What If It’s Not Pretense?

I read teary-eyed with an ache in my heart the unfortunate account of the death of 9-year-old Kamzie a JSS1 boarding student in a secondary school in Abuja, Nigeria, who allegedly died as a result of “neglect” by the school authorities. It must be heart-wrenching for her family and I pray that God will comfort them the way only He can.

There’s a statement in Kamzie’s mother’s account of what happened that for some reason just keeps playing in my head “even the nurse that was on duty once chased her away that she wasn’t sick but was pretending”. As I read that statement over and over, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the number of times myself and I believe other parents and caregivers have neglected a child’s cry for help simply because we feel they are pretending, lying or exaggerating a situation.

The intention is not to point accusing fingers at any school. I believe that justice would prevail and where a case of negligence is established, the law would take its course. I do hope to challenge us, parents, educators and caregivers, to be more attentive and discerning in spite of our busyness and mindsets so that we can mete out appropriate intervention before a child is mentally or emotionally scarred for life or…dead?

Sad schoolboy sitting alone on staircase at school

The RAVE Team usually administers its #WWWOPK (What We Wish Our Parents Knew) questionnaire to students to get their anonymous feedback about some of the things they wish they could tell their parents but for diverse reasons, have chosen not to. This questionnaire is deliberately anonymous so that the children are free to express themselves without worrying that they’ll get into trouble or be embarrassed.

It is cause for concern the number of students that say they are “depressed” either about the school they are attending or other issues (bullying; peer pressure; family troubles; not “belonging socially”). When asked why they hadn’t mentioned the way they feel to their parents, the majority of the responses were “they won’t believe me” or they would say, “you’re just being spoilt”. As parents, we probably feel we have given our children everything we possibly can. We’ve spent so much money on them that as one parent said to me “what can be depressing them? I should be the one depressed!”

Hmmm! But just what if they are actually depressed or ill or afraid or being abused or blackmailed…would we be able to tell if it’s pretense or real? Would the school authorities, teachers and caregivers to whom we have entrusted our children to for a few hours, weeks or months be able to tell if the child is really going through stuff or merely seeking attention or pretending?

I remember a couple of years back when my daughter complained consistently about a school she was attending. While the school ticked the boxes for excellent morals, excellent grades and discipline, it clearly took its toll on her emotions. To be honest, at that time we thought she was just being spoilt. It was recently (about 8 years after leaving the school) that her reaction to a particular incidence showed the extent of how “traumatized” she must have been. Clearly, as her parents, we did what we felt was best for her. But perhaps we could have listened better…not necessarily take her out of the school but manage her emotions and esteem better. Thankfully we talk very openly, I have apologized for not paying enough attention to her emotional health at the time and  like we say in our family “she will be alright…everyone will be alright”.

Yes there is a natural tendency for children to play “pretend” and exaggerate the truth when they want to squirm out of an uncomfortable situation but a bit more attention on the part of parents, educators and caregivers may reveal if there is more going on. We should remember that every child is different and they react differently to stuff they are going through. Some withdraw and become very reclusive while others become very outgoing and almost seem rebellious. For others, we may observe their grades dropping; wanting to skip school; pretending to be ill; not sleeping properly; eating disorders etc. So what can we do?

  • Keep the lines of communication with our children and students open.
  • Allow them to express how they feel without immediately assuming that they are lying or pretending.
  • The art of listening is another key parenting skill we must develop.
  • When we do sense that something might be wrong and we ask them and they say “nothing” we should find ways of making them feel comfortable enough to talk to us about anything without fear of being disbelieved, shut down or ridiculed.

Remember a bit more attentiveness NOW can prevent a lot of damage in the FUTURE.

May the God of all comfort strengthen Kamzie’s family, friends and loved ones. 

RAVE Et Al Limited (RAVE) is a social enterprise that partners with parents, schools, government and other stakeholders, to equip the younger generation for the future, using education and other creative & vibrant tools to reinforce values, attitudes and life skills imperative for successfully & safely navigating the various phases of life online, offline and impacting the society positively. RAVE is the pioneer DQ (Digital Intelligence Quotient) Ambassador in Nigeria (first in Africa) to be certified by the DQ Institute, Singapore.

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