Children under Stress

It is not generally realised but a large proportion of the people under stress happens to be children. We do not realise it because we, as adults, are the major stress factors in a child's life. The closer is the kinship, the greater is the potential to cause stress, with the parents unwittingly becoming the greatest offenders! In the adult world, the children are unfortunately unrepresented and remain as voiceless citizens. Often, the child is too small even to understand or express itself, though it may be undergoing stressful conditions.

Nature, however, is on the side of the children. Since children are biologically a 'learning machine', most conditions which otherwise would be deemed to be stressful are not perceived as stressful by the little body-systems which are still in the process of learning and growing, and therefore, are yet to arrive at threshold levels of intolerance.

Playground for parents

In modern society, everyone is conditioned to become an achiever, starting from the child in school. The school is increasingly becoming a playground for the parents, instead of being a place of happy learning and growing for the child. Each child is pitted against another, irrespective of sex or the home environment or socio-economic factors, and the brilliant child gets paraded around like a winning racehorse.

The success of the child at school is viewed as complementing the other acquisitions of status that go with the husband's position as a successful executive, businessman or professional. The hapless child is tutored to pick and choose friends on the basis of adult criteria and not as a spontaneous result of the child's likes and dislikes. Home, which should have the warmth, understanding and the protection of a nest, is turned into a 'commando' training centre. The child is incessantly drilled to do better in school and to measure up to other adult parameters, which do not make sense even to an enlightened mind. All the failings of one or both the parents, real or imagined, and the unrealised ambitions which have been smouldering in the parent's mind for long, are now foisted on the child. It is the child which must make good all round. When it grows up, it must avenge any injustice done to the family. If there had been a black sheep in the family before, it is the child which must bring back honour and glory to the family's name. The stress from such psychological piggy-back riding on the child, by the parents and others, is enough to drive the child to break free by whatever means available to it, even drugs.

With the awareness that spontaneously develops through the practice of yoga, parents would understand that the child is a soul which has taken birth to fulfil its samskara. The choice of the parents, as much as the choice of the next birth, is determined by samskara. Most parents, however, impose their will and their choice at every stage in the child's life. They do not realise that the law of samskara is such that any unfulfilled samskara must be fully experienced in a next birth. So, the soul takes another birth, this time the birth being determined by the remaining, unfulfilled samskara plus other samskaras it might have picked up while 'obeying the wishes of the parents' during its immediate past life. The cumulative samskara gets the soul deeper and deeper into the cycle of life and death. The poor soul never really gets the opportunity to fulfil its real mission in being born a human being, which is the evolution of the consciousness to the next higher stage.

Besides the obstacles which we put in the path of our child, the child also carries the burden of the genetic programming his or her mind receives from birth. So we handicap our children from the word go. We never really give them a fair start, however misguidedly we give them all the best things in life!

The broken childhood

The child from a broken home suffers more than either of the separated parents. Its very childhood is robbed from it. The emotional stress of a broken home leaves a permanent scar on the child. The child develops psychosomatic disorders such as stammering, stuttering and schizophrenia, or gets into antisocial and criminal activities.

Most marriages break up for purely selfish reasons and for reasons of self-gratification of the adults. The needs and the feelings of the child are never considered. The parents can always choose another life partner, but the child has no such choice, as it is born with a set of parents!

When one or both parents die, the child may undergo enormous physical, mental and emotional stress. The child's mind has to rework relationships and adapt to new situations. In sadder terms, the child should be ready to stop being a child, and enter into the harsher, unprotective, working world of the adults, or to become an object of charity. The very uncle who used to bring chocolates for his 'little princess' everytime he visited in the past, now visits rarely, and looks at her askance.

The handicapped child

A handicapped child is under greater stress than its normal brother or sister. Right from birth, the handicap becomes a hurdle in the growth of the child. At every stage, the child has to bypass the use of one or more of its sense organs, such as the eye or ear; or tongue in the case of mutism; or of touch or movement in case of the loss of upper or lower limbs.

To some parents, a physically handicapped child or a backward child is a blow to their ego and to their own feelings of self-worth. The stress a handicapped child might face in such a family environment may be far greater because, in addition to its own handicap, the child has to live with its 'distressed' parents. The parents of such children themselves need special efforts to make them change their attitude, which might be causing stress alt round, including to themselves.

