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Diaconia: Assistance to disabled children
Religious, psychological and educational aspects of work with "difficult" children
Reflections on the problem of "difficult" children
Children of "difficult" parents: Work with "difficult" teenagers
The Orthodox School of Our Lady the Instruction

Religious, psychological and educational aspects of work with "difficult" children

The problem of relations with "difficult" children has become extremely relevant in recent times. It is because the number of "difficult" children is steadily growing. They leave their homes, live as tramps, refuse to study or work anywhere, engage in hooliganism, steal, use alcohol and drugs. Or, on the contrary, they isolate themselves within the four walls of their homes. They refuse to come out and spend time, sitting at their computers for days and nights, taking no interest in anything, reading nothing, but traveling through the Internet or playing computer games.

If in the past "difficult" children came mostly from among teenagers, nowadays this category often includes children from 8 to 11 years of age. Nowadays teachers and educators use the term "difficult child" even for preschool children.

Once a child gets into the list of "difficult" children, a bad record may tail after him through his life. He is a pain for everybody - parents, teachers, social workers and even priests. Nobody wants to accept him in a kindergarten or school, in an Orthodox gymnasium or Sunday school or to take him on a team or company. Here, there and everywhere he comes against a wall, a ban or a rejection.

In this connection, the questions arise: What do we know about "difficult" children? Why do they become "difficult" for us?

Clearly, we, adults, do not understand or do not want to understand them. We tend to act according to stereotypes, trying to adjust a life situation to a customary standard. We try to affect them, while they keep affecting us, making us to think, to choose non-stereotype decisions and to take individual approaches. Sometimes these counter influences come into conflict and the problem tends to be solved on the basis of "who beats whom". It should be admitted that more often than not parents and teachers in their desire to win this battle use such power methods as punishment or administrative penalty, thus removing, excluding or antagonizing children. Than they sign with relief, feeling "winners", but actually certainly losing to children and teenagers spiritually, morally and psychologically.

Is there a different way of working and relating to "difficult" children"?

To find a different way of spiritual, psychological and educational interaction with them, we should first understand that "difficult" children are not just children with whom we as adults find it difficult to deal. They are also children who have experienced difficulties. It is very difficult for them to live among us because their souls have been "robbed" of love and kindness on the part of adults, especially parents. Deprived of paternal and maternal kindness, parental support and love, a child's soul cannot develop normally, but becomes week, ill, deformed and bent for sin. A "problem" child is a child who hides in his soul the feeling of being orphaned and outcast by his own parents. Feeling helpless and abandoned, a child develops an "inferiority complex" which demands compensatory and defensive psychological reactions aimed at self-assertion. The desire to assert himself in its turn destroys the harmony of his relations with the world around him. It makes him egocentric, utterly sensitive to the opinion of those around him, vulnerable and inclined to touchiness, ambitiousness, stubbornness, bravado, greed and craftiness. Peculiar to the human soul in this condition is a vivid split between inclination to sinful motives and desire to provoke indignation and irritation of those around and the acute need for understanding, love and compassion from them. Always claiming "special attention", "difficult" children themselves bring a kind of psychological pressure to bear on adults, imposing on them a certain way of relations and interaction. "Difficult" children are always an enigma for adults. Now they break into out-of-place laughter, now begin to cry suddenly, now go into hysteric, now suddenly rude in response to kindness and care, now apathetic and insensible, now shocking those around them by defiant appearance. They always seek to draw attention to themselves and, having achieved their aim, drive adults to irritation and aversion. Oddity in the behavior of "difficult" children makes teachers and parents afraid that they may not be able to cope with them and look ridiculous and helpless in their educational efforts.

The "egoistic personality" (see the article by Rev. Eugene Yefremov in this issue - I. M.) formed in a child's consciousness leads him to a spiritual catastrophe. He ceases to be a person open for relations with God, other people and the world around him. He withdraws into the shell of his pride, loosing the capability for creative self-development and self-organization. Due to this, "difficult" children carry with them a constant threat of self-destruction and the destruction of their surrounding. Weakened, deformed and inclined to sin, the souls of "difficult" children become spiritually blind and deaf; they do not hear warnings or admonition, advice or instruction. Such children avoid any forceful edifying pedagogical influence. Experiencing tremendous psychological and spiritual torments because they are "misunderstood" and "excluded", "difficult" children almost never appeal to adults for help.

In order to give real help to "difficult" children, an altogether different pedagogical approach is required. We call it life-and-work approach because to be realized it needs not just "a call to the salvation of one's soul" but efforts by pedagogues, parents and foster children to live together truly Christian life based on spiritual love. To this end, "difficult" children and teenagers need to relate to special people capable of spiritual care, compassion, understanding and nursing their spiritually exhausted foster children. It is not accidental that St. Basil the Great said that "if you want to foster others, first foster yourself in God". The personal experience of a mentor in overcoming, with God's help, his own sins and imperfections will help him to find the right tone in dealing with "difficult children and teenagers". It is not pedagogical instruction as to how one should behave but love and patience that will help a mentor to overcome the morbid unbalance in children's souls.

