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Part 2: The Growing Years - From Infancy to Adolescence  >  Learning and Schooling



Lord Asa Briggs, the eminent British historian and educationist, was invited to India in 1994 to deliver the Dr. D. S. Kothari Memorial Lecture hosted by Bombay University. According to him, “Education should fulfill the potential of the individual, who, in turn, should help in the development of society.” I was delighted to read outside a school in Mount Abu: ENTER TO LEARN, LEAVE TO SERVE.

When Should Schooling Start?
A state-level committee on ‘Early Childhood Education’ in Maharashtra, chaired by Professor Ram Joshi, had opined that children below the age of 6 should not be subjected to formal education. They should not be burdened with reading, writing and arithmetic. It is well known that a 3-year-old child does not possess finger coordination and should not be made to write. But certain schools ignore this dictum.

Play School
I suggest that you do not send your child to the so-called ‘play schools’ or ‘play groups’ as they exist in most cities. In a good play group, the parents, along with their 11/2 to 21/2 year-old toddlers, go to the group in order to be with other parents. While the parents make friends, the toddlers play with sand, water, on slides, etc. in their parents’ presence. The parents and the children thus get an outing. It is neither supposed to be a school; nor a place for learning, sharing or socialising.

Nursery School
Children can join a nursery school at around 3 years of age before they join a regular school. Send your child only to a certified nursery school. Make sure that the teachers are trained and that the school has enough space and the right play equipment.

A nursery school gives an opportunity for the child to be separated from the parents for 2 to 3 hours. The mother gets some free time. Children learn to play and share things with other children. Experienced qualified teachers help to sow the seeds of discipline in the minds of tiny tots. Activities in a nursery school are planned with a lot of care and thought. Yet children are given full freedom to choose an activity and move to the next one as and when they decide on their own. The school continues to give them the opportunity to develop form, colour, painting and varied cognitive and physical skills.

To begin with, the school allows the mother to stay with the child for a few days. Later, the mother follows the advice of the nursery teacher and leaves the child behind even if she cries. If the crying is incessant, the help of a psychologist is sometimes needed to sort out any underlying emotional problem. 

The mother or father must pick the child up from school. If that is not possible, a close relative or another child’s parent may be requested to bring the child home.

School For Older Children
It is not easy for parents to decide which school the child should join. A few points may be kept in mind before taking a final decision. 

  • It is always better to send your child to a school in the neighbourhood. Some schools now only admit children who live in the vicinity. A school that seeks donations may not be the right one for your child. Similarly, if most teachers in a school give private tuitions, that school may be avoided.
  • Give preference to a school that emphasises extracurricular activities and character building. Physical activity should also be given its due place in the curriculum. A school that brings children nearer to Nature and makes them conscious of their responsibility towards it will help your child become a good human being.
  • Schools with innovative ideas that make learning an interesting and joyful experience are rare. If you cannot find such a school, you may, through the Parent-Teacher Association, make efforts to bring new ideas to your child’s institution.
  • Keep in mind also that some schools pack too many students into a class for a teacher to give any child individual attention. Make sure that the school you choose has enough space for children to play in, or makes arrangements for the same. The playground must be enclosed with a clear protective wall border to keep children from wandering away.
  • A school should also provide opportunities for students to acquire superior levels of communication skills in each subject — it should encourage them to do library research, prepare reports, participate in debates and seminars, and have their articles published in school-based or national magazines. 
  • Today, being proficient in the use of computers is derigueur, so ascertain that the school will accordingly equip you  child, preferably on a one computer to one student ratio.
  • It is perfectly all right to send your child to a coeducational school. But make sure that you keep in close touch with the class teacher and also get to know your child’s friends of the same or opposite sex. 
  • Also make sure that the school gives enough emphasis to moral education and the inculcation of cultural values. Says Gurcharan Das, “The best schools are in communities where parents are involved and the Parent-Teacher Associations are strong.” I fully agree with this statement. 

Boarding School
There are points for and against boarding schools. It is important for you to know the facts, but do not hesitate to put your child into a boarding school if the situation demands it.

