The light of my life are my nieces and nephew – each of them possesses this bright light that they bring into the world. I often wonder how two people with the same DNA can make 4 amazingly unique children who are like each other yet so vastly different.
One of my greatest lessons as a therapist for the past 20 years is learning that children are not mini-adults. We often speak about them as if they are and regularly treat them as such. In our culture, we dress children up as adults, put on adult characteristics and expectations while deeming it “cute”.
What’s the harm in doing that? The way we frame children impacts how we treat and interact with them when they’re struggling. And let’s be honest, these past 14 months have been a struggle! From lockdowns to job losses to school restrictions to the never-ending fear – our world is upside down and we’ve been expecting children to adapt over and over again.
The kicker is that children are brilliant adaptors – they’re able to change course with their ever-changing environment. That’s the beautiful part of their brain development; their ability to be flexible and acclimatize to their world leaves us adults making a ton of assumptions that “they’re fine” when they could be struggling.
Children struggle differently than adults. Mainly due to their brain functioning which isn’t fully developed yet, so they show their struggle in different ways and don’t have the words that adults have. We know this and yet, we’re all at fault for forgetting – it’s been a rough year.
Here are the 3 signs that your child might be asking for help…
#1 They will use simpler words
Children don’t have the vast vocabulary of adults, they tend to use simpler words to describe how they’re feeling and thinking. They might use words like scared, mad, sad and I don’t know when you ask them questions about how they’re feeling. Instead of asking them directly, spend time thinking about how they used to be and how they are now – a comparison of what you know to be true about your child. That might give you insight into how they’re feeling. You can use a feeling chart as a way to increase emotional intelligence and emotion vocabulary. Equip your child with the words and skills to share how they’re feeling – they want to share that with you, trust me.
#2 Their behaviour drives you crazy
Children will tell you how they’re doing through behaviour – they will act it out instead of having the words for it. I’m sure you’re familiar with this scene – you see a movie and then your child wants to watch the movie a million times and act out the scenes as often as possible to the point where you feel your brain is going to explode. This is how children process events in their lives, they act it out. If you’ve noticed some behaviour changes in the last year, then see it as a possible sign that your child is struggling a bit. See the behaviour as a way that they’re communicating with you – what is the behaviour telling you? What do they need from you?
#3 Control; where can they find it?
In times of feeling powerless and helpless, we all try and find ways to control one aspect of our lives. Children are very similar in that they will hyper-focus on one thing and try to find autonomy in that one thing. It can be what they wear, what they eat, how they’re spending their time (video games), who they are spending time with, etc. Whatever it is, pay attention to what thing they’re trying to control. This is the birthplace of larger problems such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, self-harm, isolation, and bullying.
Being a parent is the hardest job on this planet – balancing the needs of all the little people you care for can be overwhelming on a good day, never mind in the middle of a global pandemic. We see you and support you in the hardest job you have. You don’t have to have all the answers and in fact, it’s not expected. If you have concerns about your child and how they might be struggling, that’s what we’re here for – to help you be the parent you want to be and provide a neutral and safe place for your child to process how they’re struggling.