Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Helping children deal with terrorism, trauma and terrible things…

The Paris tragedy will bring with it a lot of fears and anxiety in young children. Some will be able to voice them and some will worry about it unable to ask the questions that are worrying them. It is important that as parents and teachers we support them in this period by ensuring that our own anxiety does not pass on to our children. If you find a child withdrawn or has suddenly started exhibiting different behavior, then maybe talking to the child or helping the child draw his/her emotions and thoughts can help.
Children will have a lot of questions and it is important that if children ask questions about the tragedy and its related factors that we reply to these questions with honesty and simplicity. It is better that they voice their questions to a trusted individual like a parent or teacher rather than being ignored. Our replies will also give them an assurance that the adults are thinking about their safety and they will be able to get back their trust and feel more secure.
5 sensitive questions that children ask about terrorism and how to handle them appropriately.
1.     Who is a terrorist?
Ans- A terrorist is a person who hurts others and harms them. Sometimes even killing them.
2.     Why were they killing the children?
Ans- They wanted to harm people and they did not think whether the people they are killing are kids or teachers or parents.
3.     Were there no guards or policemen to save the people?
Ans- Yes there were and the guards and policemen and they tried their very best to save the people and many were saved too.
4.     Will terrorists come to my city/school too?
Ans- Well your mummy and daddy and all of us in school are going to protect you and keep you safe.
5.     Will the terrorists be caught and punished?
Ans- Yes, all the police and army will now hunt them down and capture them soon.
Let us not ignore the anxieties that may be plaguing our young children as they see images or hear about the tragedy. Let us keep our children safe and secure in the knowledge that we are there for them. It is time for our own ‘sanitization’ and ‘sensitization’ instead of ‘sensationalism’.  Let’s begin with sanitization- removing any left over fears, doubts lurking in their minds-
1.     Do not allow your child to be knowingly exposed to visuals of such violence, If you are watching a news telecast that is about the violence then take the time to explain in very simple language what he is seeing and reassure him/her that he/she is safe.
2.     While explaining do not use phrases like- ‘these are naughty boys just like you have in your class’, or, ‘see, this is why mummy tells you not to be a naughty boy then you will grow up to be like them’. All this will only worsen the trauma and damage your child’s self esteem, self-confidence and dent his/her self-image.
3.      Be very careful that you do not discuss related events in front of your child, even if you think he/she is busy playing with toys or is happily watching a kids channel; they are focusing on you all the time. So be extremely careful.
4.      Your children should not hear you say- ‘I am scared, what if this happens to me tomorrow?’, or, ‘what if this happens in my child’s school?’ this will only increase the fear psychosis in your child.
5.     Some children may bed wet, start getting scared of the dark, will be clingy and refuse to leave you alone or even start nail biting. Understand, accept and slowly reassure them.
6.     Working parents can call them at home more often if they feel that the child is unduly upset. Tell them about where you are and that you are safe, this will reduce their worry. Children get worried too about their parents!
7.     Use play therapy to help gain an insight in what is going on in your child’s mind; drawing, block play or doll play are some forms of play in which we come to know about the emotional upheaval going on in their minds.

Let’s use this time now to sensitize ourselves and our children for the future- some ways to sensitize children-
1.     Violence has become an accepted way of life for our children, they are exposed to it all the time, hence it is imperative that parents and the school do not condone any kind of violence or violent activities. When your child watches glorified violence with you (in a blockbuster movie) he understands that violence makes my parents happy, and so he will always resort to violence to solve any situation in life, instead teach him conflict resolution.
2.     Do not teach children to ‘hit back’, when children are taught this at a very young age, they use ‘hit back’ for all their life’s frustrations- most terrorists are hitting back at society.
3.     Do not gift guns to your child, a child idolizes his parents and when he receives a gun as a gift from them, he is somewhere getting a message that guns are fun and this is the first step towards violence acceptance.
4.     Many parents ask – ‘our kids say that police also use guns’, so we gift our children guns so that they children’s guns so that they idolize the police and the army. This is incorrect, guns are unsafe and should NOT   be given to children, either at Diwali or Holi or otherwise. And parents must become strong and tell them that the police and the army first had to undergo a long process of training then they got their gun license and are using it, just like you cannot drive a car and we can, because we are old enough to and have a license.
5.     Children learn by imitation- so learn anger management so that your children look at you and learn how to deal with dress and all such angry emotions.

