Come on! ALL of us are bunking maths class today. The professor is giving a test and who wants to go take that? We’re all going to catch the latest movie and get lunch instead. Let’s go!” said Rohan the coolest kid in class who was also the group’s leader. If you were in that class and in Rohan’s group what would you have done? See the movie or take the test??

Our friends are an important part of our growing up years. And especially in the teen years, they influence our life the most, even if we don’t realize it, just by spending time with us. We learn from them, and they learn from us. It’s natural for adolescents to think that only same age people understand them better than anybody else as they all face the same and yet unique challenges of transition from a child to an adult.

What is peer pressure?

Ranjeet wants to take a course in computers. But his parents are not o sure as they think that he does not have the technical skills needed for a computer course. They are insisting that he take an aptitude test which will help him plot his strengths and weaknesses and help plot a future plan for him. Ranjeet is resisting this as he is scared of what his friends will think if he takes up an aptitude test to decide his future. He feels they will laugh and say that he should be man enough to take his own decision and not allow parents or some counselor to decide for him. He turns to his friends for advice. 3 of his friends have decided that taking a foreign language course is the best thing to do in this age of globalization. Ryan the leader of their group starts putting pressure on Ranjeet to opt for the same. Ranjeet hates learning languages. However his 3 friends are unrelenting. They even threaten Ranjeet that they will never talk to him if he takes up computers instead of a foreign language course. Under duress, Ranjeet ultimately takes up the foreign language course.  His parents are nonplussed and wonder how much time it would be before Ranjeet leaves this course halfway. But there is not much that they can do, as they know the influence that Ryan and the other two have on Ranjeet. They just resign to the whole thing as another adolescent folly………..

This is a classic case of peer pressure!

A major bone of contention with parents of teens is decision making. Teens want to take their own decisions as they feel they are up to it as they have grown up and no longer need their parent’s guidance on each and every decision of their lives. However deep down teens do find it hard to take a decision completely by themselves. At times they do feel at a loss to know the right from the wrong.  This is the time they turn to their peers for help. However when the friendly advice and suggestions start becoming more of a pressure to conform to what the peer feels is right, it is termed as peer pressure.

Whether it is pressure to conform to a group norm (like wearing certain types of clothes or taking part in specific activities and clubs) or pressure to act (like trying drugs or alcohol, taking up particular courses in college or isolating another teen), peer pressure is something every teen has to deal with at some time or the other in their teenage.

How successfully you handle peer pressure depends a great deal on how you feel about yourself and your place in the world. There are certain “risk factors” for peer pressure, some personality traits that make you more prone to give in to peer pressure.

Risk Factors:

  • Lack of confidence: If your belief in yourself is low it is easy for you to want to follow in others’ footsteps in your teen years. Also it is easier for others to dominate you as they can see that you are unsure of yourself.
  • Feeling of isolation from family:  If for any reason, you feel your family is not supportive, understanding, encouraging or is uncommunicative there are high chances that you will turn to your peers in search of the same. This dependency may soon trigger a cycle of dominance on their part.
  • Lack of direction in life: If you are unsure of your own future plans, high chances that you may look up to someone else who is more surer and want to latch on to their dreams and wishes. 
  • Other factors playing a role could be uncertainty about ones place and position within a given peer group, no personal hobbies or interests exclusive of one’s peer group, fear of one’s peers and lack of strong ties to friends, feeling that friends could turn on you easily or with little reason.  

How do you prepare yourself to face peer pressure and win? The answer is simple.

