In my practice, I meet with a lot of adolescents and teens. Often, parents bring their kids to meet with me when they discover that their child is stuck in an emotional state such as anxiety, depression, or fear. Many of these parents believe their child’s current state of unhappiness began recently. However, many of the kids I see have been unhappy much longer than their parents realize. They’ve been putting on a facade to hide their realities because they want their parents to believe they are happy.
Emotional issues such as anxiety and depression in U.S. school-aged children are common. In fact, according to a recent study, 1 in 6 children are affected by a mental health issue. Along with childhood trauma, brain chemistry, and inherited traits, kids can begin to feel worthlessness from factors such as bullying, school performance, social status, sexual orientation, or family life. These uninherited factors are often kept from parents as the child puts on a facade to pretend that everything is alright.
Why Facades Can Be Dangerous
A facade is a form of personality change that one acts out to fulfill a particular emotion they wish to portray. There are many reasons a child may put up a facade. If their unhappiness is due to bullying or other school issues, a child may put up a facade at home because they may feel ashamed or embarrassed. It is not uncommon for a child to put up a facade for months or years before their parent recognizes there is an issue.
It is not uncommon for a child to put up a facade for months or years before their parent recognizes there is an issue.
Kids may put up a facade at school because they don’t want their peers to know they’re not okay. Putting up a facade can make others think they’re okay, when in reality, they are not. Facades can prevent friends and others from intervening and providing help because they’re unaware that there is an issue.
In extreme cases, facades can make it easy to miss when a child or teen may be contemplating suicide; thus, help does not get provided.
How Parents Can Recognize Facades
Facades are not often easy to recognize, especially if the child has been putting one up for a long time. Since kids and teens often don’t tell their parents they’re experiencing bullying, parents should be aware of a pattern of signs that may indicate bullying or other issues, including:
- Strong dislike for school
- Changes in friends or behavior
- Physical injury
- Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
- Self-isolating and becoming less talkative
Parents can help encourage a child to not put up a facade by having regular check-ins and quality one-on-one time whenever possible. Parents looking to connect with their kids, address bullying, and resolve other issues may also refer to a framework called The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement).
What Parents Can Do When They Discover Their Child Is Struggling
One of the best things a parent can do when a child is struggling is to listen and let your child know you’re listening. After giving your child time to speak their thoughts, you can make sure you understood correctly by summarizing back what you heard.
- Regular engagement and check-ins by a parent or trusted adult can help kids not to feel alone.
- Role-playing and practicing at home can help kids feel more comfortable with trying to resolve issues themselves.
- Journaling can help kids express their feelings and set goals for change.
- I recommend that families make a list of people they can trust and talk to. These trusted adults give you and your child safe places to turn to when you need a listening ear. The reality is that kids need to hear from their parents, but they sometimes need to hear from other trusted adults, too.
Sometimes, a mental health professional may be needed if nothing seems to help your child overcome constant feelings of despair or anxiety. It’s also important to seek immediate professional help if your child talks about hurting themselves or someone else. Therapy can help kids and teens cope and learn new skills to address painful feelings like sadness, anger, stress, worry, and low self-esteem. Find a therapist today.
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