Dr. R. McCarthy, in her capacity as an impressive female psychologist, has many articles, publications, researches and books in the UAE and abroad.
Disturbing trend: Swinging Couples in the UAE
Shocking but true - some couples in the UAE have been swapping partners By Sharmila Dhal, Senior reporter Published: 00:00 May 12, 2011 “Some do it on a regular...
How UAE schoolkids get their dope
Drug menace assumes frightening proposition in Dubai as children as young as 12 get hooked on mind-bending substances By Sharmila Dhal, Senior Reporter, XPRESS...
The science of love at first sight
Love at first sight as a concept still survives and is the basis of many a modern romantic comedy film or romance novel, but it has also been given credence through scientific research...
Treatment lags for eating disorders
Aug 10, 2010 Treatment and care for eating disorders in the UAE still lag behind those found in other parts of the world, forcing a growing number of people to travel abroad for help...
Feb 16, 2010 Oh, my achy breaky heart, Billy Ray, what is going on? The pictures that appeared recently of the Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus's sister, Noah, have certainly stirred up a storm...
Fears and phobias in children
Fears and phobias... kids face these on a daily basis. How can parents help them overcome these and move on? Lovely Claire D. Cachuela is a Dubai-based freelancer. Published: 00:00...
Disturbing trend: Swinging Couples in the UAE
Shocking but true - some couples in the UAE have been swapping partners
By Sharmila Dhal, Senior reporter
Published: 00:00 May 12, 2011
“Some do it on a regular basis... one to two times a month while others have indulged in it at some point in their lives” Dr Roghy McCarthy, Clinical Psychologist, Dubai
Dubai: A Dubai based psychologist has warned of a disturbing trend of partner swapping among couples living in the UAE.
Dr Roghy McCarthy, Clinical Psychologist of the Counselling and Development Clinic in Dubai, who is currently counselling four couples of different nationalities, told XPRESS that these couples had engaged in sexual activities with other couples in the privacy of their homes or social clubs abroad.
She has counselled 10 such cases over the past five years in the UAE.
The French doctor said swinging couples in a committed relationship like a marriage usually agree to engage in sexual activities with other couples for a variety of reasons which may not be the same for both partners.
Some do it for variety or curiosity while others look at it as a social interaction to satisfy their or their partners' sexual desires.
"The agreement is usually mutual but in most cases I have dealt with, one of the partners is a victim. One of them floats the idea and the other agrees just to keep the so-called marriage going for fear of breaking up the marriage for the sake of the children, financial comfort or social stigma of divorce," she said, noting that the couples are usually well-off.
Dr McCarthy said the couples come from different nationalities and are above the age of 20. "They are caught in an unequal marriage where one is ready to do anything to be accepted by the other."
Swinging is common in the West and does not involve money, she said, noting that it reflects a combination of voyeurism and exhibitionism, besides a deep sense of emotional insecurity among those involved.
"Couples come to us for marriage counselling and we chance upon their swinging when they open up about their intimacy," she said.
"Some do it on a regular basis which could be one to two times a month while others have indulged in it at some point in their lives."
"The partners do not connect with each other emotionally. They have no love or respect for one another, only a sense of emptiness which they seek to fill," she said.
"The victim in the relationship needs to gain self-esteem and confidence to be able to say no," said Dr McCarthy, noting the moral, physical and health-related dangers of such activities.
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How UAE schoolkids get their dope
Drug menace assumes frightening proposition in Dubai as children as young as 12 get hooked on mind-bending substances
By Sharmila Dhal, Senior Reporter, XPRESS
Published: 21:55 November 21, 2012
Too close for comfort: Drug consumption is getting too close for comfort with the average age of UAE schoolchildren involved down to 12
Dubai: Amit, 15, is a good student. He studies in an international school in Dubai and has many friends. Recently, one of them sent him an SMS: “I have got a new lot, would you be interested?”
Shrugging off the message, Amit said: “It’s nothing new. There are three, four boys in school who send these messages whenever they get a new supply of drugs. They get it from someone outside.”
If you think that’s brazen, think again. In August, the Public Prosecution interrogated two girl students who had in their possession 234 Flunitrazepam pills, a psychotropic substance. Last month, Dubai Police arrested a teenager who had been lured by an international gang to sell drugs to his school friends. And just last week the police arrested a 39-year-old man who had enrolled at a night school where he was selling banned painkillers and other drugs to young students.
In what is a chilling reality, drug peddling and consumption are getting too close for comfort as the supply chain seeps into the safety of homes and schools. The problem is so serious that Major General Abdul Jalil Mahdi Al Asmawi, Director of the General Department of Anti-Narcotics at Dubai Police, has issued a warning saying the average age of schoolchildren involved has fallen from 16 to 12.
“Some schools have the courage and morals to report children who are addicts in their school or those who sell drugs. I encourage all schools to report such cases to us in order to protect a whole generation,” he told Gulf News.
