By Brian Jennings
What should I do when I suspect something is wrong with a child?
When my youngest daughter told us she had a headache, cough, and runny nose, we figured she’d caught the cold that was going around. But when we saw her bouncing on a toy and showing no signs of illness, we began to doubt her original story. This prompted a gentle, “Are you really sick?” interrogation. She listed several other reasons why she didn’t want to go to school before revealing the real reason—her friend had punched her at recess the day before. Clearly the punch (poke, slap, or push) was minimal. My girl’s apprehension was caused more by her uncertainty of how to respond and less about any fear of another punch.
The struggles of children are often much more complex: depression, bullying, addiction, eating disorders, learning disabilities, abuse, etc. This article is by no means a comprehensive list of how to deal with emergencies. Instead, it’s some basic principles.
We don’t need more helicopter parents who swoop in to rescue children from every prick of discomfort. But avoidance is also fraught with danger. Glass-half-full people like me try to convince ourselves that kids are OK, even if they’ve gotten more quiet, combative, distant, or moody. However, problems may not resolve on their own. By engaging, we might learn that a child is on a dangerous path or in a dangerous situation. Waiting a month might be too late.
So what should you do when you suspect trouble? It depends on the situation, but the basic answer is this: Do something. Talk to them. Ask a teacher. Snoop on their cell phone (parents only). Hope that you’ll find out that the child is fine and you can relax, but don’t sit back and assume your instincts are unfounded. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
Evaluate and Pray
My years of working with teenagers taught me that adults need to evaluate well. Some struggles of children warrant an immediate call to 911, a principal, parent, professional, or other authority. This may or may not result in your further involvement.
We pray because we trust that God is the source of all healing, and we desire children to build the habit of turning to him. We pray and trust instead of caving to panic and fear. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Give Them Responsibility
Krissy Pozatek wrote, “If parents approach children’s struggles mindfully rather than reactively, they may notice that their children grow as a result of hardship rather than looking for an emotional rescue.” We must resist the temptation to remove all responsibility and effort from the child. Perhaps their greatest learning experience awaits them if we attempt to guide instead of control.
Reframe the Trouble
When the church in Acts was persecuted, they fled Jerusalem. Instead of fizzling out, their numbers erupted. Sometimes our troubles lead to our greatest blessings. Help children see that God can flip their troubles into weapons, blessings, and opportunities. While their troubles may be terrible, God is in the business of redeeming troubles.
Obey and Release
As a parent, other relative, coach, or friend, your job is to obey God. Everything else is outside of your control. It’s destructive (emotionally, spiritually, and physically) and sinful to worry. So we must give our best effort and then exhale, knowing God is still at work. A supernatural reward awaits those who choose to not be anxious about anything, but instead, pray. The next verse says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Only the child of God finds peace when our kids are in trouble. There may be tears and trying times, but God’s promise is golden. So commit today to not give up. Keep obeying God, keep loving troubled kids, and keep trusting that God is the great healer.
Brian and his wife, Beth, and their four children live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he preaches at Highland Park Christian Church and writes (brianjenningsblog.com).