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Temper! Temper!

Posted by admin on 17th July and posted in Book Club

Temper! Temper!

Divya Suresh

 

Anger is an emotion that makes the best of us see red.  It manifests when one perceives threat to one’s basic boundaries or is provoked to retaliate.  It is as natural an emotion as happiness but is usually viewed as a negative one that must be brought under control.  There are different levels of anger that vary from mild anger that we may refer to as irritation to the most severe kind we may describe as fury or rage.

 

A lesson in anger management is what we at the PRAYATNA Book Club in Bangalore had in store for the children in the first session of our new term.  For this purpose we sought the help of Sophie, the main character of the book we had chosen called, When Sophie gets angry- really really angry by Molly Bang.  The book tells the story of a little girl named Sophie who had a bit of a problem controlling her anger.  So when her play gets interrupted, Sophie gets so wild that she wants to smash the world to smithereens and feels like she may explode like a volcano.  And so she leaves her home and runs away to the woods where she derives the calm and relief she seeks from the sights and sounds of the forest and soothing movements of the waves of the sea and the gentle breeze.  She then returns home in a peaceful frame of mind.

 

The Book Club board was done up with the picture of a volcano erupting with synonyms of the word ‘anger’.  We started off by asking the children about times when they got angry and what they did in those times to calm themselves.  We outlined the physiological reactions that anger sets off such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, and other reactions like feeling hot in the face, gritting one’s teeth, glaring and so on.  Role plays elucidating the constructive and destructive aspects of anger were enacted.

 

Following the book reading, we proceeded to discuss the different shades of anger that the synonyms on the board brought forth and helped the children form sentences to effectively bring out the shades of meaning.  To wrap up the book club session, we explained the importance of controlling one’s anger through the ‘Traffic Light Model’, developed by Roger Weissberg of Yale University.  Using this model, where red stands for stop, amber for think and green stands for act, children are taught to first assess a situation before acting in haste.

 

The children bid goodbye taking home with them traffic signals which we hope will serve as reminders to them to ‘Think before they act.’

 

(Divya Suresh is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

All Children Are Special

Posted by admin on 14th July and posted in Strengths

All Children are Special

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

(First published in Mint, 1 July 14)

-“You always give Atul the bigger piece.”

 

-“I know you like Mira more than me.”

 

-“Why should I always be the one who gives in?”

 

Most parents sigh in exasperation when their efforts to play fair with their children don’t meet with success. Typically, one child feels like the underdog no matter how much you try to parcel out your attention, love and support evenly.

 

Parental love may be immeasurable, but you have to exhibit it among other competing demands. As long as you ensure that all your children are loved and cared for, children usually take the all-rounder brother or the more talented sister in their stride. But what if one of them has special needs? Given that you would spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional energy in catering to the needs of the special child, how would you react when the other sibling accuses you of being negligent or remiss in your duty as a parent?

 

Family dynamics are complex and unique. And, contrary to what parents may want to believe, children are not created equal. Even in families where all the children fall under the “normal” spectrum, there is wide variation in terms of abilities, proclivities and personalities. Parents may swear that they don’t compare their children, but comments like “Rima is the patient one” or “David is the athlete” send a clear message. Ironically, in families with a special child, these inequities get both amplified and nullified as the siblings usually cannot be gauged by the same yardstick. Thus, a parent may berate Sheila, the typically developing eight-year-old, for getting her division sums wrong while lauding Kunal, the 10-year-old with Down’s Syndrome, for neatly printing his full name. By understanding the impact a special child has on a family, parents can take proactive steps to cater to the unstated needs of their typical children as well.

 

In a 2008 study published in the Journal Of Intellectual Disability Research, researchers in Western Australia interviewed over 300 parents of children with either Down’s or Rett’s Syndrome (the latter, a severe type of autism) on the effect of disability in siblings. Parents reported both benefits and drawbacks on their typically developing children.  Among the major disadvantages cited, parents bemoaned that they spent less time with the typical child as the special child demanded more attention. In addition, the family often had to forego socialization and other outings and adhere to a fixed routine. Often, parental stress from caring for the special child rubbed off on the non-disabled one too. And some parents felt guilty that their young child was already saddled with the burden of caring for his/her special sibling.

