He’d had a rough day. There was a scuffle with another kid on the playground and a multiplication test that had gone wrong; my little man was pretty low by dinner time. So when he kept his elbows on the table all through the meal, I silently resisted the urge to correct him. After all, when you’re eight, you can only take so much in a day.
If we suspect that our kids are coming down with a cold or virus, we know what to do: feel the forehead, ask about symptoms, and break out the thermometer to check for a fever. But what if it’s your little one’s emotional well-being you’re concerned about? Behavioral issues in children indicate that there is something below the surface that needs to be dealt with. Here are some things to consider to help get to the bottom of what’s bothering your child.
1. Don’t ignore changes in behavior.
Kids of all ages struggle to put into words how they’re feeling. (Adults, too, for that matter!) Many times, stress or unhappiness comes out in the form of bad behavior. If your child is suddenly more argumentative or disobedient, correct the behavior and ask some gently probing questions: How did things go at school today? Did anything interesting happen in class? Often, just a few general inquiries will reveal some event or concern that’s causing the tension.
Kids of all ages struggle to put into words how they’re feeling. Many times, stress or unhappiness comes out in the form of bad behavior.
2. Pay attention to grades.
Academic performance is another way that a kid’s emotional health may come to light. A child that’s content and well-adjusted can focus on tasks better than one who’s distracted by negative feelings or worries. If your child’s grades take a noticeable dip (even if it’s just a couple of assignments over a couple of days), check in with him and possibly even his teacher to see if there’s a reason beyond the obvious.
3. Keep an eye out for withdrawal.
When we feel vulnerable or scared, a human instinct for dealing with it is to withdraw as a means of self-protection. If your child comes home from school and spends all afternoon in her room or has nothing to say at dinner, do a little digging—especially if this represents a major departure from her normal habits and personality.
4. Gauge your child’s confidence.
Self-confidence is one of the sure signs of emotional stability and health. If your child lacks the willingness to try new things or says things that indicate a general attitude of discouragement, take note. If this type of attitude represents a marked change, it’s a red flag.
5. Watch the social scene.
If your child is normally very social, but suddenly avoids friends or social situations, you definitely need to investigate. Maybe there’s been a fight or disagreement, or some embarrassing incident. Whatever it is, getting your kid to talk about it will allow you to put it in proper perspective for him, and coach him on dealing with the issue and moving on.
If your child’s symptoms or feelings don’t respond to your attempts to help, or if they persist for more than a couple of weeks, talk to your pediatrician to determine if something more significant—like clinical depression or anxiety—is going on.
Tell us! How have you gotten to the bottom of your kids’ problems?