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Integral Psychotherapy
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Dealing With Fear in Children - Personal Notes


Psychology for Spirituality

Dealing With Fear in Children - Personal Notes

Quite often mothers complain to me about fears and feelings of insecurities in their children. If the child is very young and if there is no obvious family discord, the first thing that I ask is whether the child sleeps at night with the night-lamp on. In most case the answer is yes. The child has not learnt to enjoy darkness, not allowed to experience darkness .Has he not played that game of blind man’s buff? Inadvertently, the mother thought that the night-lamp would allay the child’s fear but actually it increased the insecurity.

Mothers often think that love alone is the most important factor in building a sense of security in children. That is partially true. Love is the strongest factor to build confidence in the child but it is not the only factor. I have to often remind mothers that God has not only given them the capacity of love but also the potentiality of wisdom. And in this case, wisdom in the perspective of Integral Health means a development of all aspects of consciousness as they progressively unfold in the child.

The child learns the world through the experience of the senses. Mothers know this instinctively. That is why the first game the mother plays with the child is that of peep-boo. When the mother hides behind the curtain, she is lost to the baby. When the curtain is drawn back and the baby re-discovers the mother, one should behold that amazement that awe, that exclamation in the baby. When that game is played again and again, the baby understands that the mother-figure is a permanent phenomenon. It is through such sensory games that the sense of security develops. The baby realizes that even if lost, his or her mother will surely return. The baby realizes that in danger, mother will always be there. It is only then that the baby, without fear, can explore the world around, adventuring below the table, behind the cupboard, above the chair. Thus is laid the sense of security that can help the child to cope with fear. Together with the sense of security, an instinctive faith develops. That is why when the baby falls and gets hurt, the mother scolds the floor and tells the baby that nothing has happened. The baby believes and is upright without fear or pain.

When a bit older and the baby becomes a child, one has to be taught to experience all the vagaries of nature. He must enjoy the sunlight, he must enjoy the rain, he must enjoy the moonlight, and he must enjoy the darkness. A child’s education starts by sense-training. It is not enough to stimulate the senses. It is not enough to just expose the child to multiple situations. It is important that the child must have the fullest sense-experience. The child must have the most fulfilling, complete and perfect sense-experience.

How do we ensure that a child must not have a partial and incomplete sensory experience? The child must be allowed to have the full experience, must not be disturbed in the middle or unduly interfered. If the child is exposed to a piece of music, the child must be allowed to hear the full piece and the mother should not switch off the music-player according to her whims. If the child is enjoying the rain, he or she should not be rebuked. If the child plays with mud or sand, the mother should not be fussy. If the child is being fed and enjoys the food, the mother should attend the feeding session and appreciate the child without being distracted by her own mobile phone-calls or her favorite TV serials. And in the middle of the feeding game, if the child gets lost in a world of fancy and stops eating for a while, the mother must patiently wait till he or she returns from the worlds of fairies, Superman and Tom and Jerry.

Sensory-training needs to be introduced in play situations. And if such a play is tagged with an experience of awe, then a foundation for security is led. Thus when children are taken to watch horses or allowed to soak their feet in the water of a lake, they can have an overwhelming experience that helps to dispel fear and instill confidence. Later a graded program of nature study consolidates the poise of security. Nature herself is a great teacher. And when the child experiences nature and can joyfully and creatively identify with Tarzan or Mowgli, what is there to fear? Tarzan is fearless. Mowgli is dauntless.

Sensory training in children reaches its perfection when along with the training of the five senses; the aesthetic sense is also developed. It does not mean that one has to be a great artist. Children should be exposed to beauty in its varied forms. There is beauty in the flower, in the butterfly, in sunrise, in the lullaby mother sings and in that pretty Barbie doll father brought. To learn to appreciate beauty brings fulfilment in life. A childhood trained to its fullest potentials can cope with the hazards on the way, can absorb fear, anxiety and insecurity, and can blossom with joy into a robust adolescence.

Notes on Counselling
Self-esteem in children

After having spent many years working with children, both in the clinic setting and in the playground, I can now understand the deeper significance of the role of self-esteem in developing children. I have often wondered how much our counselling techniques actually help children. That four years old lost in the world of Disneyland, that six years old naughty one swinging through trees in Jungle Book, that ten years old dreaming of Robinson Crusoe -- can they really benefit with the sermons of an adult counsellor. The more I work with children, the more I feel that the restoring of the sense of self-esteem is the prime task in counselling. It is only then that the other interventions become meaningful.

The problem for the counsellor is to understand what we mean by the term ‘self’ in children. In the case of an adult, restoration of self-esteem would be boosting the ego in a world of competition, consumerism and strife. In the case of a child, an identity of oneself grows through time winding its way through a progressive unfoldment of planes of consciousness. At each plane, there are contributions to the growth of a unique identity. Any hindrance to this process at each plane is not conducive to the emergent self-concept and the sense of self-esteem of the developing child. The necessary correction needs action plans designed for each particular plane of consciousness and not necessarily counselling sermons.

