A universal prob­lem

From peer pres­sure to deal­ing with fail­ure and low self-es­teem, the prob­lems chil­dren are faced with in school can be over­whelm­ing. But Shiva Ku­mar Thekkepat dis­cov­ers that there can be a so­lu­tion

Friday - - Society Living Leisure - sthekkepat@gulfnews.com @Shiva_fri­day

For Richard*, it started when he moved to Dubai with his fam­ily and en­rolled at a new school in year four. “It was the dark­est pe­riod in my life,” the 13-yearold Aus­tralian re­calls, re­mem­ber­ing the taunts and jibes he en­dured for close to two years.

“I was new to the place and des­per­ate to make friends and fit into a new life here, but some boys made my life re­ally mis­er­able.

“Dur­ing break time they would pick on me, ver­bally taunt­ing me about ev­ery­thing – my clothes, looks, ac­cent, hair­style, the bag I was car­ry­ing – it was hurt­ful and I would start ar­gu­ing with them but that only en­cour­aged them.’’

The bul­ly­ing soon took its toll and Richard’s grades dropped. He be­came list­less, un­com­mu­nica­tive and even stopped play­ing foot­ball – his favourite sport.

Usu­ally bois­ter­ous and gre­gar­i­ous, he was silent and glum and noth­ing could cheer him up. His mother, Sheila*, was the first to no­tice the changes. “Ini­tially I felt it was just a phase – Richard miss­ing home and get­ting used to his new life here – but when his sullen mood con­tin­ued, I be­came wor­ried,” she says.

The 38-year-old house­wife, whose hus­band Ja­son* is a banker, talked to Richard and even­tu­ally he opened up, ad­mit­ting he was be­ing bul­lied.

“I could have just marched into school, spo­ken to his teach­ers and con­fronted the bul­lies,” she says. “But Richard begged me not to, fear­ing it would ex­ac­er­bate things.”

That was when she con­sid­ered call­ing a coun­sel­lor. So, al­though Richard was re­luc­tant, she per­suaded him to see Su­naina Vohra, a cer­ti­fied life and neuro-lin­guis­tic pro­gram­ming (NLP) coach.

“One of the first things Su­naina told me was some­thing that was so sim­ple and easy I felt like kick­ing my­self for not think­ing about it,’’ says Richard, now in year six. “She told me just to ig­nore them and walk away.”

Su­naina, who runs Athena Busi­ness and Life Coach­ing in Dubai, gave him lots of tips to stand up to the bul­lies. “She told me to con­sider if what they said re­ally meant any­thing to me,” says Richard. “I thought about ev­ery­thing they’d called me and re­alised it didn’t. So she was right, there was noth­ing worth get­ting worked up about. The boys could have been hav­ing self-es­teem is­sues, which is why they were pick­ing on oth­ers, I was told. By hav­ing a go at me, they made them­selves feel su­pe­rior and im­por­tant.’’

Back in school, Richard ig­nored the boys’ taunts and walked away rather than ar­gu­ing. “I told my­self, ‘You know you are not what they say you are, so why get wor­ried?’ I think they grew tired of try­ing to an­noy me, be­cause they re­alised I didn’t care what they said.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, the jibes stopped. “Re­al­is­ing their ef­forts to rile him were not work­ing, they just gave up,’’ says Su­naina.

Today, Richard is back to his usual self. He has found a larger cir­cle of friends and is even play­ing sport again. Bul­ly­ing or haz­ing – a rit­ual of hu­mil­i­a­tion used to ini­ti­ate some­one into a group – is a prob­lem many chil­dren face at school and early col­lege years, and most ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions take a stern ap­proach to­wards any child who in­dulges in haz­ing fel­low stu­dents.

“A lot of the time, chil­dren don’t re­alise they are be­ing bul­lied,” says Su­na­iana, who gives reg­u­lar ses­sions on how to tackle bul­ly­ing. “It doesn’t have to be taunts and in­sults. It could even be jokes or pranks that can end up be­ing hu­mil­i­at­ing. We teach chil­dren to recog­nise bul­ly­ing and neg­a­tive peer pres­sure, and its dif­fer­ent types and forms. We also help them dis­cover the root causes, the ef­fects of bul­ly­ing and its con­se­quences on them and oth­ers.

