Monday, October 6, 2014

How to tell your child

Can you remember the most awkward conversation that you have had with your parents? Yes, it probably was about puberty or reproduction. Don’t you wonder why when we equip our 2 and 3 year olds with iPads, we fall short when it comes to educating them about our own bodies.
As awkward or tough as this topic may be, it is very important that our children know, understand and respect their own bodies and that of others. Lack of knowledge and understanding could make them victims of fear, uncertainty and even sexual abuse.
I am Deepa, a mom to 2 little girls. Whenever I attempted talking to my girls on these tough topics, I brought in a lot of apprehension, which invariably brought in fear and confusion in my girls. My conversations on these topics would almost always be pre-empted by a very sad story in the news on child abuse. 
Wanting it make it easy for myself and parents alike world over, I roped Ms.P & Mr.P, the friendly dragons to create a platform called “How To Tell Your Child” which are a series of videos and books. These dragons make these exact awkward lessons positive, empowering and even fun to learn.
In the video on Child Sexual Abuse a group of very young children get to win a super-cool star, as long as they can answer the safety quiz. They learn to identify ‘Touch Alert’, ‘See Alert’ and others with the help of visual cues and a story. These ‘alerts’ provide 5 levels of protection. Abuse is often viewed as just the physical act. What people don’t realize is that most abusers work up to it, beginning with finding ways to be alone with a child, saying provocative things to them, and performing small tests like asking to see or offering to show, before they finally begin to touch them.  Making lists of circles of love and recognizing the five alerts with the help of fun visuals, as shown in the video is a playful challenge and you’ll be surprised at how children rise to it. And when the children do the workbook, the concepts get internalised and they master it.
Few parents are without worry when it comes to talking to their daughters about puberty. Here’s help, in the form of Ms. P, a pink dragon who likes to sing. True she sings about breasts and pubic hair and other uncomfortable aspects of puberty, but that’s exactly why young girls love her. Ms. P makes conversations around coming of age easy. She’s sassy and fun, and has all the answers from menstruation to underarm hair. You could watch the videos with her, to help her get information that is age-appropriate, medically correct, and non-threatening. Ms.P’s Guide for Girls is the perfect companion to the video where growing up is discussed in greater detail.
Now, how do you tell your pre-teen son about wet dreams, hair in places he never wants to acknowledge, and all the weird, crazy, happy, angry thoughts running around his head? Unfortunately, most people believe that boys will pick up what they need to know about puberty and sex from their friends. This is dangerous because they can absorb misconceptions or develop a perverse view of sexuality. He needs to be spoken to in a safe, non-threatening way, about what is happening to their bodies. So, you could enlist the help of a quirky green dragon called Mr. P who’s got it all figured out. It’s not a lecture on biology. It’s a casual chat between a boy who knows it all and a dragon about his body. For parents who really don’t know how to have this conversation with their sons, the video and the book - Mr.P’s Guide for Boys, takes the pressure off, and may even begin a positive interaction between a parent and child.
Now all that you will have to do is watch a fun video with your children and give them a book to read.  With that you will know that they know all that they need to know.  You will know that they are empowered. It’s that easy!
These videos and books are at How To Tell YourChild.

And I can assure you that after watching these videos and reading the books, you will have a smile on your face. And your children will have a larger smile.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sex education demystified

I was sharing with an elder about how important sex education is, and to my surprise, she seemed vehemently opposed to it. She felt that when the time came, the children would know automatically. And, that is when I realized that for her and most of you, sex education meant exposing your children to the facts of SEX!! The topic was being narrowly interpreted.

Sexuality and Safety are important parts of our child’s education. In the light of the recent horrifying events at a local school in Bangalore, it is clear that we need to take proactive action to prevent exposing our children to any harm or abuse. Parents play an important part in conveying this information. Not only is ‘prevention of sexual abuse’ information an important part of this discussion but how is this communicated to your child is equally pertinent. Children at different ages understand and process information differently and a professional can guide you to handle this dialogue effectively and with ease.

Sexuality and health sessions for children are the right way forward to orient them to the dangers present around and to equip them with skills needed to protect themselves. Counseling India conducts Sexuality and Safety sessions for children of different age groups. Children are grouped according to their ages and are given this information with the use of audio video aids, power-point presentations, role play and group discussions. The topic details and the depth of information is modulated according to the age of the child. For eg: younger children will be taught about good and bad touch while adolescents will also be oriented to the relationship between sexuality and self-esteem, gender stereotypes etc.

It is important to understand that the act of sex is a culmination and integration of so many different things. Our self-esteem, self-respect, body image, covert messages received from parental relationships, peers and media etc. influences our attitude towards sex. Gender roles, parental control, education, knowledge of anatomy, and understanding of our natural biological urges play a role in sexual health.

