Archive for February 2012

Educational Pressure and Exam Stress   2 comments

Board and school final exams are around the corner. This is the time to prepare, to think and plan, to help build your own and your child’s immunity to educational pressure and exam stress. We all want our children to be successful and happy, and it is high time we figured out how.

Teenagers, especially in India, go through immense pressure and stress related to their educational pursuits. Each child has his or her own personality, temperament, unique strengths, talents and abilities. While each child may be bright and capable in his or her own way, every child may not be interested in or suited to engaging in purely academic pursuits or becoming an engineer or doctor. Exposure is the key to helping a teenager find his/her areas of interest and once interested the teenager may develop enough discipline and motivation on his/her own to pursue his or her own goals without parents needing to nag! Openly discussing the pros and cons of different career options and ideally having them speak to someone engaged in a career they are interested in, or visiting that person’s workplace, provides a more realistic picture. The idea, therefore, is not to leave teenagers to their own devices. It is important to be actively engaged in helping children discover for themselves their own interests and then making it clear that you expect them to put in their best efforts towards realizing their dreams. There is no substitute for hard work, no matter what field – arts, entertainment, business, medicine, etc. Otherwise, try putting in a square peg in a round hole – it will never fit. There are unfortunately scores of adults and young people who have been badgered into making educational and career choices they were not keen on and are not happy with. Quite a few of these teenagers and adults go through life struggling with low self esteem, anxiety and depression as they do not find what they do satisfying and are unable to put in their best efforts. Everything they try to do is to somebody else’s standard, and that standard can never be satisfied.

In addition, a single minded focus on using academic performance as the only criteria for assessing a child’s worth is extremely damaging to the child and the society at large. There can only be a few “toppers” in a specific area, but there can be several “toppers” in many different areas, such as art, photography, philanthropy, furniture design, landscaping, dramatics, entrepreneurship, sports, etc. When we widen the possibilities of where success may lie, success becomes more possible. There are two problems that need to be addressed: wanting each child to be a “topper” as per set external standards (i.e., exam results); and, pushing each child to be that topper, whether the child is even remotely interested in it or not, and has the ability to do so or not. There are many successful and happy people who have carved out a niche for themselves in an area after having been average students and doing different things until they found that one area which really excited them. We do not have to make the next generation go through the same process and instead help them find their passion earlier in their lives.

Having said that, assume there is a child who is keen on academics and wants to excel in a given exam. Most likely as the exam approaches the child will go though some anxiety. Some anxiety is normal. It is what pushes us to work hard, focus on our goals and not become lazy or distracted. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that anxiety beyond a level is detrimental and affects performance negatively. Each person has a different threshold for anxiety, as for any other emotion. This level is determined by each person’s unique biology or temperament and socialization or learning from childhood. While we cannot change biology, it is the learning part that we can work on. Helping children and teenagers learn how to organize their time and plan, how to break big projects into small parts and tackle one part at a time, is sometimes all that is required.

Anxiety is often related to the unknown or feeling that things are out of control or focusing on outcomes that one fears. While most students who are well prepared usually feel confident and less anxious, sometimes some of these students may undergo intense anxiety if they hold catastrophic beliefs around their results (coming second in an exam is the same as failure), have unrealistic expectations, and their entire self worth is tied to their performance (have to top each exam, else I am not good enough). The same thinking is sometimes at play even with children who are average or below average students either due to a learning disability or due to being ill prepared because they do not have the study skills required or the right educational resources, including good teachers. While universal good education should be a protected right, the reality is far from ideal. In addition, while some children are quite self-driven and competitive by nature, their anxiety also stems from the desire to excel by the standards set by their peers. In this scenario, pressure from parents to excel further adds to the anxiety, pushing it up to unhealthy levels.  In order to prevent children and teenagers from becoming overtly anxious, parents play a very important role by being realistic, and not reinforcing unfortunate beliefs. At the same time, helping children and teenagers build a stronger sense of self worth that is not tied so deeply to performance.

You can help a child who is highly anxious by discussing the worst case scenario so that there is a plan B in place and the unknown is not so scary. Parents can also help teach themselves and children ways to calm themselves, for example, through deep breathing and positive thinking, especially when they begin to feel anxious. And, in general, following age appropriate meditation practices, if possible.

It is important to pay attention and help your child now. Poor self esteem combined with unhelpful, unfortunate beliefs, high levels of anxiety, and pressure from parents or school to perform, is a deadly combination, which can lead to depression and/or extreme frustration and suicide. A life is too high a price to pay for someone else’s definition of success.