Let’s remember it is our children and our youngsters who are our future, lets take care of them and let’s salute all the armed forces and policemen for the remarkable duty that they do to keep us safe. So the next time you are in your car and a policeman stops you to remind you about wearing a seatbelt or points out that you were talking on the phone or went through a red light, be polite to them and respect them, remember your child is watching you.

Let’s make this world a safer place for our children.

Swati Popat Vats- Director- Podar Jumbo Kids Preschools
                  President – Early Childhood Association- www.eca-india.org

Monday, 9 November 2015

Tips For a Safe Diwali

Tips for a Safe Diwali from Ms. Shalini of Safe Baby

10 safety tips to keep our children safe this festival season:

Diwali Tip 
# 1
At least two studies have shown that the ‘Anaar’ (flares/ fountain) caused the most burn cases during Diwali. Safe Baby recommends that parents be extremely careful when lighting Anaars. Don’t light the Anaar while holding it in your hand. Don’t bend over the Anaar while lighting it on the floor. Once lit, withdraw quickly. In case it does not work after lighting, don’t approach it before five minutes. Even then approach it cautiously. Don't try to re-ignite it.

Diwali Tip 
# 2
Cold water is the best home treatment for burns. Hold the burnt area under tap water for 10-15 minutes till the burn cools down. Locate a convenient source of running water before you use firecrackers. In an emergency you do not want to waste time looking for the water source. Do not apply butter, oil or any ointment on the burn as that could lead to infection.

Diwali Tip 
# 3
KEM Hospital studied injuries due to fireworks from 1997 to 2006. The maximum injuries were in the age group 5-14 years. 92% of these children were unsupervised. Safe Baby recommends that parents supervise their children while they are playing with firecrackers.

Diwali Tip 
# 4
Used fireworks should be disposed carefully – especially sparklers (phuljharis). Sparklers remain hot after use. Have a designated area for the disposal of fireworks. Preferably use a sand pit or a bucket of water. Safe Baby recommends that parents educate children about the importance of disposing used fireworks carefully.

Diwali Tip 
# 5
Make children wear cotton clothes (no synthetics) when they go down to play with fireworks. Covered arms and legs are better. However make sure sleeves or clothes are not loose. For the girls, pin the dupattas behind so that it does not catch fire accidentally.

Diwali Tip 
# 6
To protect your children from the dangers of noise pollution use ear plugs or ear muffs. Remember babies cannot cover their ears. If you can’t find ear plugs or ear muffs, use cotton. 

Diwali Tip 
# 7
On Diwali, one of the commonest causes of burn injuries is firework misuse. Read the manufacturer’s instructions on the fireworks. Read them to the children and follow them. Remember that children mimic adults. Make sure that your own use of fireworks is safe.

Diwali Tip 
# 8
Pick the venue for playing with fireworks carefully. Do not allow any fireworks inside the house. For external venues, make sure there is no traffic. Children may not notice oncoming traffic in the excitement. Make sure there are no inflammable goods or articles close by.

Diwali Tip 
# 9
Safe Baby recommends that after playing with firecrackers, please wash your hands thoroughly with soap. Fireworks carry a lot of chemical compounds which can be injurious to health.

Diwali Tip 
# 10
Safe Baby recommends that parents have a list of emergency contact numbers ready. This list should include phone numbers of your pediatrician, closest hospital and ambulance, and fire-station. This list should be saved on your mobile phones or kept in a place where it can be found easily.

Have a safe Diwali.

Shalini Ahuja Agarwal
Safe Baby
A 504 Dynasty Business Park
Andheri-Kurla Road, Andheri East
Mumbai 400059
Cell: 09967550801

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Child Abuse – The Sounds of Silence

"Child abuse" can be defined as causing or permitting any harmful or offensive contact on a child's body; and, any communication or transaction of any kind which humiliates, shames, or frightens the child. It is an act or omission, which fails to nurture in the upbringing of the children at any age, sex, race, religion, and socioeconomic background. Children who are abused suffer greatly, and a society in which abuse takes place is considerably diminished. The African proverb, 'It takes a village to raise a child', epitomises the importance of the role of the wider community in raising children and young people.

