At War with Parents – Interactive session

An interactive session, “At War with Parents” conducted at Bubbles Kindergarten was a success due to active participation from the parents. It was wonderful to see parents shed their inhibitions and talk about their experiences related to tears and tantrums and ask questions pertaining to parents role in handling such episodes. Parents also shared about how their own emotions and moods affect their reaction. The important point reinforced during the session was, “Children must be given all the space required to express and vent out their feelings. Parents should not ignore these episodes but should let the child express, empathize, talk, hug and cuddle up and finally ‘provide way out options’. The session covered the following  points:

  1. What are tantrums? What is the difference between tears and tantrums? Different kinds of tantrums?
  2. History – what were the earlier notions of tears and tantrums? What is the present scenario?
  3. What causes tantrums? In other words – why do children cry or rage?
  4. Triggers and what lies behind these triggers.
  5. How should a parent handle a tantrum ? Some important steps to handle a tantrum.
  6. Impact of giving in to a child’s demand. Impact of using carrot or the stick strategy.
  7. Lastly – how such episodes affect the families well-being?

Parents gave critical feedback for further development of this module. One parent wanted to the facilitator to use more Indian examples that were researched and analysed instead of relying on examples from parents. Another parent wanted another session helping children become independent and helping them develop decision making. A parent felt that handouts / reading material should be provided at the end of the session.

We assure participants that we will reflect on this feedback carefully. Not much research has been conducted in India on this topic and hence we had to either rely on examples from other published books or on our own experiences. However, conducting a study on tears and tantrums in the Indian Context seems to be crucial. Shikshanaarthee will definitely take up this research in the near future. We also inform parents we believe in saving paper and we had already planned to email reading material after the workshop.

All in all, the day was fruitful as it provided the parents and the facilitator points to ponder. More information about ‘dealing with tears and tantrums will be shared very soon on the blog.

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Corporal Punishments – when will it all stop?

A helpless mom, probably out of desperation put up a picture of her son with a big red imprint of a hand on his cheek on Facebook. This boy had been slapped by the PE teacher apparently in front of an assembly of children. The worst irony was that all this was witnessed by the principal who chose to do nothing about it.

On reading this heart wrenching story, n number of questions cropped up in my mind. What were the dominant feelings in the boy’s mind – anger, fear, pain, helplessness, sadness? How were the other children feeling? How was this act going to affect this child’s development? Why did the principal choose to do nothing about it? What drove the PE teacher to slap the child? Did the PE teacher feel any remorse? Did they feel that the child’s parent would not complain? Or did they believe that they were powerful and that they could cover up the issue and not get into trouble? What were their notions of childhood?

It is more than 25 years since the United Nations convention on child rights brought in the child rights legislation. Corporal punishment is banned in schools and yet we find many instances of punishment meted out to students. A report published by the ministry of women and child development, 2007 stated that every 2 out of 3 school going children have faced abuse (Unicef India, n.d.). A comment on another blog I recently read noted, “Corporal punishment is very much there. It’s just that it is hidden, it does not get reported.”

Decades ago, the common belief of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ prevailed not only in India but the entire world. Even I have memories of being caned by my school Principal for small reasons like arriving late to school and forgetting a notebook at home, during my childhood, i.e. about 30 years ago. During a ‘parenting session’ a parent revealed that beating and spanking was common during his childhood and he felt helpless as he was aware that he should not resort to it, but did not know how to resolve the issues in any other way.

I can understand this parents’ situation and empathize with him too. Nobody has taught him how to be a good parent. But when a teacher or the highest authority at school resorts to such actions, I wonder whether the fault lies in our teacher training and school leadership courses? Don’t our training courses teach about handling behavioral issues and methods of handling such issues in a respectful manner? Are our courses talking about child rights and how corporal punishments mar the overall development of a child?

The relationship between a teacher and a student is usually limited to a few hours of interaction everyday. This interaction is usually in a class and rarely on a one on one basis. Children are expected to follow school rules and meet the expectations of the teacher. Completing homework, sitting quietly during a lesson, walking in a line, being present on time in school, not causing any disturbance in class are some of the rules a child is expected to follow. The common notion as I observe is that a child who disobeys or disrupts the school discipline needs to be taught a lesson of obedience and needs to be disciplined. Punishing the child and conditioning them to not repeat a behavior that results in humiliation, hurt and pain yet seems to be most commonly used practice.

