Cookie-Cutter vs. Out-of-the-Box… What Kind of Children Do You Want to Raise?

Posted on April 9, 2018

“What kind of kids do we want to raise?”

Of course, we all want kids who are happy, think positive, and do good! That’s why it’s our Tools of Growth tagline. Furthermore, we want our children to be successful, resilient, confident, and courageous, as well as kind and forgiving. I believe all parents have that same vision for their children. Here’s the hard truth though: That’s not the result when we drive our children toward mainstream goals like getting the best grades, dressing the best, or being the best speaker on the debate team or the best athlete on the field. If we are simply encouraging our kids to fit into predefined and preconditioned societal boxes, aren’t we simply raising cookie-cutter kids?

My daughter was six years old when she started questioning preconceived ideas. It started with rituals that my mother-in-law followed in her morning prayers in our home-temple room. “Why does grandma light a candle?” my daughter asked. “And why do we close our eyes and fold our hands to pray?”

That led to other questions like, “Why do we have to stay in each grade for one year?” As she got older, she would ask why teachers got to grade her work, but she couldn’t grade her teachers in return. She had definite opinions: Miss ABC was an A+ teacher, because she was “great, kind, loving, and smart,” but Miss XYZ rated a D- because she was “never smiling, had a mean tone, was always angry at some kid or another, and didn’t explain math properly.”

Our kids leave us stumped when they ask out-of-the-box questions like these. Not only did my super-attentive child make sure that I brought my A-game to parenting, she challenged me to seek answers to questions that I had never asked before. She made me dig deeper into the meaning of the rituals that I had inherited and blindly followed. Her questions forced me to grow.

I personally couldn’t get myself to say things like, “Well, that’s just the way it is,” or “That how we do it.” Instead, I found myself exploring the causes of our actions in order to answer her curiosity, which then became mine. I found out why eyes are closed during prayers and why candles are lit in temples. Those discoveries touched my soul and deepened my understanding of myself and my connection with what I did. In many instances, I actually did away with rituals that did not make sense—which helped me keep the things that added meaning to my life.

However, there were times that I could not answer her questions intelligently. For those questions that befuddled me—why do we have to stay in a grade for one year, or why can’t students grade teachers—I responded honestly with “I don’t know.” And I followed that instinctively with, “If you got to decide, how would you do it and why?” That invariably led to some imaginative, out-of-the-box suggestions: Every teacher should go home with a report card of how they did that year. Students should be allowed to complete a grade in 6 months or 18 months, depending on their capacity to learn!

No, my daughter did not quit school nor did we home-school her. She never got to grade her teachers, and she did not refuse to light a candle in temple. In fact, she thrived as a student and dug deep into many religions. She even started an interfaith council chapter at her university. She persisted in her ability to question who she was and what she was doing at all times. She pursued lengthy academic studies in college and graduate school, always maintaining her out-of-the-box thinking and intellectual explorations.

We go on autopilot when we stop asking why. When we conform without understanding, we become cookie-cutter individuals. When we hit repeat or auto-play and do the same things every day—without questioning why—we are merely on a hamster wheel. Who wants to raise kids like that?

Peter Abelard said, “By doubting we are led to question. By questioning, we arrive at the Truth.” We open up our children’s minds by being open to their questions. As kids, they may start out with the simple questions about what we do and how and why we do it. And that may lead to the exploration of life itself—who we are, why we are here, how we are the same, why we are different. We all want to set our children on this path to explore the truth of their own existence. This definitely held true for my daughter. She is still a beacon of curiosity—exploring her external and internals worlds every day, finding meaning and purpose in the relationships that she builds and the decisions that she makes.

It all starts with curiosity. Curiosity shines light on our human habits, urging us to explore.

Exploration is the portal to learning. Learning is the fuel that fires growth. And growth makes life more meaningful and joyful.

So when your children start asking “Why,” explore those questions with them. Step outside of the box with them. And push open the doors of creativity, imagination, innovation, and self-discovery!


First published on Huffington Post.