Last year, five cases of drug abuse were reported in schools. This year, Dubai Police have joined hands with many schools to wipe out the scourge by launching a campaign called ‘Together for Drug-Free Schools’. They also arrested 1,022 people in drug-related cases and banned 40 websites from where drugs are sourced. But the problem continues to plague society.
Name It, They’ve Tried It
Dubai-based clinical psychologist Dr Rory McCarthy said: “I consult 12 to 15 teenagers for various problems every month, and they’ve all done drugs at least once. You name it and they’ve tried it.” A 15-year-old who got hooked on a prescription drug he tried for better concentration; a boy who stashed 60 deodorants in his room for inhalation; a teen who consumed a homemade drug (nutmeg tea) and slipped into a coma; a group of clubbing teens who tripped on ecstasy; a 16-year-old who was high on butane on the ground floor of his home while his parents were having alcohol and hasish on a higher floor – there are many school kids abusing many substances in the UAE.
Cutting across nationalities, these kids are generally from affluent families with easy access to money, friends and social networking. While the internet remains a key site to place orders, dubious suppliers operate across the country, zeroing in on “weak” schoolchildren.
As the Dubai Courts investigates the case of a youth who had 2,600 Tramadol pills in his possession, the number of Emiratis arrested for using Tramadol without prescription in Dubai is said to have increased 54 per cent since 2011, and it has seen a 110 per cent rise among expatriates. Dubai Customs recently seized 91 million Tramadol pills and launched a campaign against its misuse among children as young as 12.
A popular painkiller, Tramadol – which costs just Dh16 for a pack of 10 tablets (50mg) was made a prescription drug only last year. Even so, it is widely available along with other drugs such as Artin and Camadrin.
“The basic thing with drugs or substances is that they give you a buzz. Young children who are impressionable take it to feel good, boost self-esteem, assert themselves or out of boredom, curiosity and peer pressure,” said Dr McCarthy. “They don’t think of the consequences.”
With the problem assuming frightening proporations, parents said they can no longer take the safety of their children for granted.
Deborah, mother of a teenager studying in an international school, said: “Schools are doing their best to be vigilant. But my nagging concern is that my 16-year-old could just succumb to peer pressure one day and try out something he shouldn’t. From what we hear, even smoking and alcohol are rampant. Some kids have been caught smoking on the school premises, but other students are generally tight-lipped about it. My son once received a warning from a boy who said he was having his “morning fix” and that he “better not tell anybody about it”.
She alleged: “After-school parties are common where kids as young as 13 and 14 are invited. They have no hesitation trying out anything they are offered as they want to look cool and fit in.”
Amit’s mother Sushma said she would never have known her son was being offered drugs if she had not chanced upon the SMS on his phone. “As far as I know, he has not bought or consumed drugs as I closely monitor him. But there’s only that much I can do when access is so easy and temptation so high.”
Early this month, another mother told the Dubai Criminal Court that the cannibis drug spice is so freely available that even the court could order some. Her son had just confessed to possessing and consuming the drug. With 5gm of the banned spice commanding a price of around Dh2,000, it is anybody’s guess how the children can afford it.
Sociologist Dr Rima Sabban said if it is true that children are sourcing drugs from the internet, it would require the use of credit cards. “This is a serious concern as it becomes a family issue. It is not easy for drugs to seep in if there is good monitoring both at home and in schools. If parents are too busy and leave children to their own, they could be influenced by third parties who are destructive.”
Dr McCarthy said substance abuse doesn’t necessarily entail big money. “Many children are addicted to substances that are household items which serve as vapour drugs like cleaning agents, paints, nail polish and sprays. They are generally available at home and can even be bought for small sums at neighbourhood groceries and supermarkets. We have also heard of cases where audacious children pinch prescription pills from their parents’ medicine cabinets.”
She said do-it-yourself drug tips from the internet are also taking their toll as in the case of a 15-year-old boy who made and consumed nutmeg tea with instructions from a website. He ended up in a coma for three days. “Parents should constantly look out for danger signs among children and promptly seek professional and medical help (see box).”
The authorities are also urging parents to treat those addicted to drugs as patients and send them to rehabilitation centres. In the five cases of drug abuse among school students last year, parents were asked to get their children medically treated and the peddlers were tracked down and arrested.
Note: Some names have been changed to protect identity
Helpline: The number to call to help fight the drug menace: 800400400
The signs that parents and teachers should look out for in children include hostility, mood swings, excessive laughter, depression, withdrawn behaviour, secretiveness, making excuses, lethargy, poor concentration, sleep problems, change in friends, runny eye and nose and poor appetite.
Once a drug problem is identified, medical treatment must immediately be sought as addiction can lead to breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, muscle atrophy, convulsions, chronic depression, hallucinations, aggression, epilepsy, coma and even death.