 

On the plus side, parents identified many advantages. They felt that their typically developing children were more tolerant of disability or difference and more compassionate than their peers. Most children also developed a heightened sense of empathy and were perceived as more mature and patient than other children their age. In addition to chipping in to care for the special child, these children also appreciated their own life to a greater degree and did not take their abilities and gifts for granted.

 

Share love, feelings

In her 2002 book, Special Siblings: Growing Up With Someone With A Disability, Mary McHugh provides an evocative first-person account of what it is like to grow up with a younger brother who is mentally challenged. Besides sharing her candid feelings, McHugh also interviews people who have a sibling with a disability. Often, children have ambivalent feelings about themselves and their brother or sister.

 

On the one hand, the child may resent a special sibling because he or she practically usurps all the parental attention and energy. But, at the same time, the child may also put inordinate pressure on herself to achieve stellar heights in order to “make up” for the disabled sibling, who may not reach conventional milestones. Interestingly, about one-third of the siblings that McHugh interviewed chose careers in the service professions, while many others either volunteered or were advocates for social causes.

 

In their 2012 best-selling book, Siblings Without Rivalry—How To Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, communication experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish caution parents against casting children into roles, even if a child has special needs. Foremost, as children have differing needs, they advise parents that children do not have to be treated equally. Instead, they advocate treating every child uniquely.

 

Thus, when children are fighting over who got the bigger piece of cake, ask the children, “Is anybody still hungry? There are some biscuits in the tin.” Do not encourage comparisons by saying, “Both your pieces are equal.” When children accuse you of loving the sibling more, list out the unique qualities that you love in the child.

Secondly, children with special needs should not be viewed as “problem” children. Instead, parents may accept each child’s frustrations, appreciate what they can do and focus on finding solutions to navigate their challenges. This will help children to not cast themselves in either a “victim” or “perfect child” role.

 

Faber and Mazlish also recommend that each parent should spend some time alone with each child several times a week if possible. During this “special time”, make sure that you devote your attention to the child you are spending time with, without referring to the other child. In addition to bonding with the child, carving out this time communicates that you value each child for his or her individuality.

 

In her book, McHugh quotes Debra Lobato, a developmental psychologist, who encourages parents to debrief their typically developing child about the problems that their sibling has in an age-appropriate manner. Moreover, parents must also involve siblings in discussions on how long-term care can be provided to the special child after the death of the parents. As McHugh convincingly writes: “The most important factor here is how the parents react to a child with a disability.” If the parents adopt an optimistic world view regarding their special child, the rest of the family is likely to mirror the same positivity.

 

Aruna Sankaranarayanan is the founder and director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties.

 

 

Performing Under Pressure

Posted by admin on 7th July and posted in Strengths

Performing Under Pressure

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

(First published in Education Plus, THE HINDU, 30 June 14)

 

Ratan is elated as he finally got an interview call from his dream company.  He was sorely disappointed a couple of years earlier when he was bypassed by this company during campus recruitment.  At last, he has got a chance to enter its hallowed portals.  He is fairly confident of impressing them with his credentials.  He is performing well on his current job at another reputed company and has made a number of impressive presentations.  In college, he was in the top 1% of his graduating class besides being a quizzer.  On the day on the interview, he strides in confidently wearing a full-sleeved collared shirt and tie.  But the moment the interviewer starts questioning him, Ratan’s mind freezes.  He is unable to articulate clearly what his current job entails.  Within seconds, he is fumbling for words and knows that his chances are doomed.

 

Sadly, Ratan’s poor performance is not indicative of his potential.  In fact, he is just the type of candidate the company is looking to hire.  Psychologist Sian Beilock who has studied the phenomenon extensively, defines ‘choking’ as “sub-optimal performance” under high pressure.  When a person who is capable of performing at a higher level and has done so in the past, plummets in a stressful situation, he has fallen prey to choking.  And while it can happen to any of us, we would like to minimize the chances of its occurring.

 

Beilock recommends that we not only practice for a high-stakes event, but that we also practice under stressful conditions similar to the actual event.  So, instead of simply anticipating the interviewer’s questions, Ratan could have asked his friend to fire a volley of questions like a formal interview where he has to answer crisply, without hemming and hawing.  By practicing under simulated stress, Ratan would have been more prepared to face the barrage of questions.  If you have to give a speech on stage, it is better to practice in front of an audience at home than to simply recite it to yourself.  The closer the practice conditions are to the real event, the less likely you are to choke.  This is one reason why schools and colleges have mock exams before the actual Boards.

