My 14-year-old son plays on his smartphone and/or PlayStation late into nights. I have taken away his PlayStation but his sleep problem persists — he falls asleep late at night and consequently doesn’t get enough rest. How I can help him follow a healthy sleep routine? — Lakshmi A, Chennai
Recent research indicates that gadget addiction changes the chemical structure of the human brain and is almost like cocaine addiction. Moreover, the vestibular i.e sensory system experiences heightened activity leading to restlessness. In adolescence, this is likely to be exacerbated by hormonal changes. You need to set clear and firm rules for gadget usage, and encourage your son to participate in sports and interact with peers. Also, model the behaviour you wish for him to follow. Avoid preaching and lecturing to adolescents. Instead, be firm, calm and proactive because teenagers are likely to test your limits to gain access to gadgets. However bear in mind that it takes time to develop new habits and interests.
My eight-year-old daughter is anxious all the time. She complains of stomach pain when it is time to go to school. We believed her the first couple of times but this happens too often now. When we ask her if she is being bullied in school, she says no. She also does not want to play with friends. Is she suffering an anxiety disorder? — Sheela Prasad, Bangalore
Yes. Your daughter is showing symptoms of an anxiety disorder and needs professional help, preferably through play therapy supplemented with supportive changes at home. Often children can’t explain the fears that cause anxiety.
Moreover, anxiety is not always triggered by bullying in school. It can be the result of inadequate sleep, lack of outdoor play, academic stress, real or perceived loss at home or physical illness. However, don’t belittle and ridicule her fears. Play and art-based therapies help in catharsis and alleviating anxiety. A professional counsellor/therapist will advise you on therapy options and ways and means to provide a supportive home environment.
My six-year-old refuses to write. I receive repeated complaints from his school teachers that he just won’t pick up a pencil and write. I checked if he has pincer movement issues but that does not seem to be the case. He says it hurts when he writes. When I force him, his handwriting is large and unreadable. Should I seek professional help? — Aarthi Ram, Chennai
Writing is a complex skill which requires integration of several areas of the brain and coordinating several muscles of the body. Pincer grip is not the sole criterion to judge his capability to write. You say that his handwriting is large, perhaps he has difficulty in assessing the pressure required to hold a pencil. I suggest you consult an occupational therapist who will assess him thoroughly and advise therapy options. In addition, make a request to the school to assign him a remedial teacher to help him overcome his learning challenges. Don’t allow complaints from school pressure or influence your relationship with your son. He needs your wholehearted and unconditional support to overcome this curable problem.
(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)