Women, have you ever tried to talk to a man about his “feelings”? Fun, isn't it? And Men, have you ever actually wanted to talk about your feelings?? Probably not! It goes against all that you are and everything that you stand for in today's culture. Men are told from an early age that they're supposed to be tough – no whining, no crying, no feeling. And if you DO happen to feel something, it better come out as anger, right? Because that's the socially acceptable way for a man to express an internal need. (Hey, I don't make the rules, here. I'm just a social observer!)
And Parents, have you ever tried to talk to your young children about their feelings? Yeah. And how did that go? I'm guessing you probably got a lot of “happy/mad/sad” answers, or even a shrug with a mumbled “I dunno”. Am I right? That's because kids have no idea what they're talking about most of the time. They don't know how to attribute a name to an emotion because deeper feelings than happy, mad, and sad are foreign to them. It's like trying to identify the color purple when your entire life has been colorblind.
Now, put the two together and try to talk to a young boy about his feelings. Not only does he not WANT to, but he has no idea HOW to! As a therapist, I know this. Yet as a mother of quite dramatic and emotional kids, it's hard to know when they're having a RAD day, a day filled with traumatic memories from their previous life, or simply a day where they're sick/tired/cranky (aka NORMAL!).
This past week was quite trying for our family, particularly our oldest. He's 9-years-old and comes from a past of abuse, neglect, drugs, and a bucketful of unsavory crap that shall remain his to tell someday, if he should ever choose. When he came to us at 6-years-old, he was diagnosed with RAD (https://mommyhood-shivonne-costa.squarespace.com/the-blog/2015/6/26/my-kids-have-rad) and a few other milder disorders. And some days, I only see RAD – everywhere I look, between him and his sister, THERE IT IS! But we also have days (weeks, even) where all seems normal and I forget that there is this deep emotional need that rises up within him… something that he just can't put words to yet. Something that he may not even want to put words to because, let's face it, focusing on yucky feelings just plain sucks.
Because of so many ups and downs that both my older ones face, I sometimes neglect to see what is right in front of my nose. And this week, it was the obvious fact that my 9-year-old son is depressed, but I completely missed it. Perhaps you have a child that, too, struggles with moods. Maybe your child takes medicine, sees a counselor, or you're suspecting that he or she needs to. Here are a few signs that I overlooked and passed off as symptoms of other things… signs that you may see in your child.
- Sleeping more – He's usually the last one up in our house as it is, but even when we started moving his bedtime earlier in preparation for school starting, he was still sleeping just as late. I assumed he was tired from the sudden heat wave and working outside in the yard for hours at a time.
- Some days eating a ton and other days, not much of an appetite at all – This is unusual only in the sense that he normally has a huge appetite EVERY day. For him to turn down extra food… well, that should've tipped me off!
- Crying spontaneously but not wanting to talk about it – I feel badly that I didn't read more into this sign. But like I said, RAD days and past memories days are often filled with tears as well, so it's not always as it appears.
- Not able to find joy in anything and constantly asking for more and more (time, things, attention) – Sadly, I thought he was just being ungrateful. He often gets a sense of entitlement and he expresses his desire for more in rather frustrating ways (aka, “If you would just make more money, you could buy me more toys so I wouldn't be bored and sad!”) Yeah… that one just ticked me off and I didn't recognize it for what it was - an inability to communicate that he was feeling depressed, not because he doesn't like his current toys, but because there is no joy to be felt in anything at the moment for him.
Affectionate one moment and aloof the next – Isn't this just boys, though? I don't know. He's not a real lovey-dovey kid and I usually don't push it as not to make him feel uncomfortable. But he was very up and down with it this week, even for him.
Argumentative and irritable – Again, I attributed this to the fact that school is starting up again in a few days and this, for many kids, is no-good very bad news.
It wasn't until my kid started writing goodbye letters to our family that I realized. The tears… the arguing… the “boredom”. He wasn't cranky or tired or nervous about school. He's depressed. He's in despair and has no idea how to tell me what this terrible feeling is inside of him. It wasn't bad behavior or ungrateful words that he was trying to share. It was just the only way he knew to show me that something is very, very wrong inside. (So glad I paid all that money for my MSW, right??) He was literally screaming for me to WAKE UP and see his need, for me to look past the diagnoses and the medicines and the end-of-summer blues. So he took it to the only place his mind could fathom next.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with your kids, or even children that you're with regularly through your job or your family, I hope that you are able to look at a child's behavior with wisdom and insight – to see it for what it truly is, not just for what it appears to be.
Not everything is for attention… but even if it is, if they're willing to go that far for your attention, doesn't that say something? Some kids have a need that is sooo great that they can't find the words to tell you. But they will show you. If you're watching.
As school gets ready to start, pay extra attention to the changes in behavior, routine, stress levels. Kids can't tell you when they've “had it up to here!” or that they “need some time away to unwind and regroup”. Nope. Kids will tantrum and cry and dump out all your shower supplies while grandma is babysitting.
It's up to us to pay attention and help them learn the words they need to express all those crazy new feelings they're encountering. A bad day is a bad day. And may be a bad week is a bad week. But just in case, be attentive, Moms and Dads. Your child doesn't know it yet, but one day they will thank you!