‘Family is first line of defence’
Dubai: The family is the first line of defence against drugs, a top police official said.
“It’s all about the family, that’s where battles are won or forever lost,” Major General Abdul Jalil Mahdi Mohammad Al Asmawi, Director of the General Department of Anti-Narcotics at Dubai Police, told XPRESS. “If there is love in the family and it is closely knitted, drug mules would have little or no chance of getting sons or daughters hooked on drugs.”
According to him, drug peddlers pick out poor students and get them hooked on drugs by providing them free supplies. Once they are addicted, they start charging for drugs. Unable to afford their high price, the addicted students turn into drug mules and end up supplying drugs to their classmates. “The most commonly used drugs are Tramadol and a new drug which is called Spice and looks like grass,” said Al Asmawi.
He said families, schools and in some cases even classmates call up their free hotline to seek help for a student hooked on dope. “Most students become addicts after being lured by friends, or when travelling abroad for studies or on vacation,” said Al Asmawi.
He said: “We provide students with special treatment. We do not expose them at school, and if we do ever need to speak with them, we do so in the presence of a guidance counsellor and a family member. “
He said the family is the most important entity in the fight against drugs. “If parents keep a close eye on their kids and befriend them, traffickers will not be able to get ahold of kids. Most kids we deal with come from broken Families.
© Gulf News
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The science of love at first sight
Love at first sight as a concept still survives and is the basis of many a modern romantic comedy film or romance novel, but it has also been given credence through scientific research. A number of studies carried out in recent years conclude that it is in fact physically possible due to the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the intellect and cognitive functions - producing a feeling of euphoria.
Professor Stephanie Ortigue of Syracuse University in the US carried out a study in October 2010 on the subject and published her findings in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. She found that the quick release of chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenalin and vasopressin, some of which act in tandem, create a high that could be called falling in love.
"The findings beg the question, does the heart fall in love or the brain?" she says. "I would say the brain, but the heart is also related because the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa. For instance, activation in some parts of the brain can generate stimulation of the heart and butterflies in the stomach. Symptoms we feel as a manifestation of the heart may sometimes be coming from the brain. These results confirm that feelings of love have a scientific basis."
Another study by C Neil Macrae, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College in the UK, published in the November 2002 issue of Psychological Science, suggests that ovulation heightens a woman's response to the pheromone androstenol, typically found in males. The study also suggests increased response to the sight of strong male facial features, such as an angled chin or a large forehead, that emphasise characteristics such as strength, aggression or dominance, which are likely to appeal to women looking for masculine mates.
Females, he says, prefer faces with typically male characteristics during ovulation and those with feminine traits at other points of their menstrual cycle. Meanwhile, men's notions of what is attractive (such as ideal hip-to-waist ratio) remain relatively constant over time.
And it seems there may be some truth to the bow and arrow theory. Macrae's study also found that a direct gaze was more likely to stimulate a response in the opposite sex.
So it may be physically possible, but just because you fall in love instantly does not mean your relationship will last, according to Dr Salida Afridi, a clinical psychologist at the Human Relations Institute Dubai.
"I consider love to be more than just an initial attraction; it's about being invested in another person's emotional and spiritual growth," Afridi says. "There are deeper issues than just beauty and attraction at play. So while it's possible to fall for someone initially on a superficial level, you have to work to keep the relationship alive."
What's more, she adds, the younger we are, the less developed our definition of love. "When we are young we don't understand the meaning of true love. We are more likely to think that love at first sight will last. Unfortunately this is not the case unless we work at it. Otherwise it typically lasts anywhere between three to four months and three to four years."
Dr Roghy McCarthy, who runs the Counselling and Development Clinic in Dubai, agrees. "A relationship is like a plant," she says. "If you do not feed it and water it and look after it, it will not grow and eventually it will shrivel up and die." She identifies four stages in a healthy marriage: love, commitment, honesty and respect - and says it is essential to have all four qualities for a relationship to last.
And she believes men are more likely to fall in love at first sight than women. "A man falls in love and instantly wants to possess a woman. Even if the woman is not in love with him she can be persuaded. However, it is rare for a woman to persuade a man who is not in love with her."
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Treatment lags for eating disorders
Aug 10, 2010
Treatment and care for eating disorders in the UAE still lag behind those found in other parts of the world, forcing a growing number of people to travel abroad for help. There are no specialist centres in the UAE to treat anorexia or bulimia patients, leaving sufferers to seek help in countries such as the UK, Switzerland or the US.
This not only disrupts families, but also increases the chances of relapse, experts warn. Dr Roghy McCarthy, a psychologist who has worked in the UAE for more than a decade, said the number of people affected is increasing rapidly, particularly among young men. The country's first study of the illness, released last year, found that almost one in 50 girls have anorexia. "Eating disorders need handling by a big team, not just one person," said Dr McCarthy. "I can diagnose and give suggestions, but they need more than that.