First, a mentor should bring into the life of a "difficult" child the creative power to resolve his inner conflict. He should know how to act as an "undistorting mirror" into which a child can look without experiencing that painful discomfort which his inner self-contemplation can bring. He should come into the life of his foster child as a Friend who is knowingly kind to him and compassionate to his condition. A mentor should go into the heart of the emotional experience of a "difficult" child without accusation or ridicule and suggest a constructive way out of his discord with his own self through turning to Christ as his own personal Savior and give him support on his hard way to new, Christian, life. A mentor can be friendly to his foster child only if he sees in his personality an almost indiscernible Image of God as still acting in him despite all his ungainly external and internal manifestations and capable of revealing itself and transforming him in future. Treating his foster child as a developing personality, a mentor can really help him only if he can motivate him for this hard moral labor to overcome the internal conflict with his own self. Then with time a child, finding support in his older Friend, will stop defending himself against the feeling of inner inferiority and begin to impel himself to continuous moral improvement.

Spiritual care for "difficult" children and teenagers presupposes a mentor's calm, even-tempered and compassionate attitude to them. His readiness to give advice or to offer his supporting shoulder at a difficult moment, to help with word and deed will gradually bring children out of the state of wounded pride, fear of failure and distrust of adults. The fist successful steps in the new direction will restore in "difficult" children the feeling of joy and hope for positive changes in their life, strengthen their self-reliance and develop the feeling of appreciation of their helper. The mentor himself, however, should not be carried away by the impetuous manifestations of gratitude, love and affection in response. On the contrary, a spiritually mature mentor will always try to transform this human gratitude into thanksgiving to God who used his hands to create a miracle of the spiritual awakening of his foster children.

The "life-and-work" approach to the relation with and formation of "difficult children and teenagers" is going through a test at present at the Tsaritsyno District Council in Moscow. The efforts that the Orthodox Center and the Life-Giving Source Sunday School at Tsaritsyno and the Tsaritsyno Social Service Center (TSS) have made together for four years to foster family and assist parents in the spiritual and moral education of their children have led to the development of a unified social prevention and rehabilitation center in which "difficult" children and teenagers can receive support and effective aid.

The main component of this complex is the family Sunday school, which gives spiritual instruction to parents, children of 5 and more years old, as well as teenagers and youth. In addition to the studies of religious disciplines, which are not taught in general education schools, the Sunday school has 14 study groups and creative workshops and organizes family excursions and pilgrimages to holy places. It also organizes children's and family festivals, sports games and outdoor relay races. For the third year successively, the "difficult" children and teenagers have had an opportunity to rest and work in Orthodox summer settlements set up near monasteries. The head of the TSS department for social and psychological-educational aid to family and children, Ms. N. Bogdasarova, is a permanent member of the Tsaritsyno District Commission for the Minors. Her participation in the meetings of the commission helps to coordinate the work of the department with that of the district to prevent child neglect and delinquency. Together with social teachers from Schools No. 840, 501 and 870, the department patronizes troubled families and controls children's performance and behavior in school. To prevent children from developing the feeling of orphanhood and abandonment by parents, the department organized the work of a Family Counseling Room to give free advice to those who need psychological aid. Since early 2001, psychologist I. Moshkova has attended to over 50 troubled families. The department gives special attention to the prevention and correction work with preschool children and preliminary schoolchildren to identify at an early stage troubled life situations and to prevent potential orphanhood and child neglect. In August 2001, the TSS expert team worked out a project of experimental work called "Spiritually Healthy Family" in which the principal condition for preventing orphanhood and child neglect is seen in the normalization of family climate. For four years, the TSS has run a Religious Lecture Hall to give people an opportunity to talk with an Orthodox priest and ask him questions about the upbringing of children.

It is gratifying to see "difficult" children and teenagers changing for the better both internally and externally after attending the TSS Sunday school and the department for social and psychological-educational aid to family and children. Thanks to the correctly built pedagogical relations, they begin to take their studies at public school more seriously and to show their talents and natural gifts at creative groups and workshops. These children have found pleasure in studying, acquiring good friends and going on excursions and pilgrimages with their teachers. The hearts of "difficult" children, warmed up by love and patience shown by the TSS Sunday school teachers, psychologists, mentors and social workers, have joyfully opened up to church prayers, fellowship and common work in a church community for the glory of God.

I. N. Moshkova,
Candidate of Psychology

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Reflections on the problem of "difficult" children

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy (Mt. 5:7)

Today many monasteries have opened orphanages, while priests and lay people have assumed the task to take care of "difficult" children. Our parish community has appeared for this very reason in the place where the Hermitage of St. Alexis, devastated in the godless time, used to be part of the Pereyaslavl deanery of the diocese of Yaroslavl. With time the community developed into a convent of mercy adopting wretched people including children deprived of parental care. At present over 70 children live permanently with us, while last year there were about 40. We do not choose among children who come to us and try as much as we can to inculcate in them the principles of Orthodox devotion, especially the love of God and one's neighbors.