Sex education talks about the relationship between physical changes, cognitive development, emotional traits and social tendencies and how these affect our behavior. Sex education also talks about the tight bond between sexuality and self-esteem and how they affect each other. It touches upon the benefits and challenges of growing up. It explores the relationship between your actions, your choices with its inevitable consequences. It tells you about personal safety and your responsibility towards it.

But more importantly, sex education takes away the taboo from talking about sexual topics. It prevents the girl from shying away from talking to her mom/dad about that teacher who was making advances towards her. It gives power to your young child by teaching him to say “Stop, Go away and Tell a trusted adult”, thus decreasing the chances of abuse. It prompts a boy to stop teasing his female classmates by enlightening him about its far- reaching effects on her self-esteem. It promotes a healthy friendship between the opposite sexes that is not biased by gender stereotypes. It encourages your child to be responsible and accountable towards self and others. And, it also talks about sex……………

Monday, June 23, 2014

The joys of being dyslexic

As a young psychology student, I remember reading about Dyslexia and going for an observation in a clinical set up to see the cases first hand. I remember looking at the child's parents and wondering how they felt about their child being academically challenged. Having grown up in a family where education was regarded as the highest value, I felt a twinge of pity for them. I came back from that observation feeling pretty sad for the child and his guardians.

It was years and many clients later that I realized how immature I had been, in coming to this conclusion. A client helped me realize this. She was a 14 year old girl studying in an International school. She was the most innocent child I had met. She was trusting and naive.......very easily accepting of her diagnosis and ready to work hard to compensate for it. Remedial classes, additional hours poring over prescribed study material, practicing social skills till she got it right...nothing tired her out. And, she was always cheerful, forever ready to help classmates and assist teachers. She always brought a smile to my face when she walked in into the session. She managed to take away my mental fatigue by her very presence. The lack of awareness of social pragmatics made her a very easy person to get along with. She did not compete to get attention. Her capacity to stay positive while learning in a competitive study environment and her drive to overcome her disability was very inspiring to me. Her ability to come up with out of the box solutions was amazing and motivating to someone like me who had undergone a very traditional rote learning education. She managed to teach me far more than my teachers ever could.

If this is what learning disability did to a person, I wanted to be learning disabled. Till date, when I diagnose a new client with dyslexia, I think of her. And, I always share the story with the parents.


Over protection and segregation

I was talking to the coordinator at an Indian school where I conduct once a week Sexuality and Personal Safety group sessions, for children. I was there to give them an idea of what the content of the sessions would be? While I was briefing them about it, I could see their discomfort about using medical terms for our body parts, during my group sessions. One of the coordinators said that we have raised our children in a protective environment and do not wish to expose them to this terminology. I explained my perspective to her and we found a workable compromise.

Another incident which stood out for me happened only a few days later. A European friend told me about her Indian neighbours who did not allow their kids to mingle with the Americans, because they did not want their kids exposed to western influences!!

Both of these conversations got me thinking. I have lived in India for the most part of my life and have seen similar attitudes being fostered in families around me. But, is this the right way of bringing up our children? Is holding on to our traditional thoughts and deeds, the only way to inculcate good values in our child.

Underexposing and (over)protecting the child from matters of sexual safety, in the name of protecting them from dirty and pornographic expression that is incongruent with our ancient traditions, could mean exposing them to far more harm than any parent could ever be prepared for.

Will racial segregation help our kids or really prove detrimental to being global citizens......because like it or not, that is the way forward. Even if I ignore this almost blatant discrimination policy of raising our children, this kind of segregation will make our children unaware of what other cultures and ways of living have to teach us. We can benefit from different values inculcated by different cultures, just by being open to their views. If only we spend time with our non Indian friends, will we realize that they are so vastly different from the debaucherous stereotypical westener potrayed on screen and accepted as the norm by most of us. They, too, have strong family ties and religious rituals and their lives revolve around their children, just like ours do. Their ways may be different but the same drives, desires and goals motivate them.

I am ready to concede that not everything is right about the western point of view but then not everything is perfect with the eastern way of living, either.   

By segregating our children from the mainstream and not allowing them (and us) another perspective, can prove to be detrimental to their growth. Most modern thinkers as well as spiritual leaders advocate acceptance and tolerance while walking down the path of growth. Mingling with people from different races, backgrounds, genders and taking a more pragmatic view of the different approaches to life, will help us find our way forward far more efficiently, not to mention raise our level of conciousness.

Monday, June 2, 2014


I was talking to a fellow counselor about how the school policy dictates that all kids at elementary/primary level be promoted, irrespective of their performance. Often, the deadline for an assignment/homework to be turned in is extended for a few kids who aren't able to submit it.