Drug addiction, sexual abuse, bullying by seniors, peer pressure and a feeling of gradual emotional detachment from the parents are often cited as important reasons for keeping children away from a boarding school. One cannot deny that such problems can arise and so the parent should be aware of the same. The risks from such possibilities can be minimised if the child is sent to the boarding school at a little older age, say around 10 or 11. If the child has grown up in an atmosphere of love and understanding during the early years of her life and if she knows that she is being sent to a boarding school for her own welfare, she is likely to remain unaffected by the above-mentioned adverse influences. She is more likely to fall into bad company and ruin her prospects if she feels she has been sent away because she is a nuisance at home. If parents are not getting along well with each other, the child may be told that they are thinking of sending her to a boarding school as both of them love her and because they are both interested in her welfare.

The benefits of a boarding school are many. Children gain an all-round experience in varied sports and learn from interaction with children from different religions and socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Some schools offer swimming, horse riding, theatre and Nature walks. One learns discipline, manners and etiquette. But above all, most children in a boarding school grow up to be independent and self-reliant.

Of course, the environment of a boarding school with all its plus points can be created in a home by parents who do not smother their kids and help them take decisions independently whenever possible. The choice is yours.

When A Child Is Not Doing Well In Studies
There can be several reasons for the child not doing well in school. But before we try to find out what these are, you must pause to see if you have undue expectations from your child. I have seen both types of parents — some expect too much and some underestimate their child’s potential. 

After undertaking that exercise, see if any of the following factors are responsible for her poor performance in school.

Let us first think of a child who is not at peace with herself. This could be due to psychological factors that need the help of a counsellor. But quite often, the cause may be such that the parents themselves can handle it. Sometimes, the help of the school authorities is needed. For instance, the child may be subjected to bullying or teasing in the school bus or in the school by other students. As far as possible, let the child sort out the problem herself. Or ask her if you could help. She may have a teacher who is ‘difficult’. Prolonged absence from school due to prolonged or frequent illnesses may be a contributing factor. 

In very rare cases, a child may suffer from psychological disorders like ‘school phobia’ or truancy. These children may either be hostile towards the mother or may be too dependent on her. A few children also skip or ‘bunk’ school without their parents’ knowledge. These children need psychotherapy or the help of a counsellor. 

A child who is not competent may naturally perform poorly. The child may either be too young for her class or may genuinely suffer from some mental handicap. On the other hand, a child who is much more clever than the rest of the class may feel bored and start losing interest in her studies. Such children may be given a double promotion. But a  better option perhaps would be to encourage such a student to develop other interests or hobbies or to help some o her classmates in their studies. 

Never try to get a false medical certificate from your doctor if the child has missed school for reasons other than illness.

Physical handicaps might also lead to slackness at school. A child with a hearing or visual defect needs attention. A child having dyslexia may be wrongly diagnosed as being mentally retarded. According to Loretta D’Silva, Director of the Institute of Development, Mumbai, children with dyslexia or specific learning difficulties have problems learning to read and write, particularly in learning to spell correctly and to express thoughts on paper. They may have trouble in differentiating between left and right, in learning to tell the time or tie shoelaces, or in following instructions. Or they might even confuse spoken sounds. Any hearing defect must be ruled out in these children. Such children can have normal schooling and do not show backwardness in other subjects. In fact, they may be highly gifted in other fields, such as business, the sciences and the creative arts. Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Alva Edison and Hans Christian Anderson were all said to be dyslexic. Early diagnosis is important in these children so that remedial measures can be  taken during the two critical periods for acquiring language: from birth to 5 years for spoken language and up to 15 for written language. Once the diagnosis is established, a specialist teacher prepares an individualised programme for the child with the help of the parents, teachers, friends and members of the family, to  provide support learning strategiesfor the dyslexic child. Support can also be had from:

  • The Maharashtra Dyslexia Association,
    303 Jharna, Dr Ambedkar Road,
    Mumbai 400052, India

  • The Madras Dyslexia Association,
    10/l Sambasivam Street, T. Nagar,
    Chennai 600017, India
  • The Educare Centre,
    M-2 Hauz Khas,
    New Delhi 110016, India

Competitive Spirit And Kids
Competition can be healthy. But psychiatrists are finding that children develop a lot of behavioural problems in the  wake of a competitive spirit. Childhood may soon be lost to the cause of competition.

