It’s common for kids to go through transitions as they grow up. You’ve got the “terrible twos” and the “teen drama,” both of which are hard to avoid. But as a parent, your main concern is being able to differentiate between a kid “just being a kid” or a kid behaving in an unhealthy manner.
Need help? Here are some signs to look out for.
A child doing something unacceptable once or twice is normal. However, if they do it non-stop, there could be a bigger issue. It could be a major red flag if your child repeatedly gets into trouble at school or if your toddler is constantly wailing at the grocery store.
During the terrible twos, for instance, it’s normal for your child to throw tantrums here and there. But if it’s happening too often, it may be a sign that you’re not understanding something.
“Temper tantrums are often sparked by your child’s frustration at her inability to complete a task she thinks she should be able to do on her own,” the Parents website says. “On top of this frustration, toddlers often get frazzled because they do not possess the language skills to express their feelings.”
The sooner you understand that your child is trying to communicate something, the better. But when you’re trying to discipline or teach your child, remember that “while discipline is needed in order to keep your toddler safe and teach her the difference between right and wrong, it is equally important to give your child some control over her life,” says the Parents website.
Some kids feel like they can act out at home because it’s a comfortable environment. They may also be lashing out at home because they don’t agree with a rule you’ve set. But when he or she acts out constantly in public, you may have bigger issues.
For example, teenagers can be short-tempered, says Friends for Mental Health (FMH). During these years, they may feel like they don’t have enough privacy and you may see them spending very little time with you and the family. This is normal because as the FMH website reminds, “[The teenage years] is a phase of new experiences, and what may seem like a small affair to an adult may be a big deal for a teenager experiencing it for the first time.”
However, if your friends or your child’s friends starts noticing disconcerting behavior, it may be signs that something else is wrong. Friends for Mental Health, for instance, suggests knowing the difference between normal teenage behavior and mental illness. Pay attention to see if your child’s performance is school is significantly decreasing, if there are any big changes in energy levels or if you see problems with memory, attention or concentration.
Sometimes, problematic behavior won’t just go away. Perhaps your child needs help but doesn’t know how to voice his or her concerns.
READ MORE: 7 Things Only Moms with Twins Understand
When your child makes a mistake for the first time, tell him that his actions were not acceptable. Hopefully, he will learn from his mistake and move on. However, if your child understands what he is doing and doesn’t make a change, you need to think about what this could mean.
Similar to the other points made, specific behaviors are usually prompted by external factors. For instance, “Children with challenging behavior are sending adults the message that something is not right or that their needs are not being met,” PBS writes. Some kids just have a hard time telling adults they’re angry, scared, hurt or tired. So they act out in ways you may easily dismiss as “unacceptable.”
All of this being said, it’s important to just sit down and talk with your child. He or she may be completely clueless that these actions are a problem. “Once adults understand what children are communicating through their behavior, they can respond better,” PBS says. “Yelling at or punishing a child for a behavior may stop the behavior for the moment, but it does not give the child support or provide alternate ways to act in difficult situations.”
In the long run, when you, as an adult, help your kids find positive ways to communicate their needs, you’re also teaching them important social and problem-solving skills that will help them as they grow into their personalities.
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