  • Be prepared: Start preparing yourself beforehand for any uncomfortable situations that you think you may be in for. Mentally rehearse the reaction that you WANT to give in a particular situation (the reaction that goes AGAINST peer pressure) and rehearse this script, with the appropriate dialogues, body language, and expressions, out in your head over and over again. issue
  • Know yourself more: Become aware of your own stand on key concerns like friendships, academic goals, and also on more serious issues like sex, drugs, alcohol and bullying. Once you are sure of what your priorities are on these important matters, you will be in a better position to not allow anybody else to make you stray from your stand.
  • Know your friends well: Be aware of your friend’s personality, his likes and dislikes, his strengths and weaknesses. Then you will be in a better position to steer the friendship.
  • Learn to say ‘NO’: This is an important skill that all self respecting teenagers should learn. Flatly refuse to take part in anything designed to cause harm or distress to another person and speak up when/if such a situation arises. You do not have to be angry, a comment like “lets not bother with this” or “why do we need to do this” is usually enough to inspire others who are uncomfortable to stand up and be counted.
  • Act like a leader: Think of yourself as a leader and act accordingly. The more you see yourself in this role the more comfortable you will feel asserting your own opinions and feelings.
  • Refuse to let yourself down: Often when we give in to peer pressure it hurts our already fragile self esteem creating a vicious circle. If you think of giving in to peer pressure as letting yourself down it becomes easier to combat and your confidence will earn you respect.
  • Its okay to be different from friends: You may love your friends, yet may want different things from life. This is alright. True friendship does not get affected by differences in taste, profession, or interests.
  • Take efforts to forge an open communication with parents: Many a times open communication with parents can help combat peer pressure. When you know that you have your parents on your side you will be more confident to take on the pressures of the world. However for this, one needs to first develop the right perspective that even if parents nag at times it is not because they are our enemies but out of sheer concern and love for us.

Remember that when you give in to peer pressure, you are actually letting yourself down and this will later turn into long term guilt and regret. When peer pressure rears its ugly head try to focus on these life long negative effects rather than the short term negative effects of standing up for what you think is right. Peers may seem unpleasant when you speak up against the group but that initial reaction will blow over and you will likely find that you were not so alone in your feelings and that others will admire you for doing what you felt was right. Peer pressure only works if you let it; if you refuse to let it intimidate you it loses its power.

Remember, peer pressure can only bite you if you let it. So become strong and don’t let the peer pressure, pressure you.

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The Competitive Edge

It is a proven fact that competition as a value gets inculcated in children at a very early age itself. It begins as a simple comparison by significant adults in the marks in academics, prizes in extra curricular activities and such other things.

In adolescence, comparison in clothes, accessories, branded stuff, whether I have the best mobile model, is common. The race in academics in fact gets heightened here where in each mark starts counting.

This process of comparison leading to competition continues through adult life. Who had a more lavish marriage, who is climbing the corporate ladder faster, who bought his new car, new house first. The list is endless.

Life just ends up being a rat race where everyone is competing to be ahead of the other. No wonder then that stress, anxiety, depression, psychological issues have become common problems.

But, let us just stop and think. Are these the values that we want to live with? Do we just want to pit against each other and be at each others’ throats? Do we not wish that we be in harmony with ourselves and our environment? Do we not want to lead both mentally and physically healthier lives?

The solution is simple if we just think more sensitively and empathetically. Competition is needed so that we feel motivated to work towards a goal, an aim. However can not this competition be with the self?

Competing with the self has far more advantages than competing with others:

  • Optimal usage of potential: My best can be far better than what I may achieve by just trying to be better than you. I may be a person who could achieve 85% if I put my heart into it. To compete with another one, maybe 75% is enough because that individual is in the range of 65-70%. But this would mean that I am not using all my potential which actually then is a loss to the self.
  • Setting realistic and achievable targets: If I try to do better than my own last performance, be it academics, sports, singing etc it helps me set realistic targets. When I am pitted against another individual, I would end up having unrealistic targets which are either too stretched and hence unachievable or too easy where I end up underachieving.
  • Living in harmony: My peace of mind does not get disturbed as I am competing only with one person: Myself. This helps me in not harboring any ill feelings towards any other individual, or be in constant strife and conflict. In fact it helps me be in harmony with my environment and others thus leading to better mental and physical health.
  • Achieving intrinsic motivation: This helps me be intrinsically motivated which is ultimately how it should be. Competing with others gives only extrinsic motivation which is not long lasting. In the end the motivation to do anything well should come from within i.e. intrinsically, for me to put my 100% in it.

So let us all strive to give this true competitive edge to ourselves and make our future lives easier and satisfactory.

