Monday, November 22, 2010

Child Psychology and Education

The role of the school is not restricted to mere imparting of knowledge. Children spend a major chunk of their time in school. They learn a lot more than History, Maths and Science! They learn to respect elders and peers. They learn to share, care and value each other. They learn modes of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, they learn morals and ethics……thus, schools and teachers play a major role in shaping and moulding a child.

As such, having some insights into how a child thinks, perceives, responds and interprets situations is critical for a teacher. A teacher who is able to see beyond a child who hits other children, and is sensitive to his mind, will know that he is probably being abused by someone at home. A sensitive teacher will notice a child who is quiet and withdrawn, and will try to understand his state of mind…..

A teacher need not be an expert in child psychology to be able to do this. Many experienced teachers will be able to instinctively tell what is going on in the mind of a child. However, some knowledge and understanding of basic principles of child psychology will certainly be helpful.

Let us look at some of the basic behaviours of children, and try to get an insight into the motives behind their behaviours.

· Negative Attention is Better Than No Attention: This is something which most teachers will have noticed. Every child craves for the teacher’s attention. Especially for you preschool teachers, you will have experience of children clamouring to show you little things, tell you stuff so that they have your attention. A child who feels that he or she is not receiving enough attention from you, will try and get your attention in various ways. If he feels good behaviour is not getting the attention he wants, he will resort to talking out of turn, hitting others, screaming so that the teacher’s attention is drawn to him. Remember, a lot of children’s misbehaviour is a cry for attention!

· Children Cant Express Their Troubles: Remember, most young children have not yet developed the skills to express what they are going through with the use of words. Thus, when children are upset, for whatever reason, you will detect changes in their behaviour. You will notice them doing things that they usually don’t do. A talkative and bubbly child will suddenly become withdrawn, a peaceful child may become aggressive….when you notice such changes, try to explore what is bothering the child.

· Children Possess High Doses of Imagination and Creativity: As teachers, its critical that we don’t, in any way, discourage this creativity. Children will often come up with novel and innovative suggestions, ideas that you and I wont even be able to think about… times, we may inadvertently discourage creativity in children. For example, one child in Jr.K.G. drew a landscape painting. Looking at it, the teacher exclaimed, “Its beautiful Rosie, but why have you painted the river purple? Water is never purple!” Well, the teacher is right, but a good way to teach this to the child would be to first ask her why she had drawn the water purple….you might be amazed with the answer!

· Children Learn Through Exploration: Children learn the most till the age of 7 years. During this phase, we have to allow them to explore their environment, find things out for themselves, and encourage their curiosity. Allow them to mess up with paint and paper, and above all, allow them to make mistakes while they learn to write, draw, and learn concepts!

· Every Child Is Unique: We often say that every child is unique, and then we compare children to each other and expect them to behave in a certain way! As teachers, its important for us to remember that every child is unique and special in some way, and no matter how experienced you are, there are going to be times when something some child does leaves you stunned for a minute. At such times, dealing with the situation sensitively will go a long way in boosting the child’s morale.

· Children Need Roots As Well as Wings! Children, when they first start attending school, have very little experience with structure. And all said and done, school entails some form of structure, rules and disciplines, even at the pre-school level. While this is certainly important and even desirable, as teachers, you need to be sensitive to the fact that you will have to help the child slowly get accustomed to structure and start internalising it, rather than follow it out of compulsion. At the same time, it is also important to give them enough space and freedom to allow their imagination and curiosity to thrive. This is a key challenge for every teacher: this balancing act between structure and freedom. As someone has so rightly said, we have to give our children wings to soar, while at the same time, give them a sense of security and belongingness, of being rooted firmly in reality!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Marital Counseling: Myths and Facts

Even in today’s modernized India, visiting a psychologist or a counselor is looked down upon by many people. For most people, a psychologist is only for the “crazy” people. This is far from reality. Psychologists can and do help people who are having difficulty coping with a current life situation. Most “normal” people go through certain crises, certain difficulties at varying points in their life, and at times it may become difficult to cope with these difficulties. At such times, counseling can definitely help!

One such area in which a psychologist can help is when your marriage is going through a rough patch. Marital counseling or marital therapy is very much the need of the day. Day by day, psychologists see an increase in the number of couples who come to them to seek their help in sorting out their marriage……why is this the case? A look at the statistics will show us that the divorce rates in urban India are on the rise. The very definition of the term “marriage” has altered; it is no longer seen as a “Till death do us part” kind of a commitment. Couples today have different expectations from their marriage and from their spouse, different roles to play in the relationship, and different ways of coping with difficulties then was the case earlier. With women becoming more independent, emotionally as well as financially, the status quo within the partners has changed. Whereas earlier the woman was assumed to be the submissive partner, this is no longer accepted by women today. This in turn has given rise to issues related to equality, responsibility sharing within the marriage and the dividing lines between the roles played out by the husband and the wife have dimmed.

So, if the above scenario applies to you, if you identify with one or more of the issues mentioned above, what should you do? Where does this leave you and your marriage? Is it a totally hopeless scene for you? Or do you think you can seek the help of a marriage counselor to help you sort certain things out?

Before you answer to this question with either a “Yes” or a “No”, let us look at some of the myths regarding marriage counseling, as well as the facts.

Myth: You should not take your internal family problems to the outside world. You have to deal your problems on your own.