For young children the three broad categories of child abuse are-
a.       Physical abuse
b.      Emotional abuse
c.       Sexual abuse
Physical abuse is very common in our country both in urban and rural areas. Spanking, hitting, pinching are an accepted method of disciplining young children both in schools and at home. In a recent article of the American college of Paediatricians there are guidelines to how and how much a parent should/can spank a child. This is a cause for worry as research shows that children who are spanked or physically abused learn to use violence as a means to solving all conflicts in life, they learn that ‘hitting’ is a form of showing love and tend to be more physically abusive in all their relationships. An article in Time magazine, ‘Should teachers be allowed to spank students?’ points out that there is little evidence that spanking actually works to change children's behaviour for the better. In fact, kids spanked tend to be more aggressive than other kids and are likelier to develop behavioural problems as they get older. It further says that some studies show that corporal punishment can even lower IQs. Teachers and parents both need to understand the negative long lasting effects of spanking and should be taught to use conflict resolution for behaviour management. In today’s world teachers and mothers need to be leaders and not bosses. In Piaget’s words they must work for the goal of ‘autonomy’ (intelligent and ethical decision making) rather than obedience. The community can play a huge role in bringing about this change. Regular reports about this in the media have helped to strengthen the laws and now teachers can be imprisoned if found to have spanked or hit or physically abused children. Teacher training colleges to include behaviour management as a subject in the curriculum so that teachers are trained about the different techniques that can be used in place of physical abuse for classroom discipline. Therapists, counsellors, paediatricians and schools can educate parents about the futility of trying to change children with physical abuse. As mahatma Gandhi says, ‘punishment never cures children, infact it hardens them further’.

The second kind of abuse that young children in our society are subjected to is emotional abuse, lack of love; nurturing and the growing trend of stressing children with high and unrealistic expectations of making them excel right from kindergarten years. The additional emotional stress on these young kids is multiplied many fold when they are interviewed for school admissions. The collective stress of preparing for the interview, facing a stranger and unreasonable pressure placed by parents, all tend to stress out the young growing brain. Brain research in recent years has proven that 98% of the brain develops in the first five years and important neuro chemicals required for brain growth are diminished when a child undergoes this kind of emotional stress leading to primitive reflex behaviours like fight and flight and thus aggravating the situation further leading to more reprimands from the parents and the vicious cycle never ends. Emotional abuse leaves lasting scars leading to unhealthy behaviour and personality traits which will impact the self esteem, confidence, language skills, cognitive skills and social skills of the child. Erik Erikson emotional development theory- the eight stages of mankind, clearly states that these children will develop mistrust, guilt, shame, inferiority complex which can even lead to isolation and despair. Community intervention for emotional abuse is more difficult but not impossible, gynaecologists should start distributing relevant material on brain development to expectant mothers so that in the nine months she can start to understand and relate to the needs of her growing child and this will then continue to be practised as she becomes a parent. Teachers in the early childhood programs can be trained to look for signs of emotional abuse in children so that they can identify it early and help the parents change their behaviour and expectations of the child. Television programs that make children compete even before they have gained confidence in themselves or developed their own personality is a worrying trend that needs to be stopped immediately.

The third worrying form of abuse that children are facing is the heinous crime of sexual abuse. This perversion in our society is growing day by day and the target of this is now little toddlers. Child sexual abuse must be one of the most heinous crimes committed against children. It is sad and disgusting because the kids do not even realize that a crime has been committed as child sexual abusers are usually adults that the child ‘trusts’. An emerging sickness in these offenders that had never been addressed when warning children about sexual abuse is that we are always warning kids about others touching them in their private parts, but we don’t warn them about others asking them to touch them (the abusers) in their private parts. This sick technique used by many offenders makes the child an innocent party to their sick sexual perverseness.

Yes, this country needs stringent laws to punish such criminals, but this country also needs to sensitise the parents, the teachers, the kids and the youth about taking care of their bodies and keeping them safe. Parents and teachers can work together and educate children of all ages about being safe and understanding about GOOD TOUCH- BAD TOUCH. It is never too early to talk to kids about body safety and in this case prevention is definitely better than cure. Prevention is possible if parents and teachers understand about keeping children safe from harm at all times.
Parents need to understand that children are too innocent to understand such acts. Parents and teachers both need to understand that sometimes in their ‘non stop chatter’, children may have important things to tell us, so don’t ignore them. And teachers and parents need to understand that children ‘talk’ through their drawings so listen and look for the clues.

