Minor problems of childhood

Shyness is a common problem, to some extent a universal one, of childhood. Shy children often feel more confident with younger children, whom they can help and in whose games they can take the lead. The age difference does not matter: it helps the older children learn the social skills they need to get along with their peers; as their confidence grows they will be drawn more towards children of their own age. Children stand a better chance of overcoming shyness, and developing the qualities they will need to make friends throughout their lives, if their own family is fairly sociable, has plenty of contacts with the outside world and often has friends to visit. Parents should include their children in these occasions, but without drawing attention to them or making too-obvious attempts to force them to join in. Likewise, children can be encouraged to ask their own friends home to play after school or during weekends and holidays. If a child appears seriously unable to make friends, the best plan for parents is to talk to the teachers who know the child best and see if they can discover the cause. Professional help should be sought if the problem persists.

Most children go through periods when they are ‘off school, perhaps because they have had a quarrel with a friend, or problems with a particular teacher. They may develop vague stomach aches or headaches that necessitate a day at home. This often enables them to get the problem, whatever it is, into perspective, so that they go back cheerfully next day. A few children, however, persistently refuse to go to school, not

Usually because of any particular dislike of it, but because they fear separation from their family. This kind of behaviour is different from that of the cheerful truant, who may go to school readily, then abscond, or who is prepared to go on some days of the week but not on others.

School refusal is most common at around the age of 14, but it also occurs in this younger age group, and is common at the transition from infant to primary, or primary to secondary school.

Children who develop this problem have often been overprotected by their parents. Their evident distress makes parents even more anxious, so that they may perpetuate the problem by allowing, or even encouraging, the child to stay away from school. A prolonged absence may allow other difficulties to develop, such as loss of contact with friends and falling behind in work. This will make it even harder for the child to return. If parents find they are unable to persuade a child who is refusing school to go back, they may need advice from a teacher or a psychologist to discover the emotional problems causing this behaviour.

Occasional bed-wetting by children of school age is nothing to worry about. Wetting during the day is not uncommon when children first start school, either because they become engrossed in what they are doing and forget to go, or because they dislike using < Corporal punishment; in ^ most countries, fortunately, a B thing of the past. If H v <4 schoolchild can take on part of the task of caring for “”£ smaller brothers and sisters.

The school lavatories. However, about seven percent of boys and three per cent of girls still wet regularly at night by the age of seven, and a few of these are also wet during the day. For the child’s own sake (because other children are not kind to bed-wetters) and self-esteem, to assume that he will ‘grow out of it’ or is a “late developer’ is not enough. The family doctor can tell parents about treatment. The night-time bell-and-pad method, in which a buzzer sounds as the child starts to wet, waking him, is nearly always successful, although it may take two or three months to affect a complete cure.

Drugs can be given for a short period for a special reason, if the child is spending the weekend away with a friend, for example. They help temporarily to prevent the problem but do not cure it. By the age of five most children remain awake throughout the day and sleep throughout the night. Many children will, however, experience periods when they have difficulty in falling asleep. Most grow out of the problem usually within one or two months of its onset. But if sleeplessness becomes a persistent problem the child should be referred to a doctor, who may prescribe sedatives for a short while. Every child is frightened at sometime by nightmares, but these usually start to become a problem only after the age of four when children can be easily disturbed by frightening incidents or television programmes. Sometimes nightmares are an indicator that the child is under stress as a result of problems at home or at school.

Sleepwalking is less common, but may also be a sign of stress.

The best remedy for any kind of nocturnal disturbance is comfort and reassurance from the parents, but a habit should not be made of allowing the child into the parental bed because, once formed, this can be an extremely difficult habit to break.