We Need To Tell Our Kids That They Don’t Need “Super” Abilities To Be Special

A few days ago, we watched the animated film Encanto with our little one. For the next eight days, she went on to watch the film in bits and pieces repeatedly. Apart from having a great premise and a fun family at its centre, Encanto also has some foot-tapping numbers, penned by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda. But what stands out, is the message it gives to parents and kids, something that Indian parents especially need to pay heed to – every child is special in their own unique way and thus we shouldn’t dread raising an “ordinary” individual.

Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard, Encanto is set in Colombia where a young widow named Alma Madrigal receives a magical candle that grants her children and their descendants “miracles” and an enchanted house “Casita” to live in. Having lost her husband and home to conflict, Alma is determined to provide a fresh start to her family in a village surrounded by mountains. Decades go by and the Madrigals bring prosperity to the village with their various miracles, with their children following in their footsteps. However, one of Alma’s granddaughters, Mirabel (voiced by Brooklyn 99 fame Stephanie Beatriz) doesn’t receive any miracle, thus making her an ordinary member of an extraordinary family.

The rest of the film focuses on Mirabel proving her worth to her grandmother, who eventually learns that in her quest to create stability and an indelible legacy for her family, she had pushed them beyond their limits and that it isn’t just superpowers that make a person special.

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For parents, the film is an eye-opener, in times when most of us want our children to achieve their fullest potential. I know of many kids who rush from one extracurricular class to another, online or offline because their parents want to shape them into perfect all-rounders, not a hair out of place. One wonders, why are we so scared of our kids turning out to be “ordinary”? How have parents come to believe that being the best version of themselves, or being good at everything will guarantee a better future for their kids? Or is it that we see raising a “super-kid” as validation of our parenting?

But this pressure to succeed, especially in studies in later years of a child’s school life- does it always lead to results that parents want? According to Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2020 reports, students made up for 8.2 percent of all the suicides committed in the country last year (12,526 being the number given), with failure in examination accounting for 1.4 percent of all suicides, in a cause-wise breakup. We don’t need research to tell us how parental pressure plays a big role in pushing students to their limits and instils a fear of failure. Haven’t most of us experienced it ourselves?

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Encanto captures the pitfalls of pressuring youngsters into performing “miracles” very well. Mirabel’s older sister Luisa, blessed with super-strength is struggling with anxiety, worried about letting her family down. Another of her older siblings, Isabela – who can make flowers bloom and is adored by both her family and the villagers for being “perfect”, isn’t happy with her life and wants to do more with her powers than her grandmother would like. The Casita where the Madrigals live crumbles one day and everyone loses their “miracle” – towards the end Alma realises that it was her pressure that became the family’s undoing. Since it is a film for kids, Mirabel saves the day and brings the miracle back to Casita and her family.

Like Alma, parents too realise the hazards of pressuring kids to perform miracles when it is a tad too late. When children grow up and question why were they robbed of their childhood? Was all the pressure they were made to endure worth it? Who should be held accountable for the impact this sort of rearing has on their mental health?

Parents, especially in India need to realise that every child is miraculous in their own special way, they shouldn’t have to mould their superpowers to match our expectations and fulfil our dreams. Instead, it is we as parents who should shape our parenting to accommodate the strengths of our children.

Views expressed are the authors own.