How Curiosity Can Help Identify Emotional Struggles in Children

October 7, 2020

by Allie Wagner, LPC
Manager of Community-Based Clinical Services

Now that school has started, you and your child(ren) may be getting into the routine and finding what works for you. Or it may still be extremely difficult or draining, and that’s perfectly normal as well. Between the additional screen time due to virtual learning and the added stress of following a structured routine again, you may be noticing a change in your child’s behaviors and/or attitude. If you’re like most parents, it’s probably difficult to determine how to approach these changes (especially if they’re not ideal) without your child shutting down or having to resort to discipline of some sort.

One of the most effective ways to know if your child needs help or is struggling emotionally is to be curious and ask them. Curiosity does not have the same pressured line of questioning that may be identified as “nosey” by your kid or teen, though. Curiosity frames questions in a way that is inviting and focuses on objective observations, rather than making assumptions or labeling behaviors. Here are a few examples:

  • Instead of asking “why are you so moody lately, what’s stressing you out?”
  • Try saying “I’ve noticed your mood has changed since school started, would you like to talk about anything?”
  • Instead of “you’ve had a bad attitude lately and you’re not allowed to speak like that”
  • Try “I noticed you use a sharp tone with me when I wake you up for school. Why don’t you take a few moments to yourself and we can talk when you’re calm?”

It’s normal for children and teens to have fluctuating moods and emotions when things change in their life and routine, but some changes should not go without response. If your child is experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, reach out for extra support. PACES has a walk-in crisis clinic that is open M-Th 9a-6p and F 9a-430p where you can speak to a licensed professional who can help with your family’s needs. If you don’t feel the need is urgent, you can call our intake/scheduling line at (913) 328-4623 to get your child assessed. If you don’t know whether your observations are concerning, your child’s school counselors, social worker, or behavioral health liaison are great resources who can help assess and refer you to services if they are needed.

Seek help for your child if you notice they are**:

  • Isolating/withdrawing more than normal
  • Unexplained changes in appetite
  • Not sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Unexplained crying or sadness
  • Self-injury or self-destructive behaviors
  • Changes in energy
  • Talking about death/dying
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or helpless
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Fear of being away from caregiver
  • Unexplained shakiness, heart pounding, trouble breathing, that is not associated with a medical concern
  • Worry about the future

*Note: This is not an exhaustive list. If you feel your child needs extra support, we encourage you to call or come into the PACES crisis clinic.