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Self Acceptance

Krishna once came all teary eyed and sad to Yashodha. Nonplussed as to what was bothering her little one, Yashoda tried to console him and ask the reason for his distress. Through his tears Krishna confessed that whenever he went out and played with his friends he kept feeling that all stared at him because he was so dark and felt that they did not accept him as one of them. He felt he was ‘different’. He then pleaded with Yashoda that she should make a paste of Chandan and rose water and apply it to him so that when it dried up he would become fair and look light skinned.

Yashoda knew that what Krishna was saying was not the truth but a game that his mind was playing on him. None stared at him and in fact he was the apple of everyone’s eyes. The whole Gokul adored the dark skinned Krishna. However lately Krishna had become conscious of his skin colour. But Yashoda also knew that explaining this would not convince Krishna and looking at her little one’s anguish decided that she will go with his plan and let Krishna learn through the experience that it was he himself who really needed to accept the different-ness and not others.

So embalmed with the dried up chandan paste, Krishna went out to play with his friends. What a shock Krishna was in for! Krishna’s friends could not fathom this light colored Krishna and teased him, made fun of him and he became a laughing stock. As he ran back towards his house he saw that even the adults were looking at him curiously. As soon as he reached home he told Yashoda to remove the paste from his body. Having taken a bath, Krishna felt much better. Soon his friends came and apologized and said how well he looked as he is and what was the idea behind smearing the chandan paste on the whole body. Krishna looked sheepishly at Yashoda and hinted that she should not tell them the truth. The matter was soon forgotten but Krishna had learnt his lesson. He now loved himself the way he was and as soon as he did that he saw love and affection reflected in the other important people around him.

Children, does this story echo any similar sentiments in you? Are there any physical, intellectual or emotional aspects that you do not accept in the self? Then do you not think that like Krishna its time that you to move towards self acceptance.

Accepting the positive and negative flaws in the self would help you become comfortable with yourself as you are [physically] and then you could focus more on strengthening your positive aspects and reducing your flaws as far as possible[emotionally and intellectually]. Once you are comfortable with the way you are, others will accept you easily without any qualms as they will sense your self confidence and acceptance and in turn would equally feel confident of you.

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Listen with your Heart

“Small children should be seen and not heard.”

This proverb might have been coined in a century when each family had half a dozen children and it was humanly impossible for the parent to pay attention to each one individually. It might have also been compensated by the fact that the children had their siblings to talk and listen to. However the same cannot be said to be true in our age of nuclear families. Today, due to the fact that each family has only one or at the most two children, it becomes easier for parents to look after them. And hence the onus is also on them to inculcate good communication and interpersonal skills in them.

That brings us to the much hyped Communication skills which is recognized as an important element in the self growth and personal development of children. There are innumerable personality development classes and institutes, which promise parents that they will enhance your child’s communication skills within no time. They emphasize on good presentation and persuasion skills, the ability to talk and influence a group and so forth. However most miss out on the key factor and that is listening.

Most people feel listening is unnecessary and not really a skill to invest one’s time in. The trend is to know how to put forth and express your ideas and concepts and the emphasis is definitely on how one can speak and present one’s self. However the power and advantages that the skill of listening can provide is undeniable.

It is parents themselves who can inculcate in their children the skill of listening at a very early age by being good listeners and thus good role models themselves.

  • Listen, it helps you to understand them: Younger children, as their vocabulary is not well developed usually tend to talk in cryptic and puzzling ways, which is often confusing to the listener, and one may not know what the children are trying to convey. However more often than not if one listens carefully to what one feels as the child’s obvious senseless banter, one could make a lot of sense and understand that which is not so obvious
  • Listen to their lies: Children have the tendency to lie. Rather than getting angry or irritated at them for lying, it is better if one listens as to what the lie conveys. Children many a times believe their fantasies are true and the line between reality and fantasy is quite blurred. More often than not they believe that what they are saying is the truth and hence if a parent scolds them for lying it is just going to confuse the child. Hence it becomes necessary to first find out whether this is the case.