Sula Wolf, writing under Children Under Stress cites the example of a mentally handicapped child:

"Only when it was inescapably clear that Elizabeth would not manage the transition to an ordinary secondary school did the parents agree reluctantly to let her attend a school for educationally subnormal children. At once the child became happier and made friends. For the first time in her life, she found she could do some things better than other children.

At home, the mother found it no easier to tolerate her immaturity. When she lost her beret, allowed a four-year-old to break her watch or lost her season ticket on the bus, the mother could not contain her irritation.

The tantrums at home continued and the parents finally suggested it would be better for Elizabeth to be away from home in some institution where she could be 'trained'. In view of her good progress at the special school, the education authorities at first resisted such a plan. But after some months, the stresses at home became too much for the child. She began to steal both from her family and from school....".

One can only imagine the sad outcome.

The gifted child is handicapped, too

Exactly as the handicapped child finds itself distressed in a normal environment, the gifted child finds itself under stress too. Gifts of exceptionally high intelligence, the ability to memorise vast numbers, or to perform mathematical feats and such other talents may remain unrecognised or not understood. On the other hand, recognition of such talents has its own pitfalls. Over indulgence, orchestration of the child's every single moment, and the danger of becoming a performing poodle, performing on demand for the amusement of family and friends or for monetary gains.

Within the exceptional child itself, there is a discrepancy between its intellectual development which takes place at a faster pace and the comparatively slower physical and emotional development. In normal schools (unfortunately, there are hardly any special schools for exceptional children), the class work and other activities become uninteresting. Lack of interest is misinterpreted and punishments in various forms follow, and eventually the child may even become a wreck. Socially, the exceptional child is a loner, both in the family and in school, as his environment fails to cater to his special needs. He gets easily bored and frustration sets in, and he lands himself in a perpetually stressful life situation. In his search for diversion from stress, he may pick up harmful habits and practices.

Emotional stress

Children undergo great emotional, stress and are torn between their natural love and trust for the parents and their own natural inclination. With a cane in one hand and the purse string in the other, the father holds out the threat of physical harm or economic security. On the other hand, the mother smothers the child with love and mama's cooking, and in the case of a male child, the bond between the mother and son is often very-strong. Mothers are known even to resort to the emotional blackmail of their sons.

G. P. Anyan quotes a case history in Patient Management which is a classical example of the emotional crisis children undergo, particularly in the case of a mother-son relationship.

"A 10-year-old boy presented with multiple tics. He shrugged his shoulders, blinked repeatedly, screwed up his face into an odd shape, and flicked his right arm around. No obvious reason could be found for this behaviour. An experienced social worker visited the home, and after a couple of visits discovered the apparent reason.

The boy was a very good pianist, but he did not like the classical music he was made to play. He wanted to choose his own style of music and did not wish to complete his piano examination. Had he followed his own desire to play modern music, his mother would have been most upset. The lad found himself torn between his loyalty to his mother on the one hand, and his frank dislike of the classical music (which was so dear to her) on the other, and consequently he was in a quandary.

The doctor interviewed the family, a compromise was reached, and in a couple of months the tics had completely disappeared."

A stress-free home environment

The calm and peace of mind achieved through the practice of yoga influences even others who come in regular contact with the practitioner. It has greater impact on children in the family, for children pick up vibes from the parents. Stress and anxiety in one or both parents 'pass on' to the children, no matter how skilful is the attempt at camouflage.

Stress and education

Swami Yogabhakti Saraswati, a teacher of English and Yoga in France states in Yoga Education for Children that short yoga exercises before the lessons help to regain tranquillity and to increase the faculties of concentration of pupils. She also found that many children have problems with their families which disturb their ability to memorise and recommends that the physical, emotional and mental layers of the personality must be harmonised so that teaching can be effective.

Yoga is now being made part of the educational system in some of the States in India. Teachers from Government Schools in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa have been undergoing yoga training in Bihar School of Yoga. In the West, individuals and organisations are attempting to introduce yoga into the systems of education in their countries. RYE (Research on Yoga in Education) has been doing pioneering work in this direction.