As a child specialist, I do find the perils of undue competition affecting more and more children. Fortunately, there are still parents who adopt a balanced approach to the issue. These parents have fun as a family. They make sure that the child also enjoys time by herself and with her peers while doing well in her studies. 

Uma Prabhu interviewed several social workers and academicians and attributed competitiveness in the educational field to a lack of better alternatives for students and a dearth of vocational guidance. For instance, the cut-off percentage for open merit seats in Maharashtra state’s medical colleges is often around 97%. “This is why a child is viewed as an achiever right from pre-school days, when the competition actually begins,” says the headmistress of the B. J. Parsee Charitable Institution. “Rather than being viewed as people creating the future, today’s students are manoeuvred to fit into the future,” she adds.

Points out Suneeta Kulkarni from Nirmala Niketan’s Department of Human Development, “Parents are advised to take the help of vocational guidance centres to explore their children’s personalities and thus help them in selecting a career according to their aptitude. I have seen many miserable doctors and engineers in life. So you need not develop the attitude that a child’s life is ruined if she does not get admitted to some glamorous professional course.”

Besides nation building, teaching of values in schools may also help to achieve excellence without cutthroat competition.

Recently, a core group of the Planning Commission referred to the paramount need of character formation and development among the student community. The National Policy of 1986 on Education promised to inculcate the ideals of social justice, environmental protection, gender equality, scientific temper and work culture. The core group has identified love, peace, non-violence, righteous conduct and truth as the universal human values required to improve the self. Hopefully, parents will join hands with teachers to help the child understand the importance of these values from an early age.

Regular Studies, Homework And Examinations

Interviews with most young students who topped board examinations reveal that they were regular in their studies. Those with other interests in life also had fixed hours for study. This must be encouraged.

Discuss the subject with your children. Then reach an agreement with them about the time and place for studies. Let this be strictly enforced except in some special situations.

It is all right for you to sit with your young child while she is doing her homework. Never do the homework yourself. Give her some help, but no more than that. Leave older children to work by themselves. Encourage them to take help from the school teacher, unless you are sure that you know the subject and you can meet the needs of the child in an appropriate manner—with encouragement and without ridicule.

Many schools have now started encouraging students to use a calculator and even a computer. I do not see any harm in letting children have access to these as long as they do not become entirely dependent on the calculator or spend a whole lot of time sitting at the computer. Children must learn to solve problems without such aids and must have time for extra-curricular activities.

It is extremely important for you to keep in constant touch with your child’s class teacher. Any problem at school must be sorted out early, before it becomes insurmountable. When the teacher invites you for a meeting, go with an open mind. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask the teacher. Treat her with respect. Leave as soon as your allotted time is over. If you need more time to discuss how you can work with her to help your child do better, request her for some other time. Take your child into confidence as well and share what you learnt in your meeting with her teacher. If the teacher had complaints about the child’s behaviour in school, take them seriously. It is usually the child who needs correction, but occasionally a teacher may not be able to handle the situation. It should be quite clear in your mind and in the mind of the teacher that no child must ever be subjected to physical punishment or humiliated in the presence of others, especially peers.

Do discuss the subject of cheating in examinations with the child. Make it clear to her that you will be happy with whatever is the outcome of the examination — good or bad — and that you never expect her to take recourse to cheating.

Should a child be detained in the same class in the event of a failure? You should discuss this subject with the class teacher, keeping your child’s personality in mind. If the child is confident, does not get too upset if she fails to succeed, and has a good self-image, it may be all right for her to stay in the same class. But a child with poor self-esteem could be given extra coaching and promoted to the next class. 

Activities Besides Studies
Your child must be encouraged to take part in sports and other extra-curricular activities. At least one of the parents should try to make it to the school if the child is taking part in a play or some other special event.

When the child comes home from school, let her unwind before you talk about any serious subject. First serve her food and then discuss how the day in school went while she is eating.

If you are not likely to be at home when she returns from school, leave a note for her or leave instructions with the caretaker. She will understand and appreciate that you care. (Also see the section on Working Women in the chapter on FAMILY ISSUES.)

At home, you should encourage the child to pursue her favourite hobby. But make sure that she also has time to study and to relax. Playing games together as a family brings you all closer to each other. Reading books other than schoolbooks should be encouraged. 