"Most of the time they need to be in hospital, and they don't have the facilities here." Patients with an eating disorder often require a support team of about 10, including nutritionists, therapists, counsellors, physicians, specialist nurses and psychologists. They also often need surveillance to ensure they are not trying to burn extra calories by pacing or standing for long periods of time, Dr McCarthy said.
"It needs constant care and all-round treatment," she said. "It's a very complicated illness to treat." Dr McCarthy has often been forced to refer many of her anorexic and bulimic patients to professionals in other countries. "If they are not treated properly it costs more to society," she added. "It can carry on and affect their marriage and children." Results of a study released last year by the UAE University in Al Ain showed that in a test group of 900 girls aged 13 to 19, 1.8 per cent of them had an eating disorder.
The study noted that "of concern is the relative frequency among UAE [national] girls, 14 in 365, compared to foreign girls, three in 372". According to the UK charity Beat, up to one per cent of British women are affected by the illness. Dr Justin Thomas, an assistant professor of natural sciences and public health at Zayed University, studied eating attitudes and body image concerns among the university's female students.
He found that almost a quarter of the 228 students questioned had abnormal eating attitudes, putting them at risk of developing anorexia or bulimia. With better prevention and treatment, he said, the numbers might not be so high. "There is no specialist provision here," he said. "There are a few therapists who have had limited experience with these disorders, but they are quite difficult to treat, especially anorexia."
The lack of awareness could also contribute to an increase in incidence. If young women are not fully aware of the dangers, he added, they could adopt an attitude of "wanting a little bit of that". "They need to realise that eating disorders are extremely dangerous," he said. "They can cause irreversible reproductive problems, excess hair and cause nails to fall out. "The problem is without the awareness they might not look to find proper treatment anyway."
SE, a 20-year-old Arab living in the UAE, confirms Dr Thomas's theory. She admits to purging for the past year, but is unable to fully accept her bulimia. "I've been bulimic for over a year," she said. "I don't think there is anything wrong with me, I just know I am fat, and I am not imagining it. "I didn't seek help, and I am not planning to, there is no one that will understand. No one I know who is bulimic needed help, so why do I? It is not a big deal."
She maintains that her health is good and she has "lost a lot of weight", but admits that it "is hard to stop" the bulimic behaviour. Without more detailed statistics, Dr Thomas estimates that the rates of bulimia, particularly among the local population, were "at least" comparable to rates in the West. "Students tell me that in every high school for Emiratis there was an outbreak of anorexia, and the schools flew in a group of specialists to do awareness raising around the issue."
Dr Rami al Shihabi, a senior clinical psychologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, said about three per cent of his cases in the past three years suffered from anorexia or bulimia. The hospital doesn't have a specialist clinic for the diseases, but offers some in-patient treatment. "I usually don't co-ordinate with other departments because of lack of time and so many patients on caseload," he said. "But I do ask my clients to seek out dietitians or nutritionists for additional help."
Health authorities were unavailable for comment. email@example.com * With additional reporting by Ola Salem
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Feb 16, 2010
Oh, my achy breaky heart, Billy Ray, what is going on? The pictures that appeared recently of the Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus's sister, Noah, have certainly stirred up a storm. The clothes that she has been spotted wearing are from the line launched by her best pal and fellow child star, Emily Grace Reaves, aged nine, which has attracted criticism in the US for being too similar to women's lingerie. This is not the first time Noah has caused a stir. She was shown posing on the red carpet at Jamie Lee Curtis's Halloween party wearing a short strappy dress and knee-high PVC boots. An outfit all black and purple; all the better to complement her berry lipstick and black eyeliner. It sounds like the average celebrity's bad stylist day, but the controversial part of this is that Noah is just 10 years old.
Noah's older sister, Miley, came in for her fair share of criticism as did their father, over a photo shoot for Vanity Fair in June 2008. Miley, then 15, posed topless for the photographer Annie Leibovitz wearing just a bed sheet to protect her modesty. It seems the Cyruses haven't learnt from the furore that caused, which led Miley to issue a press release apologising to her legions of fans. But it's not just the Hannah Montana crew who err on the controversial side of style. Just last week, the British glamour model Katie Price, aka Jordan, was criticised by her ex-husband, Peter Andre, for posting pictures of their two-year-old daughter on Facebook wearing lip gloss, eyeshadow and what appears to be her mother's false eyelashes. Andre was reported to be fuming, having previously objected to Price using hair straighteners on their daughter and dyeing their four-year-old son's hair blonde. And let's not forget the pictures of Suri Cruise wearing nail varnish at the age of two and this year tottering around in high heels.
It's fair to say that parents come under a lot of pressure from their daughters to allow them to dress a certain way. Cosmetics and clothes are marketed directly to young girls through children's magazines, plastered with pictures of their style icons Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez and the cast of High School Musical, and in shops. Even in the UAE, where we are spared the worst excesses of such displays of pre-pubescent girls dressed provocatively, there are opportunities for young girls to dress like, and do things previously reserved for, their mothers.