However at times children do resort to plain lying. But the reasons to indulge in this could be numerous. If the parent listens patiently she/he would come to know whether the lie was said due to fear of losing their social image [and this develops very early in life] and so forth. Thus they can tackle the problem at the primary root of which lying is only a subsidiary reaction

  • Listen to their silence: Many a times children lapse into periods of silences and many keep to themselves. Do not underestimate or ignore this. However it also does not mean that one should be alarmed if a child prefers a little quietude. More often than not the child’s silence may be due to fatigue or tiredness. But at times the child’s silence if heard in the proper spirit can convey many deep messages. Children cannot express like adults through speech what they are feeling and experiencing and hence many a times they may resort to withdrawal and solitude. A caring and understanding parent could listen to her/his child’s silence and thus help him out with whatever is troubling the child.
  • Listen. Because it’s reciprocal: Most parents make the mistake of doing all the talking and feel that the child learns better when parents talk and they listen. However it is a proven fact that children learn best by emulating the elders in their immediate surrounding. Hence if one wants the child to be a good listener then the best way to teach your child is by first listening to him/her. Be a good role model.

Ultimately as parents if you want to help your children grow up to become good human beings, then remember the golden mantra:
“Who speaks, sows; Who listens, reaps.”
Argentine Proverb

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Handling Childhood Misbehavior

Rewards keep children going and research proves that most behaviors are shown by all people especially children as they are self rewarding. Rewards can be of various types. They range from getting attention, power, recognition, money, release from assigned duties, physical pleasure, etc.  Behaviors are learnt, shown on a continued basis and become second nature because these behaviors give us something that we want, and/or remove something unwanted from our midst.

Sometimes it is misbehavior or age inappropriate behavior that gets us what we want or removes the unwanted stimuli and hence they get ingrained in us especially in children.

Types of misbehaviors:

Frequently, the unacceptable behaviors fall into three basic groups:

  • Physical abuse (breaking toys, hitting sibling, damaging property, etc.)
  • Verbal abuse (yelling at others, teasing, using unacceptable words, threatening someone, etc.)
  • Noncompliance (not obeying rules laid down by a parent, not following instructions, not doing a requested chore, etc.)

Goals of Misbehavior:

Dr. Rudolph Dreikurs describes four goals of misbehavior due to which children tend to misbehave:

If children: Then their probable goal is:

Stop a behavior, but then repeat it.                         Attention seeking
Refuse to stop and increase the misbehavior.        Seeking Power
Become violent or hostile.                                       Seeking Revenge
Refuse to cooperate, participate, or interact.          Displaying Inadequacy

Thus it becomes important to find out what the goal of the misbehavior is which would then help the significant adults address the concerned issue in an appropriate manner.

Measures that can be implemented by adults:

Sometimes simple steps can go a long way in bringing about change and getting the desired behavioral response from the children.  Following are some useful tips:

  • Attention seeking:

“Ria, Don’t write on the walls”

“Sanjay, can you stop making that awful din with your drum.”

Most adults are quick to correct their children when they are doing something negative or wrong. And rightfully so! Also, many aware adults praise their children lavishly when they have achieved some goal charted out for them like good grades in school, or first prize in sports. But when it comes to giving positive attention casually, or for good behavior that they may have shown, most of us show inertia. If the child shows the right behavior, many adults hardly make a remark or tell the child that they are happy he showed such good and positive behavior. It is very rare for us to say “Mayur, I am so happy that you showed such good behavior at Neha’s birthday party. You did not shout or fight with anyone. You did not cry. You shared with everyone and played cooperatively. I am very happy. This is how I want you to behave in any party.”

We sorely lack in that kind of communication. Children are very perceptive and sense that they get the coveted attention only if they do something which is out of bounds. Thus sets in the need to do something negative so as to get the adult attention which they eventually do get. This is negative attention seeking. If adults could inculcate a discipline wherein they simply give positive attention randomly, simply because the child has done something nice, no matter how small or trivial,   it will go a long way in suppressing the urge to indulge in negative behavior for the sake of attention. They will stop repeating a negative behavior if they perceive that it is easy to get attention by displaying good behaviors.

  • Seeking Power:

“Oh…, my poor little darling is crying…..she must be hungry. Let me feed her immediately.”

