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Tag Archives: childhood

When we make them learn helplessness

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.

Learning is fast

This is my second post in the series mommy learns – an experience sharing in my journey of parenthood. If just by reading the title of my post have you decided that my hormones (even after 1.5 years of child birth) are not back to normal and I am contradicting what I said just last week, then hold on….come on! Don’t be too quick to judge.

It has been only one and a half year since I have been blessed with a daughter. The best one and a half year of my life. One thing that I have learnt about myself in this period is that I am capable of loving somebody so much. I did not know this. My husband doesn’t accept this about himself and continues to say that I love you both equally, but come on! Who is he fooling! She is the most important and most loved person in our family. But this post is not about this.

I want to share about how much she has learnt in this time period and how amazingly fast this journey has been.

Let me start by pointing out some of the things that she can do at this point of time: (I know, I know it is an impossible list to make! But some examples can be jotted)

  1. She can walk, run but I don’t think she can jump.
  2. She can say complicated words, joins sounds and says word like and sentence like utterances.
  3. She understands most of the instructions given to her and also ignores when she wants to ignore.
  4. She can go up and down the stairs on her own and yet today morning itself she just lost her balance while taking a step on the plain floor.
  5. She has her likes and dislikes and “knows” what she wants to do or not do. Its not so easy to distract her now.
  6. She likes playing with friends and is unhappy and expresses that when they leave or I try and bring her inside.

And yes……the list can go on….and on….

But these are examples of her physical, cognitive, linguistic and social developments. She is becoming a person in her own right! With opinions, choices, tastes, an understanding and awareness of “I”.

Lets take the first example, physical development of a very complex skill of walking. Walking is often defined as a continuous act of preventing oneself from falling. As soon as you take one foot off the ground, you are in an unbalanced unstable position and then you bend forward and quickly place the foot to be stable again. But you don’t step there, you repeat the process again. Though we all want to be in a stable state and yet to move forward (both physically and metaphorically) have to leave the state of stability or you can say by will put yourself in a state of uncertainty and then reach stability again. So, when she started walking, now obviously I am speculating, but I would like you to speculate with me. When she started walking, her desire to reach a place or an object currently away from her was so strong that she decided to take the risk of falling and took her foot up from the ground. In those days, she would not walk…but run….why? I think because she was not confident of her ability to get the foothold again and was probably consciously doing the act of risk the fall- and get the foothold.

So, when I say learning is fast…very very fast….I see this small baby wrapped in a sheet unable to suck, not sure how to breathe becoming into a willful naughty risk taking communicative toddler in just a year and a half.

I have to educate her

“Her father is dead.” She said pointing towards her daughter. “My mother got me married again. The previous one used to drink a lot and after drinking would start hitting me. I got married very early…I think I was fourteen years old when I got married…She was also born soon after my marriage I think I was fifteen. Around that time my husband started drinking a lot…I kept telling him not to drink, I used to say your life would be spoiled but he did not listen to me. He used to say that I can leave you, I don’t care if you go but I cannot leave this, I can leave my family also but not this. So I said Ok, then leave me…why should I spoil my life with him.” And she laughed, a sweet carefree laugh. She must have been in her early twenties. She continued, “so I left him and came to live with my mother even before she was born. She was born in the bada hospital, I have been here only since then. After that my mother looked for a good match and fixed my relationship with him. By god’s grace he is a good man. All the family member’s are nice. They also drink but they do not beat me…and give me food etc…over all keep me well. Otherwise those who drink do a lot of maarpeet they would drink everyday and beat everyday.” She then looked towards her son who was intermittently crying and said, “It is only four of us. Me, my daughter, this one and my husband. Although she is from my other husband but he treats her well. He never says that she is not my daughter. Though she lives here with my mother. I thought now that my younger sister is also married my mother will have nobody so let me leave her here only.”

“I wish he would sleep now…..but he must be hungry…you will not believe how difficult it is to do any work with him. He cries so much. If I am making roti I will make one roti then come to him…then when he will sleep go back to making roti by then the wood is all burnt. So, I have to start the Chulha again. I also most of the time live with my mother only. My husband’s family is from the village but there you get no work. My husband has got work here. And I also go to the bungalows and do cleaning and utensils. A lot of big people live here, so if I go and work, then I can earn something, but in the village there is nothing to do. You can work on the fields or something but no money. Also because my mother’s house is nearby I have no fear. If my husband comes late, then I come here and wait.”

“I am not educated, as in those days people did not educate their daughters. Nobody would marry educated girl, they felt that if she is very educated then she will leave the man. But then they started realizing that if she is not educated and the man leaves her, what would she do. My sister and brother both have been to the school. Didi I at least have my family to support me, my daughter does not even have saga baap. What will she do! So, I have to educate her so that she is able to do something in life. Padha likha to padha likha hi hota hai…anpadh to anpadh hi hota hai!