As a parent, I try to make sure my children grow with good morals, a sense of self and identity, and kind hearts. Some days that goal is harder to reach than others, but the work is worth it. Both of my kids are, for the most part, well-behaved, empathetic, and good listeners. But at just 11- and 6-years-old, I don't expect them to be perfect. And I know there are times when you should actually be worried about your well-behaved child, so I don't want my kids to be "picture perfect" every hour of every day. After all, they're kids.
Two nights ago, I had a troubling dream about my daughter. While the details are foggy, I had an image of her with injuries sustained from herself. She appeared to be crying and scared, and it was the first time I felt like I couldn't help her, even though, in the dream, I was reaching for her with all of my might. That, my friends, isn't a dream any parent would want to endure. And nearly four months ago, my family decided to make a major move to another state. Now my kids are away from family and friends, and everything that felt like "home," which made the aforementioned dream was even more terrifying.
I've never, ever, heard anyone say something negative about my daughter's behavior. And sure, the decision to move our family affected her in a variety of ways, but at her core her behavior is immaculate. She's always kind, always empathetic, and always one to mind her manners. But after that disturbing dream, I've been re-evaluating her actions. Has she been behaving well on the outside, to hide a call for help on the inside? After all, you can't judge a book by its cover. So with that in mind, and because being "good" isn't always a "good" thing, here are some signs that a well-behaved child might, actually, need some help.
When They'd Rather Be With You Than Their Friends
I'm always thrilled when my kids would rather spend time with me than their friends. But that's not always a good thing. According to WebMD, a lacking social life could be a sign that your child doesn't have any friends. Jonathan Poghyly, PhD, a child psychologist at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago, told WebMD, "My rule of thumb when working with kids is that I don't get too concerned about kids who have a friend or a couple of friends, but there are some kids who, for whatever reason, have no friends, and that can be problematic."
Before we moved our family to another state, I noticed that my daughter had stopped riding her bike, stopped joining her friends outside, and spent all her time indoors with me. It was great that she wanted to help with chores, but it took far too long for me to realize that something negative had happened. She and her friends had a fight, and instead of talking about it, she stuffed it deep down. If I'd checked in, and realized just how much she'd avoided her friends — instead of thinking she just wanted to spend time with me — maybe I could have helped her navigate this rift in her friendships sooner.
When They're Always Studying
When your well-behaved child spends hours upon hours with their nose in the books, avoiding everything else, it's time to worry. Yes, education is important, but so is being a kid. According to a 2015 study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, "students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times as much homework as is recommended." Dr. Slavin, a pediatrician and professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, tested a group of students cooperation with Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif. when he found alarming rates of anxiety and depression. According to The New York Times, 54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression, and 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.
When my daughter was in elementary school, she was obsessed with learning and reading. As parents, my partner and I were thrilled. It hadn't occurred to us that she was doing too much homework, and putting too much pressure on herself.
When They're Happy Spending Time Alone
Everyone needs personal time, and I don't know a parent on the planet that isn't excited when their kid can master some alone time and play with their toys, by themselves. In fact, according to a 2015 study conducted by the University of Maryland, the pressure to spend all day, every day, with our kids actually hurts them.
But isolation isn't a good thing, and even the most well-behaved kids can spend too much time to themselves. According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health, " From early childhood through to adolescence, socially withdrawn children are concurrently and predictively at risk for a wide range of negative adjustment outcomes, including socio-emotional difficulties (e.g., anxiety, low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and internalizing problems), peer difficulties (e.g., rejection, victimization, poor friendship quality), and school difficulties (e.g., poor-quality teacher-child relationships, academic difficulties, school avoidance)."
Be thrilled that your well-behaved child can play amongst themselves and give you some "me time," but don't let them keep to themselves too long, even if their attitude hasn't changed.
When They're Always Happy
As parents, of course we want our children to be happy. We want to see their smiling faces, and the thought of our children being sad, or feeling any pain, is excrutiating. But our children are human beings, and they should be feeling a wide range of human emotions, including sadness. Sociologist Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, told CNN, "In the U.S., we tend to confuse or conflate happiness with gratification and pleasure; usually, that's what we're talking about. And those things are pleasant, but they aren't important in terms of our growth or even our satisfaction with life, even how much we like our lives."
It's important that we, as parents, teach our children the skills to navigate unpleasant feelings, and we can't do that if we're constantly trying to make sure our kids don't feel anything other than happiness.
When They Follow Orders Out Of Fear
It's important to differentiate between respect and fear. As a mother, I want my children to respect me, but I do not want them to fear me. I want them to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, not because they're afraid of what might happen to them if they make a wrong choice, or a mistake, or a less-than-stellar decision. Plus, using fear as a way to get your child to listen is as futile as it is problematic. Dr. Judi Cinéas, a licensed psychotherapist in Palm Beach, Fla., told Mom.Me, "Fear is only effective while you can maintain it. Eventually most kids grow out of that stage, and you lose your source of power." Karyl McBride, M.D., tells Psychology Today that fear, "becomes a barrier for a healthy emotional life and is difficult to eradicate. If these same children become parents, the possibility also exists that the fear and negativity can be unwittingly passed through the generations." McBride goes on to say, "When we talk about disrespectful children, we must look at parenting. Solid parenting shows children respect and empathy. When a parent truly gives respect to a child, they receive it back."
I was a well-behaved child, but I also carried a lot of pain inside of me that I didn't tell anyone about. Whether it's stress, peer pressure, or undiagnosed depression, look a little deeper the next time your kid shows any of the above signs. It might not fix everything right away, but it could change everything.
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