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6 early signs of anxiety and depression to watch out for among children

It is necessary to keep communication lines open between a parent and a child for mental well-being, say parents and experts



The COVID-19 cases in India may be on the decline, the country logged just a little over 400 new coronavirus cases (November 16, 2022) but the after-effects of this present pandemic are being left in each one of us including children; anxiety and depression have been on a steady rise.

According to news reports, around 15 per cent of children and adolescents globally indicate the prevalence of mental health disorders. It is said that 50 per cent of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14 and two-thirds by the age of 24, making child and adolescent mental health a global priority.

It also means that parents need to be vigilant of any change in their child’s behaviour and take corrective steps before it is too late. According to A Anurathaa, a mother of two boys who study at Apeejay School in Nerul, Mumbai it is very difficult to deal with a situation where the child becomes moody or irritable.

“Parents should be patient and be good listeners. This way the child learns coping skills and understands that there is open communication”

A Anurathaa, parent of a Class XI student at Apeejay School Nerul

“My elder son is in Class XI and gauging his mood and dealing with it gets tough at times. The only way to make him understand or get through to him is to come down to his level and speak the language he resonates with. Shouting or getting angry to do your bidding is not going to work. Forcing kids to do what you want them to do is also next to impossible. Every issue starts small and it is better to find out the root cause before it becomes a more serious problem,” she opined.

Parents, she said, have to be patient and be good listeners. This way the child learns coping skills and understands that there is open communication with the parents. Be a friend to your child,” Anurathaa recommended.

Schools too, from time to time, hold sessions and workshops for students on how to deal with anxiety, stress, and depression. This can be related to exams or any other situation. Recently, Apeejay School International (ASI) in South Delhi held a workshop for students on how to deal with anxiety and stress related to exams.

“In the workshop of exam anxiety for DP I and II, we encouraged students to share their experiences and not to bottle their feelings”

Bhavya Arora, school counselor at ASI and IB Psychology Facilitator, Apeejay School International

Bhavya Arora, school counselor at ASI and IB Psychology Facilitator said that the workshop was on exam anxiety for DP I and II (Classes XI and XII). “There are certain behaviours that you see in classes like legs shaking and feeling nervous before the exams. There were a few things that were discussed in the workshop. One of them was to clarify the difference between nervousness and anxiety and how some level of nervousness is common. This pushes them to do better,” Arora said.

To make the workshop more interesting, the students were given an anxiety Bingo game. The students had to tick-off things that they resonated with.

 “An important aspect of the workshop was a coping strategy related to planning before the exams and how to prioritise. This is something that teachers do as a matter of practice. We encouraged students to talk and share their experiences as well. So that they didn’t bottle up their thoughts and feelings. Self-talk was encouraged too and spoke of metaphors. Take an example. If you are at a railway station, you don’t climb each one of them. You only take the one that is relevant. Therefore, choose what is relevant to you. This gives students a sense of control over their anxiety,” Arora said.

There are a few signs that parents can be aware of. “If their child is withdrawing and spending time alone is a common sign that parents can watch for. Sometimes, students struggle with words to express themselves due to a lack of emotional vocabulary. Parents must encourage their kids to express themselves and have open communication. Build a bond where the child trusts the parent implicitly,” Arora said.

Dr Swati Mittal, consultant Psychiatrist & wellness coach, and co-founder of RASA, a wellness retreat said while anxiety and stress and common issues seen in children, there are a number of things that parents can do to mitigate this.

” Show your child the positive world. Set realistic goals for him/her and yourself”

Dr Swati Mittal, consultant Psychiatrist & wellness coach, and co-founder of RASA

“Just like not fingers in our hand are equal, no child is equal. This is something that each parent must understand. And just like each finger has a role to play, so does a child. Second, never compare your child with the other. Every child is born with a caliber and parents must not push their wards to achieve something that may do more harm than good,” Dr Mittal said.

Besides, it is important for the child to do some breathing exercises to deal with study-related stress. “This, in fact, is an activity that parents can do. As for the student, they must self-motivate themselves. Self-talk that ‘all is well’ is a good exercise. Between studying, take small breaks. Don’t think about who is number one and where you stand. Don’t worry about marks – do what is best for you and not what the other person is doing,” Dr Mittal opined.

She advised students to avoid eating junk food as it brings in lethargy and reduces concentration. “Avoid eating sweets as it creates more anxiety.” Dr Mittal stressed.

“The constant comparison with other kids is a strict no-no, but it is a common trait seen in our families. We are all familiar with statements like: ‘Oh, look, that child is so well-mannered’, ‘Oh look, that child is so good in sport’. Each child is unique and the work of the parent is to love the child unconditionally,” Dr Mittal said. “Show your child the positive world. Set realistic goals for him/her and yourself. Listen to what they have to say; don’t push your ideas onto them, let them come up with a solution that will work for them,” Dr Mittal said in conclusion.

Shalini is an Executive Editor with Apeejay Newsroom. With a PG Diploma in Business Management and Industrial Administration and an MA in Mass Communication, she was a former Associate Editor with News9live. She has worked on varied topics - from news-based to feature articles.

Poetic गुफ्तगू – With हुमेरा खान @poetsofDelhi