All adults know what it is to be at the beck and call of a newly born child. The evolution process has programmed new born babies itself in such a way that they function as the epicenter around which all others revolve. Thus all their basic needs get fulfilled with a simple cry. Now that is commanding power! In the growing up years then it is easy for children to get habituated to being in this ‘powerful’ role and think that they should be allowed to do what they want to and that others oblige them.  However by the age of two, it becomes important to clearly start setting boundaries so that children understand what is permissible behavior and what is a ‘big no no’.

(a)   There would be times when it is important to show them that you are the boss.

Neel is in the habit of screaming loudly if things don’t go his way. His parents are at their wits’ ends with his screeching. The usual pattern is that they start by saying ‘no’ to any particular request or demand of his and then when he starts screeching they give in to stop his screeching.

Neel’s screeching can be stopped by sustained and patient efforts. There are several alternatives that you can exercise according to the need of the situation:

  1. If his demand is not too unreasonable you can fulfill it the first time round he asks. This will make him understand that he does not need to screech for his demand to get fulfilled. Here it would do you good to take a rain check as to whether you are a ‘NO’ parent. A ‘No’ parent is the one who says ‘No’ just for the sake of it and has got habituated to it just like Neel has to his screeching.
  2. If the request is unreasonable you can explain in age appropriate ways as to him why you cannot fulfill his demand. Try linking the cause and the effect. For instance if he is asking permission to jump from the fourth stair, try to explain how he might fall and hurt himself badly and that he would then have to go the doctor and take medicine or an injection.
  3. If an explanation is not possible and would be beyond his age’s understanding then it is best to state that even if he screeches you will not be giving in. And please adults DO THIS. Don’t give in because you cannot bear his screeching or are embarrassed because he is screeching in front of others and making a scene. Just bear with it. In the long run this will pay off.
  4. After the screeching and tantrum is over, when Neel is in good spirits explain to him that screeching will not get him what he wants. Instead if he asks politely you may say yes to some of his reasonable demands. Also keep repeating that screaming and screeching will not fetch him what he wants.
  5. Become a good story teller. Make up stories with animal character where one animal screeches and another does not, and how the one who did not scream ended up being the good one , getting attention, praise and also at times the toys that he wanted from his parents.

(b)   All said and done there would be times when you need to ignore the behavior temporarily and NOT get into a power struggle….so that it breaks the cycle. Thus at times if Neel screams just ignore till he stops. If he does not, distract him to some other activity which will hold his attention.

  • Seeking Revenge:

Karan becomes aggressive and immediately hits back his father if he scolds him. There are complaints from the school too that he hits other children if the teacher gives them attention.

Children do not like it if they are scolded or reprimanded and many a times want to hit back. If the child becomes violent first and foremost it is important to see to it that you do not lose your temper at that time. Remember that the child is watching you closely. If you lose your balance and get riled up the situation is only going to worsen. It will need immense self control however you ‘have to do it’. Practice before you preach is the mantra here. So just focus on helping the child by protecting him from getting hurt.

Later when the emotional or physical outburst has ended it is important to talk to the child that this is not the correct thing to indulge in. Be gentle but be absolutely firm. Telling Karan that when he was angry daddy could also have got angry and hit him back as daddy is big, but that daddy did not do so would help Karan understand that he should not be aggressive.

Also give lots of instances of whether Karan has seen daddy or mommy hit anyone else. When Karan answers in a negative for each question, he would realize slowly that hitting is not acceptable and no one but he does it.

Further it is important to keep repeating yourself even at the cost of sounding like a stuck up tape. Inconsistent disciplining is more dangerous than no disciplining as it confuses the child further. So whenever he shows vindictive behavior it is important to reiterate that this is unacceptable behavior.

Introduce the principle of loss if the vindictive behavior continues. Tell him that he will lose the privilege of sitting with you on the swing or that you will not talk to him. And live up to your promise. Again explain the cause and effect to him.

If your child is revengeful or vindictive, check where he is learning it from you or your spouse. Also look at other spheres of influence like the extended family, peers, school, etc.

