• Carolyn

How to raise happy kids

These days, it seems that no sooner has sperm met egg, than the womb becomes our children’s first classroom. Unborn babies become a captive audience for classical music blasted in utero before they even have ears. Once delivered, the curriculum begins proper: flashcards before they can properly see, sign language class before they can talk and swimming classes before they can walk. Pre-school while they can barely speak and classes by the dozen to give them a head start in life.

I remember, when I brought my first school report home, I’m sure my mother was pleased to read the comment: “Your daughter has done well, but there is scope for improvement”. I mean, I had done well, right? What was there to not be happy about?

So why then, 20 years later, when I opened my son’s report with trembling hands, did I feel so nervous?

How, like millions of other parents, had I come to believe that I was entirely responsible for whether my child excelled in academics or not?

Not only in academics, but also in sport, art, music. Why is it so important that our children must excel at everything they do? Once if a child had a talent, it was viewed as a God-given gift. Isn’t it enough that they play a sport for the love of the game? Or that they dance because it feels like their feet have wings? Or that they draw and paint because they want to tell a story? There is no need to push them to do a class just because their friends are doing one and it comes highly recommended. No. Instead ask them if they are interested in doing that particular class.

Kids these days, in addition to spending 7 to 8 hours at school, also spend roughly about 6 hours a week doing some extracurricular activity. So, if they are investing that much time, it best be towards something they enjoy doing thoroughly.

I wouldn’t say that it is the fault of us parents. I am a mum too, and yes, my kids do classes as well. We are, after all, bringing up children in a competitive culture, encouraged by peer pressure and status-obsessed schools. We are made to constantly fear that we are never doing enough to help our children succeed in a cut-throat world where everyone wants to be better than the next guy.

But I really do feel like it is time for us to reclaim a carefree childhood for our children and to enjoy parenting once again. We need to stop raising our children on the principles that they must beat everyone in their class, or that they need to win man of the match at every football game or that they need to get a back belt in karate or else they haven’t done a good enough job. Give them the freedom to make choices for themselves. Give them the opportunity to enjoy some quiet playtime at home or something as simple as a cycle ride in the building compound or a stroll in the park to let loose on the swings and slides and the jungle gym. That is what most of us grew up with, isn’t it? We didn’t go to fancy classes, instead we played in the mud and made mini gardens out of stones and fallen flowers. That was a childhood I have some wonderful memories of and I don’t think that such activities will ever go out of style.

At the end of it all, I will say this. “To each his own”. But let’s remember one thing.

Happiness and security, not exam grades, not having a kid who is better than the best, should be the real measure of parental success.

So, let’s be careful what we wish for.


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