Child Psychology

Your Childhood Matters

I want to begin this post by sharing one of my personal experiences. My father worked overseas in Yemen.  We lived in Mumbai, so my mom used to take care of me and my younger sister. We visited dad during holidays. I was around 6 years in 1st grade of school, and had gone for a vacation to Yemen. I won’t forget the day we reached, we ate “Gulabjamun” (it’s a Indian sweet made from milk solids soaked in sugar syrup) which was in my dad’s freezer. It was really flavorsome and I relished every bit of it, but little did I know that this little incident was going to scar my young mind.

The next day, everybody was, fine except me who had continuous vomiting and diarrhea. My parents took me to the doctor and I was diagnosed with food poisoning. All this nausea and diarrhea, got me crying endlessly, because I did not know what was happening. My mom tried to calm me down and was anxious herself, because she could not see me in distress. Of course, I was on medicines and electrolyte, gradually I began to recover, but my fear became worse. I had developed a fear of food and ‘Gulabjamuns’ to be exact, because I felt if I consumed anything I would fall ill. My mother found it very problematic to get me to eat or even drink water, that they had to force feed me and get it down my throat, I used to always cry and make a scene. The three meals of the day used to be something I used to despise because of my fear. Although, my mom kept saying “nothing will happen to you, if you eat its good food.”

I used to just eat to survive, but never enjoyed my meals. Even if I am hungry, I could stay hungry but not eat. I had lost my healthy weight and was very thin. My father used to end up yelling at me because of this outrageous behavior of mine. Slowly, this fear of mine started to grow into something else. I used to live in a joint family in my childhood years, so our three main meals of the day, used to always be together.  We did have a dining room, where we sat around to eat. Not me, I just didn’t want to be there. I was 11 years and I still had my fears haunting me. So when food was served I used to end up getting extremely anxious and start crying, I couldn’t swallow my food. My mom as usual used to think it is my usual behavior and scold me, I could not leave the table until I finished eating something on my plate and I used to end up feeling ashamed in front of my grandparents, uncle and aunt. I used to face this problem whenever we visited any hotels, restaurants, cafes or even a relative’s house. So, I never liked visiting these places. Even my younger sister wondered, what’s wrong with me. And I kept wondering, “Why am I like this; “why couldn’t I be like normal people. I felt something was wrong with me.

I do thank my mom for getting me through that phase, by supporting me and advising me until I reached an age where I started to understand and deal this issue on my own. And since then, I have been struggling to cope up with my anxiety issues, which I developed. Presently, I have been married for 5 years, and I love eating and I love Gulabjamuns (especially the one my aunt prepares, its yum!) Though I do have my panic and anxiety issues, I have learnt to understand and deal with it much better using mindfulness and exercise. So, that’s my story!

Yeah, you must be pondering, “Seriously! It’s just food poisoning, and she developed a fear, there are things in life that’s worse than this.” You are absolutely right! But try making a 6 year old comprehend this. The experiences in your child’s life play a drastic role in the upbringing of your child. Depending on the experiences, the impact can play a positive or negative role in their adulthood. To help your kids grow through this phase, it’s important to start from the basics and then teach them how to manage their fears and anxiety.

Understanding the difference

Fear and Anxiety are closely associated to one another. Fear results in anxiety and anxiety results in fear, both these feelings overlap each other and are signs your body gives to protect you from harm or by alerting you of something bad or wrong.

Fear: It’s a feeling where you are afraid of something known to you. For example; fear of dogs, spiders, etc. This feeling only occurs when you see or feel the situation. Once, the situation as passed, the feeling of fright diminishes.  

Anxiety: It’s a feeling of extreme worry, especially of the future. It is a feeling where the cause of fear is unknown or wary, and can occur anytime, it is a response to an unknown threat. The human brain responds to tangible and intangible dangers which is called “the fight or flight response”, this causes feeling of worry, fear, rise in heartbeat, etc. For example; you are standing at a train station and you feel someone is watching you from behind, so the feeling of butterflies in your stomach and uneasiness in your chest. Even after the situation has passed there is a lingering feeling of fearfulness.