Displaying inadequacy:

It is important to identify and see whether as a parent you are fuelling the sense of inadequacy in any way. Many parents do the task of because it saves a lot of time. I know of a parent who helped her son wear socks till he was in the tenth grade! He has now moved to wearing Velcro shoes as he never learnt this skill. Are you such a parent? Ask yourself and if the answer is yes, Stop!!! Don’t jeopardize your own child’s growth and development. Teach them the age appropriate skills even if it takes time. Please show patience.

Children may feel inadequate on two accounts:

  • Realistic feeling that I cannot do it: Rahul who is in the II grade feels overwhelmed when he is asked to keep his timetable. Helping Rahul by sitting with him and guiding him through the task by breaking the activity in smaller parts would help him a great deal. You could ask him to keep only the text books first and then the notebooks. This would help him do it and give him a sense of achievement. This may take a lot of your time but in the long run Rahul would be able to function independently without your help.

Also boost this child’s self esteem by pointing to his strong points, appreciating small achievements, allowing independent decision making in small issues and so forth which would help him build a sense of adequacy.

  • Wanting to shirk responsibilities: Some children learn to shirk work by making inadequacy an excuse. If this is so, you would need to be firm with them. Don’t be quick to put their timetable in the bag if they proclaim that they cannot do it. You will be left to put the timetable and he will go and watch TV. This is not done. Of course do not go to the other extreme of stating that he has to keep it or bear the teacher’s brunt. The golden mean is to make it compulsory that you will help put the timetable provided that he sits with you throughout and helps you put the books in the bag. Thus you are not letting him off easily and neither exposing him to external dangers.

Also give small responsibilities to this child time and again and reward him with ample praise. Make him help you in small errands. This would help him to develop a sense of responsibility eventually.

All said and done, parenting is a challenging job. Your limits will be tested all the time by your child. Do not treat this job lightly and invest time in it. You will definitely reap its benefits in the long term.

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This vacation…. Learn and have fun.

Come summer vacations, and there is so much excitement in children. No school, no homework and no exams for the next two months! One can do what one likes and have fun to the hilt. But many a times the excitement and exuberance dwindles in a few days and boredom sets in. Many children don’t know what to do with themselves with the kind of time that they have on their hands. But a little bit of planning can make vacations the most unforgettable and memorable experience.

Here is what you can do to make vacations fun and also worth while in the process:-

Develop a hobby– Hobbies like stamp collecting, listening to music, drawing, reading, embroidering etc are great pastimes and one wouldn’t know how time flew by. Developing a hobby can be a very satisfying pastime as well as a great learning experience.

Learn a new skill– Learning a new skill could be a great way of passing time in vacations. It could be anything from learning basic computers or typing, or joining dance or art classes, learning cookery or baking, or any sport. This gives an immense sense of achievement and accomplishment. Also any learning can come handy any time in one’s life.

Assist your parents in house hold chores– Assist your parents in house hold chores like buying groceries, storing them, cleaning the house, cleaning cupboards etc. Household work takes a long time so any help would be welcome and will make your parents happy. These are life skills which will prepare you well. The sooner you learn them the better equipped you are for the future.

Join a library– Reading is one of the greatest ways of spending time in a constructive manner. Also in any library there is a certain time limit beyond which you cannot keep books. This would also help in improving your speed of reading, a skill which will help you when you reach higher classes. An addition could be writing a review of each book that you read. This record would serve a long-term purpose and also hone your writing skills which will again help later in projects and assignments.

Create a play group– The best way to have fun in vacations is to play. Both indoor as well as outdoor games teaches a lot of skills of sharing, following rules, caring for team members in team games, leadership skills, healthy competitive spirit, how to lose gracefully and so forth. Hence creating a play group with friends who reside in the colony would be worth the effort.

Write letters to the elders of your family- The elders in the family would love if they receive a letter from you youngsters. It will make them feel cared for and also involved in your life. Send a letter today to your grandparents or any other elderly aunts and uncles. Their joy would know no bounds and make you only happier. You too would realise in time that it is fun to have such pen pals, and there is a lot of knowledge in store once their replies start coming in.

Help elderly people in your neighbour hood– For the elderly people in your vicinity you could help them out with small chores like getting them newspaper or medicines, helping them to carry their groceries, helping them cross the roads, etc. There would always be some one who needs your help.

