Lots of kids are struggling these days. Given the greatly disrupted past year (and counting) that’s hardly a secret. But what parents need to know is this: Where’s the line between “It’s been tough on my child” and “My child is in serious trouble?”
“Your kids are unlikely to tell you when they’re not okay,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine . “It’s up to parents to know the warning signs so they can intervene if they suspect kids have crossed that line.”
Here’s a quick checklist that shares some red flags to look out for.
If you see these signs in your child, they may need intervention from a mental health professional. Over the next few days, watch them a bit closer (without them knowing). What you’re looking for is a negative/concerning change in your child’s typical behavior that lasts.
A = ATTITUDE
- Feels worthless, empty, or misunderstood: No one understands.
- Hyper-critical of self and criticism, assumes guilt: I’m not good at anything.
- Negative, pessimistic, feels life is bleak and the future is grim: Why bother?
- Expects rejection or assumes failure: What’s the point?
B = BEHAVIOR
- Stomachaches, headaches, change in appetite
- Increased irritability, anger, impulsivity, temper tantrums, even over small matters
- Disruptive, more aggressive, risky behavior, doesn’t comply
- More sullen, less communicative, or more secretive
- Self-harm, cutting, burning, excessive tattoos, drinking, self-medicating
C = CONNECTIONS
- Decreased interest or wants to stop participating in social activities
- Clingier, more anxious, pulls back, problems fitting in
- Withdraws from family and friends once enjoyed
- Chooses to socialize less, pulls away from friends or parents
D = DEMEANOR
- Dark circles under eyes, appears sadder or distraught, drained overall look
- Body posture is slumped or looks discouraged
- Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
E = EMOTIONS
- Moody or sulking
- Unhappy, sad, feeling down most of the time, crying spells for no apparent reason
- Afraid, more fearful, excessive worrying
F = FOCUSING
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, or difficulties making decisions
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities and things once enjoyed
- Restlessness, lack of energy, or fatigue during waking hours
- Poor academic performance, lower motivation, not doing homework, drop in grades
- Sleeping too little or too much, feels drained most of the time
Use the TOO Index to further recognize a marked change in what is normal for your child’s behavior. No one knows your child better than you. Use your instincts to apply what Dr. Borba calls the “TOO Index.” Watch closely and notice if the behavior you’re observing is too different from the child’s nature, is too concerning, occurs too frequently, spills over into too many others, and lasts longer than two weeks.
All kids will display signs of stress, fear, or sadness every now and then. Be concerned when you see a marked change in what is “normal” for your child’s behavior.
“Remember that if you’ve been feeling hopeless lately, there’s a good chance that your kids have been feeling that way too,” concludes Dr. Borba. “It’s far better to monitor their behavior for warning signs of a serious problem than to assume everything is fine.”