&#8220Build character, not personality”

“Build character, not personality”

Many of my friends are sending their kids to personality development classes. I’m not too sure if I need to send my 11-year-old son, but when I see some of these kids emerging more polished, confident and able to hold their own, I am tempted to sign him up. What is your opinion on this?

Classes of this kind are mushrooming everywhere—for little kids, teenagers, young adults. No doubt, some of them do help but, often, it is too little, too late. After all, can one really buy personality off the shelf?

Moreover, there seems to be a misconception that a “good personality" is one which is heard and seen, with parents complaining their child is not able to “speak in public" or “appear confident". This itself is a questionable premise.

The key area to build is character, rather than personality. And, let’s face it, the core of a child’s character is not developed in classes. The forging of a child’s personality takes place in the family foundry and, some believe, from the womb itself. And more importantly, but sadly, personalities are often prevented from developing or are unmade in this very place, the child’s home. So, before you bundle him off to one of these classes, take a look at what you’re doing—or not doing—in this area.

Here are some prime “personality preventers" that parents routinely use, without even realizing that they are thwarting growth. You’ll recognize them—from your current parenting experiences or from your own growing years!

uFriendship policing:Parents are known to over-monitor who their child is playing with. They heavily screen and sift the company that their child keeps, thus preventing him or her from knowing and interacting with a range of people. “Unsuitable" friends and classmates are edited out of the child’s life and new ones found—usually kids similar to the child in economic and intellectual background or age group. Ten years later, these same parents seek out the best personality development class that will help their child become “all-round leadership material". Doesn’t add up.

uOpinion regulating:Children, with half-formed ideas about the intriguing and sometimes bewildering world around them, often voice their opinions. These may be completely inappropriate or incorrect—and they’re open to discussion. But parents tend to, especially in a social situation, clamp down on this with a withering “Don’t talk if you don’t know", or something even more sarcastic. Some years later, the same parents are putting down good money on “public speaking and self-confidence classes". It just doesn’t add up.

uHumour prohibition: “It’s not funny," parents often say to children—even when some of their or our own mistakes/fears/misfortunes can be seen in a lighter vein, really. We provide clearly demarcated areas of what is and isn’t funny, not leaving any scope for a child to be able to view some aspects of life in a broader perspective. Later, we want someone to teach them how to be positive and successful and learn from their mistakes. Doesn’t add up.

It’s a fine balance, of course, between guiding a child and being guided by his or her uniqueness. But once you’ve learnt to walk this tightrope, the rewards are huge—in terms of a parent-child relationship fuelled by love, grace and respect. And a child whose unique personality and, more importantly, character, shines through.

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com