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Sunday, May 14, 2006

CHILDHOOD STRESS: NEW DIMENSIONS

CHILDHOOD STRESS: NEW DIMENSIONS
Childhood stress, unlike adult stress, has very subtle manifestations, and hence is not often recognised by the parents. BT finds out more
DR P V VAIDYANATHAN
Childhood and stress should actually be mutually exclusive terms, but somehow today, one group of individuals who are very much stressed out, are children. Try telling any parent that his or her child is stressed, and chances are that either they would react with shock, surprise, or maybe even burst out laughing. Unfortunately, children are no longer immune to stress and pressure — factors that have already taken their toll on the adult population. Adults mostly react to stress with anger, irritability, insomnia, loss or excess of appetite, headache, increasing their consumption of tobacco and alcohol, a diminished sexual drive, and eventually develop the stress related illnesses like blood pressure, acidity, heart problems, and diabetes. Children, on the other hand, often show non-specific symptoms like recurrent stomach pains, decreasing academic performance, falling ill a bit too often, grinding their teeth or babbling in their sleep, loss of urinary control, isolation, becoming quiet, vomiting, violence, and anger. What causes these children, who are supposed to be carefree and playful, to be stressed? There are a host of reasons for this. Unlike earlier, the joint family system has given way to the nuclear family, and this invariably results in children being taken care of by servants and caretakers. With both parents working, the absence of family members, like uncles, aunts or grand parents, is felt acutely, for they are in a much better position to offer the child solace, safety and security. Added to this is the intense competition that children face in their academic lives, as well as in their social lives. Along with school, tuitions, classes and after spending a few hours on viewing television and in playing computer games, the child is mentally drained and exhausted, by the end of each day. Another factor, which is rarely recognised by parents as a causative factor, is the change of residence or school. Sometimes, such a change is inevitable, as one or both parents are transferred to another city or state. The loss of one’s bearings, one’s familiar surroundings and one’s friends, often leads to deep emotional hurt and stress in these children. Many of them are not able to fathom why their parents have shifted them to an unfamiliar surrounding, and are not able to get over this change, even after years. In many other cases, it has been noticed that the parents, often at the behest of a friend, colleague or neighbour, decide to change the child’s school, as they feel that a particular school is better than the current one. This is often done without the consensus of the child. This shift of school is a major culture shock of sorts for the child, and he or she tends to be completely at sea, for quite a long period of time. The resentment towards the parents intensifies, and the child gets highly stressed out. So, how does one reduce childhood stress? First and foremost, the parents should understand that each and every child is unique, and quite different from another. Comparisons and competitions only serve to add pressure on the child. Parents must be perceptive about their child’s outlook, personality and potential. Enrolling the child in too many structured activities often leaves no time for just being himself or herself. The child often needs to just ‘be’ rather than ‘be doing’ something all the time. Periods of daydreaming often tend to act as ‘destressors’ for the child, and help in increasing their powers of imagination and creativity. Also, one must give a lot of thought to shifting one’s residence or the child’s school, for these can often have a very deleterious effects on the child’s mind. Taking the child’s opinion on matters that concern him or her, and arriving at a consensus often helps. And keeping all channels of communication open with one’s child, and being tuned in to the child’s dayto-day changes in behaviour, will go a long way. And in rare cases, taking recourse to a child psychologist also helps. Ten years ago, child specialists used to refer a child to a psychologist once in a blue moon. Today, the references have gone up to as much as one or two every week. It’s high time parents woke up and realised that children too have their own bag of woes.

Periods of daydreaming often tend to act as ‘destressors’ for the child, and help in increasing their powers of imagination and creativity
(TOI/11th May 2006/BT7)

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