Spotting Red Flags in Your Kid and What to Do About Them

Photo cred: divorce-matters.com

I get more questions about child development than any other psychological phenomenon and I’m not surprised. When I became a mom I was floored by how much there is to know, how many “experts” can contradict each other, and how common sense seemed to have no place in many parenting situations. Shouldn’t there be some kind of owner’s manual that comes with your new kid? Maybe the reason why we don’t have one is because much of parenting is viewed subjectively. Meaning, we base what is right and what is wrong on our personal values (or our parents’ personal values… or our in-laws’ personal values… or the values of the well-meaning yet intrusive elderly man at the grocery store), not on hard based facts. This is why, in my opinion, things get way harder than they need to be. Basing parenting decisions on objective information such as brain development, would make everything a whole lot easier for everyone.

First, let’s start with what is normal behavior and what is not. 

But before that, let’s get you in the right head space:

While even the word “normal” can be subjective, let’s not get too caught-up on it. Falling outside the normal range isn’t necessarily bad, it just means that there is important information to be taken into account. So shake-off any fears about what not being normal might mean. If your child does fall outside of the normal range, they need you to be ready to handle it and you definitely can. It’s ok to be scared at first, be honest about it, but don’t let yourself dwell. There are so many resources available and as long as you’re willing to ask for the help you may need, you’ll handle this like a champ.

Now, on to the red flags.

  1. A Dramatic Change in Personality or Behavior

Was your child once shy and introspective and is now chatty and needing to be around others constantly? Or maybe they were quite friendly and now want to be by themselves the majority of the time. Do they suddenly display violent behaviors or explosive anger? Or maybe your once potty trained 5 or 6 year old is now bed wetting.

Any time we as therapists hear a report of a dramatic change in behavior (that can’t be accounted for by medication, illness, or life event), we assess for abuse. If you are concerned after reading this, please don’t hesitate to talk to your child and have them assessed by a mental health professional.

When a behavior change is probably due normal development:

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If You’re Wondering How You Can Be a Better Parent to Your Kids, Just Ask Them.

Photo by Joshua Keller Photography

Yesterday my four-year-old son came to me and said, “Mom, how else could you have said that to me?” Implying that I could have used a kinder tone. (I may have been a little bitchy about asking him to put away his fishing rod, again.)

He’s also been known to say things like, “Look in my eyes please” and “Mom, you’re not being very nice.” So weird, because I, of course, ALWAYS look him in the eye since ask him to look me in the eyes when I’m speaking to him. I’m also ALWAYS kind. ALWAYS.

So why don’t I flip the flip out on my smart-mouthing kid when he says these things? Because he’s being the exact kind of “smart” we want more than anything. The kind of smart that’s more likely to help him succeed in life than any other kind. I’m talking about emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence includes the ability to ask for your needs or desires to be met. Lack of emotional intelligence generates a life of frustrating relationships and perpetual loneliness. We expect others to read our minds and guess our needs. Newsflash: this is a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes my partner and I flat-out ask our kid how we can be better parents to him. And you know what? He has very simple, but very helpful answers. Yes, it hurts to hear sometimes. It requires some hard core humility and also grace for ourselves.

When he tells us how we can better, we accept his feedback the same way we want him to accept feedback. We thank him for his thoughts, we validate his feelings, we share that we would like to improve, and we don’t get defensive. We model that feedback is good. It’s not scary, it’s not so powerful that we can’t survive it. We want him to be able to handle criticism well so we have to do the same.

We also acknowledge that sometimes in our culture, we have a double-standard for our expectations of children’s behavior versus our expectations of adult behavior. For example, we may angrily scold our child for being unkind to their sibling every time they do it. But let’s be real, are you ALWAYS sweet and gentle when you speak to others? Do you ALWAYS say “please?” Be real.

We can’t expect our kids to be perfect all of the time. We’re not. So when we can admit our own imperfection, we can also help our child to see that we need grace sometimes too. Otherwise, we seem just a teensy bit (actually, VERY) hypocritical. It’s an impossible standard we hold over them. We inadvertently teach them that they must be the epitome of politeness in front of adults but as soon as they’re out of our sight, they can be unkind to their peers or those smaller than them.

So how do we help kids to handle feedback positively, speak their needs and not be jerks to other kids behind our backs?

We must model who we want our kids to be, ask them how we can do better, and when we fall short, we have to own it.

You got this,

 

 

 

PS Hey! Did you know that I’ll be practicing therapy again soon? Unless you’re my mom (Hi Mom!) you probably didn’t. Let’s get you in the know! Sign-up for my monthly newsletters over in the right hand column and then you’ll get great relationship tools like this one and you’ll also receive updates about my practice and other upcoming events. I also appreciate feedback (obv) and would love your requests for relationship tools. Send them to jaclyn@jaclynsnyder.com.  Thanks for reading!

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