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My ten-year-old son seems to have suddenly changed these past few weeks. He came home from school one day all quiet and withdrawn and even looked a bit dazed. He keeps drifting between trance-like and normal states. We don’t know what to make of it. What should we do?
Concerned parents, Vikhroli

I’m a bit concerned about what you describe. Has something triggered this kind of reaction? I’d check with the child if there has been anything untoward that may have happened at school – a physical fight, a severe reprimand by a teacher, a very poor grade or something significant. This trance like state you describe seems that the child is flitting in and out of reality states – this usually happens when a person wants to avoid facing an issue that he/she believes that he may be incapable of handling. So as a form of escaping the ‘trauma’ may get into this zombie-like, trance-like state. Please seek professional help if this persists for more than two-weeks. It is not uncommon for serious psychological issues to surface at childhood and we wouldn’t want to miss anything that may require attention, by being casual about it.

My daughter seems to have lost direction this past year. She did very well in her BE degree and was to pursue an MBA thereafter. But somehow after getting admitted she just refused to go and made all kind of excuses as to why she wasn’t ready yet, etc. All this after we’d paid up and made all the arrangements necessary. We are at a loose end and don’t know what we should do. Help.
Mrs. Kumar, Wadala

Well there seems more to this than meets the eye. Is there love in the air? I’d make a guess that there is. Else why would an otherwise focused girl suddenly change her direction? Often hidden motives direct our behavior. And they may not always be in our direct awareness. I’d ask you to be as direct as you can and in a gentle non-reprimanding or blaming manner talk to your daughter. Self-disclosure at this point may work wonders. Where you openly and un-ashamedly speak about your love life, how as a growing girl you found yourself attracted to and in love with young men. And how you too many a time strayed in direction when that happened. When she sees you being un-defensive and open enough to talk about yourself she may drop her defenses and confide in you. When we parents pretend to be holier-than-thou our children find it difficult to connect with us. But if we show our humanness and having gone through the same things they are, they find it easier to relate and disclose. To me this will be the best way to understand why she did what she did and then helping her along with her questions will be a way to bring her back her focus.

I am a working parent wondering whether I should go in for another child or not. I have a son who is going to turn five this month and was wondering if a sibling would be better for the child. I am confused.
Mrs. Kabral, Colaba

I’d define your confusion as anxiety. Anxiety about whether you’re making the perfectly right decision. And remember that whatever we decide today may in hindsight look like bad choices after about five years – but such is life. The more you pressure yourself to make ‘the right’ choice the more anxious you will feel. And the chances of then taking an impulsive un-thought out decision will probably ensue. There are no rights or wrongs about having a single child or of having more. It is entirely circumstantial and will vary from individual to individual. Though many around you will propagate that a single child is a lonely and spoilt child that need not be true at all. You will have to sit down with your husband and ask yourselves some serious questions as to why you want a child? What are your reasons for having another? And only after careful deliberation go ahead and make whatever choice will hold good for you. Good luck.

We read about the child who was diagnosed as depressed at the age of four years? Do children really feel so or was the media just blowing things out of proportion?
Mrs. D’souza, Mahim

Children like adults may have chemical causes of emotional disturbance. A dysfunctional thyroid, an over producing pituitary gland are usually some causes of emotional dysfunctions. So it is possible that a four-year-old may have similar reasons for his/her depression. It is important for us as parents to question our doctors as to the probable causes of emotional distress in our child. A good professional wouldn’t mind be questioned and in fact would go out of his/her way to explain why he/she believes the cause of the disturbance is physiological rather than attitudinal. When physiological causes of disturbance are detected then medication is the right way to go. However, I’d be surprised if without evidence to believe that chemical malfunctions is the reason, doctors medicate rather than refer the person to a therapist to correct the faulty outlook of the child and his/her parents.

