“Enable a child’s dreams, don’t make them your own”

“Enable a child’s dreams, don’t make them your own”

My seven-year-old nephew eats, drinks and sleeps like a pilot! He has been fond of planes and fascinated with pilots for three years now. However, both his parents are academics and feel that he should be guided to develop an interest in the principles of things—such as aeronautics or physics—rather than being allowed to focus on flying a plane. Isn’t it too early for all that?

It really is too early. And, I think the child’s parents should know that no pilot gets to fly a plane without knowing the principles of aeronautics and physics. Why not simply let the child enjoy and indulge his interest? It’s not as if he has to make a choice tomorrow.

We all have expectations from our children, ranging from day-to-day behaviour and school performance to what they make of their lives. Expectations can be a double-edged sword. People who grow up with realistic and positive expectations are more likely to be emotionally stable achievers. Those whose parents had unrealistic and/or negative expectations tend to be maladjusted, suffer from low self-esteem and an overall lack of direction.

When parents have realistic and positive expectations of their child, it means they recognize the child’s potential, create an enabling environment, and encourage the child to grow to his potential. For instance, if your child is musically inclined, you may have him learn music, buy CDs, take him to music programmes. You may encourage him to take part in programmes. You watch his or her progress with interest and involvement. If the child decides that it remains a serious hobby, you’re okay with that; if he wants to pursue it professionally, you are okay with that too.

A parent with unrealistic expectations quickly envisions a future in which the child is a famous playback singer. Nothing less will do. This is a positive expectation, but is quite unrealistic and leads to excessive pushing, disappointments, blame, and other negative situations, including putting the child permanently off music.

Negative expectations are extremely destructive. So many parents “deflate" a child by saying, “You won’t amount to anything. Why bother to study, anyway you’re going to be sweeping the streets…" and other such comments. They think this can shame or goad children into trying harder. This kind of negative labelling rarely does any such thing. And if it does, it is a kind of negative fuel. The child may end up being an achiever, just to prove his parents wrong, but is bound to be an unhappy person, motivated by all kinds of negative emotions.

Also, while having expectations of your children is natural and good, it is counterproductive to have very specific expectations about their future: “My daughter will become a doctor", “My son will become a pilot", “My kids will get into Ivy League colleges", “My child will never enter business; he is going to be an academic". Such specific expectations are more often about your own hopes and dreams than the child’s.

When talking about their future, it is much more meaningful for parents to talk to children about their potential, their many good traits, the opportunities open to them, the benefits of hard work, et cetera. This way, you create an atmosphere of hope and the feeling that the world is open to them. What the child does with this mix of positive things depends on each child’s specific inclination, rather than a pre-planned script written by the parents.

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com