Are we praising our children too much?

This is an era of showcase parenting.

My child writes poetry at eight.”

Mine reads biographies at ten.”

Mine learnt how to play the piano at six.”

When Re was a baby, I did the rounds of all the parks in my neighbourhood. I always met fellow moms with their babies. They always compared notes on whether their child was turning, sitting, teething, crawling, standing, walking, or talking as well as the others. It always made me tired.

So is he walking?’ one would ask me about Re.

Not really, but with support, yes…’ I would say.

Is he talking?’ they would ask.

Not yet, but he is just fifteen months,’ I would say, suddenly wanting to be some place else.

Mine started talking at eleven months!’ one would declare.

And then I would find another park. Soon, I ran out of parks.

Now I am older and wiser, and also a teacher, so I grin and bear it. I meet parents of budding pianists, chess-players, architects, writers and poets in the making, but what strikes me is that parents these days are somewhat too generous with praise. The child doodles a bit and he is an artist. The child strums a few chords and she is a musician. The child writes a tree poem and she is a naturalist. The child rearranges things and he is a designer. And most adulatory things about the child are said in front of the child. Call me old-fashioned, but I find this weird.

When I was a little girl, my only claim to fame was that I did exams well and wrote, kinda well and was somewhat good at dance. I waited and waited for my parents to acknowledge one or more of these traits whenever people came over. They never did. I am grateful to them now, because that somehow kept me going. It made me feel that I was still on a journey and there was a long way to go.

I think children these days get points just for showing up. Adults are constantly praising kids for things that a generation ago would not have merited notice, such as showing up on time or remembering to do homework. I don’t know about you, but I find it patronizing. And the real world doesn’t praise you for brushing your teeth in the morning.

Carol Dweck in her book Mindsets: the new psychology of success talks about the merit in praising effort, not outcome and believes it’s the only way to produce resilient kids. She says, “I think the way we praise, the way we talk to kids, all of these messages are conveying a value system. So when we say to someone ‘Oh, you’re so smart’, it says that’s what we value. When we say to a kid ‘Oh, you did that so quickly, you’re really good at it’, we’re telling them doing something quickly and easily means you’re good at it, and if you have to work hard you aren’t good at it. Or if we say ‘Wow, I’m really impressed’, and they haven’t really worked hard, then we’re saying that’s what impresses me – that if you make a mistake, if you struggle, it doesn’t impress me.

She recommends that parents around the dinner table and teachers in the classroom should ask, ‘Who had a fabulous struggle today?’

The problem with praise, or at least praise aimed at performance, is that when children are praised all the time, they also feel judged all the time. Children also tend to know when they have really accomplished something and when they have not. They soon catch on if everything they do is “fantastic” or “brilliant”. They can become apathetic to praise, since they hear it all the time.

Praise is also like crack for kids- they can start to require higher and higher doses of it and may feel that there is something wrong with them when they aren’t being showered with kudos. If you shower praise all the time, you will soon run out of superlatives and be unable to tell real achievement from the usual norm.

What I also find is that a whole generation of parents are overcompensating for the lack of time with their kids with extreme praise. Yet time and real engagement are always more meaningful. As Zadie Smith would say, “Time is how you spend your love.” “You’re terrific” is not.

Yes, it’s easy to swing into the superlative every time your child makes you a birthday card or says something that smacks of brilliance. We have all been there. So what do you then tell a child when they do something impressive? Just say what you saw. “Oh! You’ve drawn a house with a rainbow window,” I told Re the other day. I am learning too.

Because every blob of clay is not a Damian Ortega, neither is every splotch of colour a Kandinsky or every recital Oscar worthy. If we are telling our kids that, we are just creating a generation of praise junkies.

This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 1st September, 2014



Rapunzel as told by a 4-year old

Once there was a mamma. She wanted to eat some cabbage. So she went and ate some cabbage in the bad lady’s garden. Then the bad lady got very angwy. She shouted at the dadda. “Why you ate my cabbage?” Dadda said, “Sorry, I did it by purposely. I will send Rapunzel to play with you.”

So Rapunzel went to the bad lady’s tower. The tower was bigger and bigger, but it had no doors. Ony one window for letdowning Rapunzel’s hair. One day Rapunzel was let downed her hair and a Pwince came. He climbed and climbed and reached her tower. Then he aksed her to come down and play with him. “Why don’t you come to my palace? I have somany horsis, somany cabbages, somany new dwesses and shoes and bangles!”

So Rapunzel said ok. “But I have to aks my lady,” she said. So she aksed the lady. But the lady got angwy. “No more letdowning your hair!” she said. And then she cutted her hair. Then Rapunzel cwied and cwied, and runned and runned. Then she reached the beach. And then she met the pwince and the horsi. And then the hair came back and she wore new dwesses.







About a moon

Re has a special thing for the moon. Every night without fail, he looks out for it and when it is not visible, he asks, “Has the moon come?”

Some days we can see it from our living room window, some days we actually walk back with it. Some days we sight it from the park, or on our way back from the beach, or driving back, from the car.

