We often undermine a child's mental health needs. Parents are their first point of access when they feel under distress, but if we don't acknowledge their feelings, it can stop them for reaching out for help. In an exclusive interview with Dr Sapna Bangar, child and adolescent psychiatrist, head of Mpower, Mumbai, we spoke about anxiety among kids and ways to handle it. How common is anxiety among kids? Do parents tend to overlook it?
Anxiety disorders in children are definitely rising. The percentage range is anywhere between 30-50 per cent. I completely agree because some of the disorders or conditions of anxiety are so common and developmentally appropriate, parents tend to ignore it. They feel it is a part of growing up and don't take it seriously. Is some level of anxiety alright for children?
Some anxiety is normal for children and is actually developmentally appropriate that they go along with that age. For example, 6-8 months children should develop stranger anxiety. They should feel anxious to be around other people. As they grow up, toddlers go through the phase feeling being scared of the dark or feeling scared of monsters and imaginary figures. It is absolutely normal to have some sort of anxiety at some stage of life. When should we get worried?
I think we should start worrying about anxiety when it starts impacting on your functioning. If the child is refusing to go to school for a long period of time. If they are not sleeping well in the night. If they start getting socially isolated, refusing to go out and meet friends, if they start losing weight and academically their performance starts deteriorating. It is time to seek help. Tips for parents to handle their anxiety
As parents, we all get into the phase the mother or father tiger, we try to avoid anxiety, which is a big no no. For example, if a child is afraid of dogs, we would rather not go near dogs to protect the children so one of the biggest things is try to do it in a stepped manner. Do not invalidate the fear. We tend to tell children that it is rubbish or there is nothing like this and there is nothing to fear. Empathising with children and understanding that their fear and anxiety is real to them. Also slowly and gradually, rather than avoiding help them to face the anxiety.