“You must be your children’s greatest champions”

Dipta Joshi interviewed well-known educator Kiran Bir Sethi and former world billiards champion Geet Sethi on the importance of steadfast parental support for growing children

Kiran Bir Sethi (KBS) is founder of the top-ranked Riverside School (estb.2001), Ahmedabad and Design for Change (DFC), an extra-curricular experiential learning programme which encourages school children worldwide to design and implement socio-economic development programmes in their school neighbourhoods. Since its launch in 2009, DFC has attracted participation from 2.2 million children in 40,000 schools in 65 countries around the world. Kiran’s husband Geet Sethi (GS) is former world billiards champion who dominated the sport throughout the 1990s and is a Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee. They have two children — Raag (27), a teacher educator and daughter Jazz (23), a choreographer. 

What’s your parenting philosophy? 

KBS: I believe having a sense of humour is essential. Good parenting means not sweating over small stuff. I have two children at home and 400 at school. So I focus on what matters, which is instilling good values in children and encouraging open conversations with them. Good humour and laughter make parenting an enjoyable experience.    

GS: Every parent wants to be a good parent. I believe children need different parenting philosophies at different ages and stages of their lives. There are times when you need to stand by them, when you need to discipline them and times when you need to encourage them to become independent. 

Kiran, as founder of the Riverside School, you pioneered an experiential learning pedagogy in a stress-free environment. However most parents are obsessed with exam performance…

KBS: My daughter, Jazz, was my first student at Riverside but never during her schooling did I ask her teachers about her grades. My expectations have always centred on how honestly work was done by my children, the respect they have for tasks and people they interact with. I believe a child with integrity will do her work diligently. Today, my son is involved in teacher training while my daughter choreographs the dance performances of Riverside School.

Most Indian parents are too focused on academics and don’t encourage their children to play sports. What’s your advice to them?  

GS: Parents often discourage children from playing sport seriously because they believe only the very talented are able to make a living as professional sportspersons. But playing sports and games has numerous benefits which is good reason why parents need to integrate sports into their children’s education. Apart from obvious health and fitness benefits, play teaches children to cope with failure and success, work in teams, builds will power, persistence and character and develops decision making skills. Therefore, parents should encourage their children to play sports from an early age. 

The Design for Change programme encourages school children to conceptualise and implement socio-economic development programmes in their neighborhood. How important is it to instill empathy towards the less privileged and passion for social change?

KBS: There’s too much focus in education on being the smartest, fastest and strongest. Success is measured more by academic outcomes rather than student well-being. As a result of this ‘either, or’ approach, our children are graduating with content and no character, job-ready with no passion or compassion.

The prime objective of Design for Change is to educate the head and heart. DFC introduces primary-secondary school children to a simple four-step design thinking framework we call FIDS. We ask children to do four simple things; feel, imagine, do and share.

I believe the goal of education is to make children more humane and empathetic. And parents have a big role to play in encouraging children to believe that change is possible and they can drive it.

Parenting has become more complex than ever before in urban India. How do you suggest parents cope with its many challenges?

KBS: Unfortunately, modern-day parents tend to rely too much on the Internet for parenting advice. If you want to be a good parent you need to have engaging conversations with your children. If there is a poverty of conversation at home, children will seek information and solace outside the home and spend disproportionate time on the Internet. 

Also, parents should not pack their children’s days with a plethora of activities. Too many activities will wear them down and transform them into generalists without special enterprise. Choose after-school activities carefully after consulting your children.  

What’s your final message to parents?

GS: Don’t become helicopter parents monitoring every activity of your children! 

KBS: I have two bits of advice. First, remember, you chose to be parents, and therefore you must be your child’s greatest champions and stand up for them. Second, you must be role models to your children.

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