Monday, 28 November 2011

Parental Anxiety,Auto-Suggestion and the Pygamlion effect are to blame for poor performance of students!

Often parents visit me complaining that their son or daughter is, “Zero”, or, “A Hopeless Case”, or even, “Very Poor” in studies. Often these comments are made in front of the child, which often angers me a lot. These comments are often accompanied by tears and an emotional break-down of the parents, mostly the mothers! The tears, fail to elicit my sympathy, rather, I often tell the poor child to step out and then berate the parent for calling his child weak, or zero or hopeless! Often, the anxiety, stress, and sense of hopelessness is transmitted to the child. This often creates problems for the growing child. It damages his self-esteem, especially if his parent calls him hopeless in front of others! What parents don’t realise is that the child needs emotional support from his parents, an affirmation that they trust he is doing the best, and that they have faith in him. A relationship of faith and trust should be established between the child and the parent!
Such despair in parents for their children is because their children might not be performing as well as they expected, or perhaps the parents were expecting too much out of their children. In one case, the parent told me that her child had started lying to her about various unit tests. He would not tell her about the Geography test, or the History test, or the Civics test, and how many marks he had got! Later, when she talked to the subject teacher, she came to know that he had got very poor marks! Apparently, the child had lied to her because of one reason, he had got very poor marks, and so his mother would start teaching him for a longer time. His mother I learned, would wake him up at five in the morning and start teaching him! She was a fussy mother, and taught him all the time! The child needed breathing space, he needed some independence from his mother. When I listened to the parent, I suggested that she should start showing more faith in her child’s abilities, trust in him, and tell him that she knew he was doing his best, and that she wouldn’t mind if he got poor marks in the test, because there was always another test in which he could do  better! This mother expected the world out of her child, he broke her heart because he did not do as well as she expected, she expected too much from him, she did not understand his weaknesses, and so she called him zero in front of me! I sent the child out, and scolded her for calling him, “Zero”. Often, it is the parents who plant the seeds of ineffectuality in the minds or their children and the rest is taken care of by a mental phenomenon called, “Auto-Suggestion”. The child’s performance on the academic front deteriorates steadily, and the child does everything that goes against the wishes of his parents! The child in this case needed some space! He didn’t want the excess attention that was being showered on him. He didn’t want to be fussed over by his mother. I told her to let him be!
Parents keep coming to me with the complaint that their children are not performing well, and that their academic performance has been steadily declining! One parent complained that his daughter who used to get marks in the high nineties was now getting marks in the seventies and eighties! I could see that she was passing through the difficult phase of teenage adolescence, and she needed emotional support from her father who was often away at his jeweller’s shop! What he didn’t realise was that a variation in marks and academic performance through the years didn’t mean poor intelligence or mental abilities, rather it indicated the role of various factors, like adolescence, the birth of a sibling, a bereavement,  a marriage in the family, family discord, domestic violence or lack of emotional contact with the parents! It was clear that I had an anxious parent before me and I told him to observe his daughter’s academic performance throughout the year and inform me if their was a further dip! I tried to convince him that his daughter was doing fine, (she seemed to be a sharp, lively and intelligent child) and I was sure that she would start getting better marks, she had hit a bump and would recover! In this case, the father was giving the child less attention as he was away at work most of the time. Unfortunately, the anxiety of the father was disproportionate to the time he was spending with his daughter! Today’s constraints of earning a living,(the livelihood) was affecting the performance of the child. This was a case opposite to the above case and the only common factor was the displaced anxiety which when communicated to the child was unnecessarily exposing her to stress and confusion mitigated by the onset of adolescence!
The greatest anxiety that the parents have about their children is that they will “fail” and it is this anxiety that is transmitted to the children, and then they begin to have a phobia for exams! I try to dispel this fear by asking them whether it would mean the end of the world if their child failed? Did failure in a test mean that their child was worthless? And then they begin to realise that the child does have a second chance!
Parents come to me with the hope that I would give them a solution! Little do they know that the best solution is already staring at them in face! I can only guide them in the right direction by telling them to assert their faith in their child, to tell him or her that they know the child is doing his level best, to give the child space, but also to spend time with the child, to share with the child, but without transmitting their anxiety and despair. Lastly, I tell them to prepare a daily schedule of studies and show it to me after a couple of days. It is up to the parents to follow my advice. Some do, some don’t. Often they go back more relieved, a placebo which seems to have a psychological impact. In most cases, it is the parents who need counselling and not the students. Few parents know that they are the best counsellors that the child can have, since they spend more time with their children than the Principal!

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