StressStress and depression can affect children just like adults. Stress in children is directly linked to their need to be accepted socially. One of the major periods of stress in young children is at the time of school admissions. The child gets acquainted with this phenomenon early in his life.
When a child reaches the tender age of two or three years, parents are anxious to get their offspring admitted into a good school. “To begin with, for a young boy or girl, just going to school comes across as a whole new situation, the unfamiliarity of being away from parents which by itself could be stressful”, states psychologist Priya Kher. Right at the playschool stage, the child has to develop skills like reading and writing. Besides, he/she has to form friendships, which can be demanding on the young soul. Earlier, it was thought that the concept of peer pressure affected only older children. Now even in the second standard, peer pressure is very apparent, remarks child psychologist Medha Dhavale. Trying to be a part of ‘The group” can be a cause of great stress and anxiety. Younger children are most cruel to other children and often reject their peers, many a time on the basis of what they overhear when their parents talk to each other. Fear of being uprooted (change of school, being separated from friends) can be a source of stress and anxiety to a seven or eight year old. In middle school, pressures from peers, teachers and parents increase. To a child who has been standing first or second in his class, anxiety to be part of the group of toppers may affect the child’s performance and concentration level. Sometimes, even brilliant children can turn blank during exams out of the fear of failure. In higher classes, anxiety of non–performance is more prominent and your child may project it in the form of complaints of headaches or stomach pain.
Says psychiatrist Dr. Firdaus Master: “The whole attitude towards achievement is drawing the maximum from the child at a crucial time and that results in much stress. Some of it is very real and takes the form of labeling”. “Gautam is a ‘Rich boy’ and does not need to work as hard as us”, covers up for the belief that he is different from “Us”. But sometimes, the labels can become unkind, like: ‘The class idiot’ (one who is slow, cannot cope with studies or may not have any social skills of his own), ‘The troublemaker’ (one who is impudent and disruptive), ‘The backbencher’ (because he sits at the last bench in class), or ‘The bully’ (one who is a roughneck), and isolate some kids from the rest of the class. Many a time, the child has clearly shown signs of stress in some form or the other, but parents do not understand. Most children are bothered about not doing well in their studies. But, not all are brilliant. Some parents make studies the focal point of interaction with their children, which is a faulty attitude, says Kher. Pressurizing your child to perform well in studies behoves of bad rules at home. Fear of exam results may cause the child a lot of anxiety and stress, to the extent that the child may be petrified to come home with his/her report card if parents have displayed that kind of an attitude, she adds. In the absence of a warm relationship, the child believes his parents love is conditional and is determined by his performance in his exams. Independent of school life, stress in teenagers takes the form of wanting to assert their independence, as they want to do more adult things. Children in their teens, face conflicting value systems. The child’s priorities (desire to please) at this stage shifts from family to peer group. Do not wear clothes of a particular type, or be back home by nine o’clock, or do not to go out riding a bike at night, are often restrictions the child in his teens has to face.
More often than not, the child may see conflicting signals in adult attitudes. Some parents have a very liberal attitude, while others may be very strict, points out Dhavale. In an effort to assert his/her independence, teenagers often become rebellious. Due to the ongoing power struggle, the parent–child relationship gets strained. “Parents are also part of the system. Every small pressure is food to the child’s brain. Your child must be taught that there is also a side like this and that he can face it”, remarks Dr. Master. “Prepare the ground so that your child can accept what you say as his parent. An extreme approach with a view to instill discipline or thrusting your attitudes on your child is detrimental to his/her emotional and mental growth. Your child must be taught first and then supported emotionally even as he/she grows up. Most important of all, give your child an opportunity to give vent to his feelings. Encourage your child’s latent talents. Scolding, spanking or instilling fear in the child is not the way”. Its not that the child is an angel and parents are devils. An open relationship with your child is essential. The child must not begin to think, ‘I would rather go elsewhere, than to my parents’, says Kher. If ‘Not being able to cope with studies’ be the problem your child faces, in the circumstances, he is reassured that his parent(s) will help him figure out how to overcome his problem. Each child’s problem is different, even though the outward symptoms may be the same. “Identifying, acknowledging and discussing the child’s problem is important. If the problem is at school, it is better to solve it in school”, adds Kher.
It is quite possible that the child is doing poorly in studies because his mental ability is not up to the level of the class, or the child has learning disabilities. In the case of the latter, nowadays, schools employ “Remedial teachers” who know how to instruct such children. Your child’s problem is behavior related, if he is disobedient, has not been putting in adequate effort, suffers from anxiety or lack of confidence or throws tantrums. “Those children who are hyperactive and show poor performance at school, but with potential to do well, can improve with psychiatric help”, says Dhavale. Most behavioral disorders are temporary, may go unnoticed for a number of years and can be controlled. In case of attitudinal changes, intervention by the school counselor/teacher can be efficacious especially when the child has been having problems with his peers wherein concrete suggestions could be specified for the child to try out. Or, if the child has been having clashes with a teacher who is too critical, he/she dislikes the teacher and shows it by being disobedient, the intervention by the school counselor and another teacher, or even the school principal, could be rewarding.