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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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.
- There is no need to tell your young one more than she/he can understand.
- Be truthful while answering any sex-related question.
- Do discuss sex with your teenager before he or she reaches puberty.
- Do not hesitate to talk about your views on such matters.
- Listen. Listen to your children, especially your
- Create an atmosphere in which your children feel free
to tell you about their doubts and fears.
- Respect a certain amount of privacy your teenager may want.
- Children should learn from an early age that no other person is supposed to touch their private parts.
- 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
Many teenagers masturbate at some time or another. Handle this subject as discussed in the section on
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
You can then talk about the difference between “loving another person” and “just making love with another
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.
11 February, 2013