Keep a diary– This is something that you could do at the end of each day. Maintaining a diary is a great way of assimilating your thoughts of the entire day. This will help you see the happenings of the day as well as there would be learning of what could have been done in a better manner, how the day could have been further well spent.

Exercise- The advantages of exercise are widely known. This will help you become healthier, fitter and stronger. Joining a yoga or aerobics class would be a good idea initially. Later you could do the same exercises at home or with friends.

Just enjoy and relax– Last but not the least, vacations are for you to relax so that you can take on the new academic year with gusto. So go ahead take the deserved rest. Sleep, eat, watch movies and have a great time.

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Building Concentration – For Children

“When the vacations begin a trip to grand mom’s place is a must. I am telling dad that he has to book my ticket immediately. Otherwise he will never get around to doing it. “ “Priya……you are day dreaming again. Why can’t you just concentrate on your studies?” her mother said throwing an angry look towards her. Priya jolted back to reality and saw that she was still on the same page of her history book as she was 20 minutes ago.

Just 4 weeks left for the final exams and Priya was tense. How would she complete so much portion and studies in so less a time? Her mother kept telling her that she would be able to study and get good marks too if only she could concentrate more on her studies. But every time Priya sat with a book her mind wandered all over the place. Priya was at her wits end. She felt like tearing at her hair. Just what was this “concentration” all about? If only someone could explain to her how to concentrate…….

This must be a common scene with all you students. All around us well meaning adults keep telling us that the golden mantra to do well in studies is good concentration. So let us try and learn how one can better one’s concentration.

Concentration has been defined as “the ability to direct one’s thinking in whatever direction one would intend”. We all have the ability to concentrate some of the time. But at other times our thoughts are scattered, and our minds race from one thing to another. To deal with such times, we need to learn and practice concentration skills and strategies.

The following three skills are basic to concentration. If you want to improve your concentration, start by practicing them.

1. STOP!!!

What has the word STOP got to do anything with concentration? Well this is a technique where you just tell yourself to your mind to STOP wandering and start focusing. Sounds amusing, too simple? But children, it works!

While studying, when you notice your thoughts wandering, say to yourself STOP and then gently bring your attention back to where you want it to be. Priya can try and tell herself to STOP and bring back her attention to the history book in front of her, each time it wanders bring it back. To begin with, this could be several times a minute. But each time, say STOP and then re-focus. Don’t waste energy trying to keep thoughts out of your mind (forbidden thoughts attract like a magnet!), just put the effort into STOP and re-focus.

To begin with you will do this hundreds of times a week. But you will find that the period of time between your straying thoughts gets a little longer each day, so be patient and keep at it.

2. Attending

This is about maintaining concentration and not giving in to distractions. It could be described as a sort of tunnel-vision, or as being focused: you keep your concentration on what is in front of you. If you are distracted, use the STOP technique to regain concentration. You can practice attending in many situations: For ex:

When in the classroom, if fellow students move or cough, ignore them, don’t look at them; actively exclude them from the link or tunnel formed between you and the teacher.

When at home, during study time keep your attention solely on your book – and ignore what is going on around you like the telephone ringing, family members talking to each other etc.

3. Worry time

Set aside one or more specific periods in the day when you are allowed to worry. It can help to set them just before something that you know you will do, to ensure that you stop worrying on time – e.g. before a favourite TV programme, or a meal-time. While studying, whenever an anxiety or distracting thought enters your mind, banish it until your next worry time, and re-focus on to what you are supposed to be doing.

Some people find it helpful to write down the banished thought because it is easier to banish a thought if you are sure you won’t have forgotten it and writing ensures that you will not forget when you get to your worry time.

One word of caution needs to be added here: You may notice, particularly if you keep a list, that certain things keep reappearing: this is a fairly clear indication that you need to do something about them! So if Priya is excessively worried about that trip to her grand mom’s she should immediately tell her father to book of the tickets or else she would worry about it right through her exams!