A few months ago, a forwarded video on a social media site showing a male teacher probably the headmaster, spanking kindergarten children mercilessly, went viral. The video upset me a lot. The teacher seemed to be deriving a lot of pleasure in spanking the little children. What this man resorted to was clearly an abuse of power, authority and responsibility bestowed on him by  parents and the society in general.

The teacher is in charge of the students and is responsible for maintaining class discipline and ensuring that all their students learn. In our system, the teacher is the ‘giver’ and the student the ‘receiver’. To add to this is our deep rooted tradition of ‘worshiping the Guru’ and the common belief that ‘teaching is the most noble profession.’ While I am sure most teachers do not misuse this power, a handful do use of force, threats and deterrents in the form of verbal and physical abuse.

A close acquaintance shared, “we got beaten, spanked, punished – but see we are all doing fine. During an interview, a teacher from a Government school justified the use of cane. “This is the only way to discipline the child and I am sure we will see the fruits of it when he grows up” he proclaimed.  Yes, most of us a are doing fine, but we could have been better without experiences of such punishment and abuse.

Is there a feeling of remorse or guilt on seeing a child wince in pain, or shudder with fear at the very sight of cane? Aren’t these teachers troubled by the fact that they are the reason for the humiliation, the pain and fear they have caused among children? Are these teachers aware that such actions are wrong not only ethically but also in the eyes of law? Or is it the confidence that they will never get caught that drives them to such behavior? Or is it out of frustration of being unable to get a student to comply with the demands of a teacher or rules of a school?

The world has come a long way since the Puritan view of children being little devils and sinners who needed to be tamed and disciplined. Today it is the age of the ‘Rights’. Every living being on this earth has a right to survival and protection from harm. The need of the hour is for teachers to unlearn these olden ways of disciplining and taming and explore newer methods which keep intact the self-respect and dignity of the students. Kofi Annan very aptly puts this as, “There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.”

I welcome responses that would give the teaching fraternity insights on how to handle questions of disciplining children, without having to resort to physical and mental abuse. Any one interested in writing a piece on ‘positive ways of disciplining children’ are most welcome to send me their requests at shikshanaarthee@gmail.com.

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Why threats don’t always work?

My son came home all hot and angry. He was clearly upset and frustrated about something. He banged the door of his room and claimed that he did not want to talk to anybody. I got to know about his anger when I came home after a tiring day.  He had cooled down by then and seemed ready to talk. He had gathered his thought and proclaimed, “Mamma, everyone is so unfair. That aunty shouted at me. It was not my fault at all. I did not do anything.” A further probe revealed that a boy from his school bus had teased him endlessly and when the teasing became unbearable, he hit the boy. The boy had probably not expected this reaction from my son as my son is the one who is usually the helpless one and started crying loudly. On seeing this boy cry at the bus stop, this other child’s mother threatened my son and warned him against bullying other children.

My son was upset, not because of his fight with this other boy, as the two of them had forgotten their fight a couple of days later; but because of the way the situation was handled by this other child’s mother. After listening to him, I inferred that probably my son was upset that she had made him out to be this vicious bad boy, who bullied children for no reason.

A few days ago, I was at a Government school. The scale or a stick seemed to be the prized possession of every teacher. In the absence of the teacher, it came in the possession of the ‘class monitors’. These class monitors, used it in the same way as their teachers, poking, tapping, beating. Every time I saw the scale being used either by the teacher or the class monitor, I looked at the child enduring it and every time I saw the child first wriggle in pain, swallow his tears and either display anger or fear. When I observed a teacher beat on a bulky teenager’s knuckles, I saw anger in the eyes of the fifteen year old and he seemed to be ready to give it back to the teacher. I recalled the Chennai incident, where a boy had planned and killed a teacher as she reprimanded him for continuously scoring low grades. Luckily for the teacher, this boy did nothing of that sort. He swallowed his anger and went back to his seat.

I do understand and believe that it is difficult for the teachers to manage a big class. It is a complicated situation for the teachers. Most have not learnt or experienced any other ways of disciplining children. They do what was done to them in their childhood. In the earlier days, the authority of the teachers or an adult was unquestionable. However, times are changing, children are more aware of their ‘self ’and their feelings. They also have a sense of being fair and just.  My son was angry because, this mother hadn’t tried to understand the situation from his perspective. While narrating the episode to me he said, “She doesn’t know me and she did not know what happened.”

