One in five children are not happy with the way they are treated by their doctors, according to a recent study.

In the study, entitled ‘Children’s worlds: the subjective well-being of Maltese children’, Carmel Cefai and Natalie Galea found that more than one third of eight-year-old students were not satisfied with the way they were dealt with by their doctors.

When compared to their international peers from the other 15 countries that conducted similar research, the Maltese eight-year-olds’ level of satisfaction with their doctors ranked at the bottom.

Prof. Cefai noted that the findings pointed towards issues with Maltese doctors’ behaviour and their rapport with children, stressing the need for a more child-friendly relationship with young patients.

A need for a more child-friendly relationship with young patients

The findings also suggested poor health literacy among a number of children, with many of them entertaining a rather negative perception of doctors and healthcare. This also threw into relief the need for more child-friendly health services, particularly within the children’s own communities.

The relationship with teachers proved to be one of the strengths of Maltese children’s well-being when compared to the other countries.

However, Maltese eight-year-olds scored quite low on how safe they felt at school. According to the study, more than a quarter of them reported frequent physical or relational bullying.

Boys reported higher levels of physical victimisation than girls who, in turn, pointed out higher levels of relational bullying (such as spreading rumours, gossiping and excluding students from their circle). Primary school children were more prone to bullying than middle school students, with eight-year-olds reporting a higher degree of physical bullying and 10-year-olds experiencing more relational bullying.

When compared to the other countries in the study, Malta places third in terms of the degree of physical bullying among eight-year-olds and fourth in relational bullying experienced by 10- to 12-year-olds, confirming previous studies which highlighted the seriousness of the problem of bullying in Maltese schools.

“Bullying is a serious health hazard for children, with both a short-term and long-term negative impact on academic engagement, mental health and well-being.

“Children have a right to be protected from bullying and assured of bully-free learning and play environments. The findings of this study call for urgent action to prevent and stop bullying in Maltese schools,” the authors noted.

By listening to what the children themselves have to say, stakeholders may help create healthier and more child-friendly spaces, systems and services for children, the study suggests. “It is equally important, however, that the children themselves are included as stakeholders in this process, being provided with the opportunity to take an active part in decision-making, planning, policy development and implementation and provision of services.”

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