Samajh Samajhke Samajhna Seekha
I remember when I began working with older children aged between 8 and 12. Sometimes their younger siblings would join the sessions or watch us from a distance during park sessions. At that time, my co-facilitator was Nagma, and we started discussing whether something should be done for these children as well. But what? We started by giving them drawing sheets to express their thoughts, but we realized that we weren’t growing or paying attention to them in this way.
So we decided to divide the groups into two: one for children aged 8–12 and another for those aged 4–6. However, we were unsure how to work with the younger children since neither Nagma nor I had prior experience with them. We thought about how these children are like small plants that need nurturing and growth. They have potential, a sense of play, and a lot of fun. We just needed to find a way to channel these qualities into a process.
We began the work, but I soon discovered that I would get very angry if the session didn’t go as planned. The children wouldn’t listen, would fight with each other, wouldn’t stay focused, and would frequently move around. When these behaviours occurred, we would assume negative things about the child, like them being “not good,” “slow to understand”, or “wanting to irritate us”. We had these thoughts constantly running through our minds.
I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. How could I effectively work with these children? I started facing various challenges.
Thankfully, in the beginning, there was always a space where we could share our challenges, questions, and thoughts with each other and figure out how to address them. We had learning sessions facilitated by Subhadra Kamath, Sanyukta Saha, and Sukriti. Sukriti, a developmental psychologist, helped us understand the developmental and emotional needs of children.
We explored topics such as the difference between sympathy and empathy, the fountain of needs, emotional needs, attachment needs, sensory needs, social needs, motor needs, and executive functions. In understanding empathy and sympathy, we learned that sometimes when a child or someone else shares something with you, you might respond with generic statements like, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “Don’t think so much about it.” We realised that we were not truly understanding what the child wanted from us.
We learned that when someone, especially children, share something with us, it’s important to repeat what they say, nod our heads, and make eye contact to show that we are present and actively listening. We should refrain from giving suggestions without asking them first. Instead, we should ask open-ended questions that require more than just a yes or no answer. For example, “How did you feel when they said that to you?” or “What would you like to do now? What are you thinking?”
It’s okay if the child doesn’t immediately answer the questions, and we shouldn’t bombard them with too many questions after every few words they speak. We need to give them space to process and understand. Similarly, we realised that children have many needs that they are still learning to grasp. They learn to identify emotions and express them, understand social dynamics, and navigate society’s expectations.
When we discussed these points and tried to understand why a child was unable to participate in the session, why they were constantly jumping around and not staying in one place, not listening, and responding late, we realised that it could be because their “fountain of needs” had not fully developed or they had other needs at that moment. For instance, if a child repeatedly stood leaning on the wall or lying on the floor during an activity, it might indicate that they were feeling unwell or their body was preventing them from fully engaging. Similarly, if a child couldn’t stay still and kept jumping continuously, it could suggest difficulty in controlling their impulses.
Understanding children based on their individual needs emphasises that each child is different, follows their own process, progresses at their own pace, and develops all functions in their own time. It is crucial to believe in the process of both yourself and the child, and to approach things from different perspectives.
I am still learning and continuing this journey with the children, filled with hope.