When we know that a child has a disability, we immediately try and make an attempt to understand things better. But when it is a child without a ‘label’, we immediately raise the bar for everything that they say and do. Why? Why is it that we don’t make an effort to try and understand ‘all’ children irrespective of their labels and personalities? Why is it that we find it so difficult to respect individuality in everything?
I have had many discussions with an old friend and colleague about many issues like this, and I have learnt a lot from those discussions. Just having another person to talk to on the same wavelength has clarified so many of my day to day concerns and has opened up my mind to see things that happen every day in a new light. These are not my rigid views, but my learnings and unlearnings. My son Raghav has been my teacher. When you have a child or are in contact with children, you learn every day. And most of what you learn is about yourself and your conditionings and how that impinges on everything that you say or do.
I have often pondered over many of the following issues, as many continue to surface everyday or every now and then. What I want to share is my perspective and my thoughts on these – there are as many views and opinions as there are people in this world, anyway!
I think it is important to understand the situation and environment the child is in first, before labelling it as a tantrum. I would rather see it as a way of expression rather than as a ‘problem behaviour’. I think most tantrums happen when kids are under stress – that stress could be due to hunger, sleep, tiredness, boredom, and so on. There is something that has reached a peak within them that they are unable to express in any other way at that time and so they ‘throw a tantrum’. Most often I think it is not because they are being stubborn that they throw a tantrum, it is because of something else. I have learnt this the hard way by making many mistakes. Now, I have learnt to observe things more carefully with my son and try and understand the stress factor. And most often, I see a pattern that I did not see earlier.
Children like to be in control of their environment and make their own choices (don’t all of us like that?). They have an internal clock and sense of what they want to do and when. It is only when we try to shift the control to an external one that the problems arise. Then, they need to understand what to expect and so need to know or be prepared for what is in store for them. So while routines are convenient for us adults to make, it is better and easier for both parents and kids, when kids make their own routines. Children live in the moment – the present – and so maybe schedules would not make sense to them. And why would they? And when they do make sense to them, I think they would ask us for schedules.
When I was asking Raghav about the things he liked and disliked at school, this was one thing he said, “Amma, what is a timetable? I don’t understand a timetable.” When I tried to explain what it was, he said, “Amma, I don’t like to do a particular thing at a particular time. I like to do it in my time.” I have given him that time now and work my routine around his. There are days when he doesn’t want to eat until he has finished what he set out to do – building something with his lego, or a painting. I am learning to respect his time, in the hope that someday he will learn to understand our urgency and needs as well.
Children caught in these time and space warps that have been created by the regimental structures in schools often show restlessness – a constant need to be doing something, unable to decide for themselves what to do with their time and they become so obsessed and stressed out about ‘finding something to do’. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that they need to be given a structure and choices and stimulation. But in reality, what they need is to unwind, relax, unlearn and relearn. What it is indeed to be free and creative and learn to just ‘be’ with themselves and discover themselves again!
After one month of being at home, I see a huge change in Raghav. He is much more comfortable with himself, there are fewer times when he asks me what he should do, he is better now at being able to make those choices and decisions, there is less whining and more laughter, less tears and more smiles, more understanding and less defiance, less anger and more peace…
Today, when I talk to him about school, he is able to say much more than he was able to a few months ago, or even a month ago. The anger is gone and he is calm and collected when he talks about it. It has taken this much time to get to this stage, for whatever wounds to heal. There is no more talk about destruction and monsters…
There are times today, when I see or meet some other kids in the neighbourhood or kids he used to go to school with and I see a similar pattern all over again – a similar restlessness, a similar ‘wanting to do things’ all the time, similar insecurities and fears. I sit back and wonder about how it was for us and how it has all changed, with one bold decision of ‘unschooling’!
This article was originally written for people-for-change.blogspot.in