(Part 2) Parents as Counsellors

Counseling-triennale[Continued from here]

What are the opportunities/signs of counseling for parents?

If the child appears:

  1. Unhappy
  2. Aloof, uninterested/withdrawn
  3. Unusually reserved
  4. Seems nervous and afraid
  5. Shows unusual behaviour or looks disturbed

Even under the above tremendous pressures, each child has a different absorption capacity. As a parent, we need to develop such a bond with them that we can read their unsaid words, silent body language, etc. If we suspect some turmoil, we should be available for him at the cross roads. As the right moment occurs, he may share his miseries with us. We can’t be over inquisitive or nosey- especially if the child is older and a self-driven individual who wants to assess his own developmental capacity. He may share with parents once the trouble is overcome as he reflects back and relieves himself. It is a moment of growth and wisdom for him.

What does it mean to be your kid’s counselor?

  1. Your children feel comfortable to open their personal matters before you. (They can unload the emotional garbage which might include crying, blaming, accusing, swearing, etc.)
  2. They feel safe to share their worries and most personal concerns with you. (He needs to feel heard completely with no hurdles, judgments, rebukes, threat of punishment, negative reaction from your side as a parent.)
  3. They consider you wise and trustworthy and therefore value your advice. (Perceived credibility is the actual credibility.)
  4. You can easily know when your child is disturbed and need support. (He might withdraw, stop eating, slam doors, look moody, try to be aloof, etc.)
  5. All of you feel good and relaxed after the session. (The emotional strength of the parent needs to be developed so that he/she doesn’t end up needing a counseling session after hearing out his/her child’s worries.)

 The counseling framework for parents
1. Prepare yourself
Do your mental homework before approaching the child. Imagine all possible problems and their causes, the kid’s perception of the problem, expectation of the people around the kid from him, etc.

2. Spare time for a session
Find a peaceful place and choose the best time.

3. Be happy and stay calm
Tend to your own emotional landscape so as not to react before the kid when he is unloading his emotions before you. It is essential to conquer your own mood first.

4. Encourage your child to express his problem
Convey care and warmth through your body language, facial expressions and tone, etc.

5. Listen actively
This means no interruption, no pretend listening while you are multi-tasking, etc.

6. Rephrase what you understand
This is important so that the child’s intention and purpose is understood with clarity and no miscommunication happens.

7. Acknowledge the feelings of your child
Albert Einstein once lamented: “Why is it that nobody understands me, yet everybody likes me.” Taking care of your child is easy. Taking care of your child’s feelings is challenging.

8. Ask about the causes and expectations
Analyze the problem and situation with your child. Don’t offer an immediate solution or suggestion yourself.

9. Give confidence and offer helpful tips
Let the child take a responsible decision himself.

Lastly and most importantly, children will learn best, when they are trusted, valued, owned, encouraged and made comfortable. This does not mean that we surrender to their whims and fancies, let them disown their responsibilities, bend and break the family rules. It certainly means that we treat them with respect and empower them to take value-based decisions in life.

Adapted by Rana Rais Khan from an interactive workshop at L2L Academy Karachi

(Part 1) Parents as Counsellors

counselling-in-the-workplace-1When was the last time your child came to you to share something? A survey conducted in the city of Karachi with a sample of significant number of kids/teenagers indicated the following results:

They were asked: “Who are those five people in your life you can trust blindly to share your inner most troubles/stressors in life?” The percentage that included one parent or both parents at the fourth position or maybe last position among the five preferred individuals was as follows:

77% – 11 – 14 years

60% – 14 – 17 years

30% – 17 – 20 years

Appalling responses surfaced. The younger age group could somewhat trust either of the parents but not both. The older group was most comfortable with a virtual friend. The oldest sought counseling from complete strangers. In their sight, the parents were too naïve or outdated to understand their issues. They felt worse, when confided in their parents.

We might fathom this better, if we take the example of a mirror. What is the function of a mirror? It reflects our image with all its beauties and flaws. And we all love to admire or gaze at ourselves in it. However, the day this mirror finds a voice and dares to offer judgmental phrases, its opinions and perceptions about us, how many of them will survive? Maybe none. Their fate will inevitably be shattered.

