A mentally healthy child is one with a clear sense of identity and self-worth, the ability to recognise and manage emotions, enjoy friendships and deal with difficulties. Attachment relationships are particularly important and have far-reaching effects on developing emotional, social and cognitive skills. A wide range of interrelated factors play a role, such as individual, family, society and environmental issues.
Aggression during childhood is often not taken seriously and considered a part of growing up. Aggression may be seen as a personality trait and can be inherent to the individual. It may also reflect a behavioural pattern with or without intention. Aggressive behaviour is quite common in the preschool age group.
The year between 2 and 3 years is an exciting one. The toddlers are realising that they are separate individuals from their parents. They try to assert themselves, communicate their likes or dislikes and try to act independently as much as they can. This is also the age when their language skills are developing that helps them express their ideas, wants and needs. At the same time, toddlers do not understand logic and still have a hard time with waiting and self-control.
The toddler should be taught to control the strong emotions common during this age. The parents should guide the child with care and patience. It is quite common for parents not to understand what the child wants when he is angry or crying inconsolably. He acts out when frustrated or throws a toy, or may say no when actually he means yes.
The parents should make the child learn to manage strong feelings and may try the following:
- Teach the child words or actions to get the parents’ attention or ask for help.
- Talk about feelings and how to cope.
- Offer the child ideas for how to manage strong emotions.
- Validate what he is experiencing.
- Empathise with the child.
- Redirect his attention
Just because the child seems sad does not necessarily mean he or she is depressed. Childhood depression is different from normal “blues” and everyday emotions that occur as the child develops. If the sadness becomes persistent, or if disruptive behaviour interferes with normal social activities, interests, schoolwork it may indicate that the child has a depressive illness. While depression is a serious illness, it is also treatable.
Signs and symptoms of depression in children include:
- Irritability or anger
- Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Changes in appetite(either increased or decreased)
- Changes in sleep (sleeplessness or excessive sleep)
- Crying and outbursts.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and low energy
- No interest in activities at home or with friends in school.
Not all children have all these symptoms. Most will display different symptoms at different settings and times. Most children with significant depression will suffer a noticeable change in social activities, loss of interest in school and poor academic performance.
Children with a family history of depression are at a greater risk of experiencing depression themselves. Children from conflicted family are also at a risk. If the symptoms of depression in a child have lasted for at least two weeks, the child should receive proper medical treatment. There are no specific medical tests that show depression, but tools like questionnaires for both the child and the parents can be useful in diagnosing depression in children.
Toddlerhood is a time when a vast amount of physical, emotional and cognitive growth occurs. With all the changes happening in their bodies and mind, toddlers are often sensitive and prone to feeling stress. Here are some common signs to look out for:
- Change in regular sleep and eating habits.
- Change in emotions and showing signs of being sad, clingy, withdrawn or angry.
- Increase in crying or tantrums
- Nightmares and fears.
- Physical ailments like headaches or stomach-ache.
- Anxious tics, cough or body movements.
- Change in bowel movements.
Although these symptoms do not always indicate stress, if the child’s behaviour worsens, the parents should seek advice from a professional.
Parents must help the toddler understand and communicate his feelings in acceptable and non-aggressive ways. It requires a lot of time and patience. But with enough support and proper guidance, the child will learn to manage strong emotions and reactions.