About Dr. Zirak Marker:
Dr. Zirak Marker is a renowned child, adult & family psychiatrist and psychotherapist with clinical training at the Westchester Medical Centre, (NYU) New York.
He has over 19 years of clinical experience in Educational Psychology, and is currently the Medical Director of The Aditya Birla Integrated School; for children with different learning needs, psychological , emotional or behavioural concerns.
He is Advisor and Senior Psychiatrist for Mpower – which is a holistic Centre of excellence, with a multi-disciplinary team of professionals providing services and therapeutic interventions for children, young people and their families with ‘mental health concerns’ and ‘neuro-developmental disorders’.
He is also a ‘Youth Mental Health First Aider’ – Accredited by Mental Health First Aid ( MHFA) – Australia and has authored two books – Parenting In The Age of Anxiety & Conversations That Matter.
LiFT: Tell us about your book, the journey of writing it and its content.
Dr. Zirak: One of the toughest jobs of parenting is talking to our children about difficult subjects, the ‘hard stuff.’ Most parents aspire to raise their children to be knowledgeable and comfortable about the facts of life by the time they approach adulthood – their changing bodies at puberty, body image, sexuality, relationships, loss or death. However, the fact remains that many folks struggle to act on these aspirations in practice.
In the times we are living in, where children are constantly being exposed to the big issues of life, addressing the ‘hard stuff’ early-on goes a long way. First, it helps in overcoming the possibility of children developing psychological or emotional distress resulting from misinformation or complete lack of understanding of how to deal with these issues; second, it also normalizes the emotions and feelings that are experienced by them during these turbulent times.
As parents, we may often shy away from having conversations on these issues. We tend to avoid the situation, telling ourselves that our children are too young, they will not ‘find out’ in their own time or that it is a phase that will hopefully pass. But the reality is children know ― whether it is through the internet that they are always surfing, their smartphones, the news tab left open on your laptop, interactions on the school bus, hushed and private peer conversations on the playground or during sleepovers with friends.
Communicating with our children invests them with knowledge, awareness, compassion and character – essential for healthy all-round development, security and well-being. It gives them all the tools they need to lead emotionally healthy and fulfilling lives.
Maintaining open lines of communication with our children is to not shy away from encouraging conversations over ‘hard’ topics so as not to ignore a child’s question or try to change or avert the subject. Instead, recognize this as an opportunity to nurture their curiosity and contribute to their knowledge base with a better understanding of these difficult yet vital aspects of life. It is important for parents to ‘normalize’ these conversations and discussions at home to slowly and systematically desensitize them, giving them room for more awareness, hope, acceptance and healthier coping mechanisms through some of the more difficult phases in their lives.
The emotional well-being of our children and our youth is as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows them to develop the resolve and resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, evenly-balanced adults with healthy levels of self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and contentment.
In the face of adversity, it is children and adolescents who are the most vulnerable to acquiring bias, depending on socio-cultural and identity-based factors, making them far more susceptible to psychological and emotional problems than any other age group.
We see our youth today grappling with low frustration tolerance, impulse dyscontrol and constantly in search of instant gratification and quick fixes for most things in life. It has led to erosions in relationships, esteem issues, rage and anger in them. Cases of deliberate self-harm, eating disorders, confusion about sexual identity, gaming addictions, misusing screen time or social media and substance abuse are on the rise. Most school-going children or young adults report some form of abuse or bullying. Our teenagers are dealing with anxiety, stress and depression or are suicidal.
Imagine your child returning home from school and sobbing uncontrollably because kids in their class have repeatedly called them fat, ugly and weird. Imagine feeling gutted and confused from within when you have to sit and explain to a child why they lost a parent to cancer. Imagine the apprehension and anxiety that grips us as parents when we need to break the news to our child that he/she is adopted. Imagine feeling lost for words when we need to help them make sense of why our neighbour’s son jumped out from his 14th-floor balcony. Imagine the angst while making sense of why your child was abused by her boyfriend. Just imagine…
As parents, we play a key role in enabling overall wellness of how our children think, regulate their feelings and behaviour. Struggles with their ability to do so lead to mental health issues later on. A mental health disorder is defined as patterns or changes in thinking, feeling or behaving that cause distress or disrupt a person’s ability to function.
