Recently, a boy was recovering from a fractured leg. The parents, fed up of his mischief at home, had brought him to school in their car, when the plaster was still there. The boy was walking with crutches. That day, the teacher saw this boy kick a classmate with the same plastered leg and also hit him with the crutches! In July this year, in a horrifying incident, a 16 year old boy from Vatva, Gujarat, killed his sister and tried to murder his parents! Some children have attempted to hit their own teachers! Psychologists and psychiatrists blame movies on violent themes among other reasons for the above incidents.
According to clinical psychologist Gauri Gothe, violence as such is common in children of today. But the frequency and intensity of the behavior determine if help is needed. She has encountered quite a few violent children. She mentions one incident, “This child was referred for harming others (he would hit others and throw things when angry). There were a set of complaints against him from his parents, neighbours and his school.”
Divya Srivastava, Special Education Teacher and Counselor working with an NGO, Muktangan, was referred a child. The case was, as Divya recalls, “This boy studying in the fifth standard would always hit other children in his class. Most of the children who studied in the school lived in the same locality and sometimes the neighbourhood fights, that happened while playing together in their residential area, would be carried over to the classroom setting. During the Hindi period one day, the teacher turned her back to write on the board. This boy made use of this opportunity and started hitting the other boy. He then kicked him and banged his head. The poor teacher had a hard time separating the two. The boy was then asked to leave the classroom and meet me.”
Consulting psychiatrist Dr. Dhananjay Gambhire had come across a girl, who went into depression after a violent incident. He recollected, “This girl is in 7th standard. She invited her boyfriend to her home when both her parents were in their offices. There her boyfriend, who is an 8th standard student and may be only a 14yr old, had a major fight with her neighbor. Then he and brought other older boys from his locality. They had a bigger fight with the neighbor to the extent of grievous injury to the neighbor. Eventually a police complaint was registered. Due to this, the girl went into major depression and it had a bad consequence on her school record.”
Identification of violent children: Gauri and Divya agree that usually children who are violent do not do well in academics. At the same time, Gauri opines, “When the child doesn’t show any interest in studying, doesn’t socialize much, displays a very low frustration tolerance level and also displays violent behaviour like hitting or harming others very frequently, then we may say that it’s a matter of concern and the child requires an intervention from an expert.”
Divya adds, “Based on my experience, I have also seen that children who are perpetrators of violence either come from broken homes or live in homes where they see a lot of violence happening.”
As a psychologist, Gauri finds that these cases are mostly referred to her directly by schools or in some cases even by parents. As a counselor at school, Divya finds that violent children are often referred to her by the teachers. She also surprises us by saying that violent children may also come forward, on their own or may be referred by classmates. In the former case, the perpetrators of violence often come to her for other reasons. Once those issues are resolved or while in the process of the resolution of those issues, the violence does go down. Dr. Gambhire finds that children come to him quite late. The parents try to tackle the problem at home. He shares his experience, “A violent child is brought to me when the parents are sick and tired of everything after the school performance deteriorates. Initially everybody overlooks it. Then the school is changed and eventually the child becomes a school dropout. Still no one cares about it. But when he creates a ruckus at home and parents give them an ultimatum only then do they think of involving the psychiatrist. The child usually presents as an addict and a school dropout. They are initially sent to the school counselor and the counselors try to work something out. If it works, they normalize or their life becomes miserable.”
Causes: Gauri reasons, “In today’s fast paced world, children hardly have a medium to vent out their feelings especially anger. They also do not have a place to channelize their energy and thus they exhibit such a low frustration tolerance level. All these factors lead to violent behavior among children.”
Dr. Gambhire blames the visual medium and hormones. He explains, “What you see you learn. Children do not learn what you teach. This is called conditioned learning or modeling. What we see in our house, society or media gives us a way to solve the problem. Low frustration tolerance adds to the hormonal surge and one mistake leads to another and then another.”
Dealing with violent children: Divya finds that each child has to be tackled in a different way. She says, “There is no single rule to tackle the children. Being non-judgmental and creating an environment where the child feels he is being heard and will not be punished for whatever he says goes a long way. This atmosphere helps in encouraging the child to express himself. The trick lies in not telling the child what he should or should not do; but in enabling the child to see for himself or herself what is the best possible way out of any situation. Also, every class in the Muktangan school has a circle-time every week, in which issues like anger management, stress and emotional expressions are discussed. These circle-time sessions are conducted by the class teachers and sometimes by me. These sessions help us to identify the children who are at risk. It not only gives the children an opportunity to express their views but it also gives us a chance to know what is going on in their minds.”
Gauri insists that it requires many counseling sessions with all the people concerned like the parents and school teachers, if required, besides the child. She says, “It’s extremely important that we remember that it’s the behaviour that’s wrong and not the child. The child requires a lot of support and understanding from the parents. The various methods that are generally suggested to the parents are: they spend quality time with their children, they give the child space to talk about things that he feels strongly about, parents become a good role model (display healthy ways of frustration tolerance in front of the child), children must have hobbies in order to channelize the extra energy that they have and they must play enough and most importantly, the children must have very little ‘TV or computer’ time in the entire day.”
Dr. Gambhire suggests gaining the child’s confidence as the first step to tackling the problem. He states, “Taking the detailed history and taking the parents in confidence about the situation are important. Parental counseling is far more important than child counseling. The parents need to be told that this is not the end of the world. We have to suggest that they start working again on the relationship with an open mind. Most of the time the children learn a lesson and later live a normal healthy life.”
This article was previously published in Eve’s Times magazine and has been reproduced here with the permission of the editor, Swati Amar.