By Kavya Bhardwaj (Lead Psychologist)

Suhan (name changed) is a biologically a girl and prefers others not to call her, “Suhani” as her certificates indicate. He is going through a period of self-discovery. But, I swear, he is one of the most confident students I have ever seen.

I wonder to myself, if someone can be this confident when they are discovering themselves, only sky would be the limit once they are sure of who they are. With such clear focus, confidence, resilience and rigour, they could be anything they want!

In fact, even if they never figure out the answer to this age-old question-“Who am I?” The future seems pretty neat to a wonderful, confident and extremely hard-working student like Suhan.

Yet, a part of me chokes every time I think about Suhan’s context. Sure, he’s in his early teens right now. So, the pressure to be “more like a girl” is relatively weak in society.

However, I fully well realize that social media, relatives, society and the cunning voices of people would try to creep into Suhan’s ears someday. It makes me sad to think that it may be more difficult for Suhan to keep referring to himself as a “boy” once he reaches a marriageable age as per the Indian society.

It’s not hard to imagine him at a family gathering or a dinner party, where a group of adults whisper in each other’s ears about Suhan’s differences. This imagery could be dramatic but, it is so common that it is worth mentioning.

But, who knows? Perhaps by that time, Suhan’s resilience at being kind to himself would be strong enough to make him withstand all these societal pressures. And, sky could still be the limit for him, personally, professionally and perhaps spiritually (if he decided to choose that path).

Kindness can be seen in more ways than just one.

It is kindness when Suhan feels confident about himself. It is an act of kindness toward one’s self.

And, no matter how so-called “deviant/different” our behaviours, thoughts, identity, skin colour or orientation may be, each one of us has the right to be kind to ourselves.

Our kindness initiative at Green Valley Academy called “Svadhaya” has evolved to touch on topics like these through workshops and webinars.

When every day you challenge yourself to be kind, magic happens

Every day students at Green Valley Academy ask themselves, “How was I kind today?”

They respond to themselves and then to our online platform where they upload acts of kindness. Some students showcase their kindness by watering plants, others do so by feeding stray animals. And then there are those who are kind to themselves by allowing themselves to figure out their “gender identity”. By this I mean, there is freedom in the air to be comfortable in expressing non-binary ways of expressing themselves. If a female student wants to keep very short hair and wants to use the pronouns of “he or him”, then that’s okay.

It is important to recognize that for students in their early teens, sometimes can be very challenging. Just as their bodies develop, their minds at times start questioning-what does it mean to be me? And all this when they are in quarantine during Covid-19, staying calm can be challenging!

During these times, it is of utmost importance for students to have a supportive environment that allows them to live in phases of “not knowing”.

Unknowingly (& sometimes knowingly) there are times when we as parents, caregivers, and teachers stop students from expressing themselves.

How can we stop a child’s right to express themselves?

In schools as teachers, staff and sometimes as parents, we say “NO” when it’s not needed.

Every time we ask a child to stop writing from their preferred “left” hand and use “right” instead, we are doing them wrong.

Every time we use physical aggression of any form such as hitting, spanking or even throwing books or some items in anger in front of a child, we are doing them wrong.

Then there are taunts, being highly critical of their academic performance and our favourite exercise of comparing them with one of their friends. These are not healthy.

Every time we show our preference to white-skinned or lighter-skinned students to play the “good character” in a drama play and “darker-skinned” students as the “bad one”, we participate in racial micro-aggression.

We need to deconstruct the abruptness of our expectations from students before we vehemently ask them to “Do as I say!” because we “Know better”.

One way we can tackle our own biases toward light skin tone is to do an exercise with our children.

Have a pen and paper ready.

And write the word BLACK and ask your partner (or child) to think of as many words that come to their mind when they think of this word-black.

Write down those words on paper for them as they think of their word associations.

Let’s call it word-association play!

Now, ask them to say as many words that come to their mind when they think of the word, “black”.

You’d be surprised to know they might come up with words like, “darkness, bad, strong, evil, death” or maybe not, you need to do this exercise to find out.

Next, ask them to write the word, WHITE.

And, ask them to think of as many words that come to their mind when they think of this word-white.

Write down those words on paper for them as they think of the word associations.

In contrast, usually kids say words like, “peace, pure, divine and calm” when they think of the word white.

Now, if such is the case, we need to think to ourselves, if a simple word association with words like white and black has such ingrained stereotypes in our consciousness-is it possible that at some level we might be influenced by colourism?

If however, your experience of this Word-Association Play is more positive and you and your partner indeed had more neutral or positive words with each of these triggers then it is humbling to know that.

You can repeat this play with other words such as “Man and Woman” or anything else, really. Like, “Happy or Sad”. This exercise helps us unravel the association our minds make with words and we can work with these to change unhealthy associations into healthy ones, eventually.

You may even need the help of mental health professionals. And, it would be a good idea to contact a mental health professional to discuss things that bother your child or you during such exercises or anytime else, really.

Sometimes our children live our trauma as it gets passed to the next generation. They need a safe and kind space to talk. Feel free to contact your school’s counsellors or other mental health professionals.

We at Green Valley Academy pledge to be a part of a kindness movement where such microaggressions, slips and mistakes have no place to be. Where we are open to creating a positive environment that fosters dialogues about mental health.

Our Kindness initiative is more than simple acts of kindness.

This kindness initiative is about building a Kind Consciousness. While we want our students to work towards United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we also want them to work toward Sustainable Development of consciousness.

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