When does it start?

When an infant reaches 10 to 12 months they develop fear of outsiders also called as stranger anxiety, as they are so familiar with their mother and father around, the child takes time to adjust to new faces they see. You will find the child crying the moment he/she is lifted by any of your relatives, that they cling back to the mother.

From 1 to 1 and a half year, the child is very upset when parted from the mother.  This is also called as separation anxiety. This phase is ordinary for growing children and they adapt to their surroundings as they grow.

When a child reaches 4 to 6 years of age, they begin to recognize fears. They start to fear tangible and intangible things. Example; monster under the bed, Boogieman, etc.

Children from 7 to 9 years of age start to question their knowledge of things and the surroundings they see. They also start to question experiences they have no idea about .Example; death, suffering, illness, etc. This is a phase where their worries climb and they are looking for satisfactory answers.

Are you a Helicopter Parent?

Do you keep hovering over your child’s head for every small situation or experiences, keeping an eye on every step they take? Getting too much involved in your child’s life? Then it’s time you realized and paused… get yourself together and draw a line for yourself, to involve is good but don’t get carried away, trust your child, if they make mistakes they learn. You are not doing any good dictating each and every step to your child, this can also be an underlying issue for your child’s anxiety.

Fear is learnt and as parents we need to make children understand how to overcome their fears and not seed its growth. As studies have found that over parenting also results in developing anxieties and depression among children.

It is significant to understand whether your child is going through everyday anxieties or excessive worries. The signs you should look for:

  • Your child hesitates or avoids participating in school activities.
  • Your child easily gets upset.
  • You are putting lot of energy and time to comfort him by urging him to complete his daily activities.
  • You feel your family routine is getting affected by your child’s worries

Signs of Anxiety in Children:

The below mentioned signs are common signs, they tend to differ from one child to another.

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Stomach ache
  • Uneasiness
  • Cramping
  • Headache
  • Feeling faint
  • Nausea
  • Quivering knees/hands
  • Tingling sensations
  • Emotional outbursts- anger, sadness, overjoyed, etc.
  • Worrying about small things.
  • Tend to avoid social activities, friends or situations as a way to deal with their anxiety and fear.
  • Constant requests for comforting and unnecessary apologizing to others.

If you find the signs are severe your child and need help, then do not hesitate to talk to your family doctor or pediatrician.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder in childhood, affecting approximately 8% of all children and adolescents. Anxiety disorders are treatable! Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) and medication treatments are both effective in treating anxiety disorders in youth. 

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

Small steps make a huge difference

  • Ensure your child is eating healthy, the meals must be balanced and nutritious. Cut down on junk food.
  • Sleep plays a very significant role in bringing down anxiety, so 7-8 hours of sleep is a must.
  • If you find your child is anxious to do a certain activity, do not shun it out completely, instead introduce it again, this will help him to overcome the anxiety.
  • Keep a boundary when it comes to using gadgets. Best is to keep your child under supervision while they use them.
  • When you see your child taking the efforts to overcome his issues, be it big or small, reward him for his efforts. Even if it is a partial success.
  • Teach your child the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Regular exercise is a must.
  • When your child is going through his anxious episode, be patient and listen to his feelings calmly. Comfort your child by giving him positive motivations and talk to them about their anxiety.
  • Check your child’s Vitamin B12 and D levels. Vitamin B12 balances out depressive moods and Vitamin D helps in maintaining good mental health.
  • Teach your child to think pleasant thoughts when going through anxiety troubles. Distraction helps a lot in curbing such emotions.
  • Get your child to practice positive “self-talk.” Example; I can do this, I will give my best, I am brave, etc.
  • Avoid difficult conversations with your spouse when your child is present.
  • Talk to the people your child comes in contact with most of the time like his teachers, nanny, friends, etc. There might be an issue you are not aware of.

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time

Leo Tolstoy

Your child is special in his/her own ways, my advice is to give it time and patience and you will be amazed to see your child do wonders in his/her life. All they need is your love and support.

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References: AAP.org, childdevelopmentinfo.com and cheo.on.ca

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