So often these days, I find parents quick to judge others. They are judging the parenting of others and the behavior of their children, as if to say that, “My child would never get away with acting that way; clearly this is a parenting issue.”
Sometimes, children actually have disorders or disabilities that impede their abilities to act like everyone else. They can’t help it and it is nobody’s fault. It is neither the fault of the children nor their parents, and no parenting techniques are going to “fix” it.
Unfortunately, after receiving judgment and criticism, many parents become less likely to seek the help that their children might actually need. It is a disservice to both the parents and the children when their needs are not being met.
So let’s all try to be a bit more understanding and supportive, so that parents are more likely to seek out whatever it is that their children need. It helps everyone, because we all know that the most troubled kids are the most likely to act out and/or carry out the very most troubling acts that can affect many other people (extreme example: think school shootings). Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
How is a parent to really know if their child needs help? Not every child who is odd needs help, and not every child who doesn’t behave perfectly needs help, but many kids really do need more help than a parent or teacher can provide. Here are some basic guidelines to help parent know when their children might need help:
- Is your child’s behavior extremely different from what you see in most others of the same age? For example, many toddlers have trouble separating, but after a few minutes of tears, most can be left at pre-school. If your child cries all day long, every single day, that would fall outside of the norm.
- Is your child missing developmental milestones, such as walking, talking and interacting with others? For example, children can typically play with other children, either sharing an activity or playing independently side-by-side. If your child can do neither, that would be outside of the norm.
- Does your child seem to have extreme academic or social struggles? School is not supposed to be easy; it is designed to challenge, but if your child is finding it impossible to keep up or understand material, there may be a serious issue at play. Also, kids can be cruel and navigating friendships and social circles can be challenging, even for a typical child. But if your child cannot make or maintain any friendships at all, that is sign of a more serious problem.
- Does your child inflict self-harm? Many children with serious issues cut themselves or bang their heads against the wall. This is not normal and should never be ignored. These are signs of serious disturbances, such as autism spectrum disorder and even sometimes of sexual abuse.
- Does your child seem worried all the time about everything? Do they ask a lot of “What if” questions? They could be struggling with anxiety.
- Is your child or teen not eating or sleeping? Or are they over-eating and sleeping all day long? Have they lost interest in their typical friends and activities? Are their grades dropping? All of these can be signs of depression or even substance abuse.
- Has your child said they want to die? Have they posted anything disturbing on social media? We can learn from what we have seen in the past. Nearly all school shooters have posted or told somebody before they acted. Many people who kill themselves have also posted or said things that others could have acted upon. ALWAYS take these threats seriously.
Most importantly, we use functioning as a diagnostic criteria. For most disorders, a person needs to show “distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” (DSM-5). As parents, trust your gut. You know when your child is struggling developmentally, academically, socially or emotionally. Get your child assessed if you think something serious is going on with them.
The best way for a child to overcome any diagnosis is to get help and to get it early. With the right diagnosis and the right services, your child can thrive and be their very best.