Apart from these 3 basic skills there are other simple tips also that you can use while studying to better your concentration:

  • Start any lesson with some curiosity about it and a positive attitude towards learning.
  • Study in an area away from distraction and use proper lighting.
  • Make sure you have every thing that you need like the lesson book, pencils, book to make notes etc before you begin.
  • Set goals for your sessions that are realistic (number of problems to solve, pages to read, a chapter to complete etc). After achieving each such successive goal, reward yourself with a short break. The break could be a walk around the house, listening to one of your favorite song, or seeing a favorite half an hour serial etc.
  • Make studying an active process like sit straight in a chair and a desk, make notes, outline chapters, memorize and so forth
  • Take a 5-minute break for every 30 minutes of studies.
  • Make connections between things you already know and what you are studying.
  • Divide your work into smaller manageable task that can be completed in short periods.
  • Study during the time which suits you the best that is when you are very alert and fresh and start with a difficult topic.

So Priya next time you sit to study start with these tips and see the difference!

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Beat the Stress

Exams are just round the corner and all you students out there must be preparing hard. It’s the time of the year when a flurry of activity happens: Reading textbooks, answering the questions asked in the workbooks and textbooks, solving questions papers, discussing with teachers, parents and friends to get a better understanding of some topic and well…. the list goes on.

All this and the importance of exams in one’s academic life tend to make us feel tense and apprehensive before our approaching exams as well as during them. Some level of stress in fact is good and that makes us prepare thoroughly and do well in the exams. But when this tension goes out of hands it can create a big problem for the student. An excess of it can paralyze the student with fear and drastically hit one’s marks.

There can be various reasons to why at times exam anxiety can go out of hands.

Causes of exam anxiety:

  • Fear of failure: The commonest cause is the fear of failure. The fact of the matter is that each one of us at some level dreads failure and all that comes along with it.
  • Fear of the unknown: Anxiety arises because we don’t know what to expect and students feel helpless. The best way to remedy this is to have mock sessions or replicate the exam by solving previous exam papers. Try to create the exam room ambience as far as possible to aid the replication. Set yourself time and see that you finish the paper.
  • Negative self-talk: Negative self-talk can aggravate test anxiety. Self Talk is the continuous silent messages that we keep giving ourselves. Research has proven that the self-talk of test-anxious students almost always tends to be negative and self-defeating. Try writing your negative thoughts and then disputing each one with a positive statement. Start to encourage yourself as you would a friend. Repeating your positive statements to yourself will help reprogram your mind for success instead of failure.
  • Blanking out after seeing the question paper: Relax!!! Read the question you think you know slowly and carefully. Plan your answers. Spend 5 minutes on a plan and rough notes which will help your answer to flow.  Ignore everyone else who appears to be writing furiously and try drawing a spider diagram or a flow chart. You will suddenly see your thoughts and information getting organized. You will also find that the flowchart will help you generate links.

Some techniques to combat exam anxiety:

  • Imagine the worst: When you are having spells of intense anxiety, sit down and calmly think what is the worst that will happen. If you have prepared well you will immediately get your answer that it can’t be worse than a ‘B’ grade. Worst comes to worse you would get a ‘C’ grade. How bad is that really?
  • Visualization: Days ahead of the exam start visualizing the entire exam scenario, down to its minutest details. Visualize right from getting up in the morning to handing the paper over after you have finished. This method helps in making you feel that you have been there and have done it, thus reducing the fear of the unknown. Consequently, visualize yourself doing well and achieving your goals.
  • Pen it down: One way of combating anxiety is to write down all the factors that are making you anxious. By doing so, you will find things are falling into perspective and will also help segregate real cause of anxiety from the imaginary ones. Once you know the concrete cause of your worry, you can chart a plan to combat them.
  • The emergency stop: For anxiety that paralyses use this relaxation technique. As you begin to feel tense, say loudly to yourself, ‘STOP!’ clench your teeth and jaw, hold for a count of five, and relax for a count of five. Repeat the same thing with your eyes, forehead, neck and shoulders. Finish with your hands and arms and see the difference – the relaxation technique will work wonders when you have tried it before and accustomed yourself to it.

In the end just remember:

Beat the anxiety and the stress
It will only create trouble and an unnecessary mess
If you want to succeed, then tension you should relieve
Tell yourself that I can and in myself I BELIEVE

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