July 31, 2013

Is Your Child Trying to Tell You Something?

Children don’t usually tell us how they are feeling in a direct way especially about their worries. Instead, they say things out of context, give clues, and as they get older, test the waters to see how a topic might be received. This means we have to listen extra carefully and inquire, even when the day is moving fast. Consider this exchange between a son and his mother.

Son: “I want to quit Boy Scouts.”
Mom: “Okay, it’s up to you and fine with me if that’s what you want.”
Was there a missed opportunity to inquiry and learn? After all, her son had been a longtime Scout and it seemed to mean the world to him. Imagine if the conversation had gone like this:
Son: “I want to quit Boy Scouts.”
Mom: “Why honey?” 
Son: “I don’t like it anymore.” 
Mom: “What don’t you like about it?” 
Son: “I don’t like the new Scout leader at all.” 
Mom: “Can you tell me what you don’t like about him?” 
Son: “I just don’t like him.” 
Mom: “What do you mean?” 
Son: “I thought he was my friend?” 
Mom: “And then what happened?” 
Son: “Well, he started touching me and I don’t like it.” 
Mom: “Can you tell me more about that?”
You can see where I’m going with this. By steady and open inquiry, the mother would have learned that the new Scout leader was sexually abusing her son.
Here’s an example where the parent did listen very carefully. A father and his daughter were in the car and the daughter blurted out this statement
Sophie: “Daddy, I don’t want to play those games with Grandpa anymore.”
Dad: “What games, sweetie?” 
Sophie: “Those tickling games.” 
Dad: “Oh, tell me about the tickling games.” 
Sophie: “He makes us tickle our private parts.” 
Dad: “I’m so glad you told me, Sophie, and I will make sure those games stop. No one has the right to touch your private parts because you’re the boss of your body!”
Child sexual abusers have told us repeatedly that the biggest deterrent to child sexual abuse is a parent who listens—very carefully. For more examples and sample language for talking with children, see Off Limits: A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.

July 20, 2013


Empathy is the ability to see the world as another person, to share and understand another person’s feelings, needs, concerns and/or emotional state. Often we use the phrase “to put yourself in the other person’s shoes” when we talk about empathy. Thus it implies feeling with and not for the person. While empathising (at some level) comes naturally to most people it is a skill that can be developed like most other interpersonal skills.
A lack of empathy results in what we are currently seeing in our society – the lack of respect, understanding and compassion for what the other person goes through. Thus we are experiencing increasing instances of sexual assault of children and women; one of the contributing factors is the lack of empathy on the part of the offenders as well as the silent and inactive bystanders towards the victim.
People need to be taught empathy at a young age so that they can internalise this value. As parents and care-givers the most important skill that we can teach our children is empathy. A strong sense of empathy allows children to make decisions that are right for them without hurting others or seeking approval or acceptance. Parents are our first teachers and hence they play a key role in teaching children the skills of empathy.
Empathy is closely linked with feelings or emotions. Identifying and labelling emotions is important in order to empathise with others. As part of our preventive program (Personal Safety Education) in schools and the community at large, we teach children this important skill of empathy. Children from the tender age of six years are introduced to its importance and are taught that feelings/emotions are universal and therefore people all over the world experience different emotions and express it with the same bodily reactions as we do.
At Arpan, children are taught that they must treat others the way they would want to be treated. The Arpan facilitators are trained to ask the children pertinent questions and use other relevant media such as role plays, stories, etc to help them understand and internalise the key messages on empathy.
For instance, trainers ask children how will small children feel if you hit them?; how will your classmate who is not good looking feel if you tease him/her?; if  I take away your water bottle without asking you how will you feel? In the same way, if you take away your friends’ things without their permission, how would they feel?
Parents and care-givers can also instill in their children empathy by helping them identify and name emotions, validating the emotions children feel, as well as providing emotional support and affection to them. Teaching can help build empathy in children, but even more important is for adult caregivers to be empathetic themselves. Parents can model empathy in their relationship with other people; and children will learn by observing and emulating their parents. Adult caregivers can also use day-to-day situations to sensitise and make their children empathetic towards others.
For instance, if your child comes from play having fought or bullied other children ask your child how he/she would have felt if someone had to do the same with them. Explain to them that – “just as we feel upset or sad when someone hits or teases us, in the same way, when we hit others they also feel sad, angry and scared. It is, therefore, important that we must treat others the same way that we would like them to treat us. That means we must empathize with others. Before we say or do anything to others we must think about how we will feel if someone says or does the same thing to us. Always treat others the way you want to be treated.”
If we as adult caregivers bring about a change at an individual level by teaching our children to be empathetic, only then can we hope that there will be a greater positive change in the country.

By - Dr. Manjeer Mukherjee
Research and Development Manager at Arpan

July 2, 2013

Personal Safety Education (PSE) project by Arpan

Arpan is a child centric organization and strongly believes in empowering children with adequate knowledge, attitude and skills to prevent instances of child sexual abuse as well as to seek support when such an incident has occurred. 

In alignment with this philosophy, one of the core interventions of Arpan is the “Personal Safety Education  Project”. 
Personal Safety Education (PSE) being conducted at a school
The Personal Safety Education (PSE) project by Arpan empowers children to protect themselves from sexual abuse, by giving them assertive skills and helping them identify their support network. 

Arpan conducts this module with children in privately owned and government schools as well as with highly vulnerable groups of children through NGO’s, and in shelter homes and orphanages.

Arpan has reached out to more than 11,000 children and 7,000 parents and teachers across Mumbai and Thane through schools by implementing the Personal Safety Education (PSE).