Nearly every nail bar in Abu Dhabi and Dubai offers a "princess" manicure or pedicure for girls as young as two. In Dubai, a children-only spa opened four months ago. Here, young girls are offered manicures and pedicures as well as facials and makeovers. Although the nail polishes used are non-toxic and water-based, is the message these little girls receiving really so harmless? Dr Roghy McCarthy, a clinical psychologist at the Counselling and Development Clinic in Dubai, says that young girls who habitually leave the house wearing make-up and adult-style clothes are missing out on opportunities to play what psychologists refer to as "symbolic games" or pretend play. "Children used to take a little bit of Mummy's make-up to play with, but they knew it was pretend games, trying to be like Mummy. But now it has become real," says McCarthy. "It's not: 'I want to be like my mum', it is now 'I am like Mum'."
Symbolic games are important, McCarthy says, because "it teaches them to understand and empathise being like someone else. When a child takes a doll in their arms and rocks it like Mummy, this imitation helps them develop and become a normal adult in society. If children miss out on this, there can be serious communication and adjustment problems." She is particularly worried by the messages that young girls send out, albeit unwittingly, by wearing such provocative clothes. "Parents are pushing sexuality without realising the consequences. They are putting innocent children in a dangerous situation, making them more vulnerable," McCarthy warns.
She adds that she sees increasing numbers of children suffering from anxiety. "I see a lot of children with low self-esteem, who are anxious about being accepted by others and who are being bullied." A lot of that bullying relates to girls who are picked on for not being up to date with the latest trends, McCarthy says. "There are girls as young as eight or nine who are bullied at school for not following the fashion, for not going to the nail parlour and buying the right clothes."
Kristy Warneford, an Australian who lives with her family in Abu Dhabi, has two daughters, aged seven and three. She thinks parents need to acknowledge responsibility for what their children wear, but at the same time should be cut some slack to adjust to the realities of modern life. "You have to look at it in the context of how we live. When it's really hot, we take them to play centres and to mani-pedi places. It really is a lesser evil; they're not wearing fishnets and long boots."
There's no point hankering after some 1950s ideal, Warneford says "The days of floral pinafores and traipsing through fields of daisies are not realistic and not going to be recaptured. You've got to move with the times. My daughter likes to wear skinny jeans and rock 'n' roll T-shirts. It's an expression of who she is and what she likes. As long as she's not going out in lairy gear, I don't mind."
The companies selling children's cosmetics and scaled-down adult clothes are playing on young girls' desires to be like Mummy. But ultimately, the companies' goals are sales. As parents, our goals are to protect our children and enable them to grow into healthy and balanced adults. As McCarthy says: "If you do all these things by the time you are 18, then what are you going to do when you are in your twenties?"
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Fears and phobias in children
Fears and phobias... kids face these on a daily basis. How can parents help them overcome these and move on? Lovely Claire D. Cachuela asks an expert.
Lovely Claire D. Cachuela is a Dubai-based freelancer
Published: 00:00 January 14, 2011
While Angel (left) has nightmares of being chased by a monster, Amiel fears that their mom will abandon them.
You play the DVD of The Jungle Book, wanting to share your sense of joy and adventure with your four year old, hoping he will enjoy the escapades of Mowgli as much as you did when you saw the movie the first time. However, that's not what happens. Instead the moment he sees Kaa, the slithering Indian python, or Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger with a gruff voice, he cringes with fear, until finally halfway through the film he erupts into a raucous bawl that nearly flips you out. No amount of hushing and shushing him can calm him down. All that is left to do is click off the movie.
What can have been so scary in a cartoon film you wonder? Why is your child reacting to a cartoon tiger with fear? Where does this fear stem from? Is it just your child? As a dozen more disquieting questions flood your mind, you are compelled to ask yourself: Did I do something wrong as a parent to make my child fearful? Then it strikes you that it was only last night that you threatened him with a visit from ‘The Bogeyman' if he didn't finish his dinner. Was that a serious offence?
"Fear of the monsters is part of the human subconscious collective fears. When our heroes are fighting against the monsters or giants that come in all shapes - like a snake with two heads or dragons - we believe that monsters mean harm and we need to protect ourselves from them," explains Dr Roghy McCarthy, a renowned psychologist who runs a Counselling and Development Clinic in Jumeirah, Dubai; and author of a children's educational colouring book titled Learn to say NO. She talks of the reasons why children develop fears - valid as well as illogical.
According to Dr McCarthy, the common sources of fear are experience (trauma) and the environment.
For instance, take ten-year-old Gen Lim, who was bitten by a neighbour's pet dog when she was five. Prior to this event, she used to enjoy playing with pets - both cats and dogs. However, this single incident not only scarred her physically, but emotionally as well. No amount of encouragement from her parents could once again get Gen to feed her own pet dogs or even play with them. Even if a dog barked in some far corner of her neighbourhood, she would cower in fear.