 

Further, it helps to anticipate potential stumbling blocks and plan how you would circumvent them so that you do not trip up during the actual event.  In fact, Olympic swimming legend Micahel Phelps used to prepare to face any eventuality.  An article in the The Telegraph in 2012 describes how Phelps trained, almost foreseeing every conceivable calamity.  He used to even practice swimming blindfolded by darkening his goggles with a black marker pen.  This way, he attuned his kinesthetic awareness of every stroke and had to feel the wall as opposed to seeing it.  He says in the article, “It’s weird, sure, but we want to be ready for literally anything…”  And Phelps penchant for planning for every rainy day paid rich dividends during the Beijing Olympics.  During the 200m butterfly final, his goggles began filling up with water, impairing his vision.  But Phelps didn’t have reason to choke as he had practiced swimming in the dark and went on it win the gold and setting a new world record.

 

Another technique used by Phelps and long advocated by sports psychologists is visualization where an athlete imagines a positive outcome during a high-stakes event.  In fact, researchers have found that this technique can be used to quell queasiness during public speaking, an event that provokes butterflies in many people.  In a study published in Communication Education, Joe Ayers and Theodore Hopf found students who had visualized themselves making a cogent speech reported lower levels of anxiety compared to those who had done this exercise.

 

Many people, even those who are otherwise confident, are stymied by talking in public.  However, if you have choked while addressing a gathering, do not despair.  Confidence, like most other traits, can be cultivated and you might be humbled to hear of the story of a young Indian lawyer who ran out of the courtroom while arguing his first case.  Recounting this traumatic experience, the lawyer later wrote, “I stood up, but my heart sank into my boots.  My head was reeling and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise. I could think of no question to ask.”  This very lawyer then went on to become a master orator who inspired and mobilized millions of Indians as Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Finally, you must remember that you don’t have to quell your anxiety entirely.  As the famous Yerkes-Dodson law states, performance actually increases with arousal up to a point.  So some amount of nervousness before an exam, debate or job interview may work in your favour, as long as you don’t cross the threshold to drown in your worries.

 

 

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA.  Email:arunasankara@gmail.com)

Old is New

Posted by admin on 3rd July and posted in Book Club

Old is New

Radhika Menon

 

The June session of the book club in Chennai celebrated the notion of “hand-me-downs.”  Each child was asked to bring something that was handed down to them by an older sibling, cousin or parent.  The kids streamed into the centre, holding objects, either big or small.  We started the session by asking children what “hand-me-downs” were.  Even though we live in very consumerist and wasteful times, all children said that they had received hand-me-downs sometime in their lives.  Then, the teachers surprised the kids by showing objects that were handed down to them.  One teacher wore a sparkling green necklace that was given to her by her mother who had inherited it previously from her sister.  Another teacher shared a tale of two dresses ended up as a teddy bear’s outfit.  The children then briefly explained what object they had got, who gave it and how valuable it was to them.

 

The book for this session was Ju’s Story by Paul Zacharia.  As the story was read, the teachers mimed the emotions and actions of the main characters.  The children watched and listened entranced to a touching story of a child from an impoverished background who rarely gets anything new.  All her clothes, textbooks, bags and stationery are bequeathed to her by richer kids.  The only things that Ju gets that are new are her notebooks, which she has to use very frugally.

 

After the book was read, we had a discussion on the joys of receiving old versus new things.  We wanted to convey the idea that old things also have value, be in the form of a story, a sentiment or a family history.  However, we also discussed why we like new things and what it would be like not to have anything new.

 

The book club also explored another theme that was sparked off by the book—the old-fashioned letter that is delivered by post.  The bulletin board displayed pictures and terms related to post.  In the Internet age, where it is possible to exchange information in a jiffy, we explained how post works and how people communicated in the days gone by.

 

Finally, kids were given post cards and asked to write or draw to themselves.  Most kids took great pains in composing letters to themselves.  We told the kids to await the post card in the mail.

