Sometimes the problems your child may be having are obvious. When she is tearful, yelling & screaming, stomping her feet. Yep. That’s pretty obvious that something’s bothering her. More often, though, the signals are not so obvious. So, what triggers your “spidey senses”? When do you “just know” that something’s up with her?
In terms of all of our communication, there is an interplay between verbal cues and non-verbal cues. So, what your child doesn’t say can sometimes be even more important than what she says.
Eight year old Lacey seems unusually quiet. She just came in from playing outside with her friends. You had called her in for dinner. She goes to wash up without being told and then comes to the table. She says “grace” in a sing-song fashion and digs into her food afterward. Your spidey senses are on alert.
“So, Sweetheart,” you ask, “How was school today?”
“Fine,” Lacey responds between mouthfuls.
You give her a few more specific questions to which she responds with little information, mostly one-word responses. You look across the table at her father and you share a nod of agreement. You take a breath and say, “Lacey, what’s going on, baby? You seem a little off.” A single tear falls from Lacey’s cheek.
As parents, we are attuned to our children’s usual pitter patter of behavior. When your child deviates from her norm, that may be your first clue that something’s up. So, if your child is usually upbeat and chatty, and she turns silent or sullen, because that’s different for her, it may be a clue that something’s up. If she usually goes along to get along, but this time she is mouthy and uncooperative, another possible clue.
Also, non-verbal communication can be very telling. As a therapist, I would look for BMIRs (pronounced “beamers). This is an acronym that stands for Behavioral Manifestation of an Internal Response. For example, silence could mean “I don’t want to talk about it.” An eye roll could convey “Really? Give me a break.” A cold stare could mean “don’t go there.”
Interaction that is different for your child, and her nonverbal BMIRs are tools you can use to tell when your child is having a problem. After making your observations and inviting her to talk about things, if she resists, give her space. “Okay, honey. This all must be hard for you right now, but I respect your space. Just know that, when you are ready to talk, I’m here to listen.” When she is ready, use your active listening to draw out her feelings and then encourage her problem-solving after you see her emotional fever go down. In these ways, you are really there for her.