Vietnam children left alone shrink into themselves

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Khanh My spends most of her time watching television, and abhors outdoor activities.

The five-year-old weighs just 13 kilograms, pushes away food and sleeps very little.

She was brought to the Children's Hospital No.1 in Ho Chi Minh City for examination recently and was diagnosed with "attachment disorder."

Doctors say many children "withdrawing" from the world have been rushed to hospital by their panicking parents, but the truth is that the lack of parental care is the direct cause of this psychiatric condition.

Her mother, Le Thuy, said that My had to live away from her parents from when she was just one year old, as both her parents were working and could not afford a nanny.

She was sent off to Thuy's parents in the northern province of Nghe An when Thuy's brother had just had a baby boy. Given Vietnamese patriarchal traditions, attention was lavished on the boy at the expense of My.

Thuy brought My back a year later when she was 2, sending her to a nursery during the day. But then the husband went to work overseas and there were nights Thuy had to put her daughter to sleep with relatives nearby if she had shifts beginning at 5 a.m.

This lasted for several months until My demanded to sleep at home, and was alone for two hours until the relatives picked her up at 7 a.m. for school.

Thuy said she would have been happy if that meant her daughter was independent, but she has grown to be more demanding instead.

She began crying for two to three hours every night before sleeping for no specific reason, and Thuy resorted to beating her when both sweet and hard words failed to work.

The girl also insisted on watching TV anytime she got home, failing which she would cry and throw a tantrum, something that she did when the teacher refused any of her demands.

She soon fell behind her friends at school, still unable to distinguish between colors or tell the right from the left hand.

The city pediatric hospital recently examined 6-year-old Nguyen Gia Huy with the same condition.

Huy came from a rich family and his busy parents could afford caregivers, but they kept hiring one after another because the latter failed to meet the family's high standards. The boy was left to adapt to a different caregiver every couple of months until he shut himself out, staying away from people, food and sleep.

His parents took him to hospital after he started to have problems studying and his teachers suggested that he be transferred to a special facility.

Pham Ngoc Thanh, a psychiatrist at the hospital, said attachment disorder can be seen mostly in children whose parents are usually absent, leaving them in the hands of a caregiver.

"Parents should spend as much time as possible with their children.

"And it gets worse if a child has to adapt constantly to different caregivers."

Thanh said a child's mental and emotional development very much depends on the connection with its mother during the pregnancy and the first year, thus the condition can even happen at embryo stage if the mother carries negative emotions like stress or depression and does not pay attention to the baby or make contact with it.

Children of divorced couples, those who are sent to nurseries too early without adequate preparation or put in front of the television early and often, are also prone to the condition.

The doctor said the disorder starts when the children's demand for their parents, through cries for example, are not met, leaving the children to feel frustrated and shrink into their own world.

Such patients usually grow up to be moody people with unstable behavior and social relationships, suffer from poor focus, stunted growth, sleep disorders and obesity.

Thanh said emotional problems can transfer to physical pains like stomachache, headache, fatigue, difficulty in breathing, skin conditions, seizures, constipation and even fainting, like many children that are brought to his hospital.

"We cannot at times trace out the normal causes of their conditions, but they usually have the problems of lack of parental attention, difficulties in studying, forming and maintaining relationships with friends, teachers and others, and also suffer from puberty anxiety."

Thanh said the condition is usually treated by advising parents on how to improve the relationship with their children, encouraging the children's emotions through games, and designing a special education program for them.

"But the most important thing is that parents should prevent the condition by paying more attention to them, try to understand their personality and demands.

"A child should not be born healthy only to carry a disease brought about by their own parents."

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