Alarming rise of behavioural problems in toddlers as parents get away for work

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October 11, 2013

MUMBAI: Here is an uncomfortable statistic that will pile more guilt on busy, stressed and struggling working parents – one of five patients walking into Bangalore-based NIMHANS for psychiatric and counseling help is a toddler.

October 11, 2013

MUMBAI: Here is an uncomfortable statistic that will pile more guilt on busy, stressed and struggling working parents – one of five patients walking into Bangalore-based NIMHANS for psychiatric and counseling help is a toddler.

One of five patients walking into Bangalore-based NIMHANS for psychiatric and counselling help is a toddler.

With many parents – both professionals and businessmen – fighting to keep their jobs or spending longer and stress-filled hours at work, children are being starved of time, attention and care. This is leading to a steady trickle of emotionally troubled toddlers aged five and below, says doctors from mental health centers, including Max Healthcare in Delhi, school principals in Mumbai and clinical psychologists in Pune.

"The youngest we've seen is a one-year-old," says P Satishchandra, director, NIMHANS, one of India's leading institutes in mental health and neurosciences. "The child could not recognize any familiar faces, including those of his parents, because they were hardly around. Passed on from one set of caretaker parents to another, the child was throwing terrible tantrums, forcing the parents to seek our help."

"They (children) now have multiple figures of authority and each one with a different parenting style, which confuses them," he adds. "They suffer from learning disorders and attention deficit."

"Children react to stress and strain," says Shoba Srinath, professor of child and adult psychology at NIMHANS.

"When parents worry about losing jobs and paying debts, it has an adverse effect on the child," Srinath said. Fancy toys and gadgets and baby-sitters can't fill the void left by parents.

In the Capital, Sameer Malhotra, who heads the department of mental health and behavioral sciences at Max Healthcare, is noticing a similar rise in children urgently needing counseling. They account for almost 10-15% of such patients coming to the hospital, he says.

A few days ago, Malhotra asked a 5-year-old to draw pictures (part of a test to understand how they feel about certain topics). The child drew empty nests and black barren trees.

He was bullied at school, but could not get himself to speak up and projected his angst by withdrawing. One of his parents is in the IT sector and the other in healthcare. Both work long hours.

Many parents of such troubled children are typically from the IT, ITES and financial services sectors. A fair sprinkling of business families too come to him for help.

Often, the affected children come from homes where parents work in different cities and meet only during the weekends, says Devi Kar, director of Modern High School for Girls in Kolkata. NIMHANS' Srinath recounts the case of a father who bought one toy every day for his child to make up for returning home late.

When he didn't get a gift one day, the child threw such a big tantrum that he sought counseling. "The father thought the child had problems and not his parenting technique," says a shocked Srinath.

"10-15% of our children in kindergarten are showing signs of learning disability," says Father Bosco D'mello, principal of Mumbai-based Don Bosco High School, Matunga. Parents are also slow to spot such behavioral problems. BR Madhukar, senior consultant psychiatrist at St Martha's hospital in Bangalore, says parents first think it is a physical ailment and get the children checked for any illness. Only later do they realize the reason behind behavioral problems. This is more common among first-time parents in their late 20s and early 30s, he says.

Recounting another case, Madhukar says an absentee businessman father led to a psychiatric intervention and medication for his children aged 8 and 13.

Ten per cent of his patients are children and the problem, he says, is getting severe.


Courtesy: ET

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