Experts in UAE call for mental health support for toddlers to prevent future problems

Medics say separation anxiety can lead to disorders into adulthood and needs proper intervention

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Children only a few months old can feel anxiety and need mental health support to develop, experts in the country have claimed.

They said poor mental health can affect a child's sleep, eating and toilet habits, developmental milestones such as walking and even prevent some from gaining weight.

Dr Sneha John, a clinical psychologist at Camali Clinic, said the mental health of children was “something that is overlooked".

I see that separation anxiety is common and because of that children do not grow and develop as they should
Dr Sneha John

She said children as young as three months sensed different emotions and it was important to address mental health problems in two year olds as around that time they start making sense of the world.

"If I'm seeing about 15 children, I would say at least half have this issue," said Dr John.

“I see that separation anxiety is quite common.

“I see that they are just not physically growing and developing as they should. They're not eating right, or sleeping well, and one of the causes is stress. They have this anxiety when their parents leave them.

“I've seen that separation anxiety that starts so early in a child's life then develops into anxiety for everything else."

Dr John said routine was important to make children feel secure and nurseries should follow their set routine to ease them in.

Donna Wicks, head of therapy at Neuropedia, a UAE-based children’s neuroscience centre, said poor mental health in children is not acknowledged enough.

“We need to understand what mental health is and talk about it more because it does have an impact," she said.

She said that while disorders such as autism were being diagnosed early, sensory disorders were often not picked up.

She said training parents was important so they could teach children to look after themselves.

"So you put them down and say, 'I love you, I'll see you soon have a nice sleep.' And then you go back and walk away, and go back so the child learns from a young age that mummy and daddy aren't going to leave them," she said.

Louisa McCormack, principal of Ladybird Nursery Al Barsha, said some children suffered from anxiety when they start going to the nursery. The nursery accepts babies as young as six months.

"I definitely think mental health is paramount to a child's learning. When they feel secure, learning is more natural as they can have fun, express themselves and communicate better," she said.

"When a child is struggling with mental health, they're withdrawn.

“I think people don't see it as much of a concern but I think it's come to light since the pandemic.

“I've seen a child have severe anxiety when they're left by their parents and it's something that we have to work on gently, because anxiety in children can have a knock-on effect on their eating, sleeping and toilet habits."

She said caregivers often pass on their anxieties to children unknowingly.

“Parents have such an impact on how the child feels as the child understands a parent's worries," she said.

"You can tell an anxious parent when they come to the door and it's written on their face and on their child's face.”

Updated: December 03, 2022, 6:53 AM