Last week, Re and I were driving back from the library and Re claimed the moon was ‘follering us’. And indeed Mr Moon tailed behind for quite a while and then, the car took a right turn northwards and suddenly, he vanished out of sight.

“Oh no! The moon has taken the wrong way,” he exclaimed.

Oh, really?

“Yes. I think he got lost!” Re seemed very concerned.

“Don’t worry. He’ll find his way back. He should just ask somebody for directions,” I replied.

“Yes, moon must ask for dilekshuns!”

Which I am sure he did. Because by the time we reached home, there he was, again.

The other day, it was new moon day and Re as usual was looking for his favourite evening buddy. I pointed out the crescent and said, “Look! There he is!”

“No, that’s not the moon. That’s the moon’s cuzzin.”

And that’s how the gibbous moon came to known as the moon’s brother and the half-moon as the moon’s sister. There are no-show days of course. When I tell him that the moon has gone for his cuzzin’s birthday party. Or to his naani’s house. Or that it’s a holiday and he is still sleeping, so will come late tonight.

Some day, I will have to tell him that they are all just one person. Right now, I don’t have the heart, so I am letting Re enjoy the visual of a large moon family, complete with dada, mamma, cuzzin, brother, sister and whatnot.

To Re of course, the moon is whole, luscious and in all its glory. We still haven’t got talking about waxing and waning, although a friend, Meera sent me this delicious story about it.  I am planning to read it to Re soon. You can read it here:

Someday we are going to ask the moon over for a playdate. And his cuzzin. Yes, we are.

You are invited too.

The story of a Bourbon biscuit

It’s a weekday evening. Re and I are driving back home.  I have made an exception today and given him an entire pack (small of course) of Bourbon biscuits. As he devours them, one by one, I stare lustily. I am not big on chocolate or biscuits, but somehow the “I want to have what he is having” thought crosses my mind.

“Can I have one?,” I ask.

He hands me one, in  a rather grand gesture and says, “Take!”

I wolf it down greedily. Greed now takes the better of me.

“How about one more?” I ask, rather meekly.

“You cannot have one more becoz you are big. I am small no, so I can have one more. Then ony I can be stronger and bigger.”

“Then I want to become small also. Can I become small?” Now I want it real bad.

He ponders. “But you can only become big small. You cannot be small small like me.”

I rest my case.




Confessions of an ex-sales addict

I am most intrigued by my recent apathy towards end-of-season sales. There was a time when announcements in newspapers of “Up to 50% off” used to make me grow weak in the knees. It was a time when I was on the pull, and buying new things always signalled opportunity to meet new, interesting people (read men) and my life would be happily-ever-after. Ah, the foolishness of youth!

So, there were shimmer and sequin tops, for that clubby night. Rows of beach dresses to rescue you if there’s a quick weekend getaway. Lingerie, in all colors and potential, was a must because your inside should always be as good as your outside. And the ‘outside’ would look incomplete without stilettos, LBDs, shorts, tank tops and even gymwear (although I never got to that part where you sign up for a gym). There were also sweaters, stoles, shrugs, and hoodies bought and put away for a winter that never came. There were candles reserved for that special date (when countless unspecial ones came and went). There were fondue pots for ‘what if I really felt like it one day’ ?
Once I bought a pair of tan boots from Nine West just because I saw Diya Mirza buying the same pair. I don’t know about her, but the said boots got four outings in five years (alas, my trip to Scotland was much before that). Now, they are adorning the feet of some PYT. I gave them away in a Zen moment.

A few things have changed since my days of retail excesses:

I hate trying on clothes. This is primarily because my curves are not what they used to be and it makes me angry when I see stuff on mannequins and they look completely different on me. I feel cheated, upstaged. I would sign a lifelong agreement with a store that sells me stuff without me having to try it on.

I have graduated from an XS to an M in the last ten years.

I hate not knowing what I want to buy or when I am going to wear it.

I hate it when they put three stickers over the original price, just so you can’t really tell whether the mark-down is indeed 50% as they claim or 30 or 20. I always like to know how much I have saved. Even if, technically, I haven’t saved it.

Shopping suddenly feels like too much work. Because once you shop, you need to find places you can wear the stuff to, people to hang with when you wear them, and things to do with said people. Since my universe has drastically shrunk and list of jobs to do multipled post mommyhood, I really couldn’t care less if I wore the same dress (built for comfort) to three brunches in a row.

I have realised that hair is an outfit in itself.

The husband on the other hand is a retail slut. The sentence, “Come let’s go shopping for new dresses for you, ” while may sound like nectar to some are full of nuisance value to me. It just means more work, more trying on, more annoyance. The husband is a sucker for sales that go, “Spend 10, 000 and get 10, 000 worth free” The first time he came home with a hamper from Puma (most of which looked straight from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), I said “That’s way too many clothes and shoes. ” He said no, we can gift them. Aha! That’s a good angle. Do the work so someone else can reap the benefits. I have never heard of anything more nonsensical, so I just shut up.