A counselor is similarly a person, who places a balm on an emotionally injured person’s wounds. He does not cut open gashes with his scalpel to infect the wound further. The role of a mentor steps further to help analyze the injured, as to why and how he is injured in the first place. But that comes at a later stage. Clearly, there is a difference between the roles of a counselor and mentor.

Role of parents as a counselor

Our children today are passing through an era, where they face a lot of turbulence and challenges socially and emotionally. Firstly, Allah (swt) has placed within every person a mechanism to subside his hurt feelings. This threshold again varies from person to person. If a person is unable to settle these inner disturbed emotions, his family serves the purpose of ideal counseling. Why?

If an external counselor is hired, he is an unknown authority who is unaware of the affected persons’ context, background, strengths and weaknesses, etc. A close relative or friend again will have to brief the expert thoroughly. This expert in light of his learning will review the case and offer an expert advice which may or may not work eventually. But family and specially parents who are a natural institution of counseling must be able to dissolve up to 90% approximately of problems in their kid’s life. They brought them into this world, raised them up, can read their face and feelings like no one can, provided they share a special bond.

Realistically in order to become ideal counselors, parents need to learn some qualities. It is pivotal for them to understand that if they do not serve the role of effective counselors, their child will go somewhere else to address his needs, as humans do not live in isolation. But this counseling will be at the cost of values. It could be to a friend, who offers them relief in the form of an innocent ice cream or a puff of a cigarette or indulgence into drugs or alcohol or other profanities, etc. It could be simply an icon on their internet screen that is constantly available and luring “Do you want to chat?”

And this does not mean that the kid is bad/evil. It must be understood that when an individual is emotionally disturbed, three areas are negatively influenced: his thinking ability, his behaviour and his creative potential. He is so desperate to find relief that he can’t rationalize his own choices. As parents, the first thing that needs to be done is to pull the child out of disturbance and bring him towards normalization.

What could be the probable pressures in your kid’s life?

  1. Academic
  2. Parental
  3. Peer

On top of the above puberty/adolescence brings its own physical changes that create havoc in a child’s body now transforming into an adult. This is a time when most kids are emotionally weak and vulnerable.

What kind of perceptions a child is locked into and might travel through in a month about himself and others?

  1. I cannot be good at studies.
  2. Teacher will be angry at my work.
  3. Subject is difficult and boring.
  4. Everybody will laugh at my question.
  5. I never have a good idea to share in class.
  6. I am not intelligent and creative. I am stupid.
  7. I cannot speak well.
  8. Teacher does not like me.
  9. I always have disturbing thoughts.
  10. I don’t know whether I am right or wrong.
  11. I wish I was born free.
  12. Nobody is pleased by my work.
  13. Nobody likes to be my friend.
  14. Nobody likes me.
  15. I soon forget what I learn.
  16. I can’t solve any problem on my own.
  17. Nobody understands me or trusts me.
  18. I am a bad boy/girl.
  19. I quickly get bored, don’t know what to do.
  20. I feel restricted; I don’t have freedom in my life. Everyone scolds me.

Some children think any of the above for a while, unstuck themselves and move on. Those are the ones, who are intellectually developed and emotionally secure. Other kids think and get stuck in their negative perceptions and begin to lose themselves. That’s when they underperform.

[To be continued Insha Allah…]

Adapted by Rana Rais Khan from an interactive workshop at L2L Academy Karachi.

Surviving Under Pressure

pressure

I often ask people, if they had ever thought of committing suicide in their academic life, and a reasonable number of them say ‘yes’, even the ones, who had been high achieving students in their lives. According to a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health, USA, suicide is the third leading cause of death in youngsters aged 15 to 24. Another study, conducted in Australian High Schools on students aged 12 to 14 years, revealed that students with low self esteem, depressed mood and perceptions of failure may be at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Our children live under enormous pressures these days. They are on a constant battle to survive against all odds. Almost every other child in this world undergoes a painful, psychologically uncomfortable and often dehumanizing experience in order to receive education. I believe there are at least three kinds of pressures that work upon them: academic pressure, parental pressure and peer pressure.

How does Academic Pressure Work?

