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Is My Child OK?

Is your child able to communicate and interact with others in a positive way?

Thomas Park/Unsplash
Source: Thomas Park/Unsplash

Are you wondering if your child is OK? If so, you are not alone. Between impacts of a lingering global pandemic greatly affecting many aspects of children's lives and the effects of reduced daytime hours during winter, many parents are asking, essentially, "What signs should I look for in my child to be better aware of their emotional well being?”

Knowing your unique child, lean into your intuitive awareness of signs that your child is experiencing fear or stress. Are they acting out in some way? Are they internalizing their emotions? Or are they simply, as best you can tell, acting differently in a way that concerns you, and you're not quite sure what to make of it?

Research links emotional well-being very closely to children being able to communicate and interact with others in a positive way. Yet children’s feelings are often inaccessible at a verbal level. Developmentally they may lack the cognitive and verbal proficiency to adequately express what they feel. We know, for example, that children aren’t fully, developmentally able to engage in abstract reasoning or thinking until approximately age 11.

Children struggling emotionally may show signs of a very short attention span and behavior such as being withdrawn or just very upset. Children may find it difficult to express how they feel. They may struggle to find any better way to deal with what they are experiencing on the inside than through displaying signs of anger or frustration on the outside.

Preillumination Seth/Unsplash
Source: Preillumination Seth/Unsplash

Play is a very important way, then, that parents can help their child process what they are going through emotionally. Get involved, but let them guide the play. In all likelihood, you'll gain access through spontaneous play to the mind and emotions of your child in a way far superior to mere talking. But don't engage manipulatively. Just be a good observer, as well as a genuine playmate, which certainly requires your vulnerability as much as it does theirs.

Here is an idea: role play with stuffed animals or toy figures. This is a great temperature check with preschool and early elementary age children. How are they feeling about all that is going on? They may not tell you outright, but they may engage in a full description of their thoughts and feelings if a beloved toy begins speaking to them (so, mom, dad, speak to your child through the toy). When doing this, make sure to ask some questions, but let your child guide the interaction.

And as for adolescents: Be aware of excessive irritability, frustration, or anger. Younger adolescents may develop emotion-related physical symptoms such as stomach ache, headache, or nausea. For youth, emotional well being is all wrapped up into a combination of factors, including sleep patterns, regular exercise, as well as problem-solving, coping, and interpersonal skills. For all of our children, the especially young or the teen-aged variety, supportive environments in the family and through school are, of course, of highly significant importance.

Help normalize your teen's feelings and anxiety by letting them know that they are not alone, that everyone in the community is feeling discombobulated and out of sorts right now, and that they can feel safe to come to you to share how they are feeling. Then make a point here and there to check-in with them. These check-ins don’t have to be heavy. They can be fun and lighthearted. Mostly, they are chances to connect and reaffirm that you offer safe space for them. Also help them learn to monitor what they “feed their brains.” They may not realize how so much digital media consumption may be making them feel worse.

Bermix Studio/Unsplash
Source: Bermix Studio/Unsplash

Finally, keep in mind that your moods, as a caregiver, are contagious. When you fly on an airplane, a flight attendant instructs you to “put your oxygen mask on first” before helping others if there is an emergency. If you run out of life-giving oxygen yourself, you can’t help anyone else. As an integral part of helping your children know that they are alright, safe, and cared for, remember as well to prioritize caring for and centering yourself. Pay attention to your own emotions and body. Make sure you have your own safe person to connect with. For serious concerns about physical safety or depression, reach out to expert helpers in your community. We have your back.

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