Camping away from home is also good for children. You must meet the teacher or the person in charge of the camp in advance for any details. If the child is on regular medication, the supervisor must be briefed about it. While it is a good experience for the child to be with her peers, she should be advised that she need not follow others blindly. Any forbidden activity as per decision of the supervisor or any other activity with which she does not feel comfortable should be avoided.

Parents can also create an atmosphere in which the child starts getting interested in the world outside her home and classroom — her neighbourhood, her other relatives, especially those with lesser means, and the world at large. At the beginning of this chapter, I had quoted Lord Asa Briggs. Let us constantly remind ourselves of what he said, “Education should fulfill the potential of the individual, who in turn should help in the development of society.”

From playing with genitals to sex before marriage, parents may have all sorts of questions on sex education. Most of them hesitate to discuss the subject of sex with their children. For your information, adolescents who receive information about sex from their parents rather than from others, are likely to develop a healthier attitude towards sex.

Sex education is essential for preschool children, school children as well as adults.

Ten Basic Principles To Be Followed

  1. Do not show any sign of embarrassment if your preschooler starts asking questions about sex. However, if you have reservations about talking on sex-related subjects, guide your youngster to have his/her queries answered by another trusted adult— a relative, teacher, counsellor or a doctor.
  2. There is no need to tell your young one more than she/he can understand.
  3. Be truthful while answering any sex-related question.
  4. Do discuss sex with your teenager before he or she reaches puberty.
  5. Do not hesitate to talk about your views on such matters.
  6. Listen. Listen to your children, especially your teenager. LISTEN!
  7. Create an atmosphere in which your children feel free to tell you about their doubts and fears.
  8. Respect a certain amount of privacy your teenager may want.
  9. Children should learn from an early age that no other person is supposed to touch their private parts.
  10. Let children notice the mutual respect with which Mom and Dad treat each other.

The Age At Which Children Start Asking Questions About Sex
Around 3 years of age, your son may notice that he is different from his sister and the girl next door or vice versa. The girl may ask why she does not have the finger-like structure (the penis) that the boy has. She may feel as if she is incomplete or as if she has lost something. Answer simply that she is a girl, and that girls are different from boys and that a girl can grow to become a mom and a boy can become a dad. If the child asks what a penis or a vagina is for, you can, in simple language, explain that they are for urinating. For the time being, that explanation is enough.

You may be asked where babies come from. Answer simply that they grow in a special place in the mother’s abdomen and they come out from a special opening situated below the abdomen and between the thighs. 

Between 3 and 5 years of age, the child may develop a special attraction towards the parent of the opposite sex. It is a transitory phase and parents need not attach too much importance to it and must not get unduly worried. 

Around 5 years, some children may ask about why women have breasts and men don’t. You could reply that the mother’s breasts produce milk for her baby. Sometimes, you may be asked why girls do not get babies till they are married. You may say that the girl has a seed all along; but it needs another seed to have a baby.

If your young one is ready to go to a regular school and she has not yet asked such questions, she has probably got her answers from some other source. On your part, you may sense if the child is interested in these subjects and then yourself raise questions like, “What is the difference between a boy and a girl?” or “Where did the new baby next door come from?” Children may also learn about these facts through pets.

From this age onwards, boys and girls should be made to understand that they must not allow any other person to touch their private parts. Exceptions can be made when a doctor examines the child or when the parents want to check for any problem that the child may have around the genitals.

Sex Education And Your Teenager
Prepare your daughter for her menstrual cycle and your son for the occurrence of nocturnal emissions (discharge of semen during sleep). They should be told that these are normal. The so-called ‘wet dreams’ do not mean that your son was having sexual dreams. Menstruation and nocturnal emissions simply indicate that children are maturing and becoming adult. Similarly, some adolescent boys get a spontaneous erection of the penis without having any thoughts about sex. This is also normal and you should explain to your son that these erections become less frequent with age.

Many teenagers masturbate at some time or another. Handle this subject as discussed in the section on Masturbation in the chapter on PSYCHOLOGICAL CONCERNS. Of course, if you feel that you are not well equipped to deal with the subject of sex education yourself, let your child discuss it with a doctor or a teacher. You can be present most of the time when the doctor or the teacher is interacting with your teenager, but you could leave them alone before the meeting ends, so that the youngster can seek clarification on any other issue she wants, without having you around.