The larger socio-economic system in which child and family are embedded can influence family functioning, child development and the availability of helping resources, such as universal child and health services, within communities and neighbourhoods. The importance of community is currently undergoing a resurgence of interest, with governments and the child welfare and family support sectors redesigning services to become more community-centred, and forging alliances with local communities to help improve the physical and social environment of communities. Child abuse prevention programs play an important role in crime prevention, because not only is abuse criminal activities, children who are abused are at greater risk of engaging in antisocial and criminal behaviour later in life. The community based program should focus on ensuring the safety and well-being of children, creating stable living environments, establishing a permanent residence for each child, and creating a community-based support system. This could be accomplished by medical exams; psychosocial support; education; advocacy; consultation. The key community-level factors that are likely to be related to child maltreatment, such as poverty, neighbourhood, culture and parenting practices, apply more to physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect than to the sexual abuse of children. Community-level approaches, particularly those designed to create healthy communities, focus on the forms of maltreatment that can be remedied or prevented by the use of social support or parent education via the promotion of 'positive parenting' strategies. Such strategies are not designed to prevent child abuse. The application of holistic or community-based approaches to the prevention of child abuse is limited to primary-level community education of parents and the education of school-aged children to teach them the means of avoiding or seeking assistance with unwanted sexual or physical advances. Personal safety programs have the aim of educating children to protect themselves from sexual abuse. The programs attempt to involve the children's parents in order to raise community awareness of child abuse and to teach parenting skills related to protecting children and detecting signs of abuse. Protective Behaviours programs focus on teaching children to avoid a wide range of potentially unsafe situations, only some of which involve child maltreatment. Effective child abuse prevention requires a truly holistic approach where risk and resiliency continue to be acknowledged as inter-related and solutions are developed to address the former and to promote the latter.

Community based intervention is now increasingly more important as children are being brought up mostly by strangers. The breakup of the joint family system and increasing economic burden has meant that both parents are out seeking financial resources for survival and leaving the every important job of nurturing and care of their children in the hands of crèches, daycares, pre schools, ayahs, etc. Children these days come more and more in contact with strangers which was never the case before. The young child in the family was always the most protected and taken care of by some or the other family member. Today sadly these kids because of their exposure and dependence on care by strangers are also becoming victims of child abuse of all three kinds. Untrained staff, unhealthy practises, lack of adult child ratio in their care is all leading to children’s needs being sidelined and taken care of by one or the other kind of abuse.
It’s time to change that, it’s time for a community conscience to be built, a conscience that will be alert to the needs of the young child. It is said that ‘the child is the father of the man’, rightly so as these young children will grow up to be the youth and driving force of this country. If they are abused then they will grow up as fractured youth that will diminish the community and societal strength of our country. A community conscience will help us all become alert to the needs of kids and especially help us be alert about child abuse so that the necessary action can be taken in time before it destroys the very fabric of our community.

Community conscience can be a four pronged approach wherein neighbours, teachers, parents, media and policy makers become alert about abuse and ensure that it is reported, prevented and remedied with intervention and stringent laws, laws that would favour the child and not the offender. It’s time to bring abuse out of our homes as this is the first place where physical and emotional abuse to children starts. Children do not have the voice or the language development to make a case for themselves and that is why we are unable to hear their sounds of silence. Community based interventions like educating parents and teachers using radio programs, documentaries, articles in local newspapers, messages during television soaps will all ensure that we are able to prevent abuse so that intervention happens before the abuse and not after. Another major area of concern is juvenile homes, remedial homes and processes that these victim go through as sometimes these very places add to the abuse instead of being the solution they aggravate the problem. This happens due to lack of resources, lack of training and insensitive handling of children. With community intervention that is conscience based which means we make training, prevention, advocacy a part of our collective community conscience we will be able to ensure that their voice is heard and touch never becomes trouble in any child’s life. It’s time to make the village rise so that the sounds we hear are not of silent suffering but that of happy, healthy, nurtured children.