Some kids seem to be born to talk. Without much prompting, they tell you every detail about their day, what they are thinking and feeling and probably dozens of other details about their world as well as their hearts and minds.
Other kids seem to struggle to give you a complete sentence. Two sentences strung together begins to feel like a deep conversation. Some of the dynamic is personality, some of it is their relationship with you and there may be other factors involved as well.
There may be times in your child’s life when he or she needs to talk to a Christian adult. Your child needs that conversation to express emotions, process what is happening and have help figuring out how God wants them to handle the situation. Unfortunately, because the circumstances are so confusing, emotional or traumatic, even the most talkative child can become silent.
On the other hand, the silence may stem from being tired, having a bad (normal) day or any of a dozen other reasons your child may need a little space and time without conversation – to process, think, dream, pray, reflect on scripture or focus on school work. So how do you know when your child needs encouragement to talk to you or another trusted Christian adult because he or she needs the comfort and guidance that conversation could provide?
- Your child loses interest in favorite activities, spending time with friends, etc. Give your child a day or two for hormone levels to shift or some other relatively benign cause for ennui to pass. If it lasts for more than a week or two, something more serious may be going on.
- Grades begin to fall – especially in multiple subjects. Struggling in one class may stem from normal academic issues. If a child who normally gets A’s and B’s starts getting C’s and D’s in multiple subjects, something more serious is happening. Don’t wait for the official grades on report cards. As soon as test and paper grades start falling, you need to find out what is happening.
- Radical changes in friend group not resulting from a change in school or activities – particularly if the new friend group is known to engage in risky behaviors like drinking, smoking, drugs, petty crime, etc. Kids’ friend groups adjust when they change schools, move to the next level school or begin a new activity. Troubles in friend groups are normal, but usually resolve themselves quickly. If your child seems to drop a healthy friend group for a riskier one for no obvious reason, something has happened that needs to be addressed.
- Headaches. These can be from slumping over a desk for too many hours or holding tension in the body while studying for a difficult test. There can also be medical causes for frequent headaches. If the headaches seem to come from stress (according to your child’s doctor), conversations can help them name and manage those stressors.
- Stomaches. A more common stress reaction in kids, particularly if they seem to come and go under similar circumstances…like always having a stomach ache right before school or a specific activity.
- Insomnia or sleeping much more than normal. Growth spurts can trigger a day or two of extreme sleepiness as can regular hormonal swings in some young women. Prolonged insomnia or extreme sleepiness needs to be investigated for possible medical causes or to discover if it results from stress, depression or trauma.
- Nightmares. Everyone has nightmares. Unrelenting nightmares or terrors can result from stress or trauma Conversations can help your child identify the trigger and learn how to manage their stressors better during their waking hours
- New bedwetting issues. If a child suddenly begins wetting the bed multiple nights in a row, something is going on. In older children, a physical cause is rare and it is more likely from extreme stress or even trauma.
- Radical changes in eating habits. This can range from having no appetite to suddenly wanting a comfort food every day or over eating. The root cause can be something physical, like a growth spurt, but don’t let it continue for more than a week or so without consulting a doctor. Eating changes can morph into eating disorders over time. Catching them early is key for easier intervention.
- Increased crying, angry outbursts, etc. With raging hormones, this one can be tough to discern. Even if the root cause turns out to be hormones, your kids need to talk about how to exercise self control or engage in activities to help them regulate their emotions in healthy ways when they can feel their hormones fluctuating.
- Overreacting. This too, can result from hormones, but your kids also need to learn how to pause and self regulate before responding to negative incidents.
- Regressing to comforting behaviors of a younger child. There are times when all of us might benefit from hugging a stuffed animal. If your child suddenly goes back to using a night light, thumb sucking, etc. he or she probably has something that needs to be talked about with an adult.
- Unusual anxiety especially with no obvious cause. An important test, try out for an activity or first date can send anxiety levels soaring temporarily. If your child suddenly seems extremely anxious for multiple days with no obvious cause, he or she needs to talk with someone.
- Unusual clinginess – especially with no obvious cause. Parents of college kids can tell you that even the kid most excited to go to college can become a little clingy when mom and dad are leaving campus the first few times. If your child suddenly becomes unusually clingy (after the normal stage for this in early childhood) – especially in an environment where they have normally confidently left your side, you need to try and help your child figure out the source of their new anxiety.
- Unable to concentrate at normal levels. Some kids struggle to concentrate normally. If a child who normally concentrates well, suddenly can’t seem to concentrate at all, you need to help them figure out what is making them anxious.
- Sudden change in faith – especially a new extreme anger towards God with no obvious cause. Children who suddenly go from praying, enjoying Bible classes and loving God to becoming extremely angry with God have had something trigger that radical change. They need to talk about it and resolve the issues before it becomes a permanent stumbling block to faith.
You may have noticed, I suggested your child talk with a trusted Christian adult when possible. In an an ideal world, your child would willing confide in you. Sometimes, however, their fear of your possible negative reaction can make them afraid to tell you the entire truth. Even if their fears are unjustified, I would rather have them talk to a trusted Christian friend, Bible class teacher, minister or Christian counselor than talk to no one at all. Hopefully, that trusted Christian adult can also create a bridge to help your child include you in the conversation, too.
As hard as it may be, try to remember your child needs help. It’s better to get it from a trusted Christian adult than a peer at school or a source who will point them away from what God wants. Give your child some options of people to whom they can talk. Dragging him or her in front of a group of elders, ministers or your best friend at church with whom there is little relationship can do more harm than good. Helping your child talk to you or another trusted Christian adult can give your child the support he or she desperately needs.