A husband or wife who respect each other and who have a certain set of values can share their views frankly with their children, keeping in mind their age, intellectual ability and temperament. When children notice that Dad and Mom are leading a happy life together, they are likely to listen to them with respect. Let the discussion be more in the form of a dialogue rather than a sermon. The parents themselves can raise certain questions, like, “What are your views about having sexual intercourse with your boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage?” Your teenager may ask you such a question or may ask your views if you are the one who first raised the question. If you say that you are against it, you must explain why it is not right. (See When Is One Ready For Sex? in this chapter.)

You can then explain, say to your daughter, that she can go to a party or picnic with boys and girls, but it is advisable to go in a group with other girls. You can set a time limit for her returning home at night, but you must also explain your reasons for doing so. If you are a spiritual-minded person, feel free to bring the spiritual aspects of matters related to sex into the discussion.

You can then talk about the difference between “loving another person” and “just making love with another person”.

You can certainly talk about the increasing rate of divorce, the risk of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, and the long-term harmful effects of having sexual intercourse at an early age. Bear in mind always that throughout the discussion, the basic rules of an appropriate dialogue must be followed, i.e. encouraging the other person to speak, not interrupting the other person when he or she is talking, being attentive while listening, and respecting the other person’s right to differ even after hearing your viewpoint. Of course, share your well-considered views without any hesitation. Do not be surprised if you get either no response or a violent response from your teenager. It should not unduly worry you. Very often, the teenager is listening though he or she may seem not to be. Give your ideas time to sink in.

When Is One Ready For Sex?
Psychologist Rani Raote believes that this subject must be raised with young people. I am in total agreement with her. According to her, the most important thing involved in sex is the mind, because, among humans, the decision and the act of sex do not only involve the body. Therefore, being physically able to have sex does not mean that one is emotionally ready for it.

Unfortunately, too often the decision to have sex is based on reasons that are harmful to one or both partners. Sometimes, a young person may indulge in sexual intercourse out of fear that her partner will leave her if his sexual need is not satisfied. Sex may also be used to gain power over one’s partner, to merely satisfy one’s sexual curiosity, to show others that one is not old-fashioned, out of anger or defiance to get back at someone, or just because one is bored. At other times, an excuse that “it just happened” is used.

Rani Raote exhorts you to impress upon young people that sex does not automatically happen. A person allows sex to happen, but may not take responsibility for it. In all these situations, the partners engage only in the physical aspect of sex with no communication with each other about what could be a most meaningful, soul-fulfilling, intimate and enriching experience. They do not use their minds to relate to each other, only their bodies. Such sexual encounters have a longterm negative effect on both the partners involved, as our attitudes and values about sex affect our self-esteem and relationships with people in our adult lives.

“Frequently,” Raote adds, “people believe that being in love means that they are ready for sex. This is not necessarily true. Being in love or being attracted to each other is quite different from emotional maturity.” But how can a couple develop emotional maturity? Raote explains: “When the partners relate to each other’s minds, they develop their emotional readiness for sex. They begin to talk face to face with each other about their decision to be sexual, how they feel about it, what the consequences will be, the risks they are taking, and the commitment they feel towards each other. Only then do they really start to communicate. Obviously, getting to know each other at this level takes time and a lot of effort. It is this communication that builds trust and security and leads to deliberate, conscious choices about sex. For such couples, sex becomes an act of expressing tenderness, caring and closeness —an act never to regret and hide from!” 

Sexologist Dr. Raj Brahmbhatt says that knowledge about contraception is a must before puberty.
Parents and teachers worry that talking about contraception will lead to children experimenting with sex; in fact, studies show that telling adolescents about contraception before puberty seems to make them more responsible in their sexual behaviour. 

7 March, 2016

Part 2
The Growing Years - From Infancy to Adolescence
Normal Growth & Development
Behaviour at Different Ages
Meeting the Emotional Needs
Learning and Schooling
Ready To Read
Parenting Adolescents
Guide to Child Care
1 Pregnancy, Childbirth ...
2 The Growing Years
3 Feeding Infants, ...
4 Keeping Your Child Healthy
5 Keeping Your Child Happy
About Dr. R. K. Anand

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