The first kind of pressure that works upon our children is academic pressure. They are almost always burdened. They have to carry a bag filled with six to eight textbooks and notebooks for each subject. Homework is something that most of them do not enjoy and cannot escape from. These poor children cannot afford to be absent from class, even if they are not well. According to a survey, children aged between 11 and 14 do an average of three-hour homework, in order to survive and remain acceptable in their schooling systems. They carry a bag which is about 40% of their body weight. According to British Osteopathic Association: “Children should never carry more than about 15% of their own body weight. The long term effects from carrying heavy bags include strains on the neck and shoulder leading to headaches, fatigue and an early development of poor posture along with strain to arms and wrists.”

Majority of school going children hardly go for a morning or evening walk and do not experience the pleasant breeze and fresh oxygen, which is required for better brain functioning. Almost every second day is a test or some marked assignment. About 20% of their school days are allocated for exams. In between, there are such competitions as spelling bee and declamation contests requiring students to prepare five to six hours a day with immense pressure to win each of them. Tuitions are a routine, which they have to follow. And there are tests at tuitions, too. Students, who concentrate on their academics, look too serious, exhausted and often ignorant about what is happening in the world or in their families. They tend to forget themselves for the love or fear of exams. All that is important in their lives is to fulfill the academic demands at any cost. These poor children receive respect from society on the basis of their academic performance and not on the basis of their good intentions or great ideas.

It is generally believed that teachers cannot contain more than two subjects, while students are able to accommodate the diverse and often unconnected pieces of knowledge from eight subjects. Many children face immense learning difficulties, as they are not allowed to express their understanding in the language they know well. Classwork that is demanded on a particular pace with a particular level of perfection from every child becomes an instrument of torture. How strange it is to offer a break of twenty minutes in a school day of six hours. Sometimes even this twenty minutes break is also withdrawn from a child, who needs additional time for making up the academic work. If the school is located at a distance, then the travelling time in school transport adds to their miseries.

How does Parental Pressure Work?

Another pressure that badly affects children is parental pressure. I have heard many children saying:  “I wish I was born free.” Parents generally have very high and non-flexible expectations from their children. It has become hard for many parents to trust their children’s abilities and intentions, when they fail to do well in exams. In a majority of cases, the relationship between parents and children relies on the grades the children receive in their exams, which is so very unfortunate.

Given the above mentioned facts, it appears that children in today’s world are doing two jobs. They are employed at two places: school and home. They cannot take a day off at their will and are often not compensated for their work. They live a life where friendships, questioning, experimentation and wandering around are hardly appreciated. They are not encouraged for their natural curiosity and qualities of giving, sharing and frankness. Instead, they are chained to follow an agenda and a routine that is set for them without their consent. All children go through this, until they become able to exercise their own will and experience their independence. But many poor children are lost in this battle. Their creative spark is successfully extinguished by the collective efforts of parents and schools.

One of the ambitions of parents is to get their child admitted into a brand school. Under this vision, mothers start dreaming about some of the renowned schools already at the time of their pregnancies. Imagine the terrible pressure the poor child will be born with. She or he will be sent to preparation centres at the age of two years, in order to pass the entrance test of his/her parents’ dream school. Once the child is admitted, the vicious never-ending cycle of academic stress, competitions and loads of homework is on the way.

Much of the conversation that takes place between parents and children is governed by the following questions or instructions: “What happened in your school today? How was your test today? What grade did you get in the last paper? What is the homework today? When is the next test? Change your school uniform. Do your Salah. Have your lunch and, please, do it quickly. Get ready for tuition.”

Another form of parental pressure is their demand for discipline and maintaining a tidy and mess-free home. Girls in particular become a victim of this wish. In many families, the obsession to tame the children for manners and obedience in their early childhood supersedes any other wish of meaningful learning or relationship.

Many parents demand their children to choose a particular professional field, without considering the child’s interests. A majority of parents make their children realize that they spend a lot of money on their education, and that children have to pay back through getting good grades. When children somehow fail to meet the demands of their parents, they feel bad about themselves and lose self confidence.

How does Peer Pressure Work?

Peer pressure plays a phenomenal role in the lives of children. Children want to be liked, accepted and appreciated by their peers more than anyone else in the world. This peer consciousness causes some positive and negative influences on their personality. They learn from their peers and become interested in doing things, which are being liked by their peers. Mark Twain once put it beautifully in his witty style: “I have always paid the school master for the education of my kids, but these are the school boys who have taught him.”

