Nine-year-old Prateek Mengle, a resident of Andheri (W), was nothing like most kids his age. A Class Four student, Prateek was branded a crybaby by kids in the area, considered quiet and reserved by his teachers and called a tantrum-thrower by his family. While many categorised Prateek’s behaviour as his inherent “nature”, eventually, his parents felt something was amiss, and decided to consult a child psychologist. To their shock, it was revealed that Prateek was suffering from acute stress, which was hampering his mental heath.
“Initially, even we thought that Prateek’s truant behaviour was just a part of growing up, but the erratic pattern began to disturb us a bit. When the doctor told us that Prateek was suffering from stress, it was tough to swallow. We thought — how could a young kid suffer from stress? But, it was true,” admits Sunita Mengle, Prateek’s mother.
Prateek might be one example of this growing breed of children, who are finding it difficult to deal with the pressures of their everyday life and are unable to pull themselves out of the stress that is slowly engulfing them.
Life in the fast lane
“Life has become excessively stressful for everybody, including children. Excessive demands from the environment including parents, school, tuition, peers and the child’s aspirations are building up this stress. Parents’ attention and ability to spend quality time with the child do act as buffers against stress, but, since this is becoming difficult, the child gets deprived of his coping mechanisms,” says Dr Amit Kulkarni, Consultant Psychiatrist, Asha Parekh BCJ Hospital.
The child mental heath expert adds that parents’ growing aspirations also affect children. “If the child is burdened at an early age with the pressure of parents’ aspirations, the child loses a chance to develop as a separate individual,” he asserts.
Dr Kulkarni gets at least 25-30 cases of child stress-related issues a month, which he says is increasing at an alarming rate.
Dr Kersi Chavda, Psychiatrist, PD Hinduja Hospital, informs that there are certain telltale signs that ascertain if your child needs help. He says that parents should look out for anxiety in their kid, usual signs of depression, sadness, crying, if they don’t feel like eating, weight issues, frequent anger, panic before exams, if they feel obsessed about something, irrelevant thoughts and suicidal tendencies.
Dr Kulkarni echoes a similar tone when he mentions that for very young children, clingy behaviour, nightmares, feeding problems, sleeping problems, excessive crying and sensitivity, mutism, excessive stranger anxiety and delay in learning, are important indicators of something being wrong with the child.
In such situations, parents play a very important role in crisis management.
Dr Chavda stresses that parents should get into it by accepting it and seeking immediate help of mental heath professionals. “Having patience is important and medication given by doctors should be taken seriously,” he specifies.
Tech too much?
Surabhi Verma, who deals with differently-abled children in her organisation, based in Delhi, reveals that stress can strike as early as the foetal stage of the child and trigger can be any non-conducive environment. Thus, there is no specific age for the stress to start and the trigger lies is the surrounding environment of the child.
Technology can play a significant role in this scenario, especially when urban kids are concerned. While there are contradictory opinions about the extensive use of technology by kids, many child experts feel that there should be a limit to which kids are exposed to technological tools, since it leads to isolation, less physical activity and other related issues.
Trauma and the special child
Signs of acute stress are being noticed among special children too, and psychologists feel that observing the kid keenly is the key to solving the problem.
“To understand that a special child is in stress, you need to observe the child. There might be behavioural changes when the child isn’t comfortable with the environment and will start behaving differently, reveals Surabhi Verma,director of Sparsh For Children, a Delhi-based organisation for differently-abled children. Common signs to watch out for include ears turning red, crying, clinging to his/her caregiver or withdrawing, increased talking, harming self or another person and excessive body movements.
Underlining the reasons for this condition, Verma reveals that often, for children with special needs, attending school isn’t enough, as they also have to visit other professionals who help them manage their behaviour and education. These therapies can be exhausting and time consuming, and induces stress in the child. Many non-verbal children cannot communicate effectively nor can they explain their distress easily, whether internal or external; which causes stress.
Children with special needs prefer to work in a schedule and often, any small change in the pattern can also cause stress which can lead to behaviour difficulties. We all use various strategies to help ourselves de-stress. But many times, children can’t form these internal strategies or the stress is so high that they are unable to manage it, which could lead to many difficult behaviour and in many children, to depression. “Listening to your child, being supportive and understanding are some of the most important things one can start off with. Not ignoring or underplaying your special child’s need to share or stress is another important thing parents need to remember,” advises Verma.