Ben Ross, seven, shares a room with his older brother Robbie, eight - a big fan of horror films. Every time Robbie played a DVD in their room, Ben had no choice but to listen and sometimes watch these films. As a consequence, instead of being entertained, Ben would quite often wake up in a cold sweat, staring into dark space, and imagining that monsters were lurking behind the curtains in his room. The fear would wipe out any chance of going back to sleep and he would lie there until he could summon up the courage to crawl out of his bed and run to the safety of his parents' room.
Once his parents realised that the root cause of Ben's problem was the horror films their elder son constantly watched, they decided to take the TV out of the kids' room and supervise all the movies and television programmes their sons could watch. To help Ben overcome his fear of these films, they asked him if he would like to watch one of the films along with them. His parents would sit on either side of him and explain to him what was going on in the movie. They reassured him that covering his eyes during scary scenes did not mean he was being "chicken". His mom told him to think about popcorn whenever he felt scared. To that end they started to eat popcorn while watching movies. The trick worked and Ben began to assure himself that all of those creatures were just part of the stories he saw on film and could not harm him in any which way. "Eating popcorn is a harmless even enjoyable activity that, when done during a movie, helps deflect scary thoughts - popcorn being associated with movie theatres/ entertainment, somehow signifies the fantastic [unreal] nature of horror films," explains Dr McCarthy.
These examples, Dr McCarthy says, illustrate that fear manifests itself quite early in humans. "The word fear describes the thoughts, feelings and behaviour that occur when a child has the perception of some sort of danger. This means that most kinds of fears are not universal. Fear of water and of animals are examples.
"However, some of the fears are natural, innate, universal and without any social reason. Like falling from a height or fear of a strange person.
"Children develop the latter when they are about nine months old. At this age, while infants learn to identify ‘mama', ‘dada' and other family members, they also develop a fear of strange faces. But it need not be a matter of concern as it is part of their growing process," explains Dr McCarthy.
"All infants are born with three basic [natural] instinctive fears: fear of sudden movement; fear of loud or abrupt voices or sounds; and fear of sudden approach. Some of the fears are based on sensory experience - like a loud sound. Children, on their own, usually outgrow their anxieties, but it usually helps if the parents or guardians are supportive and understanding when it comes to addressing persistent types of fear." The difference between fears and anxiety, she explains, is fears are based on danger that is bound to happen, but anxiety is based on danger that might happen. For example, you could always fear that your loved one might have an accident on the way to meet you. Gradually that fear can develop into an anxiety. "For example, fear of strangers turns into social anxiety."
Some of these fears are in accordance with age. Like fear of animals; or fear of the darkness (which happens at a young age); or fear of being rejected or social anxiety that typically occurs during adolescence.
Nightmares, night terrors and fear of darkness...
To wake up to the noise of a child screaming in his sleep is both stressful and unnerving for parents.
For child psychologists, it is important to make a distinction between nightmares and night terrors, so that parents know what to do when faced with the situation.
Dr McCarthy explains that night terrors usually happen within an hour of falling asleep. This is when the child suddenly wakes up from a state of deep sleep into a state of panic and the episode may last for a couple of minutes with the child having no recollection of what brought about the screaming episode. Once the night terror episode is over, the child is usually able to resume sleeping very quickly.
A nightmare, on the other hand, usually happens in the early morning and children can usually recall in great detail the events in their frightful dream and sometimes have difficulty falling asleep. One way to help your child relax would be to hold him or her tight and try to lull the child back to sleep with a soft soothing voice. Nightmares usually stem from real anxieties or specific problems, and knowing that you're around as your child goes back to sleep will bring some sense of safety and calm. If parents feel that the problem is recurring, then they should consult a psychologist. Psychotherapy, behaviour management, and if necessary the brief pharmacotherapy of hypnotic medication by a child psychiatrist or a child neurologist, can be considered useful methods to eliminate the symptoms of this condition.
Angel, nine, very often dreams of lying in a hammock in a dark place and suddenly being chased by a giant. In order to escape the approaching giant, he finds himself running for his life. He can see nothing in the pitch black space ahead of him, but he just keeps on running - then he wakes up from his nightmare.
What are the underlying causes of Angel's fears?
Dr McCarthy says that the fear of the dark is common among school age children. "In all cultures, darkness brings unknown situations. In children's literature, you will find a lot of things happening at night. Rumpelstiltskin (the famed character from the well-known fairy tale of the same name) - gabbling and ghosts, etc - these are what we call a collective subconscious fear of the unknown, which transfers to us from our caveman ancestors.
"Fear of the darkness is a natural fear, it is not persistent, but some children may keep it until adolescence.
