Have you ever had a nagging hunch that things aren’t as great as they seem for your son or daughter? Maybe your child is acting differently and you’re going crazy trying to pinpoint what’s wrong. Or, harder still, maybe everything appears to be status quo, but you just can’t shake the feeling that something big is brewing under the surface. To make matters worse, there may be a chorus of voices telling you not to worry and leading you to doubt your parenting instincts. Well, I’ve been there—and it’s not fun! In lieu of a crystal ball, here’s a 3-step plan that will help you stay sane (and sleep at night) while making sure things never get too far off course for your child:
LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
Parents have instincts for a reason—to keep kids safe. Anyone who has ever seen a kid blindly running toward the road or heard a child choking from several rooms away knows how fast the urge to save and protect kicks in. It’s crucial to trust your instincts even when they pick up on something you can’t see or put your finger on. You know your child better than anyone so let go of self-doubt and trust your gut.
Keeping your eyes and ears open is the best way to gather facts that can help you help your child. Whatever your concern, having a heart-to-heart with your son or daughter may not be realistic. Instead, follow your child’s lead during conversations, be available to hear to whatever they share and bite your tongue if you’re doing more asking than listening. If your child is older, pay attention to their friend group and—in all your spare time—be vigilant about monitoring social media accounts.
Trusting your instincts is one thing, following them is a whole different ball game especially if you have doctors, teachers, family members or other professionals telling you things are fine. Be respectful but strong when communicating your concerns. Seek a second opinion if you feel you’re being dismissed. Talk with supportive people to help you brainstorm and organize your thoughts in a judgment-free zone.
One final thought, trusting and following your instincts does not mean you have to become obsessed with your concerns or overwhelmed by potentially catastrophic outcomes. Are there scary possibilities to consider when it comes to raising kids? Yes (thank you Web.MD!), but getting swept away by them distances you from your child, skews your perspective and gets in the way of you being an effective advocate. As long as you honor your instincts, pay attention to feedback from your child and his/her environment, and voice your concerns you are doing all you can. Trust in these strategies and you’ll be prepared to get to the bottom of any hunch you have without losing yourself in the process.
Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and a mom of two. She provides parents with a no-nonsense approach to navigating the daily grind while preparing their child for the challenges they’ll face in the real world. www.stephanieoleary.com