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"Emotionally Yours"

Source: Femina August 15, 2003

Summary: Psychologist Varkha Chulani stresses the need to have emotional education made part of the school curriculum. Her reasons give parents something to mull over

ARTICLE

PUJA’S parents brought her to see me one day, worried there was something wrong with their daughter. Over the last few months, there seemed to have been a drastic change in her behavior. Until then a fun-loving, gregarious girl, she now kept to herself, speaking only when spoken to and interacting minimally with family and friends. “She broods the whole day,” her mother said.

“In fact, she has even stopped attending the art classes that she had been pursuing with zest.” Her friends, too, have noticed that something is amiss. “No matter how hard her friends try to coax Puja to join them, she resists their overtures.”

What had happened to change Puja’s behavior so dramatically? “Was there anything that had activated this behavioral change?” I asked. After a strained silence, her mother began to cry and revealed that Puja had failed STD IX and had to repeat the class. Hmm, I thought to myself, another victim.

I called Puja in and at once noticed that she had developed a severe inferiority complex. She answered my questions in monosyllables and appeared to be feeling ashamed. She regarded herself a failure. She had concluded that she was a loser — someone who could never succeed!

Why Emotional Education?

For Puja and for the umpteen youngsters who go through similar such episodes of failure in their life, I believe emotional education could be the answer.

Let me tell you how it all began... American psychologist Dr Albert Ellis invented the Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) psychotherapeutic technique. He established the Institute for REBT in New York City in 1959 in order to develop and propagate it. Today, it is called the Albert Ellis Institute and has affiliates all around the world.

Since the fundamental concepts of REBT were easy to understand, many psychologists and practitioners began to think that it could effectively be used in reducing people’s emotional disturbances and that it could be made an important aspect in helping students solve their emotional problems.

Thus was born The Living School, which taught students from Grades 1 to 8 about emotional hygiene. Education in the management of emotional health was made available not only to those children who were considered emotionally immature, but to all children enrolled there. The school wanted to ensure that when its children grew up and faced problems in their life, they would be able to solve them creatively and efficiently and that they would not find it difficult to think independently.

According to REBT, emotional education does not only mean helping children to participate in different programmes according to their choice, but exploring their likes and dislikes without feeling embarrassed, and helping them to live life happily.

REBT does not fully agree with the commonly-held idea that man’s personality is determined by his childhood experiences. On the contrary, one of the fundamental principles of REBT is that emotional disturbances revealed in children’s behavior are largely caused by their self-defeating attitudes, their exaggerated and rigid demands and their tendency to avoid facing the hassles of living.

And just as these handicapping attitudes have some biological bases, the children themselves and the social conditions surrounding them play a part in strengthening these attitudes. That means young children easily pick up irrational attitudes and/or create such attitudes themselves.

They then behave according to those attitudes and to some extent, destroy the rest of their lives.

Some of these irrational attitudes are:

  • That they must get recognition and appreciation from others.
  • That they must achieve some outstanding and dazzling success to prove their worth.
  • That those who behave unjustly with them are worthless and deserve to be punished.
  • That conditions being unfavorable to them amounts to a great calamity.
  • That adverse circumstances in the outside world can make them anxious, angry and depressed.
  • That if they continually worry about an event, they will somehow acquire the power to control that event — whether that event happens or not!
  • That it is easier and desirable to avoid facing adverse circumstances in their life.

They also strongly believe that it is absolutely necessary that their environmental conditions are totally organized and dependable. It is worth noting that many grown-ups also subscribe to such beliefs, although children hold on to them more tenaciously.

A Child’s Independence Protected

The Living School was careful about not giving its students any rigidly controlled education; the school’s policy being that every child should endeavor to develop his potentiality in such a way that she would finally be able to take independent decisions with respect two fundamental issues:

  • If you can neither change the conditions around in the near future, nor escape from them, then it is better to adjust with them. For example, if your relatives’ behavior is troublesome, it is better to accept that reality and to try to cope with it as calmly as possible, without unduly upsetting yourself.
  • To try and eradicate from your mind as completely as possible the attitude that ‘I must get approval and appreciation from others; or else I am worthless’. Only when you do this, will you be able to think that you don’t always have to strictly comply with all the social customs and traditions that surround you.

Every child was free therefore, to decide for himself under what conditions and to what extent he should adjust with the external world and when and to what extent he should rebel against it.

Help Your Child Get Emotionally Healthy Start using these guidelines today:

  • Stop demanding that your child must succeed and healthily wish that she does.
  • Reiterate that it is only bad and not awful when your child is not accepted by others.
  • Teach her that she does not notably need others’ love for happy living, though she may prefer to have it.
  • Don’t overprotect your child; she must be allowed to learn from the hard knocks of life.
  • Love your child for who she is, not for what she does. Don’t equate her worth with success.
  • Do not ‘horrorise’ failure. View it as only a setback to the child’s development. Be equipoised to both success and failures; take both with equanimity and poise.
  • Do not praise or blame the child; rather praise or blame her behaviour and actions.
  • Praise, reward and encourage the child’s healthy behaviour.
  • Penalise unwanted behaviour, logically and consistently.
  • Teach the child that hard work and effort are required to obtain the good things in life.
  • Teach the child that the world does not function according to the ‘deserving principle’; that unfairness and injustice exists.


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