Q. My 10-year-old cannot go to sleep unless he is in physical contact with someone. Even if it’s for just 10 minutes before sleeping. How do I change this? He will be going to boarding school next year and I need to get him out of this habit.
A: The best way to deal with it is to have a talk with him; explain the situation and tell him why you need to help him get over this habit.
There are a few things you should be aware of. Has he always been this way, or is it a recent habit? If it has always been like this, then probably you or one of the family members has created this habit. In that case, you need to talk to him first and deal with the situation based on his reaction. You may need to gradually wean him off this habit. Offer to sit in the room initially as he tries to sleep. After a few days, let him try and sleep alone.
If this is a recent development, you need to determine its cause. Many times, a child may be fearful of something or they may feel they are not getting the attention they need. Chat with them without criticising them and then act accordingly. Children at age 10 are capable of sleeping alone, so knowing the root of the problem will help you solve it easily. Ensure that the solution is something that he is comfortable with.
Q. Is fidgeting a psychological disorder? Do I need to be worried if my child is constantly fidgeting?
A: Fidgeting by itself is not a psychological disorder. It can be a symptom of behavioural issues, depending on the age of the child, the frequency and duration of fidgeting and whether it is disrupting normal activities and studies.
Children under five years are generally fidgety and curious about their environment. They are restless and want to move about. This pattern decreases as they grow older. Try to engage your child in physical activity and encourage them to play games which require focus and concentration. If the fidgeting is affecting their studies or activities, consult a child counsellor.
Q. My 18-year-old son has made friends with a gang of boys who are into doping. How do I keep a check on him without antagonising him?
A: This depends on your dynamics with your son. If you have a friendly relationship and he trusts you, then having a few heart-to-heart conversations and explaining your reservations should be enough. Make sure that you have authentic information before you have these conversations. Do not discard the importance of his friendship; rather talk about what your concerns are.
If he has been staying away from doping despite his friends being into it, please make sure to compliment him. And let him know that you trust him. If you are open and can be non-judgemental, children are quite eager to share their stories; for that, though, you have to first gain their trust. If you already have a difficult relationship, then take the help of a professional counsellor to improve your relationship.
Q. My 10-year-old daughter is quite sharp, but her attention span is very poor. She is hyperactive too. How do I help her?
A: Kids are more active than adults and often appear to be hyperactive. They also have shorter attention spans. At 10 years, they cannot sit for long periods to study.
There are different styles of studying. Some kids, especially those with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), study better while moving around, others memorise better if they hear things and while some others are visual learners. Support your daughter by allowing her to learn in the style that suits her best. Try and make studies interesting for her. The sharper your child is, the more curious she will be and is more likely than others to be bored of things.
When studying, it is all right to give her a break after 30-40 minutes and resume. Encourage daily outdoor activities as children generally have lots of energy which needs to be spent.
Various research shows that cutting out artificial sugars from a child’s diet helps those who are hyperactive.
Reduce the time a child spends in front of the screen to a minimum, ideally not more than half an hour a day. If she still finds it difficult to concentrate, you can seek professional help.
Q. How do I teach my nine-year-old son to handle rejection? From not being selected for the school football team to losing in a cricket tournament… of course, there are small rejections at every step.
A: There is no particular way to teach a child how to handle rejection. Children learn from their parents’ actions and responses — how you react to situations and respond to them. It is normal for your child to feel disheartened, let down, rejected when things don’t go their way. When you talk to your child, do not ignore these feelings. If they are very sad, tell them: “I know you are feeling sad, and it is okay. You can try next time.”
Avoid trying to bribe your child with gifts or food to compensate for the rejection. Spend time with them, have a fun chat and play games when they feel disappointed and low. You can also assess your parenting strategies. Do you always say yes to your child or give in to their demands at some point? Then you need to start saying a firm no to their unreasonable demands. The skill to deal with rejection also comes from the ability to accept a no.
Q. Bullying and physical violence is a major problem in boys’ schools. How do we advise our children to tackle that? Advising them to hit back always means encouraging them to be violent, while suffering quietly is seen as a mark of weakness.
A: Teaching your child about how to handle a bully is important irrespective of their gender. If there is physical violence involved where your son can be harmed, encourage him to report to an authority person immediately after the incident. Urge him to take precautions by making friends and staying with his group of friends. Teach him to shout out for help if he is alone and being harassed. Encourage your son when he helps his friends out in similar situations. Tell him: “Harassing someone is not acceptable behaviour, but that doesn’t mean that we retaliate by being the same way or taking law in our hands.”
Bullying is not just physical, there is verbal bullying, emotional bullying and cyber bullying. The key to tackling bullying is to have good communication with your child so that they can tell you without worrying about what is happening to them. The idea is to teach them to stand up for themselves, help them retain their self-esteem without encouraging to be violent or aggressive.
Q. To what extent do I allow my 10-year-old daughter to be on social media? Giving free access is proving to be addictive, while barring it is keeping her out of the loop while her peers are indulging in it.
A: This is a very difficult and highly debated topic and it’s hardly possible to give a one-fits-all solution. The problem is not the fact that there is social media, it is how one uses it and for what one uses it. However, peer pressure should not be one of the reasons why you allow your child to use social media. Applications of social media is vast today; it includes various apps such as Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and Tinder.
Homework assignment via WhatsApp is not harmful, but sharing private pictures or whereabouts to strangers on Facebook or Snapchat can be.
Study and project material can be found online, so a blanket ban on social media is not a solution for the children of this generation. But as access to electronics increases, the electronic addiction also increases. You as parents have to be informed and discern which is the app that you will allow access to and which you won’t. Then fix a duration for which the child is allowed access to social media. Limit the duration of the overall screen usage as well. Do not allow online gaming every day.
We believe, and these rules are arbitrary, that in the current Indian context, children should not have personal accounts on any social media before they are 15. For a 10-year-old, it is advisable to have limited and supervised access to an online medium.
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners and practising psychotherapists. They conduct individual and group therapy sessions in Kolkata.