Dubai: With children enjoying ample free time over the summer this might be a great opportunity to instil social responsibility into them, making it a productive and rewarding experience that will go a long way in their growth as future citizens of the world.
According to Devika Singh, psychologist at the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre, the summer break can be made a productive time by combining the following three elements:
1. Chose specific skills you would like your child to develop. These can be academic or non-academic.
2. Let your child identify activities and interests.
3. Allow some idle time for your child. Moderated boredom can be positive for the overall development of skills and personality.
But this is not the kind of influence that can be exerted overnight. This needs to be done consistently and from the time a child is young. If you want your 12-year-old to suddenly turn into a caring child this summer and do a good turn, it’s slightly unrealistic to expect him to do so if you have not moulded him all along to take on the new role.
Speaking about the influence parents can wield in shaping a child’s mind towards social crusading, Singh says that while parents and caregivers can contribute to a child’s socialisation abilities, they may not be able to change a child’s intrinsic preferences.
“Social adaptation, introversion and other personality traits are almost always a combination of inherent biochemistry and environmental influences.”
Giving and sharing
But even at a very young age, children can be taught the importance of giving and sharing.
A Swiss study in 2008 found that although children as young as three and four-years-old can choose to share, seven or eight- year-olds have a more crystallised understanding of the meaning of sharing and are more likely to share or want things to be ‘fair’.
“It is human nature to function in a way that yields a sense of reward or satisfaction.”
A child might play with another child because the interaction is rewarding, or because they know they will be praised for their pro-social skills. It is important to try to understand what makes your child experience this sense of satisfaction. Look for feedback from your child. It is also critical to model the traits you expect, she says.
“Make eye contact, practise greetings and conversational skills. Then role-play different situations at home with your child and give them feedback.” This is known as skillstreaming, she says, where you provide opportunities to practise before the real situation.
In the domain of social service or social responsibility, the ability to reach out is crucial. Not all children are innately able to reach out as their first nature. For them, encouraging role-play wherein parents mimic situations that call for children to speak up, extend themselves and perform deeds that are additional to their everyday tasks is invaluable in helping children adapt to social interactions and reaching out.
Apart from being an educational tool, role play is “fun too. Children learn critical values and behaviours through play,” says Singh.
According to her, “Far too many parents want their children to be extroverted when they themselves struggle with chronic social phobia.”
In this battle of nature and nurture, what strategies can parents adopt to help their children overcome inherent tendencies to remain self-centred?
Individualised strategies can be used, says Singh. “Help your child become more aware of the consequences of pro-social behaviour by giving feedback on the specific behaviour and the emotional experience of ‘gifting’ positive behaviour and receiving it.”
An important element in this entire process is to teach stress reduction to children, she advises. The ‘invisibles’ in taking on extra responsibilities are as much a possibility in children’s lives as they are a part of adult life. If there is an element of stress in any of the experiences a child undergoes in this new role, they must be helped to defuse the stress.
“Children can get stressed and anxious when dealing with larger issues such as this (initially). Train them in stress reduction techniques from physical measures such as deep breathing to exercising qualities like resilience and optimistic thinking even under trying conditions.”
Stress and anxiety, she says, can lead to unwanted behaviour which then has unwanted consequences and children can get caught in a vicious cycle.
But beyond home and parental influences, schools too play an important role in shaping children’s attitudes to sharing and caring.
They can accentuate parents’ efforts by teaching and reinforcing positive socialisation skills and in the development of values, according to Singh. “Many schools teach citizenship by reinforcing the message through weekly classes, daily recognition of positive behaviour in a school assembly using certificates, through drama and song recitals, etc. It is also very important for schools to communicate this message through the non-acceptance of unwanted behaviour,” she says.
According to Tim Waley, principal, Uptown Primary School (run by Taaleem), the summer vacation is an excellent time to look beyond ourselves with community service.
“Many Uptown Primary families will travel back to home countries and pick up community service projects they left behind such as working in a community garden, contributing to collection drives for everything from clothing, school uniforms, books or items to stock the local food pantry,” he says.
“We actively explore social issues, which are a key component in our curriculum, International Baccalaureate (IB), at every grade level. To instil the attitude of international-mindedness and develop social consciousness, throughout the school year, studies often include a wider world view of a social issue, which we examine at the local, national and international level.”
For them, community and service starts in the classroom and extends beyond it, requiring students to participate in communities where they live, says Waley.
“The emphasis is on developing community awareness and concern, a sense of responsibility and the skills and attitudes needed to make an effective contribution to society.”
For example, each term in the extracurricular activity programme of “Global Inquirers”, a multi-age group class taught by the UPS teaching staff in the hours after school, looks at an issue that the students select themselves. In the spring term, the students selected the topic of people who are less fortunate. As they explored this issue, they focused and researched on children who are unable to attend school and the reasons why, and finally held a walk-a-thon and raised Dh22,182, which they donated to Dubai Cares to support their programme of building schools in poor villages in northern Africa.
“Ensuring awareness levels are part of the daily routine at school develops well-rounded, civic-conscious young people who grow up to be confident of making a positive contribution to the society in which they will live,” Waley adds.