This mother had used verbal threats which are as damaging as a physical beating. What worried me is that children need to learn positive ways of managing their anger and the way the adults handle situations of anger does not help at all. In my son’s case, by threatening my son, this mother actually taught him to threaten. For the very next day, my son held his little brother’s hand tightly, just the way this mother had held his hand and said in an angry voice, “If you do this again…, I don’t want to see you do this again or else…” I wondered whether, he was echoing this mother’s words.

Threats are very commonly used by all adults. When I get angry with my kids, which is usually over keeping their room untidy or for pecking at their food, I tend to slowly increase my volume. It usually begins with gentle reminders, then is followed by coaxing and cajoling and when that doesn’t work it ends up in a threat – ‘You will be allowed to go out to play only if you clean your room or finish your snack in five minutes’ or at times the threat is, ‘I shall give away all the toys that are not in their place.’ However, are threats helpful in the long run? Do children learn to take responsibility and ownership when they are threatened into doing something? Well, I do not think so. All it does is to teach children to threaten on one hand or to comply out of fear on the other. These very children grow up and use the same strategies to discipline their own children and the vicious cycle continues.

Gone are the days when obedience and compliance was blindly accepted as way of behaviour. Children today follow logic and reason. ‘Because I told you so…’ or ‘this is how it is…’ are statements that constrict critical thinking abilities and problem solving abilities of children. Such statements disallow children from understanding the reasoning behind why they are expected to do something and shifts the responsibility and ownership of the action from the rightful owner of the action, thus making it imperative to help children understand the ‘why should I do this?’ question, through logical reasoning about cause and effects and natural consequences.

Natural consequences are consequences that emerge naturally from an ‘action’. Thus the natural consequence of keeping the room untidy is to not find something when you need it urgently. An unnatural consequence would be denial of a favorite activity of the child like watching TV or going out to play. In a classroom situation, a natural consequence for incomplete homework or classwork would be less revision which would affect recall, class participation and performance in tests; unnatural consequence would be beating a child or punishing the child. Thus the job of teachers and parents is not to force compliance or use deterrence and fear as a tool, but leave nature to take its course. This way, children will not comply out of fear or comply out of respect; but would comply because their sense of logic and reasoning states that the action is a beneficial one and that non-compliance will lead to something that affects them negatively in future. It is rightly said by Harry Browne, “Everyone will experience the consequences of his own acts. If his acts are right, he’ll get good consequences; if they’re not, he’ll suffer for it.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Teacher Plus Magazine in the April 2015 issue http://www.teacherplus.org/things-to-think-about/why-threats-dont-always-work

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On Becoming a Parent

An interactive session – ‘On Becoming a Parent’ – was conducted at Bubbles kindergarten, Baner, Pune on 24th October. This session held in two batches was attended by approximately 100 parents. Parenting scenario today and the differences between parenting a few decades ago and parenting today were discussed. The session highlighted the basic concerns of parenting and explained tips on overcoming these concerns through the ABCDEs of parenting.

Parents attending found the session useful and much needed. One parent shared that it was a good session, however in a smaller group, the interaction would have been more productive. This parent wanted more such sessions, but in smaller groups. Many parents suggested topics for further sessions: handling tantrums and dealing with aggression, disciplining children, healthy eating habits, safety, strangers, answering questions raised by children and raising shy children. One parent noted, “Now we know the ABCDEs of parenting. We would like to know the F to Z too.”

Please do drop in an email at – shikshanaarthee@gmail.com to enquire about conducting such workshops.

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Twelve tips to selecting the right preschool for your child!

preschool-clip-art-KcnBq87cqA few days ago a close acquaintance revealed that she was completely stressed out worrying about ‘getting admission’ for her daughter in a good school. Her daughter would turn two years old in a couple of months and the anxious mother wanted to ensure admissions for the next academic year starting in June. She had endless questions in her mind such as – “do I send her to an independent preschool or a preschool attached to a big school? Are school chains better than schools without any branches? How do I decide which school is the best? What about safety, transport…?”

