The question of addressing the need for sexuality education for children and young people in our country is itself intimidating to parents and educators alike. My years of working with children and young people with intellectual or developmental disabilities has made me further question how that schema manages to come together for them, given that some of the basic intellectual, social and emotional capacities that brought it all together for some of us, may be missing or simply different. At the same time, the basic curiosity about sexuality and need for sexual exploration, both at the intra- and interpersonal levels, is intact. How, then, do we attempt to ‘bridge this gap’?
Often when we think of children and learning we think of schools and classes that they can join to learn this skill or the other. A music class to develop an affinity for music. Or a storytelling workshop to learn to enjoy the magic of stories. Truth is, however, that children, more than adults, have a natural affinity for the creative arts. They are naturally wired to enjoy stories and music and fun games. And whatever learning happens from participation in these pursuits, needs to happen in a spirit of playfulness and fun.
The first Sunday of our new year started with a Kids’ Open House at our place. All kids we know were invited. If parents could join in, they were most welcome to. If not, they could drop their little ones and go do their Sunday chores. And what did we do? If you’re thinking this was an event that needed a lot of planning and thinking up child-friendly activities, you’re mistaken. All we did was sit and sing together some good old songs that everybody was familiar with, with some of the kids who were learning this instrument or the other, providing some accompanying music. By the end, we even replaced the lines of one of the songs to make up our own version! We built stories together, each one adding on a line to what the previous person had said, and then laughed ourselves silly at the crazy stories that got created as a result! We made some simple homemade yet exciting hot dogs and burgers, which the kids helped to assemble and serve.
Here’s what it took. A couple of adults taking out a few hours on a Sunday to create a space that was for, and about, and with, our children. That is all.
And here’s what we got. Moments of wide eyed wonder, and the magic of stories, and a whole lot of laughs. Not just at what children can and will do, but what we adults can and will do when we let the child in us simply come out and play. All in a day’s work. Of living and learning with our children 🙂
How are milk and water alike?
What is common between a glass window and a bottle of ink?
How would you connect a carpenter and a cook?
And WHY connect?
Because looking for connections between things, concepts and categories taps into what are known as our higher order thinking capacities. Each time we encourage children to link ideas with one another, we are facilitating a deeper level of processing and engagement with those ideas. Simply put, the ideas or concepts are likely to be understood better, remembered for longer, and generalised to broader areas of their lives.
Chalk and Chuckles has created a wonderful game to teach kids to connect the dots. Based on the format of a visual scrabble, ‘Why Connect’ contains 90 picture tiles containing familiar objects (milk, honey, wood), occupations (carpenter, cook) and concepts (fire, sand) that two to four players can take turns connecting with each other. The game contains two levels of complexity (red and blue marked tiles) for use with younger as well as older kids, and also offers higher levels of challenge by allowing you to place a single tile in the middle of three others and make a plausible connection with all three!
What’s more, it also encourages reasoning and communication skills as you have to not only state the connection aloud but also get other players to agree with the logic of your connection. The best part about this highly addictive game is that it is not bound by a board and can be played on any flat surface. So have fun connecting these tiles on your family dining table, or take it along with you on a picnic to the park!
Diwali is right around the corner and we are in the midst of planning our annual Diwali party. While drawing up the guest list, I realised that many of our favourite invitees are ‘little people’, and I started wondering what kids usually do at these adult-centred Diwali parties. Play on their gadgets? Watch TV?
Many adult taash parties do not include kids, but I have attended many that do have a few kids turning up, especially if there is nowhere else to leave them. Secondly, most kids find crackers to be the most fun part about Diwali, but with the concept of a cracker-free Diwali becoming more and more popular, we do need to find new and exciting ways to make Diwali celebrations fun for them.
Here are some ideas I’m trying to play around with in my attempt towards a child-friendly Diwali this year:
- If you are inviting a family that includes kids, make sure there is a kids’ invite too. It makes them feel ‘seen’ and valued as guests to the party, not just add-ons, who “couldn’t be left at home”. You can get your child to draw or write out this invite, or it could mean simply adding a line to the main invite addressed to the child, letting them know what fun things you are planning specifically for them.
- Set up a separate space for the kids’ activities. Make sure they are not in the same room as the adults’ playing cards or drinking. They will, of course, be in and out but it is important to bring home the message that some Diwali activities for adults and kids are different.