 

(Radhika Menon is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Linked Together

Posted by admin on 5th May and posted in Book Club

Linked Together

Chanchal Nair

 

The last book club session in March in Chennai up with lots of expectations.  The theme of this book club was ‘Linked Together’.  To begin with, kids were introduced to the beautiful forest of Sundarban, which is the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger through the words of a staff member.  We spoke about the mangroves of Sundarban and the biodiversity of the region.  The board was the cynosure of all eyes as it depicted a lush forest with tigers and antelopes.  The next activity ‘Guessing Game’ was a real eye opener as the children were asked to guess the population of India followed by the tiger population.  No one could guess that the difference between the number of people and tigers was so huge.  Moreover, the kids were dismayed when they were told there are only 1500 tigers in India and they are on the verge of extinction.

 

The next activity of the day was book reading.  We chose the book In Bon Bibi’s Forest by Sandhya Rao.  The story revolves around Sundarbans in Bengal.  Dokkhin Rai, a monster with striped skin, sharp claws and teeth, ready for the kill, terrorizes the settlements bordering Sundarban.  The locals live in mortal fear of falling prey to Dokkhin Rai’s hunger and anger.  It is then that Bon Bibi, and her brother Shah Jhongoli take it upon themselves to protect the people and other lives in the forest.  As the story telling began, the narrator’s voice and actions had the kids hooked till the end.  The story has taken kids through the mythology and the age old theme of human –animal harmony.  The book reading was followed by an engaging quiz.

 

The next activity was a discussion on the conservation of tigers and the importance of tigers in the food chain.  The session was made more interactive through a food chain game.  Kids were reminded that if the tiger is healthy the ecosystem will be healthy.

The last activity of the session was again a discussion on what we can do to protect these endangered species.  The book club concluded with a message of the importance of using the forest with a heart.   The children were given the masks of tiger, deer and plant as take-home gifts.

 

(Chanchal Nair is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

One Step at a Time

Posted by admin on 29th April and posted in Strengths

One Step at a Time

First Published in Education Plus, The HINDU, 28 April 14

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

 

You return home from college with your head buzzing with all the things you need to get done.  Being the class monitor, you have to coordinate the logistics of the upcoming class picnic.  So you quickly post a note on your Facebook page asking your friends to sign up.  Before you start working on your Chemistry record book, you plug your iPod into your ears to listen to the song your friends were discussing this morning.  As you start recording your observations of the Chemistry experiment, your cell phone beeps.  Your friend sends an SMS asking whether you are coming for tuition.  You respond and then get back to your record book.  Within a few minutes, your mom calls saying that she will be late.  While talking to her, you quickly check your FB page for updates.  24 friends have responded.  You quickly send another message on What’sApp asking about the picnic.  You also text your friends saying the song is really cool.  You then get back to writing your Chemistry observations.

 

Sounds familiar?  In today’s wired world, we all engage in some form of multitasking, often without realizing it.  How many of us are guilty of reading an SMS while we are conversing with someone else?  Or, of checking FB updates during a boring lecture or shooting off a quick email while wolfing down our breakfast.  And, despite warnings to the contrary, people continue to talk on their phones while driving, even on two-wheelers.

 

How would you characterize the work habits of those who juggle multiple tasks with relative ease?  Efficient, competent and productive?  Or disorganized, disorderd and suboptimal?  We generally think of someone who does myriad jobs as being very productive.  After all, time is a scare resource and we would like to pack in as much as possible into every minute.  But contrary to popular belief, research suggests that multitasking may not be the best way to go about accomplishing our goals.  In fact, toggling between tasks actually compromises productivity rather than promoting it.

 

In a series of experiments published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, Professors David Meyer and Jeffrey Evans studied what happens when people switch between two tasks, such as doing math sums and categorizing geometric shapes.  The found that subjects lost time when they had to switch between tasks, and it took them longer to make the switch if the task was more complex or less familiar.  When we flit from task to task, our brains have to not only adjust to the fact that we are making the switch, but also activate the demands of the new task.  Thus, as we go back and forth between tasks, we may end up spending more time on them as opposed to completing one job at a time.

