Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs. By far, the most difficult part of being a parent is to watch your child go through something really tough and not be able to help or fix it for him/her. When a child is suffering from any illness, parents do whatever it takes to relieve them from their suffering. When the signs of suffering are visible like health deteriorating due to high fever or in severe cases hair falling from chemotherapy, parents still can understand and support the child in his/her pain. The suffering of a child whose diagnosis comes under the ‘psychological’ or ‘psychiatry’ banner, is far less apparent.
The pain a child diagnosed with a psychological/psychiatry disorder – Mental Health goes through frequently is expressed through their behavior. A lot of times these behaviors can be perceived as aggressive and not appropriate. Due to largely because of the pre-determined opinions about the field of mental health a lot of fear, shame and misunderstanding are attached to the behaviors of such children, resulting in the majority never receiving appropriate care and intervention.
Some common myths especially related to the mental health of children are
MYTH 1 - A child suffering from a psychiatric/ psychological disorder is damaged for life.
FACT: Psychiatric or psychological disorders are like any other medical ailment. The presence of a mental health issue by no means is an indication of the child’s future well-being. By recognizing the child’s struggles, getting a proper diagnosis, and starting an appropriate rigorous intervention, the child has a good chance of overcoming the symptoms and developing into a healthy adult.
MYTH 2 – Personal weakness results in psychiatric/psychological disorder.
FACT: Children display aggressive verbal and non-verbal behavior dues to many reasons. Sometimes it may stem from being angry or fearful and sometimes they are expressing their suffering. For most individuals around the child, it becomes difficult to separate the symptoms arising from a mental health concern from the child’s personality. As adults, we need to remind ourselves that psychiatric/psychological condition does not make them who they are. At the end of the day, they are still children who are still learning and understanding the world around them.
MYTH 3 – Bad parenting results in psychiatric/psychological disorders.
FACT: Any and all psychiatric/psychological disorders in children, as well as adults, have a neurological basis. The relationship the child shares with his or her parents and his/her interactions with the surrounding can exacerbate a psychiatric/psychological condition, but in no way can cause it. Therefore, parenting cannot be blamed. Parenting does play a crucial role while providing support and care to a child diagnosed with a childhood disorder during the intervention and recovery process.
MYTH 4 – A child can manage psychiatric/psychological disorders through willpower.
FACT: Any childhood disorder is a medical condition that requires scientific intervention be it in form of behavioral therapy or medication or a combination of both. It is a severe dysfunction that affects all aspects of the child’s life and would keep on negatively affecting if timely intervened. A child is still in a developmental phase and does not have enough understanding to comprehend what is happening to him/her. They do not have enough skills or experience to manage such an overwhelming situation which in most cases adults also struggle to do. Therefore, the right treatment plan as early as possible should be started with children.
MYTH 5 – Behavioral therapy is a waste of time and money.
FACT: As a child is still growing and understanding, most of them express themselves through their behavior. When diagnosed with a childhood disorder, symptoms are reflected through their behavior. The need and importance for behavior therapy as such arise here. Most evidence-based treatment programs focus on thoughts, feeling,s and actions that are causing and reinforcing the maladaptive behavior patterns. This is the core of any behavioral therapy as it would focus on how the child thinks, feels, and then acts. If we can help the child identify their own patterns of thinking and feeling resulting in behavior, they would be able to bring about a change in themselves.
Recent research has found and concluded that the signs and symptoms of a psychiatric/psychological concern in adults can be traced back to their childhood. Therefore, it becomes vital that if any kind of intervention is needed, it's far more advisable to start as early as possible rather than letting it affect the future.
Written By: -
Isha Singh - Clinical Psychologist
Director - Clinical Services, Ananya Child Development Centre.