"Difficult children" is an established notion in pedagogy and children's psychology. It usually refers to children who have lost their social and moral orientation and found the way for realization of their energy in conflicting with commonly accepted social and moral norms. Among the reasons for which children have found themselves in this condition is a negative social-psychological experience of relations with those around them and neurotization in the family, which produces fixation of unbalanced and destructive emotions. Among these reasons is also a shortage or lack of positive emotional experience, such as gentleness, acceptance, recognition and amicability, as laying the foundation for a healthy and sober perception of life and oneself in early childhood.

The soul of a "difficult" child, through God's disposal unknown to us, is robbed of goodness in an "especially large measure". Therefore, it is weakened, wounded by sin and embittered. Interestingly, the word "embittered", after having being borrowed from Church Slavonic into Russian, changed its meaning from the passive "sour" like "one who suffered evil" to the aggressive "bitter and hostile". Thus, the history of the language has recorded both the subjective perception of and the practical attitude to the fact of evil. In the former case, what is needed is to give help and make up for the damage, while in the latter, it is necessary to guard oneself or keep away, "to take no notice". The embittered soul of a child is like a traveler from the Gospel's proverb, who "fell among thieves" (Lk. 25-37). Embittered, it is covered with wounds, lying without strength, unable to help itself, but not filled with rage or desire of vengeance. According to a patristic interpretation, a traveler is generally a person wounded by sin during his life journey on earth. "The human nature walked from Jerusalem, that is, from an untroubled and peaceful life, for Jerusalem means a vision of the world. Where did it walk? - to Jericho, empty, low and suffocating with heat, that is, to a life full of passions", (Commentary on the Holy Gospel by Blessed Theophilactes).

But even these children with their "embittered" souls are thirsty for the truth: they are aware of the need for truth in life, they appreciate it and follow it in their own way - the feature generally characteristic of children. But the conscience of "difficult" children is weakened and distorted, and it is the more so the more evil and cruelty they have suffered. This is expressed in unconscious lies provoked by fear, in "automatic" self-justification in any situation, in the sharpened feeling of egoistic justice ("let others feel as bad as I do" or "let others feel as well as I do"), in heightened demands towards those around him. Thus, a child does not operate under the truth proper, which is unattainable due to his bitterness, but rather under its shadow or its dim similarity. It is this peculiarity of children's spiritual life that provokes adults' aversion and irritation.

In order to help a child to overcome difficulties arising in his life, adults should first build their relations with him in the right way. This, in its turn, requires the understanding of the spiritual and psychological mechanisms that form a child's personality and the factors that influence his development. For the several years of his work with children, mostly at St. Alexis' Hermitage, the author has accumulated a certain experience in this area, which he would like to share with readers.

Of primary importance in forming a child's healthy spiritual structure in early childhood is perception or the fixation of feelings. The feelings of love and acceptance by a human community immediately after his birth have religious implications, as natural parental love has as its archetype God's love for His creation. It is absolute and unconditional. It manifests itself as a fact precious in itself and the foundation of every existence. It opens for a child the perception of the spiritual foundations of the universe, impressing on his soul the unselfish and non-egoistic bliss of abundant life as an anticipation of Life Eternal. These profoundly subconscious impressions function as a child's guidance in his further life as he explores and grows roots in the social world, giving him space for moral intuition and creative aspirations.

Parents in ordinary and seemingly happy families often do not notice their pedagogical errors, acting according to the Gospel's injunction: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged" (Col. 3:21). This lasts until a child's reaches adolescence when, "discouraged", he initiates a now open conflict with adults. In a sudden and bitter revelation, parents realize that the root of the problem lies in themselves as parents. Indeed, relationships with a child are laid down imperceptibly from his very birth, and it depends on the parents with what emotional experiences they will nourish their child. One well-known researcher once observed that for a 5-year-old child the reality of Divine presence in the world is revealed and substantiated in the love of his parents for each other, hence for him. Developing this thesis, one can say that a child separated from the basic healthy parental care in his early childhood has a grave experience of atheism. Though spontaneous and passive, this experience is difficult to overcome, all the more so as it comes to be deeply engraved in a child's sub-consciousness.