- Fun Diwali-related activities for kids could include working on a big rangoli together, making cards or paper lanterns, and painting diyas and candles. Setting up a work station lined with newspaper, with enough supplies and on-and-off supervision by an adult, usually works well.
- A great follow up from this would be to use what they have made for decorations and even giveaways.
- Leaving around some nice and age-appropriate books about Diwali for them to read is a good idea. If an adult or older child could volunteer to conduct a Diwali story-telling session for the kids, that would be great too. We found a lovely and most beautifully illustrated one called ‘Amma, tell me about Diwali’ by author Bhakti Mathur that we have ordered online this year for our ‘little’ guests. They make excellent Diwali kids’ giveaways too.
- Co-creating some little rituals with them and incorporating these into the Diwali puja will help them connect with this part of the festival too.
- Saying no to the excitement of firecrackers is tough for little ones. However, kids respond well to stories and causes that involve the welfare of other kids, and also help them bring out their compassionate side. Here are some great links to educate yourself and your children about the story behind the anti-firecracker movement .
Festivals are a great way to help children connect with traditions and culture, but this is only possible if this ‘connect’ is made relate-able and meaningful for them. Wishing you and your little ones a happy Diwali!
Haircuts can be challenging for kids, especially when it’s their first time, or for those who may have sensory sensitivities. It must be remembered that the concept of a haircut is a social one; kids are not born prepared for haircuts, and therefore their first time (and in many cases in India, after a particularly unpleasant first time mundan experience) can create a fair bit of anticipatory anxiety. For kids with sensory sensitivities, unlike for many of us, the simple stroke of a hairbrush, the snipping sounds of scissors, getting their hair wet, the hot air coming from a hair dryer, are all components in an overall experience of seriously uncomfortable proportions. Add to that the anxiety caused by being in an unfamiliar place full of loud noises and unfamiliar people, such as a salon.
Here are a few things that can go a long way in making this ritual more manageable, for little people as well as those accompanying them:
- Preparation, preparation, preparation. Do not jump a haircut as a surprise on your little one. Adequate preparation, which could include telling them when and where you will be going, along with pictures of the place or photographs/videos of previous haircuts, are extremely helpful. You can also go a step further by prepping them with a towel or sheet around their neck and playing make-believe. Feel free to use your imagination (and theirs!) and tell them it’s a superman cape!
- Graded exposure. If haircuts are a major struggle, understand that you may not walk out triumphant the very first time. It is okay, particularly with a highly anxious child, to do just a round of the salon and come back, maybe even meet the person who is going to cut his or her hair, and do the actual haircut on another day.
- Keeping them engaged while the haircut is on, is pretty helpful. Let them carry their favourite video or toy, or a fidget object, that they can stay occupied with so that not all their attention is taken over by what’s going on with their hair. However, do remember that gradually increasing their awareness of the process will, in the long run, help them acquire a sense of mastery and they may even begin to perceive it as a pleasant experience.
- Helping them connect this process to its final outcome, and celebrating it with them. After the haircut is done, show them the mirror, take pictures, dress them up…these will all help to create favourable memories and associations.
- Finding a hair dresser who understands your needs, is good with children, and has the patience and willingness to work through this with you. This last one is the toughest part. But we have heard of such places, and have also managed to find someone very close to our centre who we now take some of our kids regularly to. Our man Arif at VLCC, Safdarjung Enclave, is playful and greets our kids with a beaming smile and high five. He is task-focused yet very open to taking inputs, and intuitively working in tandem with the parent or person accompanying the child. He is also happy to give them breaks or even arrange to do the haircut in a quieter, private room if needed.
- Other handy tips include- putting cotton in their ears to dull the sounds, asking for softer textures like towels rather than synthetic sheets to be draped around them, making sure they have a support under their feet rather than their feet hanging loose from the chair.
- Remember there is NO sensation more prickly or unpleasant than bits of hair sticking to your neck after! So don’t forget to carry a change of clothes and even ask for a quick shower if the place allows it.
- Most important of all, don’t lose sight of the longer-term goal. It is not about breathing a sigh of relief till your child’s next haircut but about gradually helping him or her build a desirable and favourable association with the experience.Therefore, talking them through the process, naming each step as it happens, creating a connection with the final outcome (“You’ll look like such a smart, handsome boy!”) and applauding them for every little step towards that goal, is vital above all else.
Credit for many of the amazing inputs in this post go to my dearest friend, co-therapist and yay-maker Lavina Nanda, who continues to work her magic with kids, and is always generous enough to lend me some, as she did here 🙂