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Children need a safe space to air their concerns

Children need a safe space to air their concerns

Parents can contribute a lot to their child’s positive mental health by being empathetic listeners

Children's mental health is shaped by parent's contribution

Parenting is many things rolled into one. But while parents are focused on their child’s health, nutrition, sports and academic performance, not all give importance to mental health. Lack of awareness is to be blamed at times but largely this is because the problem is a silent, invisible stressor that is not always out there in the open.

School counsellors, therapists and doctors confirm that depression, anxiety, performance pressure and behavioural disorders are major causes of illness and disability among children.

Put simply, mental health is the overall balance of how a person feels, behaves, thinks and acts. An anomaly could result in unregulated behaviour that can affect one’s daily life and relationships. While some issues can be cured with a change in parenting style and behaviour, for others medication and working with a therapist become essential.

Mental health: signs of trouble

  1. Feeling low for weeks
  2. Persistent sadness
  3. Avoiding social interactions
  4. Talking about the futility of life or even about hurting others and oneself
  5. Frequent outbursts
  6. Extreme weight loss or gain
  7. Difficulty sleeping or studying
  8. Falling grades
  9. Frequent headaches, stomach aches, mood swings
  10. Out-of-control behaviour.

Mental health: how to cope with challenges

“Parenting is the process to promote overall development of the child, including their mental health,” says Anuna Bordoloi, consultant clinical psychologist, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi. “Parents should model positive behaviours, be empathetic and listen to their children when they want to share something. This can contribute a lot to the child’s positive mental health. Every parent may not always be equipped with all the tools necessary for parenting. Parenting skills can be learnt too. A trained psychologist can help parents learn these skills along with providing necessary help towards the child’s mental health issues. As a mental health practitioner, I see a lot of cases where behavioural problems manifested in the child can be dealt with a few changes in parenting style itself.”

So, it is important for parents to show love, appreciation and care for their child who may be going through a hard time at school or elsewhere.

“The two aspects of mental health treatment that are considered essential for recovery are medication and therapy,” says Ekta Soni, a psychologist at Apollo Hospitals, Delhi. “Besides these two, we must become cognizant of the critical role of parental involvement in the process of mental-health treatment. If you are a parent to a child suffering from mental-health problems, it is of utmost importance to shower them with love and acceptance, and ensure that you do not associate your child’s mental-health disorder with their credibility.

“Counsellors and psychologists, on the other hand, can [use] therapeutic approaches to help the child understand the root cause of cognitive distortions and negative thinking patterns, which are catalysts for developing mental-health disorders.”

Parents must not aim to eliminate the problem but instead understand it and help the child manage it. Some other ways for parents to deal with children with mental-health issues include observing the child’s behaviour and, if the child is acting differently from usual, talking to them, finding out the issue, being empathetic and nonjudgmental while doing so and, if necessary, seeking professional help, says Dr Bordoloi of Fortis.

A lot of children who face issues can shut down in front of parents and other family members since they feel constantly judged and do not feel safe to share their issues. That is when parents should approach a counsellor and work in tandem to help the child.

“Love, care and understanding is what children of all age groups need,” says Nayamat Bawa, head psychologist, Iwill and ePsyClinic, Delhi. “It is important to spend quality time with children rather than quantity time. As a psychologist I see that children in therapy find a safe and nonjudgmental space to speak about their concerns and thus find ways to resolve impeding emotional distress. Giving an accepting space helps children to deal better with emotional distress.”

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