At the physical plane, the developing child needs a body that has a harmony between its different parts and functions. A weak body makes one feel to be ridiculed by others whereas an obese child is also ridiculed by the peer group. It is documented that minor physical anomalies can lead to behavioural deviance in otherwise intelligent children. High school intelligent girls with greater weightage of minor anomalies are more likely to be negativistic and socially withdrawn than others in their peer group. Physically handicapped children may have low social acceptance and their creativity can be impaired unless they are educated in special settings where their self-concept is stimulated with due honour and dignity. The partially deaf and dumb become psychologically very disturbed as they can neither identify with the totally deaf and dumb, nor with normal peer group and as a result their self-concept and self-esteem become very problematic for working through.

It is interesting that The Mother had mentioned three principal aspects of physical education: “(1) control and discipline of the functioning of the body, (2) an integral, methodical and harmonious development of all the parts and movements of the body and (3) correction of any defects and deformities.” (1) Her emphasis in 1951 on the correction of minor anomalies for harmonious living was corroborated later by developmental researchers. She had explained, ‘a good many bodily defects can be rectified and many malformations avoided by an enlightened physical education given at the proper time’.(2) Incidentally a number of developmental studies in children have also showed how physical unattractiveness affects social acceptance both among peer groups and care-givers which in turn affect self-concept. The Mother specifically mentioned how it was mandatory to cultivate the ideal of beauty by ‘a constructive programme for the harmonization of the form and its movements’. (3) She emphasized, ‘Every human being has the possibility of establishing harmony among the different parts of his body and in the various movements of the body in action. Every human body that undergoes a rational method of culture from the very beginning of its existence can realize its own harmony and thus become fit to manifest beauty’. (4)

With the development of the vital plane of consciousness, the emotional repertoire of the child reaches an optimal point for making is presence felt through dynamism, the pull of desires as well as the turbulence of mood swings and the velocity of aggression. As the vital contains conflicting emotions, a low self-esteem may be expressed through depression or aggression. Children from economically stable families can resort to deviant behaviour like lying and stealing if they feel that adults, even if well-meaning, cannot appreciate their problems. Working with the vital element in children, I have often felt that love alone does not suffice to nurse the wounded self-esteem of children, parents need to have wisdom and a discerning mind-set to comprehend the depth and extent and cause of their problems. Many a time, children who were brought to me for aggressive behaviour had actually undetected and hence uncorrected problems like dyslexia which had lowered their self-esteem resulting in deviance. A technical correction of such learning problem can increase the child’s self-confidence and this itself can make him mature enough to deal with his own aggression.

When the child develops cognitive abilities, newer brain circuits start operating facilitating the capacities for attention and concentration needed for learning and executing increasingly complex tasks. In children with learning disorders or attention deficit disorder, these pre-programmed circuits seem to be delayed in their action. Such children, if intelligent, have their self-esteem affected as they are constantly criticized and compared with others. If uncorrected, some of them can, as a reaction, identify with the negative icons in the peer group to exhibit deviant behaviour. A few may feel depressed and become socially withdrawn. The first thing would be to correct the technical problem through a multimodality approach viz. increasing the attention span and reducing the hyperactivity by drugs, learning programs to correct faulty way of learning, graphotherapy as adjunct, increasing social acceptance, counselling for associated conduct and emotional problems. In my experience I have seen that restoring the child’s self-esteem is the prime motivator to put the child in the right track, not through counselling sermons but by technical help so that he has confidence on his capacity to concentrate. It is only then that counselling can become meaningful.

However, behind the flux and façade of the emergent self-concept of the child, there is the poise of the inner self, the soul-element in evolution, the Psychic Being. In children, this is often at the forefront but as development progresses; the soul-element gets hidden behind the crust of the vital and mental planes of consciousness. One can find inklings of the soul-element in the spontaneity, joy, beauty and abject innocence of childhood. The Mother elaborates, ‘It is like a light that shines at the centre of the being, radiating through the thick coverings of the external consciousness. Some have a vague intimation of its presence; a good many children are under its influence, which shows itself very distinctly at times in their spontaneous actions and even in their words.(5)It is through this psychic presence that the truth of an individual being comes into contact with him and the circumstances of his life. In most cases the presence acts , so to say, from behind the veil, unrecognized and unknown; but in some, it is perceptible and its action recognizable and even, in a very few, the presence becomes tangible and its action fully effective. These go forward in life with an assurance and a certitude all their own; they are masters of their destiny’.(6)

In the perspective of a consciousness based psychology, the pursuit to be conscious of the soul-element (or Psychic Being) within the depths of one’s being implies the true restoration of self-esteem in children, aiding Krishna , boisterous and playful, to bud out into a greater manhood.

1. The Mother: Collected Works, Centenary Edition, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Vol. 12, 1978,pg 12
2. Ibid, pg 17
3. Ibid
4. Ibid, pg 16-17
5. Ibid, Pg 30
6. Ibid, pg 32

Dr. Soumitra Basu
Date of Update: 20-Apr-12

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