school. In my interactions with a group of parents I was once told that a certain family had chosen a school which was very  expensive and far away because his company director sends his kids there!

There are also some parents who over simplify the school selection process. After all most schools are just the same, they claim. Many a times parents see themselves as successful products of a imperfect system and think my child will also come out successful if I merely repeat the experience. Many such parents are left ruing their decisions when the results turnout otherwise in this rather complex game of life and education.

A lot of times parents hand over the most critical decision of a school based on other peoples judgements. Come to think of it, most parents obsess over every little thing that they choose for their kids (including their spouses in adulthood!) but blindly go with the herd when it comes to choosing a school. We must be aware that the choice of the school must be made with great degree of awareness of schools and their motive centers and the need of my child (refer to the articles part 1 and 2 of this series)

As a responsible parent, I must do the due dilligence, my own personal research and firmly hold on to my remote control. My remote control must be wired to respond to my values and understanding of my child and my personal vision for the child. The remote control should surely not be linked to my adult notion of comfort and social esteem. Least of all must I allow the ‘education system’ to take its own course in my child’s life.

When My Child Grows Up...

For most parents who are choosing a school for their child in the entry stages, it will be a good decade and a half before the fruits of your child’s education will be tested in the real world. The skills and attitudes I equip my child with today must be capable of holding their own in the 21st century.

It is pertinent to ask what subjects and skills will be relevant most in the next couple of decades. The generation of parents who are successful today are typically professionals, who are technically skilled and possess managerial skills. Most have become successful because they were most adept in dealing with the fact based education systems which tested our abilities to reproduce facts. The current generation has also by and large thrived on the left brain - math and logical reasoning  being the most highly sought after skills - the gateways to careers in IT, management, law, medicine and research. The combination of fact based knowledge testing and left brain (logical thinking) strengths have been sure formula to success.

When we look ahead for the future of the kids, we must ask questions of ourselves and of the schools what is the right balance of skills we need. Most education systems tend to be stuck in their own paradigms and Indian systems notoriously so. A lot of research in the field of education have pointed out the weaknesses of fact based systems of education. The tech support person who troubleshoots your hung laptop or helps you set up the advanced features of your cell phone   is not a ‘real’ engineer. The person you have called is merely enabled with a gigantic  decision support system which knows more than the best engineer.  The internet and host of technology innovations have zeroed the gaps between the fact haves and have nots. Our children when they grow up will no longer win just because they knew more facts than the next person. Still our schools continue to obsess over knowledge and fact, and not the ability to create knowledge and acquire  facts.

New age thinkers like Daniel Pink have already proclaimed that the right brainers will rule the next decades, with their superior creativity skills, ability to relate to people and to do big picture thinking. This kind of research is a huge pointer to what we must do with our kids. A school has to stroke and develop right brained thinking in a deliberate way - a huge shift in the ways our schools think. The choices the schools make in the importance they give to music, arts, dance and creativity will make a world of a difference to our children and their preparation for  the life ahead.


In todays era the nuclear families are getting more and  more isolated, allowing for lesser degree of socio-emotional development of children. Children, instead of spending quality time with their grandparents, are often being left at the mercy of the televsion and in the hands of day cares or maids, or other paid sources of emotional support. Parents are always busy in their 21st century lifestyles, and perhaps the only real source of unconditional affirmations for children are becoming even more scarce. To make matters worse, children watch TV channels which  endlessly feed the Win/Lose script. Channels are  obsessed with increasingly bizarre reality shows, melodramatic family serials  and endless competitions (even children are not spared) - all of which deepen the I Win - You Lose script. A large part of the society who are nursing these win/lose scripts find succour in watching   these  programs thus completing the dangerous circle of dependence and viral growth.            