Mental health does not only encompass clinical depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I consider it to be a spectrum, with wellness at one end and an illness at the other. It has to be sensitively yet firmly addressed, acknowledged and accepted, devoid of stigma and shame. We need to create stress-free environments for our children, both at home and in schools or educational institutes.
Doing this would essentially include:
- Working on their self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth
- Teaching them ways to be more tolerant, accepting and empathic to situations or people
- Being more introspective with the ability to identify their own strengths and weaknesses
- Instilling gratitude and being content with what they have
- Teaching them faith and belief and giving them hope so that they may use healthy coping mechanisms during life’s trying, stressful or most turbulent times
- Helping and supporting them in finding inner happiness and peace of mind – the ultimate gift we bestow our children and the next generation with.
All this in the hope that they find that inner voice and strength to guide them to make the right choices and decisions in their lives.
Knowledge, awareness, preparedness and acceptance always lead to timely intervention and prevention. It could save a life or prevent one from ending it.
Go beyond the facts. Read-up and discuss your views openly; invite theirs as well.
Look for teachable moments in everyday life rather than saving it all up for one big talk.
Decide in your mind what attitudes, values and beliefs you want to address in your communication and look up resources on how best to do this; seek professional help (counsellors, mental health professionals or psychologists) wherever and whenever needed.
Be an approachable parent. Listen to what your child is saying or trying to say in a conversation rather than jump in with judgement, give too much advice or ask too many questions. Be an ‘ask-able’ parent and welcome your child’s curiosity; answer promptly, honestly and age-appropriately.
It is alright to let our children know that we may not always have all the answers to questions asked and that we shall get back to them.
Start early and keep it simple: This playbook aims to tell you just how.
LiFT: Why you chose this title?
Dr. Zirak: It’ says it all ! I truly believe that if we communicate with our children on these difficult aspects of life , they become more resilient and have healthier coping mechanisms when under duress.
LiFT: When did you realize that you want to be a writer and what’s your inspiration behind it?
Dr. Zirak: I had a troubled childhood and writing helped in sorts of escaping my pain. I wrote poetry or songs and even my first novella whilst I was still in school.
LiFT: Where do you see yourself ten years down the line in the world of literature?
Dr. Zirak: Perhaps writing and publishing my third book on poems of life.
LiFT: How much do you think marketing or quality of a book is necessary to promote a particular book and increase its readers?
Dr. Zirak: It is very important. It was not given much importance after my first book was published and I regret it.
LiFT: What is the message you want to spread among folks with your writings?
Dr. Zirak: I hope to provide the correct, age appropriate vocabulary and communication skills to parents and caregivers of our youth especially when families go through difficult times.
LiFT: What do you do apart from writing?
Dr. Zirak: I paint. I’m passionate about horse riding, travelling, animals and things that are beautiful. Love collecting antiques as well!
LiFT: What are the activities you resort to when you face a writer’s block?
Dr. Zirak: I paint. I take long breaks (even weeks at time) and ensure that I write when I’m inspired.
LiFT: What if your story will be adopted as a movie? Whom would you want to work as a director or actors in it?
Dr. Zirak: No one in particular. Just good enough theatre actors perhaps if this were to be made into an educational documentary.
LiFT: Are you working on your next book? If yes, please tell us something about it.
Dr. Zirak: Not really. But I would love to publish my poems one day.
LiFT: What are your suggestions to the budding writers/poets so that they could improve their writing skills?
Dr. Zirak: Write from the heart with passion. That will be the best that comes out. Write down the truths , that gives your writing soul.