Help! My son is scared of the dark

Muhamed SafarullaMy husband was recently diagnosed with fourth stage cancer. The doctors say he is likely to live only for another six-eight months. We have two boys aged 15 and 13. I am in a dilemma whether I should reveal the news about their father’s imminent death to them. I feel they are too young to cope with this emotional trauma. Please advise.
— Shilpi Sinha, Bangalore

Contrary to popular belief, adolescent children can cope with emotional trauma if situations are properly explained to them. I suggest you take your eldest child into confidence about his father’s cancer ailment explaining that though he is under treatment, his medical condition could worsen. Encourage him to spend quality time with his father. Without going into exact details, prepare him for the worst. Repeat this discussion with your younger child separately.

My daughter will be writing the NEET exam this year for admission into medical college. My husband’s nephew is also writing NEET 2020. My mother-in-law (82) constantly compares their academic performances. This irritates my daughter who gets into slanging matches with her grandmom. My mother-in-law is unlikely to stop her comparisons. How do I explain to my daughter that she needs to learn to ignore her and move on?
— Anonymous, Trivandrum

Give your daughter unconditional love and support while advising her to ignore her grandmother’s negative nagging. Usually, when you are unresponsive to people’s adverse comments, they tone down and lose interest. Enlist the help of empathetic relatives and friends who can counsel and encourage your daughter. Talking to positive people will boost her self-confidence.

My eight-year-old son is scared of the dark and insists I sit with him until he falls asleep at night. We live in a joint family and I have many household chores to complete at night. I have tried explaining to him that there’s nothing to fear, but it has had little effect. Please advise.
— Rina Sharma, Pune

Fear of darkness is normative in children aged up to 12-13 years. I suggest you gradually reduce the time spent with him before bedtime, assuring him that you are always on call. You can also keep a low-voltage lamp switched on at nights in his bedroom. Moreover, train him to overcome his fear by making him look into the dark initially for two-three minutes and then gradually increasing the time of this exercise.

My teenage daughter (16) has a group of six intimate friends who chat every evening on a conference call. Their evening calls are getting progressively longer. When I asked her to shorten them, she didn’t take it too well. With the growing number of depression-related suicides among children, I don’t know whether I should put my foot down?
— Mary D’Souza, Chennai

During adolescence, healthy peer interactions are important for personality development. Contemporary teens experience considerable academic stress and get limited opportunity for outdoor play activities and peer interaction. Without discouraging the conference call, set clear time limits. It’s useful to remember that group chats are far more desirable than untimely and uncontrolled one-on-one telephone conversations.

(Dr. Muhamed Safarulla is a behaviour modification psychologist, Alpha Behaviour Therapy and Counseling, Calicut)

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