How do I teach my daughter to be straightforward and honest? I see her friends and over hear conversations where they discuss how they manage to copy or make difficult project work for their partners, etc. It pains me to see this and I only wish that my child doesn’t grow up with the same attitudes. Help.
Worried Parent, Worli

Character develops largely from what kids see. ‘Don’t do as I do but do as I say’ unfortunately is the message parents send out to their kids – often guilty that they themselves practice one thing but preach quite another! How then will a child learn the ‘right’ from the ‘wrong’, the honest from the dishonest? I’d urge you to keep reiterating to your child a message that the route his/her friends are following in the short-term may pay dividends but in the long run will possibly cause pain. Nothing better than setting examples in the house, where the child sees value based, ethical behaviour. Because children do what they see and not what they hear.

My child has been recommended anti anxiety drugs for his severe stress during exams. He is only 9 years old and I am really worried if this is the recommended form of treatment. What should I do?
 Mrs. P. Verma, Bandra

It would unfair for me to make a suggestion without seeing the child. But usually test anxiety is nothing but a result of very faulty attitudes that the child may have learned in his growing years. Or he may have also self-created certain rules of how he ‘should’ perform. And remember medication does not alter attitudes! When medication is recommended, the assumption that the doctor makes is that the cause of disturbance is due to chemical imbalance. And he tries altering the imbalance believing that the anxiety, depression, anger, etc., will dissipate. However, very often the cause of emotional distress is not chemically but attitudinally caused. Where the person due to his flawed philosophies disturbs himself needlessly. Read my book ‘7 Mantras for Teenage Success’ and decide if your child’s exam anxiety is due to faulty outlook or due to chemical imbalance. If the former is the culprit seek out a psychotherapist and not a psychiatrist and you should get the correct benefit.

I have a 23 year old daughter who’s doing very well for herself professionally. However, with respect to her personal life we are very, very concerned about the kind of partner she has chosen as her friend. She says there’s nothing between them but she has been lying incessantly, her phone bills are a whopper and she has has been staying up very late nights talking on the phone or chatting on the net. We are at a loss how to help her realize that she can get much better than what she’s settling for. Help.
Distressed Parents.

Seems like your daughter is in love. And love is temporary madness as Freud said. And is often also blind. Be aware that this boy is giving her something so unique and special that she possibly hasn’t got from anyone else. As a result she may be head over heels and losing her discerning ability. The boy is accepting her as is and perhaps isn’t being judgemental or pesky. Many a time attraction at this age happens when a person feels completely accepted. Not criticized or found fault with – which is often what parents do. Perhaps your daughter may also not think too well of herself and believe that she can’t get any better, so sells herself short. Look for the reasons for her choice and if needed seek professional help for her – only so that she makes her choice sensibly and not for the wrong reasons.

My daughter seems to be falling ill repeatedly and the timing of her illness is around the time her exams are around the corner. Her usual complaints are stomach-ache, headache, etc. Our physician says that there seems to be no cause for the same and has suggested that it could be psychological. Can that be so?
Mrs. Nagre, Versova

Since your physician has given a clean chit physiologically for your daughter’s illness it does seem a more psychological problem. And if you notice, the timing is during exams! Is your daughter very anxious about performance and results? Then this could be a nice cover up to avoid facing exams and the ensuing not too good results. For if she doesn’t appear she will always be ‘protected’ – that means her abilities will never be exposed. And she seems to doubt her capacity to perform and is thus taking recourse to an illness that is vague and undetectable. Altering her mindset about herself, changing her attitude towards examinations and inculcating a healthier philosophy about results is what will be required. With a more sensible attitude towards these three she will be able to take on the challenges that life will throw at her, else escapism will tend to be her style.

