Today we have with us, a mental health practitioner, Amna Muhammad Ismail (Mphil and PhD fellow), with more than 6 years of experience in her field to talk about children’s mental health, new age mental problems, long-term effects of digital screens, and much more.
She is currently working as a faculty member at the Institute of Clinical Psychology, for the past 3 years. She deals with an extensive clinical population including children, the elderly and young adults. She is skilled at conducting psychological and IQ assessments of the mentioned population and provides psychotherapeutic intervention using an eclectic approach. She has dealt with children of various neuro developmental disorders and adult cases suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health ailments.
Amna has also worked with children and believes every child has different abilities, all they need is a touch of courage, a bit of help, and lots of support. She has worked with many mental health campaigns for children with mental disabilities and helps them become independent, social, and confident.
Aysha: Thank you Amna for joining us on Hope and Belief. Children’s mental health is a rather ignored topic and I hope we can spread awareness about it.
Amna: Happy to be here to share and support this cause because you are absolutely right – children’s mental health is an ignored topic, especially in the eastern side of the globe.
Aysha: Amna, correct me if I am wrong, but we are seeing more cases of mental development problems in children in the past 3 years – ADHD, dyslexia, and behavioral problems. What do you think is the reason behind this increase?
Amna: One of the two reasons that I would like to mention here is that these cases existed earlier as well. However, due to the lack of awareness, children’s mental health was not given due attention. Neither the child was taken to any professional who could guide his caregivers regarding it’s etiology and relevant treatment.
The second reason is the prenatal period during which the mother of the child is not aware of the significance that this tenure holds pertaining to the brain development of the child. Considering this notion, when I deal with mothers and take detailed clinical history, I get to hear from them that they weren’t aware that even their slightest stress and emotional upheaval would contribute this much to the brain of the infant they are conceiving. A woman’s emotional and mental health contribute to the brain development of the child she is carrying.
Aysha: How have digital gadgets shaped the learning abilities of children? Would you say they are a boon or a curse?
Amna: They could be both considering the nature, frequency and intensity of their usage. These gadgets provide innovative ideas for conceptual development of the child. However, if not used within its due limits, it could impact aversively to the child’s brain. For instance, many mothers have developed a habit of engaging their kids in screen time while feeding or distracting them. This results in poor boundary keeping hence the child is unable to learn when and how much he is supposed to use the screen and for what content.
Aysha: What is “too much” screen time for toddlers and how does it affect a child’s mental development?
Amna: Anywhere around 3 hours for children under the age of 4 is “too much.” Continuous 3 hours is practically dangerous. It has a grave impact on the child’s development. It could affect his attention and concentration span. The reduced social interaction leads to lack of age-appropriate social skills. Their emotional, sensory and conceptual development gets negatively impacted. All this will lead to the child becoming clumsy, aloof and disengaged.
Aysha: What are the most common early signs of development issues in children that parents must look for and what should they do?
Amna: The first sign of development issues in children is not reaching the age-appropriate milestone. For this, the parents must have information about children’s milestones – motor skills, speech, and other developmental milestone. If the child is not able to achieve any of these in an age-appropriate manner, one must seek professional guidance. For instance, a child of two years must be able to speak small phrases. Similarly, holding their neck, walking, one word speech, etc, all have a certain age limit during which they should achieve the mentioned milestone.
Aysha: Can you recommend a few superfoods that parents can include in their child’s diet for healthy physical and mental growth?
Amna: If your child is hyperactive, please cut off sugary intakes. However, your child must take calcium, vitamin, carbs and all necessary supplements in a balanced proportion. Avoid too much junk food. Add milk, egg and yogurt on a regular basis for adequate motor development.
Aysha: What advice do you have for parents who have infants and toddlers with regards for their mental health?
Amna: Pay attention to their mental and emotional needs with the same importance as physical needs. Follow the 3As in parenting – approval, attention and affection. Your child needs all three of them during their young age.
Aysha: Let’s wrap it up with one final question. What further programs/campaigns do you think our society needs to improve mental health in children?
Amna: Psychoeducation and insight regarding the neuro developmental and children’s mental health issues the children can suffer from is the foremost need. This would help bridge the gap between diagnosis, treatment and management of childhood disorders. We need more programs and campaigns for children’s mental health awareness that teaches parents, specially mothers, about children’s milestones, mental health issues, and where they can get help from.
Thank you once again Amna, for giving us your quality time. This was indeed a very insightful interview – one which will help many parents and young mothers.
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