In the late 80s, practicing medics and psychologists were engaged in a lively discussion on the phenomenon of children's deprivation. The term itself is not new for us. In the Russian translation, it sounds like "alienation", but as a special term it has failed to come in everyday pedagogical usage. In the textbook on "Basic Correctional Pedagogy" published in Moscow in 1999, deprivation is defined as "a psychological condition resulting from a prolonged restriction of the possibility for a person to meet his basic mental needs adequately. It is characterized by expressed deviations in the emotional and intellectual development of a person and a breach of his social contacts". The phenomenon of deprivation has a profound spiritual meaning. The alienation of a person from communion with God through his alienation from human love and kindness means his being doomed to non-existence or Eternal Dying. In practice, deprivation is manifested as emotionally unbalanced state, heightened reactivity either as explosive aggressiveness or passive pathetic attitude and silent grievance. These two types of reaction are often combined: anger towards the weak and resentment towards the strong. Psychologically, this condition is experienced as alienation from oneself, from the creative power of one's soul and restlessness in one's own life.

This micro-catastrophe results in a spiritual crisis that leaves an imprint on the further psychological development of a child. It can ultimately lead to the formation of an unhealthy and pathogenic spiritual constitution, which can be conditionally described as "egoistic individuality".

It should be noted that the process of individualization is essential for the psychological development of a child as it teaches him to assimilate social experience and discover himself in physical action and its tangible results. A child needs to test everything by himself and to discover the border that separates him from the world and thus unites him with it. He does it by probing what he can or cannot do, what he likes or dislikes, what he should or should not do. Thus clarifying and probing endlessly various borders of both the internal and external world, a child discovers his psychological self. In doing so, he lays down the basis of his consciousness or individuality to be rebuilt radically in his adolescence under the pressure of accumulated sensible cultural, or super-individual, values, aims and meanings of human existence.

If a child finds himself torn away from the source of his life and formation, from the beneficial power of love, his individual awareness will immediately change over to compensatory defense against threats to his life. He begins to love his own self. A healthy individuality can be likened to an organism that normally relates to the milieu through the half-permeable border, accepting this and rejecting that. Whereas an egoistic individuality begins to withdraw into oneself, turning away from sound relations with the world around it, and first of all with itself. Such a person will reject criticism and inner perfection even if he desires it.

At the same time, the development of an individual almost stops, as if freezing in the safe shell of self-protection. But he also needs to make sorties from this well-protected fortress of self-respect. Brave actions with their emotional experience of risk and "antisocial behavior" provoking confrontation and reciprocal sharp emotional reaction have as their aim to verify and confirm the fact of the existence of this weakened and broken individuality. Taking this path, the soul gradually becomes like a drug-addict demanding ever-new forms of self-satisfaction, acquiring ever stronger and deeper passions - these channels of sinful self-assertion.

This self-closure of the individuality and the aborted progress of its normal formation are linked with a breach in relations between the spiritual powers of a person and Divine energies. A human being as an image of God is a self-willed creature endowed with self-existence in the sense that he is independent in directing his spiritual powers - the power of reason, the power of sensibility and the power of desire. In this regard, spiritual freedom to which St. Paul called Christians consists in the normal relations of human spiritual powers with God's energies in humble co-work together with God. A breach in these vertical relations of powers is reflected in the social horizontal level as a violation of the ability to build human relations, aimed at confrontation. It is possible to single out the following two types of this confrontation:

1) militant individualism, when a pretext for a conflict is always found allegedly to protect one's independence and actualize one's individuality. Actually, this person is engaged in war with himself, torturing and weakening his already impaired spiritual powers;

2) disguised individualism (secret confrontation), when a child protects his individuality through putting protective neurotic block-masks on his spiritual powers - the mask of stupidity and ridicule on his power of reason, indifference and ostentatious cruelty on his sensibility and fixation on elementary carnal needs on desire. Thus a child becomes totally unfit for productive relations with adults. He tries to protect his vulnerable individuality from "forcible" relations, including common efforts, etc. that is, from what he believes to be a waste of his spiritual resources for others, expressed in "leave me in peace!"

In this regard, the question of how "difficult" children can be educated and inchurched becomes especially acute. Difficult situations arise here at every step. In St. Alexis' Hermitage, we have often encountered them. For instance, a 12-year-old boy pilfers his comrades' misplaced things and when talked to takes offence sincerely, cries, feeling injured, and resolutely denies everything. Then, after settling down and having a confidential talk with his mentor, he admits the theft and promises to improve. A boy, 6, forgets about time when let out for a stroll. Once he asked to go to the toilet and was absent for about an hour. Asked by his mentor where he was for such a long time, the boy had the courage to confess that "he kicked only one piece of ice on his way back". Indignant at the request not to force out a full confession from the boy, the mentor answers back: "Shall I pat him on the back and say, Well done! Continue lying?" I tried to explain that the child, because of his authoritarian mother, is afraid of confessing to his misbehavior to adults. And he will continue lying and subconsciously justifying himself to protect himself from an aggressive adult until he fills confidence, which removes fear. In the period when his individuality is formed, a child is not aware yet of his inner contents as something which can be perceived separately, but rather perceives it as himself, as his subjective being. Therefore, the aversion that adults may feel for a child's actions will be perceived by him as the rejection of his very right to exist. He feels himself as he is and cannot immediately become a different being, such as adults want to see him. For him it would be the rejection of his existential impressions, his spiritual feelings and resources that feed him. It would mean to reject himself.