There are those who get lucky in sales. There are those that build wedding trousseaus from it. I am unfortunately not one of those, save a Mango dress I picked up for Rs 1, 000 and don’t fit into anymore. And when I looked at my booty from sales a few days after the sale and compared it to my credit card bill, I always felt a sense of malaise. As the years went by, sales were not just about clothes. There was furniture. Electronics. Decor. Bathrooms. Books. Toys. Baby items. Real estate. And some. More decisions, more dead stock.

Now I have moved to the polar extreme. I have reached that point of comfort over style. Also I buy things when I really need them (read that as trainers have lost their sole and are beyond redemption) rather than when I want them (and convince myself that I really need them)

In the meanwhile I make sure that every year I donate all my “someday” clothes to a garage sale for an animal shelter or hold a tea and muffin flea market at my place so at least I clear shelf space in my wardrobe. After all, every girl should have an empty shelf, as I learnt from the Happiness Project.

(This piece first appeared in the Crest edition of the Times of India on 15th December 2012)

Things mothers think and do not say: A random collection of tweet-nothings

Dear Re,

Here is a list of tweets (some modified) that have been a reflection of my thoughts about you (and us). I am sure someone is going to tattle and tell you you what your mommy has been writing behind your back, so I may as well come clean.

1.Happiness is finding out naani saved me the last mysorepak from Diwali. Not you.

2. I think I’ll just take me for a holiday. Oops! Where did I put her?

3. In order to love you, I need to ignore you.

4. At the very least, I could have learnt to draw before I had you. Please find someone else as a drawing guide.

5. First the homeopath tells me I have too much testosterone and now you say I am your best boy! Bad timing, dude!

6. Some day you will need to know that I am the boss of you. The friend thing is too tiring.

7. Why are these sinewy lads doing parkour and whatnot in parks while I am pushing you on a goddamn swing? So distracting.

8. Yaars I want to devour a week’s hoard of McDreamy, but McCurly won’t let me. Someone take him for a few hours?

9. The mother lauds my patience with you. She is naive that way.

10. Oh, so your report card says you can fold napkins, sort, peg, open and close boxes and carry items on a tray. Aha, I see a new slave!

11. Dear school. Please open soon. I will pay extra. I will cook for you also. Thank you.

12. I alternate between nurturing face and snarky face so often, I could be Jim Carrey.

13. Every time I am at a park, the horror of motherhood hits me. The small talk… Grrrrr!

14. If only motherhood didn’t have to be so goddamn polite.

15. Dear boy. Saying “I have angry birds paani in my house” will never help you score a playdate.

16. Dilawi. Comed. Gaved. Broked. Telled. Ah, the bliss of imperfection in a child’s world.

17. Sometimes I am afraid you are like me. Other times I am grateful that I am like you.

18. The nicest thing about having you, dear boy, is polarity. There are highs and lows but life is never blah.

19. Dear school. I am gonna miss you. Like really.

20. Dear boy. The holidays haven’t even started and you have pushed back your waking up by an hour. And no, I don’t want to dance at 6 am.

21. Dear boy. I don’t mind your playdates, but please keep me in mind coz I have to hang with the parents.

22. I will still eat the last cookie. Motherhood be damned.

23. Your father is my husband. Everyone can’t be your husband.

24. Your father sends me a mail that CBeebies is going to be discontinued. This is the kind of moronic thing you do when you have a child.

25. Motherhood is work in progress. Whose progress is the question.

26. Don’t ask me to run away. I might.

27. Sometimes missing you is more fun than loving you. Not that I am good at missing.

28.  Dear boy. Don’t try to combine mmmmmmm and delicious. It sounds mmmalicious!

29. Dear boy.  Stop tidying the house just because you have a damn playdate! I can’t find anything.

30. Thank you boy, for bringing back silly.



Age three: Of mindfucks and other games

Somewhere around age three, children gather enough vocabulary and spunk to get back at you in a way they know best. Which normally involves twisting something you said or taking it out of context to say something that will solely be of benefit to them. It also is largely intended to imply that they are not babies anymore and you can just fool them with words, as they have all the armour to decode it. They also learn the art of the subtext around this age, that is they say things without saying them, which is a bit of the mind-fuck as you are just not ready for this level of verbal politics.

So here is a ready reckoner from my life to decode what they mean from what they say:

What they say and what they mean:

Re: Lion was not wearing a tie today!
(What he means: Why the fuck did you put a tie on me? I felt ridiculous!)

Re: Ritushi didn’t come today. And Shaurya didn’t come. And Mahek didn’t come. And Kwishna didn’t come. And Adlai didn’t come!
(What he means: Why the fuck was I sent to school when others bunked?)

Re: Chhotabeeem and Raju are being nangu.
(What he means: Why do I have to wear clothes?)

Re: I want dadda!

(What he means: I have had enough of the controlling you and I would rather be around someone who is okay with me not bathing or brushing or going to school)