The decision is regarding choice of a school is not a easy one. We need to understand the power-centers of the schools to understand their child centricity. We further need to deeply evaluate schools and understand their potential  influence on child’s psychological scripting. The view we have the future becomes yet another big factor to decide our school choice. The choice of a school asks a question of your world view and value systems too. Do you have or aspire to have the same kind of child centric and powerful scripting force that you should seek in the school?  Your values must match those of the school if you want to have a harmonious relationship with your childs education experience over the next 15 years.  
Choosing A School  - Part 2 - Impact of a school on Child's Attitudes

All parents are responsible for the behaviour that is scripted psychologically into their children,  A child is born with some genetic or genealogical scripts and during their process of growing up, parents provide them with the new experiences or the so called psychic scripts. These scripts are picked up by children when they model their behaviour on how they see their parents and rest of the family.

The social environment further provides a child with the social scripts which determine how much my school, community, region or religion affects my attitudes. Since the school is capable of making deep impressions in a child’s mind, the role of the school in social scripting is not to be minimized.

The accumulated value of these psychological scripts determine our childrens views and attitudes. Some children grow up with a Win-Win attitude with a mentality of abundance.  Win-Win children are scripted to believe that my success is not necessarily at the expense of others and they constant seek mutual benefit in the interactions. These children grow up to be successful in the personal and professional lives and show leadership in their public and private life.

Unfortunately a majority of our social scripting is very negative. These negative scripts are those which create a  mentality of scarcity. A Win-Lose script says  ‘I Win, You Lose’. These children grow up as adults who believe that their sense of worth comes from being compared to others, that life is a competitive arena and they find it difficult to be genuinely happy for others or own successes. Their life is about possessing, comparing and competing, hence they are always insecure about themselves and do not have a deep sense of personal worth. Since their inner core is weak and insecure, they are unable to have meaningful and effective relationships with others. They usually end up being  ineffective in the workplace and in the family relationships as well.

What Script is the School Wiring in my child’s mind?

The role of the school is very important in writing these social scripts. As Covey says, the academic world naturally reinforces I Win- You Lose scripting which can be very damaging. A child begins to understand that the love and attention he receives is ‘conditional’- it depends on his performance in exams and the associated ranks, which is always in comparison to others.  

Our social systems further accentuate the problem of academics by engaging in more damaging comparisons. The child is often compared to his siblings and peers who are seen to be better in one way or the other.  Parents often see their children as instruments of winning social approval. When a child repeatedly sees his or her  intrinsic value is not recognized, and the seeds of Win/Lose scripting are deeply set.

Choosing the School With The Right Script

While choosing a school for your child it is extremely important to evaluate the schools academic practices.  Does the school have a reputation of being very demanding and setting unachievable expectations from the children and parents?  Most of us are familiar with the culture of parents trying to outdo each other’s child by doing the home projects on behalf of the child. There are schools which allow these adult intrusions into the child’s space. These practices make children feel unsure of their own worth and create negative dependence.

Is the school obsessed with results and ranks? At what age are children subject to formal examinations? Does the school try to do too much, or too fast and or subject young children to age inappropriate curriculum ? Will my child be always under scrutiny and live with guilt of underperformance? Will  a script of high self-esteem be written into my child’s mind?

How to Choose the School?

In the previous article we had looked the various types of schools and the Child centric school in particular and ways to identify such schools. Child centric schools tend to produce Win-Win scripted children and it is important to be able to identify these schools during our child’s admission process. 

Here are some ways to do so.

‘Listen’ to the culture of the school. Signs of humility are a great indicator of openness and win/win scripting. Authoritarian structures are typically win/lose. Try and gauge the nature of the relationship between the children and teachers and management. Does it evoke warmth and joyfulness? Are children and teachers treated with respect? What is the schools view on discipline? Is discipline enforced by authority or is it dependent on children creating their own notion of self-discipline.  Do you see or sense unconditional love for children?

Remember, your child will be scripted for many years in the hands of the school. These scripts must be the affirmative scripts based on the universal principles of harmonious living. They will make the crucial difference in the outcome of your child’s development.