Sometimes good habits and trends are initiated and reinforced by groups of children, while at other times it is vice versa. A child being a part of his social group gets influenced by his or her peers. At times, a child may not feel comfortable in adopting something from the peers. But the fear of being unpopular, disapproved and rejected by the social group surrounds the child and exerts immense pressure on him/her.

Although many children experience some sort of peer pressure, they usually do not realize it. Peer pressure takes a child into a complex state of varied feelings, ranging from fears and rage to hate, hope and jealousy. If a child is not confident enough, his/her self image will be severely influenced by the kind of treatment he/she receives from the peers. Sometimes, children stop pursuing their genuine natural interests, because they feel that they will be ridiculed for their interests. Often, many children tend to do things which are not of their choice but the desire of the group. Smoking is one such example, which a lot of boys and girls initiate, in order to look smart and cool. Sometimes, they smoke to seek additional appreciation from their peers. For some children, smoking becomes their social passport. Some children try to impress their peers through smoking or through any other activity, which is forbidden by the adults.

Peer pressure may be unspoken or unintentional. Sometimes a child may feel pressured not because peers are asking him to do a certain thing but the child himself feels that if he will not do a certain thing, he might be considered silly.

Nobody likes to be rejected by the equals. When children fail to cope with peer pressures or, in other words, do not conform to group norms, they isolate themselves or restrict their interaction with few class fellows. Many do not create friendships; rather, they limit themselves to acquaintanceships. A reasonable number of children willingly or unwillingly adopt what is being desired by their peers and conform to group norms.

One of the major causes of negative peer pressure is comparison between children. Many teachers and parents do it continuously in subtle ways. Some do it rather explicitly. When we do not recognize children, as who they really are, and fail to own them unconditionally, they learn to doubt themselves. Their confidence weakens and they become increasingly sensitive to the approval from their peers.

How Can We Reduce Academic Pressure?

  1. We need to believe that academics are not everything. A successful person is not the one who gets good grades, but a person who is well-rounded, happy and enjoys healthy body and mind with a vision to strive for.
  2. Schools should reduce the number and size of exams and introduce alternatives to formal testing like portfolio development and mechanism of self-assessment. This will help to eradicate the tuition culture and children will have some free time for family and other meaningful activities.
  3. Curriculum should be made child-friendly and flexible. There should be more opportunities of recreation, and the academic process must capitalize on students’ interests and experiences.
  4. Early education process must be carried out in the language children are proficient in. Education must not demand a child to switch the medium of his thinking.
  5. If we cannot reduce the weight of school bags, at least we can replace them by trolley school bags, like it is done by children in Europe.

How Can We Reduce Parental Pressure?

  1. Children are born with countless interests. Identify and respect the interests of your children and facilitate them to pursue their interests.
  2. Learn to trust children unconditionally. Accept your children for what they are. Help your children pursue their dreams, instead of forcing your own vision onto them.
  3. Never equate your children’s intelligence and creativity with their academic results. Grades tell us nothing about a child’s talents or creative potentials. Appreciate your children for what they do enthusiastically.
  4. Acknowledge the fact that your children are loaded with work, and that they need some time to relax. Keep an eye on yourself to ensure that you do not become the one who over-burdens your child.
  5. Instead of throwing questions on children and asking them to give a report of their day, wait and understand their situation and problems.

How Can We Reduce Peer Pressure?

  1. Give children a positive, stress-free and emotionally comfortable environment. They are likely to interact with their peers in a congenial manner when they are relaxed.
  2. Train children to realize why they feel how they feel. Help them recognize their different states of feelings. They will learn to be empathetic through your wise and friendly facilitation.
  3. Eliminate all forms of individual competitions and never use individual comparison as a strategy for motivation. In fact, it is something that de-motivates them and affects their relationship with their peers.
  4. Engage with your child in open and meaningful discussions to prepare them for dealing with the issues they might face in society.
  5. Make your child exceptionally confident and courageous. Confidence will enable a child to become who he or she really is, without feeling devalued or becoming dependent on the approval of peers.

