In a school, after a long conversation where I mainly asked questions, the teachers finally asked me something.
“Madam, can I also ask something?” said Lakshmi a teacher in a private school.
“Yes please do so…we are talking ….” I said to encourage her to talk.
“There are some children about whom I am never sure how to deal even though I have been working as a teacher for more than 8 years.”
“There is this one girl and one boy in my class who never speak, even when I talk to them specifically taking their name. They just lower their head never make eye contact. They are both unable to write or read anything. I just feel so frustrated and sad that I don’t know how to help them.”
This reminded me about Khushi in my class who was also very much like this. She always sits on the first bench, yet it took me two-three days to notice her. She is so silent that she sometimes becomes invisible in the class. She also takes many leaves. She mostly sits with her head down not talking with anybody. To keep herself engaged she often tries to complete her notebook work. In my class I like to give each child chance so I often go from child to child and ask everybody to add something to the topic being discussed, whenever we reach Khushi the discussion comes to a stand still. Other children start getting irritated and start telling, “Mam, she wouldn’t speak, she never speaks, she doesn’t know anything.” It is a difficult time for a teacher, you want to give this child time to speak, but too much time may mean torture for her and boredom for others. You want to stop all the other children from saying these hurtful things yet not make this child too dependent on yourself.
With Lakshmi madam, I discussed a little bit about these two children’s home background and kept comparing notes about Khushi and I came to the conclusion that all these three children seem to be victims of learned helplessness.
What is learned helplessness?
Learned helplessness is a state of mind where the individual starts feeling that nothing that she will do will have an impact on the negative situation that she is in. This happens after a long time spent in a situation where the individual is placed in negative situations…..and efforts made by her seem to be futile.
Lets take an example of a woman in an abusive marriage, in the beginning every time she experiences domestic violence she talks to her family members but all she gets from them is a baseless assurance of how things will improve gradually and how as a woman she should adjust with the situation that she is in. She then tries to revert to the strategy of fighting back, which leads to even more thrashing. She then has a baby and starts feeling that she is tied to this setting and cannot go anywhere….that’s when it is possible that she may stop retaliating totally and may bear everything silently.
Another example of learned helplessness which leads to child abuse is when the parents learn that nothing they do will make the child stop crying and they just let the child be.
In school setting we often see those children who fall in a complex situation of constant negative feedback from teachers and parents go into a learned identity of being helpless in changing their situation. Often siblings imitate what the parents say and do and peers imitate what the teachers say and do thus completing the circle of negative feedback for the child. Such children gradually stop making an effort to learn. They may not always the silent ones but may also be the extremely boisterous never listening type as in both situations they are not ready to engage with you or make an effort to learn as they have learned that this will not lead to anything.
In the next post we will discuss what can be some of the intervention strategies in such cases. If you know of a similar situation do share with us.