The "problem" children phenomenon has increasingly spread to boarding schools and even relatively successful secondary schools. These children are not very noticeable. They may not have had tragic experiences, but something has gone wrong in their relations with their parents or relatives that makes them stop studying and compensate their social fulfillment by defiant behavior and asocial purposes. School is accustomed to them, calling them difficult to teach and educate, pedagogically neglected, etc. Meanwhile, teachers and class instructors cannot change anything in their fate, as a rule.

The above makes it possible to draw a practical conclusion. In his relations with deprived children, a teacher will be more effective if he is not guided by such far-reaching values, as successful graduation, "good" behavior and other common aims. He should rather try to see the spiritual condition and the real psychological resources of a child. He should learn to understand the transgressions of such a child as a concrete personal trouble in which a socially disoriented child is caught. Such a child has suffered a "habitual dislocation" through "walking wrong paths" and spiritual "contusions", that is, inability to hear, realize and direct the movements of his soul. Such a "lame" and "deafened" child should be continuously supported and guided, if possible, without condescension and lecturing, but treated on equal footing and served almost imperceptibly. Otherwise, torn away from the spiritual contact with his mentor, a child, accustomed as he is to different patterns, will have to return to his psychological "circuit".

In this situation, the pedagogue should not react according to the stereotype "What can I do - pat them on their backs for the things they do?" His response should rather appear to be unmotivated or "unreasonable" care and mercy. Of course, blind charity only corrupts and develops a parasitical attitude to life. But the mercy that Christ revealed to us is essentially different. It is God's mercy, perfect, given from above, saving the human being from internal self-destruction. The five foolish virgins, whose lamps went out because they had no oil and who were rejected by the Bridegroom, had the virtue of bodily chastity, but did not acquire the virtue of mercy from the poor, sick and destitute. Hence, the question about the education of difficult children can be formulated as follows: How can we just fulfill the commandment of mercy, how can we seek the gift of perfect and divine mercy?

The key appears to lie in forming the most important pedagogical ability to understand correctly the child's spiritual element or what philosophy describes as discernment, which, in case of spiritual care, is spiritual discernment. To put it briefly, the point here is the education of educators themselves. Let us remember the teaching of holy fathers that the beatitudes have been given to us by the Savior in the order of the spiritual growth of man towards God. To follow the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount is to ascend the ladder of heavenly perfection, the ladder of virtues. And the commandment of mercy will be opened up for those who have worked in the field of spiritual weakness, mourning sins, and become humble and thirsty for the truth, so that every one "could believe and be saved". And to fulfil truth on earth one needs to have merciful heart...

What are the ways then by which a child's wounded soul can attain its original condition?

The soul, as Abba Dorotheus writes, "with God's help purifies itself through good work and thus returns to its natural condition. For Evagrius says: the sensible soul acts according to nature only if its desirous part seeks virtue, the inciting part works for it, while the reasonable one contemplates that which has been done". The key point in this idea is the notion of good work. A formula of good works can be drawn from the beginning of Matins: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men". A task initiated for the glory of God, in heartfelt peace with one's neighbors, such as teachers, and by inner motive will necessarily become also a step towards purification of the soul.

The proverb about the Good Samaritan shows that his help was effective and all-inclusive. He did first all that he himself could do. He cleansed the sick man's wound, brought him to an inn and put him up there. Only after that, yielding to the need to continue his journey, he entrusted the sick man to the care of the inn's owner, paid what was necessary and promised to compensate for the care on his way back. In the same way the Orthodox pedagogues are called to help children effectively, conveying to them the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, charity, faith (cf. Gal. 5:12). How can we convey them? - Through the intimate relations of souls not only through words, but also common action, attracting children by the seriousness of aims and sharing our experience of life and spirituality with them. In this way, every skill, household task, even game, both indoor and outdoor, every leisure activity, such as a walking tour or an excursion, amateur art activity and community self-government - all this diversity and richness of vital tasks will become that good work through which children can put into operation their God-given talents and thus come nearer the Kingdom of God.

Rev.Yevgeny Yefremov

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Children of "difficult" parents: Work with "difficult" teenagers

There is a lot of books written about "difficult" teenagers. There are trained specialists working successfully with these children. But unfortunately, there is little progress as the problem continues to reproduce itself with every new generation. Another article will not solve it, of course, but may make a certain contribution to the accumulation of experience in work with teenagers.

The author works for a non-governmental organization called "The Door", a youth social-psychological center. Our center has existed for over 2 years. We see our aim in helping teenagers and youth to cope with negative social and psychological problems through creating conditions for positive social adaptation. To this end we have organized a psychological consulting room and engaged ourselves in preventing drug-addiction and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, training youth leaders for the development and implementation of social programs and cooperating with other non-governmental and governmental organizations in giving psychological and preventive aid. The center works locally at the Southeast District of Moscow.

