In the EAP Services Center, we’ve noticed an uptick in calls from parents who are concerned about their kids. In recent weeks, their child or teen has started acting out or is exhibiting new and worrisome behaviors. Parents are looking for guidance and support.

Like many adults, kids are struggling to adjust to our quickly evolving world. After a year of remote schooling, kids are finding their return to the classroom stressful and challenging—both socially and academically. But because it’s difficult for kids to verbalize their feelings, their behavior often communicates for them.

When parents call us, we will assess their child’s behavior and help them find appropriate resources. We often refer their child to short-term counseling.

In some cases, parents have noticed that their child is harming themselves or having suicidal thoughts. In these cases, we advise parents to seek intensive outpatient therapy for their child right away, using their health care benefit. We can also help parents assess whether there’s a need to go to urgent care or an ER for an immediate assessment.

Life from your child’s perspective

Even in the best of times, many kids struggle with the demands of middle school and high school. They feel self-conscious and awkward as they grow and develop. They’re also juggling new friendships and cliques and trying to figure out where they belong. In addition, classes are harder—and everything is such a big deal.

Now, after a year of remote learning and other stresses and losses, these everyday struggles seem more challenging. If kids are transitioning to a new environment, such as middle school or high school, their challenges may seem even more daunting. If they have a pre-existing mental health condition or are predisposed to them, this past year may have exacerbated them.

Signs of distress

When kids face difficult challenges, it’s common for their behaviors and emotions to become more extreme—either internalized or externalized.

When kids internalize their behaviors and emotions, they isolate and avoid other family members. They also shut down emotionally and prefer not to talk. They lack motivation and energy.

When kids externalize their feelings, they become highly emotional and irritable. They’re likely to lash out at other family members, verbally or physically, which adds to the family’s tension.

Kids may also experience disruptions in their everyday routines, such as eating or sleeping too little, too much, or at unusual times. They may also show signs of anxiety, such as a racing heart, chest tightness or sweaty palms.

Parents, trust your instincts. If you’d like to discuss your situation, call your EAP.

Here are some additional tips and suggestions that can help you and your child:

  • Encourage dialogue. It’s normal for kids to have a hard time talking about their feelings. Try asking open-ended questions: How’s it going? How are things? Encourage kids to reach out and talk to other family members or friends. They typically find great relief in sharing their thoughts and feelings with others.
  • Be a good role model. Acknowledge your own difficulties in adjusting to our changing world but set a good example. Remind your children that everyone is having to adjust. Help them adapt to new routines—going to bed at an appropriate hour, showering, getting dressed, and leaving the house on time. Remind them that they’ve done this before and they can do it again.
  • Reach out to school counselors or social workers. Some schools are offering special programs to help kids adjust to their social and academic challenges. Others may offer students the option of a hybrid schedule, where they return to school gradually, perhaps two days a week before gradually increasing to full time.
  • Ask your child if they’d consider short-term counseling. Teens may welcome the expertise of a “neutral” professional. Please call your EAP for help with referrals.