Addressing child mental health: Parents, society must prioritise emotional well-being
By Dr. Nithya Narasimha Murthy
There has been a steady rise in mental health concerns among children and adolescents, with alarming rates of up to 20 to 30% of school-going children and adolescents battling mental illnesses. Though the causes can be an intermix of biology and environmental factors, there are some aspects that can be worked on that may even protect children with biological and genetic vulnerabilities. It becomes vital at this point for us as a society to examine the possible reasons for this, reflect on the changes that can be made both within the home and in the community, and act on it with fervour.
Demands in lifestyle like academic or peer pressure and lack of adequate resources to help cope with them stress children out more in today’s times. They are part of a system where there is no place for mediocrity and are taught that you cannot survive in this world without excelling in something, though not necessarily studies. This has led to children attending tuition and multiple classes after school hours, leaving them no free time to play or relax. Children have a difficult time accepting failure, and they see themselves as defeated if they don’t win. Though it is good to have ambition and a winning attitude, the ability to tolerate frustration is equally, if not more important, for their well-being. They do not have time to play freely, interact with peers, have differences, resolve conflicts, and develop imagination and creativity, which are important life skills that help develop emotional resilience.
So if we look at ways to build resilience in children, it may be important that we start early at a young age by not over-protecting them and by allowing them to explore things and become independent. Teaching them to manage themselves in routine activities like bathing, brushing, and doing everyday chores like putting away toys and participating in household work will make them confident and self-reliant from an early age.
Secondly, it is important to allow them to face the natural consequences of their actions so that they learn to take responsibility for both the good and the bad. It may not be necessary to give them everything they ask for, as they need to understand that good things come with effort and that sometimes things don’t go your way and it's okay to feel upset about it. As the saying goes that a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor, allowing children to solve problems themselves with support but not shielding them by doing it for them, goes a long way in developing resilience.
Thirdly it is important to understand a child’s potential and to keep realistic goals according to the child’s interests and capabilities. Parental expectations or societal pressure must not become benchmarks for children.
Last but not least, children need parental time and guidance. They need the wisdom of grandparents and the love of extended families. In our times, this is not an easy choice to make, but an important one nonetheless. Children often become lonely and indulge in gadgets excessively, leading to several behavioral and emotional issues. They also might get exposed to age-inappropriate content and tend to imitate or learn from them.
Parental availability, an authority figure at home to set clear limits and monitor content, and a cordial family environment are important to prevent these problems. Quality time with parents every day is an emotional need and important for a child’s psychological health
Though it may seem like these things are not practical or possible with definitely valid reasons for feeling so, it is true that parents intuitively know what is good for their children and what needs to be done for their betterment. And sometimes, it just takes simple choices to make big changes, and that would mean making conscious choices as an individual and as a society to prioritise our children’s well-being.