This article is an invitation to an exchange of experience with special church educational and social institutions working professionally with teenagers and their parents. Such an exchange seems possible, because we encounter the same problems and the educational and psychological aspects in the work of a secular and specialized church organizations are identical. In his counseling practice, the author met some parents who made their first steps in church life. The psychological work with difficulties and problems they encountered in brining up their children has proved useful and successful and has not impeded their spiritual development.

In our center, we deal with teenagers who are not quite difficult in the classical understanding, but who are on the verge of becoming "difficult". We will focus on such teenagers and consider the family level on which complications in a teenager's behavior arise.

First, let us consider the definition of the term "difficult". The director of the Life-Giving Source Sunday School, Ms. I. Moshkova, Candidate of Psychology, was right when she said during the 2001 Christmas Readings that it was wrong to describe children as "difficult". It is more correct to say that it is difficult for these children to deal with us, the adults. One can add that the difficulty that adults encounter in relating to a particular child does not at all mean that the latter has a difficult nature. It rather means the difficulty of being a good adult or a good parent. Hence the unusual title of this article to point out that one of the reasons for difficulties in children's behavior is actually the difficulty of being a parent.

To be worried that our children, when grown up, will become difficult is a common feeling. God forbid that they should get into a bad company or try drugs or make mistakes in their sexual relations. We have good reason for this anxiety as today's life abounds in cases of difficult teenagers indeed. I am also familiar with this feeling in my professional work, often fearing that a difficult teenager can be brought in for counseling at any moment and wondering what I should do if he or she makes a mess.

The parents of teenagers from 11 to 16 years old feel even more anxious about their teenagers developing a "difficult nature" when they enter the Church. As it often happens, their children do not only refuse to turn to God but also respond very negatively to any attempt to inchurch them too.

The relationship as they were established in a family earlier often lead to the alienation of children from their parents. Children do not accept changes in their parents' life, just as they do not accept everything that happens in the life of their mums and dads. Are they aware of our thoughts, joys, sorrows and developments in our life to the extent to which children can be aware of the life of their parents? One has to state they are not. Moreover, by the age of 12 or 13 they do not want to be. To be friends with one's parents is out of fashion today.

Now something new suddenly appears in the life of one's parents and very extraordinary at that - they turn to God and begin to learn living in the Church. The parents become active; it seems to them that in a little while they will become worthy of praise as heroes of textbooks on devotion, while their children will follow them without complaint. But things tend to turn out differently. They result in protest and mutual disappointment.

What are parents' complains in general?

They are as follows. "I have lost contact with my child". (94,5% of all the parents who come to our center for advice are mothers). "My son/daughter does not obey me, we often come into conflict, teenagers' behavior is aggressive". In most cases, the aggressiveness is something parents learn about from schoolteachers. After a psychological inquiry it becomes clear that boys - who are often those who give their mothers cause for anxiety - simply begin to show man's character, becoming more active and independent. Teenagers begin to smoke early, to be outdoors for hours, their school progress becomes poor.

Mothers disagree with their teenagers' social circle. They are disturbed by the so-called emotional instability of teenagers making them excessively excitable - the feature associated with natural age changes. Parents are worried by the loss of control over their children.

What is it that lies behind the "bad behavior" of children and teenagers? Dr. Dracus, an American psychologist, interprets such behavior as having the following aims, which children seek to achieve unconsciously:

  • demand of attention or comfort;
  • desire to show one's power or demonstrative disobedience;
  • revenge, retaliation;
  • affirmation of one's inadequacy and inferiority (in addition to the above, a destructive experience of one's own "uselessness" in itself may be the aim of bad behavior).

Let us give some examples. A mother brings her 12-year-old Oleg to our counseling center. All the questions asked by psychologists are met with persistent silence. Oleg appears to be a reserved boy who knows on which side his bread is buttered. To the question whether he came by himself or was brought by his mother the answer is "Mum has brought me". We ask the question: "Would you like to stay and talk?" The answer is "No". The mother did not even think of asking her growing up son what he desired, for her he is still a small boy. The boy's silence in this case functions as demonstrative disobedience and represents ultimately a power struggle: who will get whom.

Another, similar, example. The mother of a 13-year-old Oksana appeals to our counseling center. She does not understand how come a girl wants to leave to school, to be friends with a girl her mother dislikes and to take interest in horses. The mother demands that her daughter should explain "logically" the advantage of attending an equestrian club over going to ordinary school, which will give her the right for a higher education and a well-paid job in future. Oksana protests. She often refuses to talk to her mother. If her mother scolds her - and she does nag her for hours and for trifles - she responds in kind. Oksana has already made several attempts to run away from home. Money disappeared at home a couple of times, because the mother demands a "logical" explanation for the least expense, such a bottle of Sprite. The girl has already started smoking.