 

Communications specialist, Clifford Nass of Stanford University and his colleagues, compared the cognitive performance of those who multitask on electronic media regularly versus those who do not.  In all three experiments, the performance of high multitaskers was compromised compared to their serially-focused peers.  Thus, students who multitask often were poorer at ignoring irrelevant stimuli and were worse at remembering which items were repeated on a test.  Further, to the surprise of the researchers, the multitaskers were beaten even on a task that required switching between two sets of stimuli.  Ironically, chronic multitaskers were worse than others even at multitasking!  As Nass bluntly states in a interview in Stanford Report, “Everything distracts them.”

 

Even as you juggle between tasks, and flit from screen to screen, do you find that your ability to pay attention for a sustained period of time is diminishing faster than you would dare admit?  If you answered yes, you are part of a growing tribe of Netizens who find to difficult to concentrate on a single task.  Author Nicholas Carr aptly captures this phenomenon when he writes in his book, The Shallows, “the Net seizes our attention only to scatter it.”  The longer we shift and shuffle between Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail and cricket scores, our brains get used to the instant but superficial gratification that the Net provides.  While every generation is more tech-savvy than the previous one, and is thus more prone to multitask earlier in their development, we may gradually lose other essential life skills like the ability to concentrate, deliberate and reflect.  MIT professor Sherry Turkle cautions us in her book, Alone Together, that multitasking provides us with a ‘high’ that deludes us into thinking we are being more efficient.

 

And, finally, for those daring souls who swear that talking on their mobiles is not an impediment to driving, the findings of Professor Brian Scholl and his colleagues will hopefully deter them from this highly unsafe practice.  In an experiment, they found that those who spoke on their mobiles while performing a task missed seeing an unexpected object in 90% of instances compared to 30% for those who were not talking on a mobile.  In the interests of both safety and efficiency, we need to curb our multitasking instincts.  Slow and steady is better than frenzied.

Testing Times

Posted by admin on 7th April and posted in Strengths

Testing Times

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First published in THE HINDU, Education Plus, 31 Mar 14

 

Most of us associate the word ‘testing’ with examinations that are imposed on us by schools and colleges.  We believe that they are a rite of passage that we need to undergo in order to satisfy graduation requirements of educational institutions.  Further, tests are also paired with marks and ranks, as a gauge of our performance relative to others.  But testing need not necessarily be limited to externally mandated requirements or competitive purposes.  In fact, self-testing, wherein we test our own abilities or knowledge, can be a very powerful tool for learning that promotes understanding at a deeper and more sophisticated level.

 

In fact, creating a test itself can enhance your grasp of a particular subject.  As a student, you typically prepare yourself to answer questions, but very often posing questions can aid comprehension as you might see connections you didn’t notice before or come up with fresh insights or inferences.  Further, generating a variety of types of questions in varying formats can help you see the material from new angles.  Thus, your questions may require direct, inferential, analytical and open-ended responses.  By framing exercises involving short-answers, extended essays, multiple-choice options, match the following or fill-in-the-blank activities, you will find that you can penetrate a text at multiple levels.

 

After creating your ‘test,’ you may want to take a break before you actually take it.  If time permits, you can do the test under exam like conditions where you seclude and time yourself.  But if you are pressed for time, you must at least try to answer the questions orally.  When in doubt, refer to the text.  If you still cannot answer a question, then you should probably consult your peers or professors.

 

Of course, it might be worthwhile to challenge yourself with one or two questions that you cannot answer readily.  Even if you are not able to answer the questions, the very act of asking it will probably change the way you view the concept you are studying.  Some questions may even pique your curiosity to seek further.  In addition to asking your teachers for advice, you may be motivated to read beyond the confines of your text.

 

Further, psychologists have documented an intriguing phenomenon called the “testing effect.”  Professors Henry Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke have found that the act of testing improves subjects’ delayed recall of material.  Interestingly, testing was found to be superior at aiding students’ long-term retention compared to simply restudying content.  In a paper published in Psychological Science, Roediger and Karpicke write, “Testing is a powerful

means of improving learning, not just assessing it.”  In another study, published in Science, Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt found that students who took a test were better at long-term recall than a group that engaged in concept mapping.  Thus, once you have mastered a few chapters, it might be more prudent to test yourself instead of merely restudying the material.  For reasons that are not entirely clear to psychologists, the act of retrieving information helps it stick better in your memory.