While I agree with the school's good intention of giving students a second chance, I am not sure, this is the right way to do it. By extending a deadline for a few students, we are being unfair to a majority of the kids who were organised enough to get their work done on time. More importantly, we are teaching the students who have been given another chance that life will give them second chances to make good on their mistakes. Often, as we all know, this is seldom true in real life. Your boss is not going to pat you on the back and say, " Its alright", for missing the last date for tender submission.

Far more worse, is promoting a child who clearly does not fulfill the criteria to move to the next grade. This child is going to grow up into an adult feeling entitled to a promotion or pay hike, just for showing up at work, everyday. Careful planning and organization at work and home, diligence, perseverance and sheer hard work are the values, students should learn at school. An automatic promotion to the next grade can make all of the above values redundant in the student's life.

And what happens, when the promoted student is incapable of understanding the advanced syllabus, of the next grade? Will he work hard at something that he has difficulty grasping? Inability to perform or even understand peer level academic curriculum can have devastating effects on his self esteem. So how is this policy of indiscriminate promotion to the next grade helping?

I am 100% on board, for applying different criteria of assessment for differently abled students but a complete disregard for the assessment process or overt guidelines, is way too much mollycoddling for my comfort.

As teachers and parents it is our job to prepare the children for the tough road ahead. We would be utterly failing in our duty, if we are focused on making the path easier on them. The message we need to send to our children is that if you follow the guidelines and work hard to achieve your goals, success will be yours but if you chose to ignore hard work, there are repercussions to it.

Every behavior has a consequence and its up to us to guide our children towards the right habits and behaviors.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Core beliefs and relationship conflicts

As a student of psychology as well as a married woman, relationships and their dynamics have always intrigued me. More specifically the causes behind the conflicts in a marital relationship fascinate me. Often they are clues to the partners psyche revealing the insecurities, childhood impressions, super ego messaging and so on and so forth.

Most of the time, relationship arguments are about our own issues projected onto our partner. If the message we heard in our childhood told us that we are unworthy of love and attention, more times than not, one will get upset at the spouse for not providing the TLC. The spouse could be showing his love through different helping around at home, giving you some time off from the kids, providing for the family.....but if you don't believe you are worthy of love, you will not see your partner's love towards you.

Growing up, if you were frequently criticised, even a suggestion coming from your spouse can seem like disapproval. The truth is your childhood messages have lead you to wrongly believe that you can do nothing right so when your spouse makes a suggestion for tweaking something you have done, you see it as fault finding and get defensive. Your poor partner has no choice but to retreat or get defensive himself, leading the path to another fight.

It can be hard for the person involved to see how his self beliefs are causing the friction in the relationship. Our innate defense reaction is to assign responsibility elsewhere.
If you find yourself questioning your partners love, trust, respect or care towards you, first dig deeper within yourself. If you have questioned other significant people in your life, of these very same emotions, be aware of the pattern and tackle it head on. Take responsibility and seek help.

Core belief work is offered by many professionals trained in CBT and that is a good place to start the journey of self awareness and acceptance. It frees you up to take control of your life instead of tying you up in the blame game where no one wins.

Core belief work helps you assess your negative conclusions about events by investigating its deep rooted origin. It provides present day evidence against the erronous self belief, thus making it irrational and irrelevant. This kind of therapeutic work can be revelatory for some. Often, it can change your perspective towards life. And the effect it will have on your marriage can only be seen to be believed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Three pieces of advice

My mother in law once told me about three things that had helped her get through rough patches in life.
1. Never say I am tired
2. Never say I can't do it
3. Never say I am bored

Sounds simple when you hear them for the first time. But, when I began counting the number of times I said, I was tired or bored or that I couldn't do it, I was taken aback. Then I began to observe what these statements did to my thoughts and how they affected my behavior. I found to my utter surprise that I began to feel those feelings with a much higher intensity every time I said it out loud.

As we go through our daily ups and downs, these three statements can help us avoid reinforcing our negative emotions that would otherwise send us on a downward spiraling path. I was struggling with my undesirable emotions last week and when I stopped saying I couldn't do it and started telling myself that I am strong enough to handle anything that comes my way, I felt empowered and energetic to carry on.

These three statements are an example of how to sidestep negative self talk that could be detrimental to our mental health. But does that mean we should not acknowledge our sadness or disappointment or fatigue or boredom. Not at all. It is important to be aware of our emotions. However be warned that the next logical consequence of emotional awareness is indulging in them and wallowing in self pity. That is where we need to draw the line. Positive self talk will alleviate the mental stress and also nudge you towards solution seeking, which by its very nature will decrease your negativity.