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How Do You Know If Your Child Is in Trouble?

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Sometimes trouble is obvious. Your child's life is a disaster, and so is your household. Tension, fighting, lies and deceptions, messes—both physical and metaphorical. Your child is incorrigible, depressed or manic, starving herself or carving herself with ugly black tattoos. Or she's come home with a black eye, and you find home pregnancy test wands in the bathroom wastebasket. Perhaps it's just her grades—plunging from B's to D's in one semester. Or you dread the phone ringing, fearing it's the cops—vandalism, again. You fear for her, you blame yourself (and a part of you hates her for bringing this all on you). As for you, you've barely slept in weeks.

Okay, get a grip, your child is in trouble. While there may not be any quick solutions, there are approaches. And of course the first approach is to realize that there is a problem, and that you are in over your head.

Behave Yourself!

It's been said that the hardest part of making change is realizing the need for it.

It's a Good Idea!

School involvement is an excellent way to keep an eye on your child's well-being. Teachers respond to kids whose parents are involved. If teachers know you are a concerned parent, they'll be more attentive to your child, and will be able to tell you if anything is amiss. Don't rely on those overworked teachers to call you. You call them!

It's a Good Idea!

A sudden raise in grades warrants a “What's up?” too—though it usually doesn't mean trouble.

When the Skies Are Cloudy

Sometimes it's not quite so obvious that your child is having problems. “The clues were there, if only I'd looked!” cries the mother of the juvenile delinquent. It's not always true that you can tell in advance when a child is getting into big trouble (and it's unfair to beat yourself up after the fact—). But there are often clues that not all is well. Clue number one: Look for changes in behavior. The older your child gets, the closer you should watch for signs of serious trouble, depression, or self-abusive behavior (especially in the teen years).

Changes at School

Most kids find a groove at school and slide along it; doing extremely well, getting along fine, or just getting by. A change in your child's pattern warrants a “What's up?” Is he suddenly missing a lot of school? Is he staying home, or is he cutting? What about his grades? Have they dropped? It may be that there's something terrible going on at school itself (which means a trip or a phone call) or it might be a response to other things going on in his life. Either way, you should investigate.

Changes in Friends

Hangin' with a different crowd? Or maybe she's gone from hanging with a crowd to having only one friend, a new boyfriend she seems too close to, or no friends at all. Don't jump to conclusions. Adolescence does odd things to kids. Almost all kids play with identity and peer groups and if the rest of her life seems fine—she's still in the Drama Club and getting good grades—there's probably little to worry about. If her old friends don't want her around, her behavior is “off,” and school isn't working out, check it out. There may be trouble brewing.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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