I am deeply grieved hearing the losses of the precious lives of our children only because they were unable to reach the expectations of their family, friends and teachers. We need to ponder upon the question, whether the deceased children are only responsible for the horrible act they have committed or we as a community of parents, teachers, and social activists have any stake in this phenomenon of youth suicide in Chitral.
In our indigenous Chitrali family system, there are many positive factors for child development. However, I try to draw our attention towards a very important domain of development called emotional development which is given less attention in our indigenous child rearing practices. For example, traditionally, children from early ages are discouraged to express their feelings both positive and negative; hence, they are not equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to understand and manage their emotions positively. Further, little or no efforts are there to develop resilience among children which makes children vulnerable at the time of difficulty and pressure. Consequently, many children remain unsuccessful in their lives and some even end up their lives. Following are some strategies borrowed from research, which can be adapted to strengthen our existing child development practices in families and schools.
1. It is highly recommended that parents, caregivers and teachers must help children to understand and express their emotions such as happiness, likes, dislikes, sadness, anger, jealousy, shame, guilt and fear etc. in a positive way from an early stage of their lives.
2. Next, it is important that children should be listened to; their perspectives are acknowledged; and they are shown empathy, so that they accept, and understand the kind of feelings they have and be ready to manage them instead of denying or suppressing them.
3. Once the emotions are expressed and understood, children need right tools to solve their problems. For example, adults need to model patience instead of reacting quickly and negatively so that children also take the time to understand their emotions and tolerate the situation. Similarly, children also need help to identify alternative responses to one situation and identify the best option instead of quick reaction. Importantly, children should be allowed to make mistakes. Instead of punishing them for small matters they need to be engaged in reflections so that they learn from their mistakes and take failure as an opportunity to improve. Consequently, it is likely that children develop self-control, confidence, critical thinking, positive thinking and responsibility for their actions.
4. All of the above need a lot of open communication with children, therefore, I urge us all adults to develop a safe, friendly, trusting and stimulating relationship with children so that they can openly share their emotions with us.
5. Caring and trusting relationship with adults coupled with positive emotional development enhance the self-concept of children. Similarly, along with positive self-concept, positive role models in family and community and support systems in community enhance the resilience among children. Resilience is the ability to cope with serious challenges and exploring ways to bounce back and thrive.
Following are some useful tips for parents and teachers (adults) to role model resilience among children.
· When adults show love, care and attention, children feel loved and connected and their self- concept is enhanced as a result.
· When adults listen to their children and understand their perspective, children feel respected and accepted and in turn, they try to understand others.
· When adults stay calm in stressful or chaotic situations, children learn to calm themselves and learn how to handle stress well.
· When adults show patience, children learn to wait, hence, develop patience.
· When adults stop and re-think often, children also learn to think and solve their problems creatively.
· When adults show positive outlook, children learn to focus on positives in life and become hopeful and optimistic.
· When adults view mistakes as learning opportunity, children learn to do things better next time, hence achieve their goals.
· When adults show consistency in their efforts, children learn to keep trying, hence, they succeed.
· When adults focus on strengths of their children instead of weaknesses, children also see their strengths, hence, feel confident.
· When adults take responsibilities in family, school and community and get involved, children also learn to take responsibilities, hence, they feel belonged.
Conclusively, developing children’s emotional capacities and resilience is a long process that needs deliberate efforts, energy and time from all the stakeholders. It is high time for all of us to take the youth suicide seriously and play our roles to support our own children, students and children in the community to develop resilience so that they can fight the adversities of life with bravery and dignity and thrive forever instead of quitting in the middle .. Nasima Zain, PhD scholar at Aga Khan University, 08 Jul 2017 .