Reality: At times, when you are undergoing a stressful situation, you tend to lose perspective, and it becomes difficult for you to assess the situation objectively. Your family and friends are also involved, because they care for you, and they will tell you whether you are “right” or “wrong” in behaving or thinking in some way. They may also be unable to be objective about what you are going to. They are either on your side or your spouse’s! A marriage counselor, on the other hand, is trained to help you see the situation in an unbiased, objective manner. He or she has no vested interest in anybody’s side, and his/her only intent is to help you assess the situation in a better way so that certain conflicts can be resolved.

Myth: I am totally confused and don’t know what to do. I will go to a marriage counselor who will tell me what I should be doing.

Reality: A therapist will not take a decision for you! S/he will help you see the pros and cons, assess certain conflict areas objectively, take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions and arrive at certain conclusions. S/he will not advise you on what you should be doing; the ultimate decision has to be yours and your spouse’s.

Myth: I will go to a therapist as a last resort, if nothing else works.

Reality: My clinical experience has shown that the earlier the couple comes to the psychologist, the more likely they are to remain in the relationship. When conflicts escalate, a lot of bitterness and resentment in created is the minds of the spouses, and after a certain point, it becomes difficult to put that behind and work on the marriage. So the moment you realize that things are going out of your control, contact a marriage therapist! It will help you cope with problems before they become too big.

Myth: Counseling will definitely save my marriage.

Reality: Not always. Sometimes, through counseling, you may come to the realization that it is best that you and your spouse part ways and separate. Sad though this may be, at times that might be the best possible outcome. Most times though, the role of a counselor is to see whether the couple can work on their differences, learn to accept each other with the “flaws”, learn to compromise and live happily despite the differences.

So, if you or anyone you know is grappling with a marital difficulty and is unable to deal with it, do think about consulting with a marriage counselor. Sometimes, even a single session is enough to see things in perspective and take certain decisions; at other times, the problems may be more deep rooted and would require a number of sessions, jointly or individually, depending on the dynamics of the marital dyad, before you can reach any kind of resolution. But at least you will be on the right step toward the resolution of your problems.

Ms. Samindara Hardikar-Sawant

Clinical Psychologist

Disha Counseling Center

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Depression in Children

Preeti was a popular and intelligent student, who always did well in school and was liked by her teachers. However, teachers were surprised to find a sudden drop in her performance when midyear in class 7. An otherwise outgoing and gregarious student, Preeti slowly started withdrawing from others and did not seem interested in studies. Known for her neatness and meticulous work, she started submitting incomplete and messy worksheets. Over time, she always came across as uninterested and demotivated, lost in her own thoughts, and not interacting with anyone in school.

Preeti was suffering from childhood depression. Her parents were shocked to hear this, and refused to accept it, stating that it was impossible! Sadly, it is possible, and it is the reality for many children like Preeti. Statistics show that about 2-3 % school-going children suffer from clinical depression. Depression is a mental illness characterized by a persistent negative or sad mood and a loss of interest in activities. There are several other symptoms, such as changes in sleep patterns, changes in eating habits, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, difficulty concentrating and so forth.

How can I know if my child is depressed?

The presentation of depression in children can be different from that in adults, and can take various forms. Children are unable to express their negative feelings verbally, and often, the depression manifests itself in one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Drop in academic performance: This is often the first presentation. Typically, depressed students start doing poorly in school. As depression also has repercussions on concentration, memory as well as motivation, grades start falling.
  • Physical Complaints: The child may complain of vague health problems like stomach aches, headaches and so forth.
  • Irritability, sadness and crying: All children throw tantrums from time to time, all children are irritable and tearful at times. But check if this is happening more often than usual and for a number of weeks.
  • Loss of interest in activities otherwise enjoyed by the child: If a child shows disinterest in his or her favorite toys, activities, games and so forth, for a considerable period of time.
  • Withdrawing from friends: Of course, many children are by nature introverted and prefer to be by themselves. However, if a child who is otherwise outgoing and sociable suddenly starts staying away from or avoiding friends, its worth looking into.
  • Sleep problems: the child may become restless in his sleep, or may suddebly wake up at night, or may find it difficult to go to sleep.
  • Appetite changes: A depressed child may either lose his appetite, or may start eating more.
  • Suicidal thoughts: In extreme cases, the child may start contemplating suicide.

What do I do if my child is depressed?

First of all, don’t blame yourself! As parents, guilt is the first thing that will come to haunt us. Is it something I did or did not do that has caused depression in my child? While it is true that life situations and environmental factors can trigger a depressive episode, remember that depression is an illness, like any other illness and needs to be treated as such. So leave the guilt aside, and focus on getting help for your child.

The first step is to get the child assessed. Timely diagnosis and intervention are crucial, as untreated depression can have devastating effects on the child’s self esteem, future psychological health as well as, in some cases, the safety of the child. This is where the role of the school psychologist or any other mental health professional becomes important. Once a child has been diagnosed as suffering from depression, and its severity assessed, a comprehensive treatment plan needs to be charted out. Counseling and supportive psychotherapy can help the child cope with the depression and associated symptoms. Family therapy is also critical, as it helps the family handle the child better, as well helping family members cope with the child’s depression. In instances where the depression is particularly severe, medication may become necessary.

Depression is a potentially serious mental illness that can have far reaching and at times devastating effects on our children. So if you notice your child showing signs of depression, please talk to your family physician or the school counsellor. With timely intervention, depression can be successfully treated.