Bul­lies are of­ten stu­dents who have self-es­teem and con­fi­dence is­sues, she says. They’re of­ten jeal­ous, en­vi­ous, afraid or in­se­cure and re­sort to be­lit­tling and ril­ing oth­ers to mask their in­se­cu­ri­ties.

“The first les­son we give chil­dren is to learn to stand up for them­selves and oth­ers and learn how to say ‘no’ to neg­a­tive peer pres­sure and bul­ly­ing,’’ says Su­naina.

Even if chil­dren are not be­ing bul­lied, the classes teach them to deal with po­ten­tial bul­ly­ing in fu­ture.

Seven-year-old Gi­hansa Jayaw­ick­rama, a stu­dent of Dubai Gem Pri­vate School, says, “I have not been bul­lied but if ever I am then I know how to deal with that with the skills I’ve learnt.”

With two older broth­ers aged 17 and 13, Gi­hansa can oc­ca­sion­ally feel alien­ated. “Some­times I feel down when my broth­ers don’t sup­port me like when I seek their help for a school project,” she says.

“So I use a skill that Su­naina taught me called ‘pow­er­shift­ing’. I go to the mir­ror and do an ac­tion to punch the ‘grun­gies’ – the bad things that make me feel sad – out of sight, and then I feel all right. Some­times I do that in school too when I feel down over some­thing.”

Chil­dren of all ages ben­e­fit from such

coach­ing. Me­hak Gana­tra, 12, a stu­dent of Dubai Col­lege, uses these tech­niques to get around neg­a­tive peer pres­sure. “Some­times I feel pres­sured to do some­thing be­cause it is trendy,” she says. “Class­mates will say, ‘you have to do it be­cause it makes you look cool and part of the group’. But I’ve learnt to ig­nore those things and to make my own decisions. Su­naina taught me is to be re­spon­si­ble for my ac­tions.’’

Su­naina stresses that it’s very im­por­tant to teach chil­dren to have a strong mind. “If some­body is forc­ing you to do some­thing you aren’t com­fort­able do­ing, pause to an­a­lyse what po­ten­tial prob­lems could arise if you go ahead,” she tells the chil­dren in her classes. “Think about the out­come. Re­mem­ber, only you are re­spon­si­ble for the decisions you make. So it is im­por­tant that you make a de­ci­sion af­ter weigh­ing up the pros and the cons rather than be forced to do some­thing.’’

Man­ag­ing mis­takes

Even when chil­dren are not be­ing put un­der pres­sure by peers and have never been bul­lied, they might need to nav­i­gate fail­ure and man­age mis­takes such as do­ing badly in an exam or get­ting a low grade on an as­sign­ment. So, how does one man­age a mis­take?

First, ad­mit to your­self that you made a mis­take, Su­na­iana says. Se­condly, apol­o­gise for your mis­take to the per­son – so, for ex­am­ple, to the sub­ject teacher you had to do the as­sign­ment for.

The third step is to find a les­son from the mis­take – for in­stance, to man­age your time bet­ter or keep re­minders about pend­ing projects – and learn from it. And the fourth and fi­nal step is to learn to let go of the mis­take.

Me­hak has been through the drill. “Just be­cause you’ve had a fail­ure – like not mak­ing it to the school basketball team – doesn’t mean you have to live with it for­ever,” she says. “You have to work harder and give it an­other shot or just let it go.’’

It’s im­por­tant chil­dren re­alise that mak­ing a mis­take doesn’t mean you’ve failed your­self; you’ve only failed in the event. Once you master the skills or hone your tal­ents to do the task bet­ter, you will be able to ac­com­plish it, so the fail­ure is only tem­po­rary, says Su­naina.

You have to learn to think be­yond it and let it go – of course af­ter learn­ing from the mis­take.

NLP prac­ti­tioner Su­naina Vohra of­fers pro­grammes for the all-round emo­tional growth of chil­dren Gi­hansa, above, and Me­hak, be­low, have ben­e­fit­ted from the life-coach­ing pro­grammes of­fered by Su­naina

Su­naina teaches chil­dren self­ac­count­abil­ity

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