So You Suspect Your Kid is in Trouble...

Kid in Trouble
Kid in Trouble

“One of the basic causes for all trouble in the world today is that people talk too much and think too little.”—Margaret Chase Smith, politician

So, you’ve been feeling uneasy lately. Something about the way your child has been behaving doesn’t feel right. You think your kids are getting into something that you don’t want them to, but you have no solid proof to confront them with. You may have even “trusted your gut”, and already confronted your kids, but they have vehemently denied anything is going on. Now What?

Tips for all parents...

• It’s essential to trust your feelings and your gut instincts—even if you don’t have any physical evidence. However, if you’ve asked your child about something, and he or she denies it, continue to keep an eye on your child. Be careful so that you’re not being overly protective or overly critical, yet don’t let your child talk you out of your suspicions.

• If your nagging feeling won’t go away, talk with another trusted adult. That person often can help clarify your suspicions by asking you questions not only about your child but also about what you’re going through. For example, some parents become suspicious of their kids when their kids start to pull away from them and demand more privacy. The discomfort of your kids not confiding in you sometimes make you assume the worst.

• Continue to connect with your child in positive ways. Keep focusing on the relationship. Sometimes your child may need some space and will open up to you later.

• When your child pulls away from you and wants a lot of privacy, first understand that this is completely normal. However, do encourage trusted adults to stay connected to your child. While your kids may not want to talk to you, they may be much more open to talking to a teacher, a grandparent, or a neighbor. A helpful resource is Connect 5: Finding the Caring Adults You May Not Realize Your Teen Needs.

• Always be clear and consistent about the consequences your kids will face for varying infractions, including lying about bad behavior. Then make sure that you always follow through on those consequences.

For parents with children ages birth to 5

• A drop in the noise level or silence often tips parents off that young children are getting into something they’re not supposed to. Pay attention to dramatic changes in noise level. Some kids send out signals of trouble by increasing or decreasing the noise level.

• Ask your child simple questions when you suspect something is wrong, such as “Did you take a cookie from the cookie jar?” Once your child responds, calmly state what you observe. “I’m confused. How did the cookie get into your hand?”

• Redirect your child’s behavior so that your child knows what he or she can do instead. For example, say, “Don’t pull the dog’s tail. It hurts. Instead, pet the dog gently on the head.” Then show your child how to do this.

For parents with children ages 6–9

• Create an atmosphere of openness and honesty. If your child sees you “blow your top” every time she does something wrong, she’ll be more likely to lie to you when you suspect she’s getting into something.

• Spend time with your child. Do an activity that your child wants to do. This gives your child a sense of control in your relationship and also shows that you’re interested in your child. This lays the groundwork for creating a more open relationship when you start to worry about something.

• Know your child well. Some kids are more likely to push the limits than other kids are. If your child is a boundary pusher, talk with your child’s teacher for suggestions.

For parents with children ages 10–15

• As children enter puberty, keep on top of their lifestyle habits. Some spend hours in the bathroom, while others resist taking showers and using deodorant. Many drug and alcohol prevention experts say that lifestyle habits can signal that something is wrong, which is why it’s essential to encourage your kids to wash their hair, brush their teeth, and take care of their bodies.Click here for ideas on how to encourage teenagers to eat right.

• Talk about the dangers or drugs and alcohol and how kids should not use these. Ask your kids if they know anyone at school who use drugs and alcohol (don’t ask for names of kids, just ask about what they’re observing) and encourage them to make good choices.

• Monitor your kids. Know where they are going, with whom, and when they’ll be back. Then tell them your plans when you leave the house. Talk about how family members keep track of each other.

For parents with children ages 16–18

• Older teenagers are often quite independent and private, and it will be tempting to assume the worst—just because you don’t know much about their lives. Instead, monitor their moods, their health habits, and their activities. Their actions can tell you more than their words.

• Ask questions when you’re suspicious instead of jumping to conclusions. For example, ask “The last time you borrowed the car, I smelled cigarette smoke. Could you tell me what happened?” Teenagers today often have friends who make different choices than they do, and while they may not tell you who smoked, they may admit that someone needed a ride and that person surprised them by lighting up a cigarette.

• Continue to talk about how you want your teenager to become a person of character. Explain that everyone makes mistakes, but people of character admit their mistakes, learn from them, and grow from them. If possible, tell about a mistake you made as a teenager and how you made a different choice afterward.