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“Focus on children’s emotional and mental well-being”

Dipta Joshi interviewed celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Anjali Chhabria on the importance of parents providing stress-free home enviroments to ensure children’s emotional well-being

Mumbai-based Dr. Anjali Chhabria is a highly-respected psychiatrist with over 25 years experience and founder of Mindtemple, a counseling centre. An alumna of Grant Medical College, Mumbai, Dr. Chhabria is author of Death is Not the Answer (2016) and has conducted numerous workshops on suicide prevention, parenting and stress management for adolescents, parents and professionals countrywide. Mother of daughter Rhea (27) and son Aryan (23), she has won nationwide acclaim for advocating parental focus on children’s mental health and emotional well-being.

What is your parenting philosophy?

It is important to understand that children have minds of their own. Parents must respect children’s opinions and choices. I encouraged my children from young age, to make their own choices and assume responsibility for them. Decision making is a critically important life skill and the earlier children learn it, the better.

How did balance your psychiatry practice and parental duties?

Initially it was a great challenge to strike a healthy work-life balance. I was torn between spending quality time with my children and also being available to my patients. I would schedule my appointments during school hours, and rush home before they returned. Now with both my children grown up, I have more time for my patients.

As a practicing psychiatrist and counselor, what would you say are the most common parenting problems and what’s your advice to resolve them?

I believe that most parent-child conflicts arise from insufficient communication between parents and children. This is routinely ascribed to the generation gap. However I believe that lack of effective communication leads to misunderstandings and conflict. The second major issue is unrealistic expectations parents and children have of each other. My advice to parents is to spend quality time with children and have real conversations and discussions with them. They need to focus on enabling their children’s mental and emotional well-being. This is a prerequisite to children succeeding in school, college, and the workplace.

India’s exam-centric education system which promotes intense competition is also being increasingly blamed for parent-child conflicts…

Examination success isn’t proof of academic competence. A good education must equip children with both academic and life skills which will help them face life’s challenges and lead happy and fulfilling lives. Schools need to focus on developing children’s socio-emotional intelligences by teaching them to cope with rejection, failure, management of time and resources, communication, empathy, and resilience.

Parents are increasingly experiencing helplessness about children’s addiction to video games and social media. How can parents help wean children away from digital gadgets?
They need make special efforts to engage children in discussions, debates and traditional board games, outdoor sports and non-tech activities and set ground rules for gadgets, gizmos and social media usage. It’s important to be consistent in enforcing digital screen time rules at home.

What’s your take on complaints about millennial parents micro-managing their children’s lives and loading children with innumerable activities and classes?

Understanding well-intentioned parents don’t want their children to miss out. Social comparisons could also be a contributing factor. Moreover working parents want to keep their children engaged in productive activities. However, parents need to slow down and not force children into mindless mechanical activities. This can do more harm than good.

You have launched an initiative to encourage adolescents and young people to become ‘mental health warriors’. What’s the objective of this initiative?

Teenagers often prefer to listen to their friends rather than parents and family members because they believe that “friends understand me much better than parents”. The objective of the initiative is to sensitise and equip young adults with the skills to provide support and guidance to troubled friends.

India tops the list of countries for youth suicides…

One in every three suicides worldwide happen in India and a teen in India attempts suicide every 90 minutes. These numbers are scary. Schools need to take the lead in generating awareness and educating parents about the childhood mental health crisis confronting India. Unfortunately most parents are ignorant about mental health issues and the social stigma surrounding psychological disorders dissuades them from seeking professional help for children suffering mental health disorders.

What’s your message to parents and educators?

I firmly believe their focus should shift from academic achievement to ensuring the emotional and mental well-being of children. Only when a child is emotionally secure and content, can she give her best at school, college and the workplace. Moreover parents should be observant of their children’s behaviour and quickly address any signs of distress, without hesitating to availing professional help. There is no social stigma in seeking the help of qualified professionals to ensure your children’s mental and emotional well-being.

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