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The fact that children are stressed in general and they often can’t communicate with parents and peers is sad. The challenges for parents are starker. Most are hard pressed for time and bewildered by the pace of change in technology, economy and education. Among the vastly diverse group of parents, what unites them is anxiety — anxiety for their children’s well-being and future. The combination of bewilderment and anxiety in parents, not a new phenomenon by itself, sometimes shields the unsavory realities of their children from them. Stress is the biggest of them all.
While we can’t control an increasingly complicated world, we can control how we respond to it.
Observe: A key issue with stress that it is often invisible. Children, especially teenagers, often create a world around them that the parents can’t penetrate. With the rise of social media, this world has become even more elusive despite parents’ attempts to befriend their children on Facebook. Observing will help identify subtle signs of stress — irritability, withdrawal, oversleeping.
Talk: This probably is the most difficult part. Parental instincts may alert us to departure from usual behaviour, but broaching it as conversation is tricky. Talking is as much an art as it is science. You have to be confident that you can have a conversation and yet be open to improvisations. Asking about what they are studying, how the classes are going, their friends and what they are up to etc helps ease the process. Talk less and listen more. If they share their issues after that, you move on to the next step. If they have not, you can probe further and ask if their friends are stressed because of studies or anything.
Empathise: If your child shares why she or he is stressed, don’t judge. Empathise. The issue may seem trivial, but for the child it is not. If the child admits a failure, inability or shortcoming, the last thing you should do is belittle that honest confession with judgment. You should be thankful that the child is sharing with you and not with somebody who can give them wrong guidance. Nothing is more important than the child’s well-being.
Act: Children see our verbal and non-verbal reactions. Hence, our response to their stress has to be holistic. The stressor can be so huge that it affects you personally even. However, we can’t show that to the children howsoever big or important it might be. Responsible reassurance is what can keep us balanced. We acknowledge the gravity of the situation without belittling or overemphasizing the stressor, and then look at possible solutions if necessary. A solution focused approach will take your child out for the passive stress zone. Warm physical contact helps in soothing as well.
Although we use metaphors of growth when describing developing children, in reality many children are like tightly wound violins that are forced to play different tunes at different occasions. While we can’t control the occasions entirely, we need to listen carefully for the discordant notes. The strings of childhood need careful nurturing lest they snap.
The writer is Dipnarayan Chakraborty, Research Head, Zee Learn Ltd
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