Our elder son, 11, is smart, sharp and obedient, except when it comes to studies. He is in class VII and we found him a tutor, but they don’t get along and both say the other doesn’t put in enough effort. My son is only interested in playing football and cricket, and watching mindless programmes on TV. He is also fussy about expensive brands which, I guess, comes from his peers in our colony. He expects to eat out almost every day. I travel regularly on work and my wife has to manage the home and our two sons—the younger one, 5, is intelligent, confident and has potential. Our elder son’s language is also becoming arrogant and his respect towards us is diminishing.

If I take him into confidence and explain things, he understands, but when it comes to actually doing it, he’s lazy. I have been trying to emphasize reading, but he doesn’t like. I do not want him necessarily to come first, but to put in some honest effort to achieve some goals. I work with and successfully manage many people at work. Yet at home I don’t seem to be able to do it.

Within limits: Don’t let your expectations hinder your relationship with your child. Photo: Thinkstock

While parents, understandably, expect children entering class VII (with the spectre of higher studies looming large) to become “conscious, sincere and...put effort towards building a foundation", as you describe it, the child is entering a phase that is nowhere close to these expectations.

Your son is entering adolescence, a time when his preoccupations are extremely personal, as he grapples with leaving behind some childish behaviour, but desperately clinging to some of it too, as the demands of being a little more “adult" begin to close in on him. Much of what is going on inside his head is not something he can spell out or share with you. Through this thick fog, almost, of preoccupation, are demands from parents, teachers, “the system", etc. What better way to escape than to either daydream, get heavily into outdoor things or passive sports watching, and when things get too hot, to act sullen, even rude.

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While your management skills may work at the office, what is needed at home is a high degree of compassion and understanding and “letting be" towards your son. This doesn’t have to be evident to him in the sense that you don’t have to totally let him “do as he pleases" or spell out and verbalize your understanding of him. What it means is that you expect less perfection from him as well as yourselves as parents. Yes, one of your main tasks as a parent is to get your son to study well and achieve his full potential. But this simply cannot happen at the cost of your relationship with him. And it seems from your letter that the relationship is taking a hostile turn. No lessons in growth and hard work can come from such a situation, however much you encourage him or push him in the “right" direction. It’s crucial that you “befriend" your 11-year-old in a genuine way, letting him know in small and big ways that you approve of him. Disapproval only breeds thick-skinned rebellious behaviour.

Second, I would urge you not to compare him with his five-year-old brother. That child is at a totally different stage of childhood, eager to please, learn, grow—and not influenced by peer pressure or the need to establish his own identity as urgently as your 11-year-old. I would be pretty sure that your elder son at 5 was quite the same.

Third, “emphasizing on reading" just does not work with children now. You have got to introduce reading in a way that he can relate to it—sit with him and read out loud whenever you get a chance. Get him to pick out a book, and promise him that you and he will read it together when you’re in town. You may just find that he’ll get hooked and want to sneak a peek at further chapters of the book when you’re not there. When reading becomes associated with the presence and enthusiasm of a parent, things change dramatically.

It’s not easy to remain interested and concerned about our children without being directive, anxious and angry. But if you can insert that much thrown about phrase, joyous love, into your equation at this time, it will go a long way in giving your son the assurance and acceptance so necessary for a child at this stage.

Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com