My daughter picked up a college course this summer. She loves writing, so we encouraged her to continue to explore that interest through our local community college. One night, I sat down at the computer and noticed she left open a paper from her class. I’m interested in her writing, so I read it. The paper chronicled her sixth-grade year and the devastating effects a male classmate’s bullying had on her self image. By the end of the paper, I was in tears. This was, in part, because I was heartbroken to hear what my daughter went through and, in part, because I was ashamed that I had completely missed it. I was clueless.When your children are struggling, it’s almost certain they’re telling you, but rarely with words.
When your children are struggling, it’s almost certain they’re telling you, but rarely with words. So we need to pay attention to signals they’re sending. Here are five signs your child is struggling.
Every person is different, and you certainly don’t need to expect your child to be a socialite, but if he or she begins to show a pattern of isolation—refusing invitations from friends, opting out of events he or she once would’ve said yes to, hiding out in his or her room for extended periods of time and only coming out when forced—don’t simply shrug it off as a phase. Ask questions. Dig deeper. This could be a sign of struggle.
2. Obsession with Dark Themes
Does your child spend lots of time immersed in books, movies, websites, or video games that are focused on death or violence? When you check his or her search history, do the items searched for worry you? Does he or she spend hours immersed in violent virtual worlds? Pay attention to those things. There’s a difference between occasionally reading a book about someone who dies or playing a video game that involves shooting and obsessing over them. Trust your instincts. Talk to your child about what he or she focuses on and the impact those things can have.
3. Changes in Eating Habits
Look for sudden changes in eating patterns that don’t make sense. Is there an increase in comfort food consumption? Does your child pick at food or often skip meals altogether? Talk with your child about these changes. There is rarely a reason a child should ever skip a meal (excluding in advance of certain medical procedures). So no matter what the excuse might be, he or she needs to eat something at each meal. If your child is obsessing over calories but is actually healthy, talk with him or her about that. If he or she is consuming unhealthy food regularly, talk about that, too, and work to reduce the amount of junk food readily available in your home. Diet changes may be pointing to something deeper, like a struggle with self-image.
4. Changes in Personality
Children change. They are not the same at 13 as they were at 8. Nor are they the same at 18 as they were at 13. However, if your normally upbeat and outgoing teen is suddenly sullen and withdrawn, don’t write it off as teens being teens. This could be a warning sign that something deeper is going on.
5. Changes in Sleep Patterns
If your child seems exhausted all the time, is suddenly unable to get to sleep at night, or was once a sound sleeper and now wakes up regularly throughout the night, it may be a sign of a silent struggle. If your child’s sleep patterns are changing negatively, this could be a sign of anxiety or depression.
It’s hard for everyone when your child is struggling. But you don’t have to face it alone. Yes, have conversations, pay attention, listen to your child. But also talk with your pediatrician. See a counselor. Utilize all the tools at your disposal to ensure your child has what he or she needs to thrive.
Sound off: Have you noticed any significant changes in your child’s behavior that concern you?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What can I do to make myself more approachable when you need to talk?”