"That is the reason why sometimes a child will refuse to go to the toilet alone if he or she has to walk past a dark hallway and into an unlit bathroom. Some children even hide their compulsion to use the toilet just to avoid going there alone.
"One way of addressing this fear is by keeping your child company when he or she has to go to a place [such as a bathroom] alone. Stay close to the door or keep the door ajar as your child uses the toilet and talk in a soothing voice if your child wishes to converse. Keep the lights in the hallway on or keep on a lamp. As the activity is repeated and becomes routine, your child will eventually overcome his/her fear," she says.
"Parents need to take their children's fear and anxiety seriously. If they are not addressed properly it will interfere in a child's healthy development. For example, an anxious child will develop low self-esteem and social isolation.
Separation anxiety manifests itself in excessive anxiety concerning separation from a mother or other individual that a child is attached to. Normally, the child is worried that he or she will lose the attached person or possible harm will come to him or her. These children are afraid of being alone at home without major attachment figures and normally refuse to go to sleep because they think that something bad will happen to their parents. In separation anxiety, children complain of physical symptoms like stomach ache, vomiting, etc.
This kind of fear is usually considered to be a sign of development among toddlers, says Dr McCarthy. "We have noticed that while the kids are still under two, they do not get anxious if they do not see their parents around them for a long period of time, even though they might cling to them while they are around. Once they grow older, most toddlers refuse to be separated from their parents and grow extremely anxious whenever mom or dad goes out of the house.
"In such cases, it's usually better to explain to them why you have to go and say a proper goodbye instead of sneaking or skulking out of the house. Once the baby realises that mom and dad are going to be away for a few hours and not for good, he will be able to adjust to the temporary absence of either one or both parents."
Amiel, eight, Angel's younger brother for example, has come to accept that his mother needs to leave the house for work every day in the morning and will come back home by 7pm. "If she is getting delayed, then she should call us and let us know. Otherwise, we will be really worried about her," says the little boy.
For ten-year-old, Megan and her sister Meher, who is 11, the story is not very different. The two girls are fine if their parents go out of town during their school days, but they get anxious if this happens over the weekend - leaving them in the care of a relative.
School phobia or school refusal...
Children with separation anxiety can develop school phobia. Statistics of children with school phobia show that 20 per cent will develop serious problems and 60 per cent will develop adjustment problems in adult life.
"Sudden changes or transitions can also be a source of anxiety for children. For example, moving to a new neighbourhood, the loss or death of a pet, the first day of school, etc, can trigger off extreme anxieties amongst kids," explains Dr McCarthy.
"School phobia is more than just a dislike for coming to school [usually referred to as truancy]. Children who do not like school can come to school without fear, but try to avoid going to school because they would rather be doing something else such as playing at home or catching butterflies.
"Genuine school phobia is usually physically manifested in different ways such as cold sweats, paleness, trembling and frequent urination. Children who are afraid of going to school may make up all kinds of excuses not to attend their classes, even by faking an illness. What causes such anxieties to occur in certain children is also varied.
"Sometimes children who are overly-protected by their parents, fear the thought of leaving the care of their parents, even if it just for a few hours of schoolwork. Others may have developed a fear-based attitude towards school according to what they hear about teachers and how they discipline children. Some other causes could be trauma, bereavement, prolonged absence due to an illness and many others.
"Parents can help their kids adjust to changes such as going [or going back] to school, by giving their child constant reassurance that school is a good place to learn new things. For kids who are going to school for the very first time, it usually helps if the parent stays outside the classroom for the first few days, gradually reducing the time of stay and then completely leaving the child behind once he/she has gained confidence, made friends/playmates and begins trusting the teacher. It is always a good thing to get to know your child's teachers and friends to understand of how the child is doing and what he/she is going through," adds Dr McCarthy.
"To help children overcome their trepidation of sudden changes, parents must try to prepare their children by explaining what leads to such events and even why they happen."
Fear of animals, needles and more
Meher has been experiencing frightening dreams and the fear born of these dreams disables her daily ability to feel normal and happy. Terrified of snakes, Meher says she started having nightmares about them when she was about four or five. Usually, the trigger would be being in a strange place. Though the frequency of these nightmares has reduced considerably over the years, she continues to be victimised by her nightmares.
Mira, age seven, on the other hand, is scared of bees. She once saw her playmate, who had been stung by a bee, getting "all swollen" and having difficulty breathing before being rushed to a hospital. The sight of her friend in pain, scared her so much that she continues to avoids being in a garden by herself.
"For most children, needles, clinics and hospitals are sources of fear. Children associate hospitals or clinics with crying babies and children, sickness or being unwell. Add to this, the experience of being vaccinated several times and the child has a not-so-nice opinion of why they should keep away from clinics and hospitals altogether. The painful prick of the needle is not something a child would miss in spite of the soothing voice of his parent, the nurse or the doctor. And the bigger the needle, all the worse the experience will be for a child.
