Although the world celebrates Children’s Day on November 20th, India celebrates it on November 14th. Why? Well, we’re cool that way. And it just seemed to make sense that we coincide Children’s Day with the birthday of our nation’s beloved forefather, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, to tip our hat to his fatherly statesmanship and, of course, his fondness of children.
International Children’s Day
International Children’s Day was established by United Nations in 1954 to bring children’s welfare to the fore. Whether Children’s Day is observed on 14th or 20th, the focus and celebrations remain similarly delightful and aim to improve the overall quality of life of miniature humans across the globe. Schools often organize fairs and camps, screen movies and stage plays to entertain and educate children; libraries schedule story hours and other fun events; and you can imagine the hoopla toy stores indulge in around that time – all to the happy delight of the guests of honour!
Adults too are involved through awareness-raising programmes related to children’s issues – panel discussions and lectures abound to educate parents, teachers and others on various aspects of childhood. As part of this awareness raising, we will now turn the focus to children’s mental health, with consideration to stress in a child’s life.
Children and Stress
Anything that causes the feeling of being overwhelmed leads to stress. And children experience a good deal of overwhelming situations from birth through childhood. As toddlers, they experience separation anxiety at the start of preschool, which marks their first step away from their primary caregivers and towards social integration. As they grow older, academics and peer pressure take over and trigger stress. With puberty setting in and hormones in a tizzy, emotions get magnified. With parental pressure to perform well in academics, peer pressure to fit in and be cool, and personal expectations – all in a constant state of flux, it is a wonder that children are able to survive the forceful currents of stress!
How can we help children avoid stress? Here are some handy tips:
– We know already that children are easily impressionable, so monitoring their TV viewing is a good start. Avoiding news channels and anything graphic or gory (horror shows included!) is a good start.
– Keep discussions on topics like wars and other disturbing news reserved for adult company. Children don’t need to be aware of these things.
– Arguing in the presence of children also must be avoided. Children must feel secure of their parents’ marriage and adults around them.
– Some stressful situations – like a death in the family or a divorce – cannot be avoided. Dealing with these situations with sensitivity is important. Never allow anger or negative comments to colour your dialogue with children. They can sense your likes and dislikes. Your tone is enough for them to catch on to your opinion. Be very careful what you pass on to a child!
How can you tell if a child is stressed? Here are some signs to look out for:
Changes in behavior – Physical and behavioral changes fall under this category. If you see changes in sleeping or eating patterns or find the child getting increasingly irritable and moody, shirking activities that were once enjoyable to them, count it as a red flag. Be especially observant of younger children – they do not have the vocabulary to express nor understand their emotions yet.
‘Listen’ to their behavior – If children complaint about stomachaches or headaches even after getting a clean bill from the doctor, it could point to stress. Also keep an ear open for any self-critical statements recurrently made by children.
We recently ran a campaign that raised awareness for children’s mental health by an organization called Open Your Arms Foundation (OYA). Established in 2010, it has been providing counselling, remedial education and life skill programmes for children in need. The foundation aims to help and nurture children who have had to deal with child sexual abuse, child prostitution, sex trafficking and other traumatic situations.
If you would like to do more for children this Children’s Day, you can. All you need to do is contact OYA’s founder Raheen Jummani at firstname.lastname@example.org.