Sadly for parents, life doesn't come with an instruction manual for each situation you may face with your children. There will be times where your kids may seem perfectly fine when they are actually needing extra support. Especially during stressful times, it is so important to spend quality time talking with your kids so you have a good understanding of what's happening in their mind and heart. This will help you know if your child is developing negative survival techniques.
Negative Survival Techniques and How To Help
Earlier this week on social media we talk about the negative survival techniques kids can develop. We want to expound on that a bit to discuss how you can not only spot these tendencies, but also how you can help.
1. The "Happy Bubble" Child. Some kids live in fantasy land to escape stress. Imaginations are wonderful, but if the child doesn't also learn to connect with reality, they never learn skills needed to cope with real life. This child needs you to walk alongside them while they learn that they can find joy in real life even though there are hard things to face. They need you to spend quality time with them doing both fun activities and learning how to face problems so they learn that reality can be the same great adventure or "safe" place they created in their mind. And remember, daydreaming alone isn't a bad thing unless the child loses the ability to connect with reality.
2. The "Fixer/Overachiever" Child. Many children enjoy doing their "best", helping around the house, and fixing problems; however, some kids use hard work to control circumstances because they feel unsafe. It is important to talk to this child to see if they enjoy what they're doing or if they are just micromanaging due to stress. Two of us sisters both struggled with this in our teens and Mom wasn't able to spot it because we acted so strong and capable. With this child you will need to ask specific heart focused questions like, "Do you feel unsafe, do you feel you have to control things, do you trust that Mom and Dad will take care of you, do you feel like everything is your responsibility?" This child needs the truth shared with them that life is ok even when things aren't perfect, they aren't responsible for everything and everyone, and they don't have to earn your love and approval.
3. The "Withdrawn" Child. It is normal for kids to be shy, but when a child isn't enjoying life or withdraws from friends, etc., they may need some extra help. Stress can overwhelm a child or make them feel unsafe, so kids often withdraw during chronic stress to self-protect. This child may need to walk with you hand in hand (literally sometimes) for a time while they learn how to be brave. They need to slowly embrace scary situations and see them turn out alright so they can begin gaining confidence. When bad things do happen, they need you to show them that it's ok and they are still loved and safe. It may take time, so be patient. Little steps are still wins.
4.The "Angry/Tough" Child. Some kids cope with stress by acting "tough." This child will act like they don't have needs or may explode to fight for what they want. They put up walls of toughness to protect themselves from chronic stress because they haven't learned healthy ways of expressing their needs. While loving discipline may be needed as uncontrolled anger is not safe for the child or others around them (and sometimes anger is just simply an act of rebellion), you first need to understand where the anger is coming from because it may actually be a cry for help. The anger may just be covering up fear or hurt. Talk to your child to see what they may be afraid of or ask them if they are hurting inside. From there you can determine whether discipline or support is needed in the situation and then help them find healthy ways to meet their needs.
5. The "Anxious/Fearful" Child. This child may be completely paralyzed by stress or physically sick because of it. Their feelings of fear are uncontrollable to the point they cannot overcome stressful situations. This child will require a lot of love and patience as you cannot force someone to not be afraid. You will need to help them work through their feelings and slowly practice facing their fears. Do not show anger or frustration with this child as it will only add to their stress. Our brother struggled with this kind of anxiety when he was young. He loved to play basketball but being in front of people paralyzed him with fear. He stopped playing for a time because of it. Then two coaches came along who were willing to support him. They told him they would wait and let him get on the court when he was ready. They didn't push him, but simply supported and encouraged him. Our brother started with just sitting on the bench, then he tried getting in the game with only seconds left on the clock, and soon he was playing throughout the game. It took time, but the patience and support of his coaches and teammates helped him face his fear and achieve success.
6. The "Hiding Feelings" Child. This child hides feelings and knows how to act happy even when distressed. This child may not admit there is something wrong because they don't want to be a burden or they don't want to admit they have a need. It is hard to know with this child that they are struggling so that's why it's important to talk to your kids about their feelings. You may have to be persistent with this child as they may not readily admit their needs. I (Laura) struggled with this. I had lots of emotions going on inside but felt those emotions were wrong and fooled myself into thinking I could handle everything. People at church assumed I was doing fine because I was mature and "happy" when inside I was really scared and feeling alone. I needed someone to take time one on one with me to seek out how I was really doing so I could let the emotions out. It may take time to teach this child that it's ok to feel and how to express those feelings and they need you to remind them that they are never a burden.
Reaching for Help
There are many more negative coping tendencies and your child may have several all at once. Being a parent isn't easy and you won't always know the answers or be able to determine what your children need. Don't be afraid of reaching out for help. This may mean talking with other parents to learn from their experiences or it may mean seeking professional help from a counselor, doctor, therapist, or pastor. Just remember that "experts" don't know everything either. If you aren't getting the right kind of help then switch professionals or get a second opinion. You know your child better than anyone, so advocate for them until you find the support you need.
Lead by Example
The following needs to be said though it's not easy to hear. Sometimes, you may be the reason you child is developing negative survival techniques. Marriage problems deeply effect children, anger scars them in ways you can't imagine, and even baggage you carry from your own past can hurt your kids. There are numerous ways a parent can hurt their child - addiction, pornography, uncontrolled fear/fretting, narcissistic behavior, micromanaging/controlling, manipulation, lack of attention, emotional neglect or abuse, and more all impact children. Even "hidden" sins will impact your kids. Now don't be discouraged - you don't have to be perfect to be a good parent. You do, however, need to be addressing problems in your own life in a healthy way or your children may be the ones who pay the price. Reaching out for help for yourself or your marriage will go a long way in helping your children learn healthy survival techniques because children learn best by following your example.