October 10 is World Mental Health Day.
You come back from work to find your child throwing a temper tantrum or becoming extremely clingy, not allowing you to complete housework or office work or your teenager back answering or sulking. What do you do? You lose patience and end up screaming at your child/teenager, who throws a major tantrum or sulks. Sounds familiar?
This cycle of children’s tantrums and their parents’ frustrated responses is increasingly being observed nowadays in urban or semi-urban areas all over the world.
Some reasons for behavioural changes:
- Changing family structure (joint to nuclear) and dual working parents resulting in lack of adult supervision.
- Changing lifestyles, modernisation and technological advancement which is widening the generation gap
- Unsupervised usage of the computer/internet or TV watching
Let’s understand how the mind of a child or adolescent works before discussing how to deal with the issues. For children between the ages of 4-12, their language and thought process is still developing and does not quite reach the adult level till end of the teen years. Children below the age of 12 have issues with understanding abstract concepts or express themselves in the language understood by adults. Even for teenagers (13-19 years), their brains are still developing to adult levels, in addition to all the bodily changes they undergo during puberty. Even beyond this point teens are learning about themselves and this process continues at least until young adulthood (25 years).
So how are we supposed to deal with teenagers – as children or young adults? There’s often friction between adults and their children because we talk to them as adults, expecting them to understand what we say or mean while failing to consider they are still in a developing phase.
Lack of playing fields and companionship…
For younger children, the best form of expressing their feeling is playing with other children. It helps them make friends, showcase their creativity and abilities, learn concepts like sharing and cooperation. It also helps them shed excess energy and get rid of frustration or aggression. Due to our urban lifestyles, the lack of open spaces or playgrounds has changed children’s habits. They now prefer indoor activities like watching cartoons or spending time on the internet or video games.
What can we do to help bring down these barriers in communication?
Parents and caretakers should first observe how their children think, talk, play or deal with issues, taking into consideration the children’s developmental stages. These observations will help parents get an insight into the world of their child and thus be able to guide or discipline the child. Observe what you child/teenager is watching on TV or internet or what kinds of video games are they playing. Many countries have a strict rating (E for everyone or M for Mature content or A for adults only etc.) for what games can be sold for children and adults. Even if you have adult games at home, lock them in a secure place away from your children or teenagers.
There are techniques that can be used for all age groups to aid children and parents learn structure and discipline. One of them is the ACT model of setting limits. In it we first acknowledge (A) a child’s feeling, second we communicate (C) the limit and then target the acceptable behaviour.
For example, your child is throwing a tantrum and is about to hit you. You immediately firmly hold your child’s hand and say in a polite tone,
- ‘I can see that you are angry at me’ (A),
- ‘I’m not for hitting’ (C) and
- ‘You can choose to hit the pillow’ (T).
Keep repeating this procedure 2-3 times during the misbehaviour for it to start working. If the misbehaviour continues, try the fourth step – Final choice – ‘If you choose to hit me, then you choose to lose 10 minutes of play time or cartoon time.’ Be firm and do not lose hope, if it doesn’t seem to work in the beginning. The ACT model has to be consistently used till the child starts understanding that every action has a consequence and that he/she has a choice. Most importantly, do not give the children too many options, they tend to get confused. Make sure your limits and instruction are short (for young children), precise and clear.
This technique can be used for teenagers too – just change the language level and the options you are planning to give – they have to be age appropriate. A thing to keep in mind while dealing with teenagers is that, due to their exploration of self and role confusion (neither a child nor fully an adult), we should understand their motivations or interests.
Say your teenagers says, ‘You don’t listen or understand me at all!’ Try to figure out why he says it. Sit down and talk to your teenager about what is their definition of listen or understand. There could be difference between how we interpret ‘listen’ and how the teenager interprets it. The internet and TV might have given the current generation access to all kinds of knowledge; however that may not be age appropriate or culture-specific.
Childhood and adolescence are confusing times – more so in this day and age – a little understanding on your part can go a long way in resolving your child’s behavioural issues.First Published: Oct 10, 2012 at 8:58 AM