"I remember seeing a child faint at the sight of a needle during a routine booster shot in a children's clinic. The little girl just passed out and had to be revived later. Her mom helped her calm down as the doctor explained why the booster shot was required. Later, rather unwillingly, she let the doctor inject her as she clutched at her teddy bear.
"Other common childhood fears are: fear of falling, fear of performance, fear of rejection/failure, fear of monsters, fear of parent's divorce or family break-up and many others.
"Whatever the source of fear, parents and other caring authority figures must learn to help the child overcome the anxieties that keep them from enjoying a happy and healthy childhood," believes Dr McCarthy.
How can Parents Help Kids Overcome Fears?
First of all, says Dr McCarthy, find the source of fear. For example, your five-year-old daughter has been invited to attend a children's birthday party, and she refuses to go. If you child has never gone to a birthday party before, then this is quite understandable and you may need to accompany her to the birthday party and remain until she feels comfortable enough to be left alone with the other kids and the party entertainers.
The duration in which children can overcome fear also depends on the personality of the child and how the children see their parents handle fear. If your child sees you jump at the sight of a cockroach or a mouse, they may pattern their reaction towards these creatures after yours.
Situations vary among different individuals. I know of one person who never learned to swim because her mom always feared that her daughter would drown. She just warned her daughter to stay away from the deep end of the pool and to never go into the sea.
Then there's this man who grew up with a passive father who was always fearful of what others thought. The son was a lot like his father until his early teens until he outgrew this type of personality, gained confidence and grew up to become a chief of police.
Fears are a part of growing up. What you need to do is get to know and respect your child's fears, allow them to slowly work through the source (the use of force or overexposure to the source of fear will not help), understand how your child can cope with their fears and see if you may need to intervene. Educate yourself on the various kinds of fear children may experience to better equip yourself in guiding them.
When is it Time to Call a Professional?
Fears, as mentioned earlier, are feelings that children typically outgrow through the years as they learn, understand and get gradually exposed to the sources of their anxieties.
However, when these fears become unusually disruptive and turn into phobias, parents may no longer be able to properly address the situation and may need to consult a guidance counsellor, child psychologist or any qualified professional.
Fear is considered disruptive and serious if it interrupts the child's normal development. In the case of phobias, the fear is magnified to a point that it overwhelms the sufferer, hampering his ability to function normally leading to childhood depression.
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New book cautions children against abuse
Dubai Police distributes 15,000 copies of a book that educates children on spotting the danger signs of abuse
The book carries a number of tips for children and parents that will prove invaluable in the fight against sexual predators in our society.
Dubai: Remember to say ‘No' if the school bus driver says, "Stay, I will drop everybody and then you.'
Remember to say ‘No' if the driver says, "Come and sit on my lap, I will teach you how to drive."
Remember to say ‘No' if the driver tries to touch you and threatens to hurt you if you tell your mother.
A book carrying these tips - along with many more - is doing the rounds of schools in Dubai.
According to its psychologist-author, Dr Roghy McCarthy of the Counselling and Development Clinic, Dubai, the Dubai Police has distributed 15,000 copies of the bilingual book - in Arabic and English - in schools to educate young children to stay guarded against sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Titled Learn to Say NO, the 24-page book has adopted a cartoon, activity format where children are required to colour visuals depicting potential scenarios of abuse. Below each cartoon is the lesson to be imbibed in a short message.
"While the book may have cartoon characters, each lesson is based on real-life instances in the region," Dr McCarthy told XPRESS. She said children must be made aware that abusers include not just strangers but also familiar faces like servants, drivers, neighbours, friends or even family members.
"Children grow up in the belief that an adult is always right. But we need to teach them the fine line between respecting adults and protecting themselves," she said.
She said one common problem in the region is that of "affluence negligence", where children grow up in the care of servants. Hence, she has added tips that remind the child to say ‘No' if the housemaid insists on helping her to have a bath or asks the child to put cream on her back or woos the child into the servant quarters.
"We must encourage children to scream, shout, run - and report - any such instance without being ashamed of it," she said.
"I would like to reach more children with the co-operation of the Dubai Police," she said, adding that she is willing to conduct workshops to educate both teachers and children about how to handle different scenarios. "I conducted workshops free of cost in some schools last year," she said, adding that the colouring book is also free.
‘We are patient’
The country is waiting with bated breath for the trial to begin. More so, the victim's family. "But we are patient," said the father of the four-year-old student of Modern High School who is alleged to have been sexually assaulted on the school bus by the driver and two conductors while returning home on November 11.
"Keeping in mind the way the police and judiciary move back home in India, I can say that the pace here is supersonic," he told XPRESS on Wednesday.
"I am sure there is a process and things are moving at their natural pace," he said.
Expressing satisfaction about the way police have handled the case so far, he said, "They are doing their part.
"I have full faith in the police and the judicial system," he added. S.D.
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