 

After you take your test, you will also have a better grip on how effectively you have studied.  Were you able to answer most questions smoothly?  If you were stymied by most of them, then you need to review the lesson again or probably even alter the way you study.  Perhaps, you read the lesson in a very cursory fashion without processing the content at a deeper level.  Or were you daydreaming of your upcoming graduation party instead of focusing on alkanes, alkenes and alkynes?

 

Self-testing can be an effective gauge of your study habits and can sharpen your metacognitive awareness which is a personal reflection of how your inner faculties operate.  You will realize whether you have been an attentive reader or if your mind has been drifting during some sections.  You may find that it is not enough for you to revise the content a couple of times; memorizing dates in History may take longer and require more effort on your part.  As you begin to fathom under what conditions you learn and remember best, and what you need to do in order to understand a concept deeply, you will be able to optimize your study habits.

 

While testing can be a solitary activity, you may also find it useful to exchange test questions with your peers.  In fact, a whole class of test-makers will be a formidable challenge for any professor to beat.  When you have forty minds devising tricky or complex questions, you are bound to have a valuable question bank at your disposal.

 

Students sometimes attempt question papers from previous years when studying.  While old question papers can definitely be used to test yourself, don’t deny yourself the opportunity of being a test-creator.  Finally, you must remember that the goal of education is not to crack tests but to learn and extend yourself.

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA. Email: arunasankara@gmail.com)

 

 

Diverse in Diverse Ways

Posted by admin on 26th February and posted in Book Club

Diverse in Diverse ways

By Bhavna.R

Chester’s Way explored friendship from a different perspective.  The story about the mice Chester, Wilson and Lily looked at how friendships are formed between extremely different personalities.  “Diverse in Diverse ways” was the theme of the day.  Chester’s Way teaches us that being different is good.  Diversity provides the opportunity to learn new things and develop new perspectives.  The message that kids took away from this book club was exactly that.

The events of the book club were designed to make the children understand that it was important having friends different from you.  The teachers at PRAYATNA highlighted some of the activities that we did with our friends i.e. playing, sharing food, chatting, sharing secrets etc.  In a show-and-tell activity, children showed the audience a picture of their friend and spoke about him or her.  The book reading of the fun and light hearted story Chester’s Way kept the kids engaged.  The quiz following the story highlighted the theme of the day and the children were enthusiastic with their answers.

Kids were asked to pair up and discuss three things that were similar and dissimilar with their partners.  In pairs, they spoke about what they had discovered about each other.  From favourite colours to favourite sport, children discovered some surprising similarities with their partners.  The concept of homogeneity and heterogeneity was discussed through a collage highlighting differences in individuals.  People differ from one another in terms of languages spoken, appearance, religion, likes and interest etc.  This diversity was examined through an interactive session.  Children were enthusiastic and the younger kids actively participated as well.  They shared information about their friends who were dissimilar to them.

Take home gifts of paper plate photo frames with the words “Like but not alike” were given hoping to remind them how special and unique each of them were.

(Bhavna R. is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Chennai Parent Forum-2014

Posted by admin on 19th February and posted in Strengths

Chennai Parent Forum – 2014

Unlike the preceding years, this year’s Parent Forum turned the spotlight on parents rather than children.  The topic was Parental Priorities, where parents, for a change, put themselves first.  Parents were given a handout and asked to rate themselves on their level of satisfaction with life.  This was followed by four role-plays enacted by the staff, depicting conflicts occurring in most households between spouses, parent and child, parent and grandparent and parent and teacher.  Most parents could identify with more than one scenario.

 

Parents were given a Stress Test, where they had to introspect and identify the kinds of stresses they underwent in various domains that included children, spouse, domestic duties, extended family, work and health.  They also had to rate the stress level in each domain.  The importance of establishing the primary source of stress was highlighted, as the first step towards alleviating stress in their lives.  These varied from one parent to the other, as they voiced their concerns.  Stress spills over from one to other areas.  It is essential for the mental well-being of every parent to become self-aware of the dynamics of the family.  An escalation of stress levels can affect relationships within a family.  Hence it is important to address these and bring them down.  Talking to a counselor also helps in more severe cases.