Here are links to some websites that give pointers to school and college students for improving study habits and reducing exam stress:

http://kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/school/test_terror.html 

http://www.cod.edu/people/faculty/fancher/study.htm

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Posted February 9, 2012 by enricheducation in Uncategorized

Talking to children about sex!   1 comment

Why

Children are often exposed to sex and overt sexuality quite early in life, whether it is in the form of popular songs, such as “Sheila ki javani”, or more direct and harmful ways, such as exposure to pornography and sexual abuse. While children do not have the maturity to understand what sex and sexuality are, they do experience some discomfort and/or curiosity when exposed to it. Depending upon how the situation is handled by the parents, they also have some feelings attached to the topic. Children and teenagers often have many questions, which they might try to ask, directly or indirectly, and if snubbed or evaded by parents, they may reach out to other sources for answers. The other sources, usually other friends or the internet, may further misinform or glorify sex and sexuality. The two real fears that most parents have regarding their child’s exposure to sex and sexuality are: 1) Will my child end up experimenting with sex too early? 2) Will my child fall prey or be lured into sexually exploitative or abusive situations? The only way to address these fears is by not evading questions around sex and sexuality, but by addressing them as and when they arise. The aim is also to help children and teenagers build their own ability to make informed and healthy choices around sex and sexuality.

What

Sex education is not that one interaction that you have when your son is turning 15, and you tell him about the birds and the bees. Sex education is also not just a program that your child’s school is undertaking. Sex education is education about an important aspect of life that you need to impart to your child, as you would education regarding healthy habits, eating right, etc. Sex education implies imparting information regarding ensuring ones safety and responsible behaviour in a manner that is age appropriate for your child. Sex education includes imparting knowledge and skills that would enable a child to engage in safe, satisfactory relationships – a skill for a lifetime. Sex education also means teaching children that they have a right to privacy and respect for their body and personal space, no matter their age, and so do others. 

How

Sex education works best when it is integrated into your overall approach towards raising and educating your child about various facts of life. With very young children, as they start speaking and start naming different body parts around the age of 2, you can help them name their private parts, including genitals, in language that is easily understood and widely used, e.g., “sussu”, “bum”, “bottom”. As you start teaching them about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, such as not to hit or push, you can also start talking about body parts that are private. The idea is not to label any body part as something to hide or be ashamed of, but to simply say that genitals are private and that the child can touch his or hers in an appropriate setting, such as while bathing, but not at other places/situations. You can also tell the child that as parents you may touch a particular body part, e.g., their bottom, in order to clean them after they have been to the “potty” or while bathing, but that at other times you will respect their privacy. Similarly, they should expect that others, whether adults or other children, should respect their privacy and not touch their private parts ever. They should, likewise, respect the privacy of other children and adults and not touch anyone else’s private parts. You can also tell them that if any touch, whether it is a shove or push, makes them feel uncomfortable, they can ask the person to stop and come to you or a teacher and report. In fact, you need to allow them to even ask a relative not to kiss them, if they do not want to be kissed. This helps the child feel empowered to listen to their instincts and know that you respect their private space.

All this information has to be imparted in parts, slowly, not all at once. And, it has to be repeated several times just as you would remind your child, again and again, to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. The idea is not to make it a big deal but to handle such information in a calm, gentle, matter of fact manner. If they forget or test you, for example, by touching another child, remind them that it is important to respect the other child’s privacy, and do not scold them. While it is important to inculcate this sense in children, it is also important to recognize that some behaviour is absolutely natural and to accept it for what it is. For example, it is absolutely normal for little children to be curious of, and touch their own body parts, including genitalia.

As children grow older, there are many opportunities to teach them biology. The best times are when a child asks a question or shows curiosity, for example, when a relative is pregnant. You can teach even 4 and 5 year olds about the life cycle of birds and mammals. At this age, the curiosity is regarding where a baby comes from. And, you can limit your information to explaining that babies are usually born or hatched from an egg that the mother lays. As they grow older, between 10 to 12 years of age, you can provide a bit more detailed information about the human anatomy. It is always better to prepare girls for menstruation before it happens rather than talking about it afterwards. It is then an event to look forward to, and not something to suddenly deal with, dread or endure. However, as in all aspects of development, some children biologically mature earlier than others. Hence, it is important to assess the readiness of your child and then have this conversation. When talking to children and teenagers about sex and/or sexuality, it is always important to remember that our own attitudes and feelings about the topic get communicated to the child very easily. The best way to approach the topic is to keep it as matter of fact as possible so that the teenager, who will soon become an adult, can embrace their own sexuality free of your baggage.

Another aspect that determines how early one needs to have a conversation around sex and sexuality with an adolescent is their exposure to the internet. In some countries 9 year olds are now being taught about the dangers of using the internet. With 10 and 12 year olds having facebook accounts and access to the internet, it becomes important to talk to children about safety while using the internet. Then again, in India, children barely out of school are engaging in sex and so high school would definitely be a time to talk about sex, legal age for consent, contraceptives, implications of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. However, as mentioned earlier, if your child has matured early, or has close friends who have matured early, you may want to have this conversation earlier. It is also a time to talk about relationships and reiterate your message regarding respecting their own bodies, and not getting coerced or pressurized into engaging in sexual activity of any kind. Teenagers also need to be encouraged to demonstrate an attitude of respect towards others in this context.

Most importantly, keeping channels of communication open and demonstrating your comfort with talking about sex and sexuality with your child, allows the child, no matter what age, to come to you when in doubt. That is the time when you can influence your child’s decision making. That is also the time when you can intervene actively if you think your child might be in harm’s way.

Posted February 9, 2012 by enricheducation in Uncategorized