Children should be told ‘try to do your best’ instead of ‘do your best'

Students under exam time pressure 

It is that time of the year when board exams are on and children crumble under intense pressure to give their best. The number of adolescents committing suicide increases during this phase of the academic year.

Experts explain that out of the multiple reasons for students committing suicide, one of the major causes is the inability to handle stress. There are many students who handle stress effectively, many learn from their failures and move ahead in life.

The possibility of suicidal tendencies is likely to occur in combination with several circumstances that seem to over-load teens with stress and hence make them unable to cope with the challenges of adolescence which lead to increase in stress. Multiple factors are held responsible for a person’s suicide and that failure in exams need not be a single cause.

Many students are under increased pressure due to multi-tasking as they are expected to remain attentive and perform in school, participate in extra-curricular activities, return home, complete homework, go to tuition and other hobby classes. Disciplinary problems, interpersonal losses, family violence and being the victim of bullying are other examples of stressors.

While highlighting the fact that individual response to stress is variable as physical, emotional and psychological stress-bearing capacity varies from person to person, Dr Shreekant Chorghade, senior paediatrician, child psychologist and counsellor, said, “When the number of physical illnesses in person increase then psychological stress-bearing capacity reduces. Whereas when psychological stress increases it has an impact on the physical well being of the person. This can lead to frequent illnesses. Excessive psychological stress can lead to depression and if this excess psychological stress goes beyond one’s bearing capacity it can lead to a person taking the extreme step, at times it can lead to suicide”.

Parents capacity to deal stress

Several studies have observed that anxious or depressed parents are likely to affect children negatively. Parents should understand that their own inability to handle stress in a right way affects children. Parents are role models for their children who imitate them. Children learn to handle stress by imitating their parents.

Dr Shreekant Chorghade, explaining the need for parents to be alert on their reaction when they feel stressed out, said, “Parents are not able to handle their own stress and stress in their children. Anxiety is contagious, overanxious parents beget over anxious children. Children get negative vibes from parents, and it puts pressure on them. In addition to making them nervous, parents might be setting long-term behavioural patterns in motion that could harm psychological health of their children.”

During adolescence, the children due to increase in hormonal level children are under more emotional stress which makes them tensed and sensitive. Hence the reaction to any stress is exaggerated.

Experts suggest that parents should create a stress-free environment at home by having loving relationships between them. Stating that Children follow what parents do, Dr Shreekant Chorghade mentioned, ‘mind your behaviour’.

Postponement of gratification

Some adolescents are not taught postponement of gratification within their family environment. Nuclear families have less number of children, they are over-provided and over-helped. Even small incidents like not getting branded clothes, toys, etc are enough for children to get stressed and take extreme steps like leaving home or even commit suicide.

While providing insight between the stress-bearing capacity of children and materialist attitude, senior psychiatrist Dr Sudhir Bhave said, “During our childhood, there was more frustration, as we were accustomed to hearing ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’ and thus we learnt to handle ‘no’.  The present generation has easy access to the things they want. As a result tolerance level, these days has gone down.”

WHO has recommended schools to teach life skills and especially to adolescents so that they learn to handle stress and lead a creative and constructive life without being a burden on the family and the society.

While underlying the importance of why children should be taught with life skills, Dr Bhave, said, “Schools can play a vital role by teaching students how to think rationally and also develop problem-solving ability. Teach basic life skills that can be applied today and prepare students for their future unlike those chapters in the syllabus that isn’t useful in future life.”

While stating how parents should serve as an example for rational thinking and solving problems effectively, Dr Bhave said, “We can harm children by not helping them understand that failure is part of learning process. Help your child to learn to accept defeat and take corrective steps after a mistake. Help them figure out how to move on.”

Research studies have stated that postponement of gratification is an effective way to prevent stress. Delaying gratification improves willpower and ultimately helps reach longer-term goals faster. It was also found that those children who were able to delay gratification were psychologically better adjusted, more dependable persons, more self-motivated. “Children should be told ‘try to do your best’ instead of ‘do your best’,” concluded Dr Shreekant Chorghade.