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When your child needs help

PRESSURE TO EXCEL It can wreak havoc on a child's psyche

PRESSURE TO EXCEL It can wreak havoc on a child's psyche  

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How can parents and teachers help children cope with stress, which often manifests itself as aggressive behaviour?

Rahul, a ninth-grader, was caught bad-mouthing his teacher. Flinging his books at home, throwing temper tantrums… complaints about his behaviour were not infrequent. Things came to a head when he slashed a classmate's hand during a scuffle.

A close analysis of Rahul's behaviour throws up some vital questions:

a) The fact that he had a knife — was the attack planned, or was the knife used just to show anger?

b) Was the classmate the target or was it a misdirected action?

c) How long was the anger harboured and towards whom or what ?

The anxiety triggered by the forthcoming final examinations translated into unacceptable behaviour.

‘Blame game'

Who is to be blamed — parents, teachers or the media?

It is imperative to understand that every child is influenced not only by his parents, teachers or the media, but also by peer pressure, siblings, choice of school, and the education system.

* A child could be rebellious, defiant, oppositional, disorderly, lacking discipline and aggressive.

* Parents could be indulgent, dictatorial, democratic or critical.

* Teachers could be regimental, punitive, critical, or lacking in empathy.

Any of these parent-teacher-child relationships along with other stressors mentioned above, could trigger unacceptable behaviour.

Here's an example. When a teacher wants a test paper in which a child has fared badly to be signed by the parent, the child is petrified to show the paper to the parent.

If he doesn't get it signed he has to face the teacher.

What does the child do to solve the problem? He waits for some time and forges his father's signature.

Both parents and teachers contribute to the child's behaviour. Besides external stressors such as peer pressure, there is internal stress to achieve goals.

A behavioural incident is like a headache. It can temporarily be cured by taking a paracetamol tablet but recurring headaches may have many causes such as defective vision, colds or hypertension. Unless the cause is identified and treated the headache will recur. Treating an isolated behavioural issue is only a symptomatic approach which is temporary. Hence, if a child assaults his classmate on one occasion, his anger may be expressed in some other way the next time.

Here's how parents can identify the 'red flag' (danger signal).

If the child is:

* unusually silent, or unusually talkative

* restless for some days

* consistently disturbed sleep

* variation in eating habits for some days

* change in social behaviour

* different emotional expression — anger, tears or aggression.

How teachers can spot the ‘red flag' in children.

* Slide in grades.

* Change in behaviour (aggressive or withdrawn)

* Failure to complete assigned tasks.

* Not ‘always there' in activities, he usually enjoys.

* Not involved with his peer group.

There are also incidences of somatisation. When the child finds a situation overwhelming, and is not able to ventilate his feelings, then his emotional problems can assume the form of aches and pains, wheezing, gastro intestinal problems, headache and skin eruptions.

What parents and teachers can do?

It is important that teachers and parents alert one another to behavioural changes in the child. The idea is to understand deviant behaviour and help the child overcome his problem at the earliest.

Sometimes either the teachers or the parents could find very simple reasons that are causing the child anxiety. The best way to allay the child's apprehensions or doubts is to reassure him.

A counsellors' advice is very necessary — the stigma attached to consulting a counsellor or a psychologist should be removed.

The objective view of the professional is absolutely necessary.

Whether it is an academic issue, peer pressure or a disagreement with parents/teachers, an attempt should be made to thoroughly discuss the problem.

Discipline issues can be discussed and punitive methods agreed upon rather than threatening the child.

Every child has talent. Recognise and enhance it.

What parents and teachers should not do

* Do not hurt a child's self-esteem by commenting on his performance, looks, behaviour or talents.

* Do not undermine his confidence.

* Emotional blackmail, harsh punitive methods, threats and humiliation should be avoided.

* Not have expectations that exceed the ability of the child and then react adversely when he fails to reach the goal.

Remember, parents/teachers should never hesitate to seek professional (counsellor's) help thinking it is a mark of their failure or incompetency.

This blocks communication channels and issues that can be addressed easily become serious.

After being subjected to so much stress, the child chooses the path of least resistance, or he could become manipulative or indulge in undesirable activities.

For children

* Are you diffident or helpless in a situation? Don't know where to turn for help or decide what to do?

* Are you overwhelmed by peer pressure?

* Are you finding it difficult to cope with the stress imposed by academics or extra curricular activities?

* Is time management your problem?

* Are there discrepancies in the way you perceive things and the way your parents/teachers perceive them?

* Do you need to discuss issues you are unable to share with even those who are close to you (siblings/parents/teachers/friends or cousins)?

* Are you unable to cope with some emotions such as anger and weepiness?

* Do not hesitate to approach a counsellor for help. There is nothing demeaning about it. It does not mean you are badly behaved or cannot excel in academics or that you have a psychiatric problem.

(Consultant psychologist and educator for children with special needs)

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 1:25:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/when-your-child-needs-help/article2984813.ece

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