As her list of questions kept increasing, I realized that the decision regarding schooling is probably one of the most important decisions in parenting. It is also a personal decision which has to be taken by the parents themselves. Friends, relatives and acquaintances can help by giving a feedback, but the decision finally rests with the parents.

The growing number of preschools, their branding and large-scale advertising often confuses parents, making it tougher for parents to make the right choice.  Selecting a school for my children was a difficult decision for me. The different schooling perspectives baffled me. The entire exercise of selecting the right school was overwhelming for me too. The twelve pointers that helped me take this decision for my children were

  1. The nature, personality traits of my child: Am I aware of my child’s preferences, likes, dislikes, sources of joy and happiness? It is important for parents to select a school where the child will be comfortable, happy and enthusiastic about learning. A child who loves the outdoors will probably not like to sit in a closed classroom throughout the day. Similarly a curious child would want his curiosity to be satisfied at school and children who have never stayed outside their homes, without their mothers will need a warm, loving atmosphere which is like their home.
  2. School demographic profile: this includes seeking answers to questions of location, year of establishment, whether the school is part of a chain, its religious, political or social affiliations, number of teachers, students and background of the children.
  3. Pedagogy / Approach / Methodology: Preschools today offer various options with regard to the pedagogy, approach and methodology used for teaching. In India we have the Montessori, Kindergarten, Steiner and many other philosophies as well as methods developed by international parties such as Singapore, Canada and America being most popular. Each of these approaches are different and are based on different notions of childhood, teaching and learning. However what is crucial is an understanding of these approaches and reflection on what approach the parent feels is the best for their child.
  4. Facility, the school environment and resources: Your child will be spending a few hours away from home for the first time and hence it is important to check the school’s premises for indoor, outdoor space, toilets, safety, comfort, cleanliness and hygiene.
  5. Transportation: Most schools provide transportation facility. Some school own their vans or buses while some schools hire other transportation services. Information regarding safety of children when in transit and also the distance and time taken for travel is imperative.
  6. Fee Structure: Parents need to analyse their financial situation and decide whether they can afford the school fees and whether they are getting their money’s worth at the school. Hence asking questions pertaining to fee structure, installments and refunds helps the parents in their decision. It is also beneficial to ask whether books and stationery, uniforms, field trip expenses and meals are included in the fees charged.
  7. School size, student teacher, classroom ratio: It is important not only to know how many children have enrolled in the school, but also how many children are in each class and how many teachers handle the children at any point of time. Along with the student teacher ratio, the parent should enquire into the size of each classroom and check whether there is ample space for children and teachers inside the classroom.
  8. Teachers: apart from experience and qualification of the teachers, the parent should explore if they could talk to a few teachers. The parents should try to gauge the teachers’ personality, their views about teaching, their notions about childhood and children during this discussion.
  9. Parental involvement: Some schools are very demanding on the parents and expect parents to be involved at every step of their child’s schooling. Such schools involve parents in completing homework/project work and organize events and parent days regularly. Some schools are happy with minimum involvement of the parents. Such schools often have a no homework policy and get children to complete projects in the school itself and rarely call the parents for an event or meeting. Seeking information regarding this helps parents evaluate time available on their hands and demands of the school and decide whether they can meet all the requirements of the school.
  10. Feedback from other parents: Feedback from parents is crucial yet tricky. Parents should ask specific questions instead of – ‘how is the school?’ for which they may get a monosyllable answer either good or bad or its okay. Parents should think about a few things that are important for them and ask relevant questions such as – where did the children go for a field trip? What did they do over there? Did your child come back happy? Or do you get homework every day? What does the teacher do if a child hasn’t submitted homework? Or can you share a few good traits of the teacher?
  11. Admission to the Primary school: Most parents do get worried whether the children will get admissions in the primary school after completing kindergarten. Some parents thus prefer seeking admissions in a preschool affiliated to a primary and high school while others try to understand how the preschool prepares children for the next level. While some parents focus only on developing the foundation, some want children to ace the entrance tests or interviews set up by the next level schools. Thus an understanding of how the preschool will help in preparing the child for the next level school helps in taking a decision.
  12. Reason out and decide: Finally, parents should reason out whether a particular school is apt for their child. Keeping in mind that, ‘Sometimes the best rated school may not be the best for my child’, the parent should carefully weigh all the pros and cons and take a conscious decision.

Happy Preschool hunting!!

Coming soon –   What is the right age to start schooling?

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