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How to be Your Child’s Student

Sridhar Ramanathan also blogs at www.ideasrs.com.

My father often used to recall an incident in his life.

Apparently he and our mother had a heated argument. My elder brother who was just 8 years old was watching this.

He went to the other room and appeared with a round placard with the word STOP written on it. He stood in front of our parents like a traffic cop, holding the STOP sign.

My parents saw it and burst out laughing. It changed the mood thereafter.

My father used to talk about what he learnt from his son.

When I was in school, I had started learning Sanskrit. My father had just started studying the Bhagavad Gita. He used to ask me to explain the way complicated words could be split and how to get the pronunciation right. My cousin taught me to play chess; my father picked up that from me. In all this, he taught me one of most cherished lessons. “You can learn anything from anyone; age no bar.”

I continue to learn from our daughter. These days I learn a lot from our two grandsons.

When I mention this to other people they think that I am unduly praising our daughter or our grandsons. They then miss the point. Learning from one’s child is not new to us in our culture. Lord Siva is supposed to have learnt the meaning of the Pranava Mantra from his younger son Karthikeya, popularly called Muruga in South India.

Not in all instances does the child actually instruct the parent. That could be very rare. Learning happens more by observation and reflection.

Yesterday I learnt from my daughter that ‘Watching is not observation’. I picked that from a conversation we had about ‘How montessori trains teachers’. I loved that. Watching is not observation! I remembered many instances in my life where I had learnt by observation and not by receiving instructions. What makes it work often is my willingness to be open and accept an alternate point of view. It did not work when I had a firm opinion that I was right, and I do not have to worry about anything else.

Another thing that works well is curiosity. Especially when you observe a child doing something and ask a question “Why did you do that?” The answers are great mind openers.


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Sridhar Ramanathan is the Founder of IDEASRS, where he is also a Strategic Innovation Coach. Sridhar’s mission in life is “to help those who want to do things better and differently”. His work involves conducting creative problem solving workshops for clients, and buidling competencies in creativity and innovation. He also blogs at www.ideasrs.com.

3 thoughts on “How to be Your Child’s Student

  1. Kritika Srinivasan

    Great post Sridhar – it’s really amazing isn’t it? All it needs is a little openness and acceptance from adults, and we can learn so much from kids. I must admit I don’t really look out for opportunities to learn from my daughter, but sometimes she will astound me with some bit of insight and wisdom that hadn’t struck me, or more likely, that I forgot and ignored as I grew up and became more cynical!

  2. Jonathan Wolf

    Very interesting piece and perspective on parenting.

    I would add (and often do in my parent education and teacher in-services workshops) three additional thoughts:

    1. In addition to observing for the needs, tendencies, talents, and aspirations of the child, it is equally important for adults caring for and teaching children to observe their own emotional responses to, attitudes and mindsets/beliefs about what they observe the child doing or saying. If we are not attentive to our own biases and blinders then we may superimpose our personal experience, perspectives and psychological baggage on the child.

    2. Asking ourselves, “Why did I respond this way to this child?” is a good introspective tool for adults. “Is this a replication of my own parenting experience from when I was a child? Is this an over-compensation in response to how I was treated as a child? Is this coming from an unsubstantiated belief/mindset/attitude I have about this child?

    As Kahlil Gibran writes in “The Prophet”,”You can give your children your love, but not your thoughts. For they have their own thought, which you cannot enter, not even in your dreams. . . . You may strive to be like them. But never try to make them like you.”

    3. Many psychologists suggest that asking someone, (a child or an adult), “Why did you do that?” can be a very problematic question that often creates a roadblock to clarity and creativity. Framing the question in a manner that helps a person look at their thinking and responses in a more narrative or sequential manner often produces better results, such as, “Can you tell what was happening to you, how you felt and what you were thinking before you made that decision or reacted in that way.”


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