In all respects, Oksana fits the definition of "difficult" teenager. However, a talk with her and her mother, separately and together, gives an impression that mother and daughter do not relate as kin. It is difficult for the girl to live with her mother. At the same time, Oksana's mother is quite a normal woman. She has an apartment, she works, she does not drink. The only irregularity is that she and her husband live separately.

Analyzing these and other cases, one can see that all these problems rest on the inability of a parent to change the style of his or her relations with a teenager undergoing age-related changes. It is difficult for parents to change their own behavior, to adopt new roles, to move from the attitude of "superior parent" to the attitude of "equal adult".

It is difficult for parents to discern the beginnings of maturity appearing in their children, expressed in the desire to organize their leisure time and to choose a social circle for themselves independently. The failure of parents to change the forms of their relations with their children causes the failure of teenagers to build their life constructively. This, in its turn, results in pseudo-adult behavior, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, indiscriminate relations, loss of interest in school (teenagers have not yet developed prognostic thinking along the line "what shall I do instead of attending school or how will I build my life in future?").

Parents tend to fall under the influence of external, often negative, assessments of their children they hear, for instance, in school. These external things prevent them from seeing positive sides in their children. Parents tend to be so much concerned with the external assessment of their parental performance that they cease to trust their own children. Consequently, children go through an experience of repudiation.

Parents often use teenagers for solving their own psychological problems. This is manifested in the contradiction of treating their grown up children as small but urging them to be mature concerning themselves. This attitude is characteristic of lonely mothers. They often demand: be like me, help me, live according to my idea of maturity, do not leave me alone. Actually, teenagers in their growing maturity have different aims. They are to establish contacts with those of the same age, seek their own place among the adults, attend independently to their developing bodies, which is concern for appearance in most cases, discover their place in the world. It is in these directions that a teenager would like to mature, and this is precisely what adults reject.

Why do parents lack the intelligence and energy to build a new type of relations with their child? The answer that it is because of the socio-political crisis, that is to say "society is bad", does not count. There are good and bad parents in both good and bad societies. Without touching upon the spiritual level, one can say that one of the principal difficulties lies in troubled conjugal relations. Quarrels and separations do not leave strength for children. The two above-mentioned cases are not exclusions as the first mother has just gone through a divorce, while the second is about to divorce.

Another reason lies in parents' underestimation of the fundamental importance of confidential talks and sufficient time to be given to their growing up children.

Still another reason is parents' excessive concern for the material side of life. Rush for wealth "eats up" one's time and power which could have been devoted to children.

The last two affirmations are especially evident as reasons for teenagers' drug-addiction.

Concerning teenagers' drug-addiction, specialists have observed that children use drugs to make their boring life more colorful. Parents themselves often create unwittingly a black and white picture of life. It has been observed that the more parents complain about life - insisting "how bad everything is" and coming to church in their dismal mood only to see passions and insurmountable sinfulness behind any manifestation of the human nature rather than think about higher things - the more the joyless atmosphere in their family is conducive to drug-addition.

Researchers have also noticed that among the three groups of causes of drug-addiction, namely, stress, group pressure and curiosity, the latter plays the leading role in triggering the mechanism of experimentation with psychedelic substances. What is often sought in drugs is mysticism, and strangely enough, it all happens in a country with the rich mystical tradition of Orthodoxy!

What can be done about all this? Ms. Moshkova we mentioned to earlier speaks about the service for children. How can we set about this service in the right way?

  1. To begin with, we should overcome our anxiety about the problem of the awkward age. The feeling of anxiety makes us powerless. We should muster our courage and move to an active attitude. It will be easier this way. At the same time, it is important to remember that teenagers living with us are our children and they expect to see in us confident and self-possessed parents and specialists who set about working with them. To achieve soberness and calmness both spiritual and temporal means are good.
  2. We should reassess and rebuild our life in such a way as to find time to live together with our children. It is a complicated but necessary task. In addition to studies and work, leisure should become one of the important common occupations.
  3. It is necessary to learn to talk to teenagers about the present-day problems. It would be better for you to become a source of comprehensive information and thus restore your parental authority. Experience has shown that the epidemic of drug-addiction spreads through information. Teenagers get information, one-sided and provoking in fact, anywhere but not from the adults at home. The adults' anxiety about drug-addiction comes from ignorance. In order to overcome it, one should simply take a short course on narcology, especially the section on the Myths of Drugs which are very similar to the devil's temptations and which unfailingly provoke a teenager to try drugs. The course will help adults to learn to dispel these myths and to teach their children to do the same.
    In general, the best way for a talk on a particular problem is first to give comprehensive information about it. Then, if the fact discussed is negative, emphasis should be made on the positive side, that is, how to avoid it and where real, not made-up, alternatives to it can be found in normal life.
  4. Church life should become really interesting for teenagers. The richness of her colors, feasts and music can become really attractive for them. We have only to think how to present this joy to them.