I am a young widow, aged 35 years, with a teenaged daughter. Since my husband’s death, life is very lonely. I want to get remarried to someone I know well, primarily for the sake of companionship and retaining my sanity. My daughter is getting very rebellious about this and hates the thought. How do I explain to her my sorry state?
Rukshana, Byculla

First of all congratulations for recognizing your desires and for accepting them as healthy and normal. I admire your openness and your courage to express what most widows/widowers, divorcees or single people would hesitate even acknowledging let alone stating. You are making an error though by trying to explain your desires with an expression of ‘sorry state’! Instead, it would be better to educate your daughter from now itself, that as women, we are individuals first, who like men have as much a right to happiness, love, joy and pleasure. Unfortunately society hasn’t ever taught us to believe that. The message usually been imparted most often is, as women, we are first daughters, then sisters, wives, daughter-in-law’s, mother’s etc., and that our self-worth comes from being only that. And what I would like your daughter as well as mine to understand (so that when they become mother’s they can also live their lives without guilt and self-hatred) is that we can be better mother’s only when we are first happy and fulfilled individuals. That being a mother does not mean giving up on ourselves and on giving up what may bring us satisfaction and fulfillment. That personal satisfactions and tending to home, family, etc., can co-exist and co-exist beautifully. That you do not have to give up on one to do a ‘better job’ of another. That you do not have to give up on you to be a ‘good’ parent. I suspect that your daughter is anxious and she’s camouflaging in it in temper tantrums. She possibly fears that with this ‘new’ man in your life, she may be neglected and left alone, which unfortunately she construes as an unbearable condition and believes that she won’t be able to take. She also possibly fears the ‘treatment’ she may be subject to by her ‘step-father’. If her belief is that all ‘step-fathers’ are of the ogre and fairy-tale kinds, is it a wonder that she feels the way she does? You will have to win her confidence that you are not ‘deserting’ her. That in life, one can have many attachments and that now because you love a man it does not mean that your love for her will deteriorate or change. Because she needs to understand that romantic love and parental love co-exists and there is plenty of evidence to suggest the above. That this ‘new man’ is not taking you away from her. That she is not losing you to him. With all these sensible sound explanations, it would be difficult for her to feel threatened. And she would also then develop a sound philosophy for her own life – that she too can love many people simultaneously with the same passion, intensity and that her heart (like yours) is big enough and can accommodate any amount of strong relationships. Good luck!

My son is just not interested in going to school. He is in Standard Five, and somehow he has to complete his education. Besides he is very violent – hitting class mates, jumping, shouting and breaking things most of the time. My husband and he have begun to share a very strained relationship because of this. Please help.
Carrol, Bandra

What you are revealing is only dysfunctional behavior of your child. But remember dysfunctional, damaging behavior is a result of some cause – some which are openly visible, other’s that are often hidden. And if we only target the behavior of your child it would be a superficial correction. What we need to know is why your child behaves the way he does? We need to get to the root or the motive of his actions. It is very often noticed that many children are desperate for attention – some more than others. And if they believe (faultily) that they aren’t getting it, they do anything to be the centre of attention. This could include even standing on their head! You and your husband need to ask yourselves if this may be the case with your child. Does your son believe (justifiably or unjustifiably) that he isn’t being attended to as much as he would like? And then to get his parents’ focus, behaves offensively? Many a time parents do not see their contribution in the child’s difficulties, and put the entire onus of bad/damaging/obnoxious behavior ONLY on their child. You and your husband need to talk and be as honest as you can with each other that it may well be you who could be contributing to the child’s problem. Not that all bad behavior is a result of only parents not doing something right, but if we take a good honest look at ourselves, we will often find that we are part of our own problems. Of course, violence has some amount of biological basis – some of us are prone by birth to be more violent, others more depressive, some others more anxious, etc. But mainly hostility and anger is due to faulty attitudes. What attitudes has your child learnt about not getting his way? Does he believe that people should satisfy him? That he must never be deprived? That he must not have to follow rules? That what he wants he must get and get without effort and work? And similar such ideas? By detecting the ideas that he has, we would be able to now correct them. And then without blaming and condemning your child for his attitudes, we need to teach him the consequences of his unpleasant ways. About his studies? It is very unfortunate today that most kids view study as a bore, a duty, a chore, a pain! Ideally, we need to develop in children exactly the opposite attitude – that studying is fun, a joy, pleasurable and wonderful. Now if we were really able to do that, do you think our children would not be interested in going to school?

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