 

For every parent, particularly mothers, taking care of oneself is of prime importance.  Only then can they take on the various stresses in their lives.  Eating healthy, exercising, going for regular checkups and setting aside some quiet time for themselves are some of the measures that can be taken for ensuring physical well-being.  Blaming oneself for difficulties one’s children manifest is not an ideal solution for tackling their problems.  It helps to locate and reach out to support groups where one gets to interact with other parents facing similar difficulties.  Engaging in a ‘flow’ activity is another way of de-stressing.  This is an activity in which a person is totally immersed, oblivious to everything else, and when they are most happy.  Parents recounted activities like reading, doing voluntary work or working with children as their ‘flow’ activity.

 

As the next activity, parents were asked to list five things they were thankful for.  To quote Martin Seligman, “The reason gratitude works to increase life satisfaction is that it amplifies good memories about the past: their intensity, their frequency, and the tag lines the memories have.”  Among the gathering of parents, many mothers expressed gratitude to their husbands for giving them full freedom to make decisions regarding their children.  Some were thankful for their children, who made their lives so much more meaningful, despite the problems they had.  A few were thankful for good health and comfortable lives, as compared with the have-nots.  Parents were also grateful for support from the extended family.  One parent made the very discerning statement that, “Being thankful gives a sense of order.”  It is an important requisite in today’s hectic scenario.

 

‘The Magic of 15 minutes’ was the next area of discussion.  Parents were asked about activities their children enjoyed doing with them.  An interesting list was put forth, that included story telling, shopping, playing games, cooking, making shopping lists, painting and conducting science experiments.  This theory is part of the program developed by Russell Barkley to curb defiance in children.  All it asks is for parents to spend fifteen minutes with the child doing what he enjoys, without being critical or judgmental.  It is a good time for bonding with the child and has proved to be very effective in bringing down stress levels in parent and child.  This is to be performed separately by both parents.

 

The forum concluded with Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving theory for resolving conflicts within the family, in order to create a more harmonious home.  It requires three simple steps.  The first step is to empathize with the child or adult’s perspective, at a time when both are in a relatively calm state of mind.  The next step is to state the problem as objectively as possible.  Lastly, invite the other person to brainstorm and offer solutions for the problem at hand.  It is a time-tested remedy for problem solving and has been found to be fairly effective.

 

Parents took home the message about the importance of taking stock of the stresses in their lives and reducing them to the extent possible.  They realized how essential it was to maintain their own physical and emotional well being.  The forum gave most parents an opportunity to discover the many things they were grateful for and count their blessings.  They welcomed the ideas for improving relationships with their children and resolving conflicts within the family.  Overall, it was a fruitful experience.

 

(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Beware!

Posted by admin on 12th February and posted in Book Club

Beware!

Prerona Mukherji

We revisited popular Indian folklore with Akbar and Birbal in the previous month’s book club at PRAYATNA, Chennai.  The story was about a washerman who was conned by a potter and how Birbal’s brilliant mastermind helped the washerman outsmart the potter.

 

Children entered the centre cheerfully dressed as either Akbar or Birbal , recreating the Mughal era.  The board was filled with pictures which depicted the various ways by which people get cheated to bring about awareness in children.  They were eager to know how the pictures were connected to the theme of the book club.

 

The book club commenced with a mime by teachers of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ which immediately sparked a discussion on ‘conning’, where the little girl faced the consequences after being deceived by the wolf.

 

This was followed by a narrative of an ordinary woman who is cheated time and again in day-to-day transactions.  This in turn reinforced the idea of being cautious and careful of one’s surroundings and dealings with people.  We then spoke about different instances of everyday forms of cheating that we encounter in India—from diluting milk to tampering with autorickshaw metres to using counterfeit notes.

 

We then provided an historical background of Akbar and Birbal.  This was followed by an engaging quiz.  Children were divided into two teams- Akbar and Birbal.  The children displayed a lot of enthusiasm during this activity by trying to outperform the other team.

 

The highlight of the book club was a play the children enacted based on the book.  It was refreshing to watch the kids perform so beautifully, dressed in their Mughal attire.

 

In the last activity, we enlightened kids with a talk on how to prevent ourselves from being deceived by being alert and aware of the happenings in our environment and the people around us.  Each of them was given a counterfeit note with the word ‘Beware’ written on it to take home, to remind them of how they can be deceived and how they can outwit the conmen by being vigilant at all times.

 

(Prerona Mukherji is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

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