In conclusion, to exchange experience our center offers some observations made in its work with teenagers:

  1. The status of non-governmental organization, enjoyed by church educational and social institutions, has its advantages as it gives them an opportunity to be independent in defining the contents, methods and style of work. The financial support of this status can be drawn from various foundations promoting educational and social work.
  2. Our center offers individual counseling for teenagers and their parents. We have noticed that it is helpful to compliment this work with psychological and pedagogical education of parents in oral form through lectures and talks and written form through various compact publications on a relevant issue. Beside the informational function, this kind of work is used for initial correction through giving information about adolescence, family psychology, psychology of communication, which can help to remove some difficulties in people's life.
  3. The educational and social programs developed at present should involve both teenagers and adults.
  4. Teenagers themselves can be involved in the implementation of these programs. Our center, among other things, trains leaders for social work. They are already engaged in conducting 2-hour-long seminars in schools on the consequences of drug-addiction and alternatives to it. In this connection, comparing the work of our secular center with that of religious organizations, it is possible to conclude that church youth can participate, for instance, in missionary work among problem teenagers. This conclusion is suggested by the prime message of the appeal made by the recent Orthodox Youth Forum to youth. This message represents an honest explanation of the faith made in a language understandable to the youth.
  5. Generally, the effectiveness of a social program often depends on proper preparation and involvement of volunteers in its implementation. Besides, the work of public organizations involving volunteers is willingly supported financially by charitable organizations.

To sum up it can be said that awkward age, though difficult indeed, is the age that puts us as adults, parents and specialists to test. It also puts to test the depth of our faith. If we cope, we are able specialists and able parents, as well as good believers.

A. O. Sergeyev,
Candidate of Psychology

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The Orthodox School of Our Lady the Instruction

The Orthodox School of Our Lady the Instruction was founded in 1995 by the Brotherhoods of the All-Merciful Savior and St. Vladimir. At present, it is the only Orthodox school in Moscow that accepts "problem" children and works with them successfully in various areas. These are various problems to cope with, such as poor health, bitterness after a child's parents' divorce causing neurosis-like symptoms, fears and high anxiety, all accompanied by pedagogical neglect. We cannot help mentally retarded and homeless children who have not lived in family for a long time as they need special pedagogical programs and educational conditions. All others are accepted unconditionally.

At present there are 40 children attending the school. Our pupils are intellectually intact and many of them are comprehensively developed. However, a continued situation of failure they experienced in previous schools lies on their shoulders as a heavy burden of despair and bitterness.

All our teachers are educated pedagogues qualified for working with "problem" children and giving them adequate education. For the several years of its existence, the school has developed its own traditions and style of teaching. In teaching our children, we use the following approaches:

  1. Small classes for 5 or 6 children. This helps to exercise individual approach and to make pupils actively involved in the educational process.
  2. Psychological examination of pupils to identify their personal peculiarities and problems. For instance, Sasha S. got the worst marks for doing tests written on the blackboard, while doing well in oral tests or tests he copied from textbooks. An examination proved that he could not take in the information written on the blackboard. So we gave him tests written on sheets of paper, and the boy was able to continue his studies successfully.
  3. Individual approach to each pupil. Our teachers seek to provoke pupils' interest in learning, once lost because of a conflict with teachers caused by difficulties they encountered in learning or blending with the class.
  4. Talks with parents as an important part of the teacher's work. More often than not parents do not understand the problems their children experience due to their commitment to work or inability to pay attention to every child in a large family.

These pedagogical approaches make it possible to achieve success in teaching children with difficult nature and mentality. Among these children are also hyperactive ones who find it difficult to listen to the teacher silently, to work on their own and to simply sit out a lesson.

For instance, a second-grader Sasha M., 9, had no notion of a lesson when he entered the school. He would interrupt the teacher, yell, try to distract the teacher by telling irrelevant stories, jump up from his desk and be easily distracted. The teaching was organized for him in such a way as to allow for a close interpersonal contact with the teacher who used mostly visual materials, building on the boy's desire of success in learning and the teacher's formative influence. At present, the boy does well at school and studies two foreign languages.

There are children who, unlike the above-mentioned ones, are passive in movement and communication with others. Thus, Kolya D. from his childhood was in poor health, had to be in hospitals and suffered from allergy. He did not go to kindergarten for fear of infection. He has attended our school from the first grade. First he was afraid of the teacher, refused to give oral answers, often hide himself, walked only along the walls, spoke in a low voice and avoided communication. At present, a fourth-grader, he recites his lesson loudly, feels confident among schoolchildren, composes stories, plays the violin and participates in school plays.

These hyperactive and highly constrained and quiet children feel more comfortable in a small class in a school in which a family atmosphere is created.

The success of our way of teaching is attested to by the fact that our children who have had to change school for some reason successfully passed entrance interviews without being put to a lower grade.

The important task our school has set itself is not only to teach successfully but also to educate children for the Orthodox worldview. It will help them to make the right decision in any life situation, which is impossible to do without the true faith in God.

O. V. Sidorova,
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