If you’re like most parents, you find the Fall to be an incredibly hectic time of year. Everyone’s schedules are changing, wake-up times are earlier than they’ve been in months, and homework has suddenly become an important part of the evening routine once again. The beginning of school is hard for kids… but it’s also hard for parents, right?
With all of these changes (and with all of the accompanying familial fatigue), even well-intentioned parents can miss some pretty clear signs that their children might have the back-to-school jitters, or perhaps something a bit more significant. Here is a short list of new behaviors and activities that parents might want to be on the lookout for:
1. Tummyaches and Headaches Leading to School Refusal
The school year just started, and yet your seemingly healthy child suddenly feels the need to stay home more often than ever before. Though this may be a “Ferris Bueller” situation in which your child simply doesn’t want to go to school on a particular day for a relatively innocuous reason… it may also be more than that.
In my office (and in my home), the sudden or unusual desire to stay home from school may be code for “something is not quite right” at school, and it often warrants some follow-up with administration and teachers. This is especially the case when these complaints begin to add up over time. Whether the problem is social or academic, physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches probably warrant some deeper conversation about how the school year is going.
2. Difficulty Falling Asleep
When children and adolescents have difficulty falling asleep, there is almost always a reason, especially when the onset is sudden. Racing minds are difficult to silence, understandably, but even then, exhaustion typically takes over and eventually “wins,” so to speak. If your child is having repeated issues going to bed, staying in bed, and/or falling off to sleep – and especially towards the outset of the academic year – it may be indicative of some new stressor(s) being present.
3. Difficulty Waking Up
It’s one thing to be groggy in the morning – almost all of us are, to some degree or another. It’s something else entirely to completely refuse to get out of bed. If your child is refusing to wake up in the morning – and especially if this is causing tardiness – there’s a good chance that there’s something there beyond exhaustion.
4. Frequent Isolation / Time Spent Alone
Especially as your child heads into adolescence, there’s a good chance they are spending a bit less time with you and more time with their friends. But for many kids, this isn’t the case – many, instead, find solace in their bedroom, being alone. Now, this can be nothing more than normal, age-specific behavior… but if your kid doesn’t at least poke their head out for meals and the occasional chat, there might be an issue – and that issue might originate with something going on during the school day.
5. No Weekend / Afterschool Plans with Friends
This is a tricky one, as people are almost always busy, and friends (especially as they get older) aren’t always available to get together due to scheduling difficulties. But I have learned over my professional career (and my personal life!) that people always make time for what is important to them. And socializing is VERY important to the majority of kids, especially teenagers.
If your kid is home weekend after weekend – especially in contrast to his or her previous social habits – you might have a problem that requires some attention.
6. Worrying More Than Usual
Some worry is normal, of course. These years are more complicated than many of us remember or realize – growing up is hard to do! But if your kid is worrying frequently or all of the time, it might be worth speaking with them to see what the issues are. And especially when worries seem irrational and never ending, it is likely a good time to contact a professional.
7. Quick to Anger
Anyone who has lived with a teenager will tell you that their teen will get angry with them – sometimes suddenly, and sometimes for no reason at all (seemingly). For better or worse, that’s normal! Because in case you missed the memo, your teen knows more then you and always will (until they become adults and realize that their adolescent brains tricked them).
That being said, if your kid is snapping at you all or most of the time, that can also be more than “normal teenage attitude.” Sometimes depression can be masked as anger, and so even these expected explosions may merit exploring in a bit more detail.
As noted above, many of these behaviors may be completely normal, and not really any cause for alarm. This list, then, should be taken as a reminder to not only observe your children’s behavior during a period of change, but also to ask questions and to follow up to the degree you deem necessary.
Should you desire the services of a therapist, I would be happy to either assist you myself, or guide you to the appropriate professional who’d best be able to speak to your specific needs.