Writer’s email: director@erdconline.org

Raising Confident Kids

Jan 11 - Raising confident kids

By Laila Brence and Maryam Asif

Every parent wishes to see their children grow into independent and confident adults, capable of handling their own life. In pursuit of this, many parents tend to fall into the trap of over-parenting, which, just like any other ‘over’, is not a desirable phenomenon. If you find yourself accompanying your grown-up children to job interviews to negotiate their salaries, it’s certain you’ve slipped into one of these ‘overs’. But how and where do we draw the line between getting involved in our children’s life, yet not accused of over-helping them which might result in the opposite of what we had in mind? The following ten suggestions will guide you towards developing your children’s confidence and self-esteem.

1. Believe in your children and show it

Let your children know they are lovable individuals. Show affection to your children – that extra amount of love will not spoil them but instead boost their confidence. If, however, you constantly show lack of trust in your children’s abilities and skills, the development of their self esteem will be hindered.

2. Give praise and positive feedback

Your children measure their worth and achievements by what you think of them. “Well done! That was hard and you managed it!” is music to young ears. Respect their struggles. Reassure them that it’s alright to make mistakes, and that it’s all part of growing up and learning about the world around them. Permitting your children to make decisions (even if wrong ones at times) helps them develop good judgmental skills.

When your children do something you told them not to and end up hurting themselves, refrain from statements such as: “See, I told you not to do it! Now, take care of it yourself!” Likewise, do not constantly threaten them with terrible consequences and punishments for not obeying you – that too can hurt their self-esteem.

3. Practice active listening

Listen carefully, repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understand and give positive prompts to encourage your children to continue. Even if your child needs to tell you something when you’re extremely busy, do not multi-task – give them your undivided attention. Dismissing your children’s ideas and suggestions without hearing them out can hurt their self-esteem.

4. Acknowledge your children’s feelings and help them express them verbally

This is something every child needs immensely. Imagine a situation when your children end up fighting with the kids of your guests over toys. At this point, it’s important to address children’s emotions and help them articulate them. They might be feeling insecure, angry or helpless – acknowledge these feelings. This is not the time for a lecture on values and morals, as they are too occupied with their emotions, and your lecture will only aggravate their anger.

5. Criticize behaviour, not your child

This is a very easy trap to fall into. Too much criticism tells your children they are bad people. If such criticism continues over a long period of time, it can heavily damage your child’s self esteem. Be clear that it’s an action you’re angry about or it’s a behaviour you don’t like. Avoid such over-generalizations as: “You’re such a dirty kid! You never clean your room!” It may be that your children usually do clean their rooms, but on that particular day they didn’t, and you were in a bad mood anyway.

6. Focus on your children’s successes

Swimming, arts and crafts, cricket, technology, literature or social life – whatever they succeed in. It may be that they are good at swimming but not at academics. Acknowledge their success, instead of saying:

“Swimming won’t get you anywhere. If you do not do well at studies, you will never succeed.” If you acknowledge their strengths, it may be that in the future they will be motivated to work on their weak points as well.

7. Respect your children’s interests, even if they seem boring to you

Take a genuine interest in your children’s friends and what’s happening at school, and comment to show you’re listening. This will not only strengthen your communication but also give your children the message that you care about their life and interests.

8. Accept any fears or insecurities your children express as genuine

Even if they seem trivial to you, don’t just brush them aside. If your child says: “I’m useless in math,” say: “You’re obviously finding math a struggle – how can I help you?” Instead of passing such sarcastic remarks as: “With all that TV you watch, what else do you expect?” Treat issues independently, without connecting unrelated consequences to actions.

9. Encourage your children’s independence

Encourage them to take chances and try new things. Succeeding at new things gives a huge boost to confidence. Even if they will make mistakes by trying out new things, it will be a great opportunity for them to learn.

10. Laugh with your children – never at them

We all know that there are times when words can hurt more than actions. Don’t humiliate your children for their mistakes or misfortunes – if you won’t be on their side, then who will? Likewise, it is important to keep a sense of humour when difficulties arise, as it works wonders and helps your children focus on the truly significant matters in life.

Children have an innate capability to cope with the pressures and demands of the environment they are a part of. However, we cannot assume that they will learn to cope on their own. Parents should become the facilitators, who provide their children with the means to use this inner strength that they naturally posses. Simply treat your kids the way you yourself want to be treated and you can be sure to steer clear of all the ‘overs’.

The material presented in this article is based on a workshop titled “Raising Confident Kids” facilitated by Madeha Masood at ERDC (Educational Resource Development Centre).