My adolescent is anxious all the time!

My son, who is in class VIII, is anxious all the time. He worries about everything and is anxious if I am not home when he returns from school. Moreover, he keeps asking questions about death, poverty, crime, etc. Do we need to see a counsellor? — Sheela K, Chennai

In adolescence children experience major physical, psychological and emotional changes, which cause anxiety. These bodily changes often make emotions regulation more difficult than at other ages. Most anxieties abate with lifestyle changes, and teens develop better routines for leisure and acquire problem-solving skills. However, your description of the problem requires immediate assessment by a qualified counsellor. Adolescence is also a time for onset of mental illnesses and therefore, assessment and effective counselling is urgently required.

My four-year-old screams and cries every morning when I drop her off at school. As a working parent, this behaviour is emotionally draining and distressing. What should I do? — Michelle Kapoor, Mumbai

Children between the ages of two and seven experience separation anxiety. Unfortunately, since our school system insists on admitting children in this age range, such reactions are routine, but need to be handled carefully. Children usually take about four-six months to adapt to new routines. Please ensure that your child gets a good rest every night, at least ten hours of sleep. Reduce screen time and encourage physical and wet sand play outdoors. Also ensure that the play involves other children as it enables social adjustment. Never use threats that emphasise your absence. For instance avoid saying: “If you do this, I will leave you in school or I will go away, or someone will take you away”. Young children take these threats very seriously especially when they are already experiencing adjustment problems in school. 

Also never lie to your daughter — always let her know where she is going and when you will pick her up from school. Make sure you keep your promises. Also, check whether her class teacher is using threats to make your child adjust in school. Make plans for activities that you will do together after school. It will help your child understand that you are always there for her. When she is in meltdown, don’t reason or lose your cool. Remain silent and calm, holding your child close. Children respond to touch and a calm parent better than anything else. 

My daughter is naturally left handed but her teachers forced her to write with her right hand. At age seven, she cannot write legibly, does mirror writing sometimes, and has difficulty memorising lessons. We have now asked her to use only her left hand. Please advise. — Vibha M., Bengaluru

It is unfortunate that even in this day and age due to social and cultural pressures, left-handed children are forced to change hand dominance. It is obvious that your child is struggling because of induced confusion in the left/right hemispheres of her brain. This confusion is reflected in her learning outcomes. However, since she is already seven years old, she may need help to overcome forced change trauma even though the brain is neuroplastic. Hand dominance changes are usually easier to reverse before age five. Since she is showing obvious signs of distress, it’s advisable to introduce supportive therapy to help her. My suggestion is that you consult a senior paediatric occupational therapist right away.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

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