Here’s Why Your Children May Need Counselling
“It seemed to him that both the children, usually so gentle, so affectionate, had gone completely mad, vindictive.”
-Growing Up, Joyce Cary
I think, as conscientious adults, with the experience that comes with age and a few grey hair on our heads, we can all agree that growing up is hard. Childhood, in some inexplicable and mysterious way, determines the kind of person we grow into, but its rites of passage place children in a reality that is sometimes incomprehensible, despite, and because of, its innocence.
Standing on the cusp of adolescence and, later, adulthood, children are often faced with dilemmas they cannot reconcile with on their own. Quite often, it is not even their own doing. Children’s mental health and well-being depend largely on the world they grow up in, and if you look around you, you can clearly see just how it is falling apart.
One out of three children today suffers from depression due to emotional pressure, victimisation, inability to communicate or social anxiety. Studies have shown that at least six students commit suicide due to peer pressure every day, so there must be something wrong that we are not understanding. The rise in depression, eating disorders, unhealthy habits, panic and anxiety attacks among children today calls for a radical change in our approach to the issue, to ensure that the future torchbearers of our society are healthy, stable and happy. The least we can do, as grownups, is try and set a good example, and show them a reality that is full of promise, one that is devoid of the present uncertainties and doubts.
Do spare the rod. A healthy, objective and constructive conversation is the key to identifying and resolving these issues.
In that case, is the ball in the parents’ court?
If only it were that simple.
Parents are too involved - and almost always inexperienced - to understand the psychological problems their children might be dealing with. Vital clues and symptoms like a lack of attention, laziness, sleeplessness and aggression often get clubbed under the “typical petulant teenager” bracket. Sometimes, parents or guardians may even unknowingly be responsible for some of the emotional stress children face at home. Statistics reveal that two out of three Indian parents tend to have skyrocketing expectations when it comes to their child getting straight A’s at school. When this doesn’t happen, parents could be inflicting psychological pressure by drawing comparisons with more “successful” peers and siblings, thus adding to their children’s woes.
It’s obvious that children will rarely, if ever, open up to their parents. On the rare chance that they do find a friend to confide in, it is worth reminding them that it is hard for children to imagine problems other than those they are individually acquainted with. It might be counterproductive for children to expect coping mechanisms from classmates or playmates, who may be just as confused with life and almost certainly inept at dealing with such problems.
This is where counselling comes in. It combines the loyalty and forthrightness of a friend with the wisdom and affection of a parent. Professional counsellors spend years reading or working with the whole cross-section of “problem-children” and are equipped to help every child thrive academically, personally and socially.
But overcoming the initial hesitation in approaching a counsellor is one of the biggest hurdles on the path to recovery. Here are a few myths and preconceived notions that parents and children are known to have.
A counsellor doesn’t understand and can’t help
Sometimes the distance is exactly what is needed. Confessing to a stranger with no prior perceptions of their background not only generates a fresh perspective but also pushes children to flesh out their own version of events and confront problems they may not have noticed before. Moreover, counsellors are professionally trained in diagnosing the problem with the right expertise and advice.
Constructive conversation leads to psychological breakthroughs. Communication can be effective in bringing a child out of the isolated shell but it requires skill to be able to attain a level of comfort with such children. A judgement-free environment will help children unburden with more ease.
If my child needs to visit the counsellor, it must mean they are mentally ill.
The stigma surrounding therapy is often a huge deterrent in the process of improving public mental health. It gets even more complicated with children who are naturally afraid of facing further problems like embarrassment, bullying, getting called names or worse, being ostracised.
Let’s begin by understanding how a counsellor differs from a psychiatrist. A counsellor is generally not licensed to prescribe drugs. Additionally, one doesn’t need to have an immediate crisis to consult a counsellor. Counselling sessions are often likened to the Christian ritual of confession for this very reason— it’s a safe space for a child to bare their soul and not seen as a sign of weakness. That is why counsellors receive a hike in visits during exam seasons; talking about stress helps bust it.
A counsellor is not a real doctor and cannot really help.
Most counsellors aren’t equipped to deal with the physical manifestations of mental symptoms. However, their main job is to deal with the socio-cultural and anthropological aspects of problems troubling the child’s psyche. By just sitting, nodding and silently listening, for the most part, they have already made huge progress in engaging trust. Most counsellors try engaging children in visual games, interesting questionnaires and other methods to focus a child’s attention and get to the root of the problem.
A counsellor will surely solve all problems.
No one can do that except your ward. A counsellor will remain by their side every step of the way, once you convince your child to take therapy seriously, act upon the advice, and take part in the process.
Counselling takes forever.
Counselling is a long process that requires complete involvement and patience on both sides. Unlike pure science, fixing psychological problems does not come with a definite formula. Moreover, looking for a quick fix is never the correct approach to mental health issues.
Amidst all the fierce competition and mounting pressure students face today, counselling can be the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. Counsellors encourage children to be themselves, giving them the charge to mull over their problems and grasp the mysteries of mental health. Acting as a friend, philosopher and guide, counsellors give children the space to identify and connect with themselves, asking for nothing but time and patience in return. Seeing a counsellor doesn’t mean your child is suffering from a mental disorder; it simply means they are getting professional help to achieve a task even you struggle with sometimes - happiness.
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