Do you worry about whether your kids are really doing okay? Whether you’re in the midst of a divorce, or you recently moved—or any number of other changes have cropped up in your kids’ lives—it’s natural to worry about your kids’ wellbeing and how they’re really holding up. Here are five warning signs that your child is struggling, along with tips for what to do:
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1. Your child is less conversational.
If your child appears more sullen or retreats to his room more than usual, he may be struggling—with changes at home, school, or in his relationships. Instead of trying to force your child to talk, let him know that you’re there for him. Create opportunities for him to open up when he’s ready by offering to spend time together doing something he usually enjoys. At the same time, aim for striking a balance between being present with him and giving him some space to think things through.
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2. You’ve noticed an uptick in mood swings.
Dealing with sudden mood changes is a part of growing up. But if you’ve noticed a dramatic change in how severe your child’s moods are, or that moodiness is accompanied by violent or angry outbursts, then it may be time to seek professional help. For help recognizing the difference between general moodiness and something more serious, listen to your intuition, talk with family members about their observations—including your ex, especially if you coparent together—and reach out to your child’s pediatrician for help.
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3. Your child is getting poor grades.
Academic achievement is important, but it’s not the only indicator of success. So try not to panic the first time your child gets poor grades in school. Instead, find out what’s going on. Is he struggling with a particular subject, or school in general? Communicate with his teachers to learn more about what’s happening and to find out how you can support him. If it’s a matter of reinforcing good habits, like doing homework on time, then try making privileges like hanging out with friends dependent on doing homework first.
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4. You’ve noticed changes in his or her sleeping patterns.
Perhaps you’re noticing bags under your child’s eyes, or he just wants to sleep all the time. Any sudden change in your child’s sleeping patterns could indicate that he’s struggling with some changes at home or school. Speak with your child about what’s going on and help her set a consistent bed time. Consider restricting electronics (including cell phones and video games) 1-2 hours before bed, too.
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5. You suspect that your child is experimenting with alcohol and/or drugs.
Whether you’ve actually caught your child with drugs and/or alcohol, or you merely suspect that your child is using, you’ll want to take an active role in finding out more about what’s going on. Speak with your child directly about your concerns, without being accusatory. Let him know why you’re concerned and what your expectations are, as well as the risks and consequences he’s up against if he chooses to disobey you.