Laziness and Moodiness :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 3

Listless and cranky. Bubbly one minute and barking the next. Impossible to predict. A challenge to train and guide.

There could be thousands of reasons why children behave in these ways on any given day. And believe me, I’d be the first to comfort someone if they were struggling and exhibiting these traits for a good reason.

But what if this is becoming a pattern? And what if it is really annoying and hard to train? And what if I’ve tried to parent the child through their bad attitude and it isn’t letting up? What’s feeding this behavior?

These two frustrating behaviors could be the fruit of loneliness.

First, laziness is a lack of motivation, an unwillingness to make an effort.

Laziness can be a result of too many hurts. A child is naturally bent toward doing. They feel their “being” and express it with actions. It’s the reason why toddlers are often labelled “busy.” I’ve never observed a lazy 2-year-old. They are busy, and they do a lot. Until they are stopped. Or hurt. And this is when pain teaches children (and adults too) that their being isn’t good enough.

The kind of behavior that shows me a child has given up is when they are no longer motivated by rewards or positive reinforcements. It isn’t the same as being bored.

At the root of laziness is a confusion of identity.

Every child needs to be able to anchor their feelings to their identity. So that at the end of any given day, they know who they are, who they belong to, and why that matters. Before they know that their doing matters they need to know that their being matters. Feelings must be interpreted through identity. Our culture allows us to define our identity by our feelings, and this leads to an unstable emotional and physical state. The push to define their being by their doing doesn’t satisfy.

Talking through how a child feels about a situation or action isn’t enough. They need to know what to do with their feelings. Is it valid for them to be feeling that way or not? Identity isn’t bossy. Feelings are. Kids need help to know what their anchor is and how to process their feelings based on that anchor.

A child’s identity needs to start with a solid family identity. For our family, we’ve chosen to teach our kids a “team view” of family identity. I remind them often that we are on the same team, we are doing the task together, and we enjoy the benefits of belonging because of the team view. We review our priorities often so that they know why our family has chosen to live a certain way and what those benefits are.

Second, moodiness is unpredictable and intense. Cheerful and excited one minute and angry and grumpy the next.

A child like this may have an issue with excitement. The thrill of being around other people followed by the disappointment of it coming to an end. This pattern of moodiness is relatively easy to talk a child through.

But when it’s ongoing, I think it is a mild sign of loneliness. The reason why I think moodiness comes out of lonely kids is because they do not have enough support and companionship. Or they can’t articulate their need for support in a specific area of their personal growth.

When kids are moody with their family it can be a sign that they are refusing the type of support and companionship offered at home. And there may need to be some examination of whether the child is being supported there.

Like the child who is aggressively excited for social engagements, being more social doesn’t cure moodiness in a lonely child.

Often when a child is exhibiting moody behavior to mom and dad, they need to be given more attention not less. Think of this as feedback and not as a separate behavior. Address the activity or engagement that is causing their response and help them process that. They may need to be validated that their experience was difficult or challenging. They may need affirmation that they still have a companion in you. They may need help to see themselves in a different light.

Supporting them through their feedback behavior looks like condoning it or ignoring it, but working on the root issue, helping them process their feelings, helps them know their identity. Once they are settled and their behavior becomes more steady, that’s when I gently address the behavior that was moody and off balance.

I’ve heard it preached that parents need to address behaviors immediately with children, but it is actually counterproductive. Kids have strong memories. They are able to think back one, two, or even three whole days to their behavior. It is wise to give space and time for the root work to take effect before addressing feedback behavior.

This is the upside down logic of parenting. I don’t parent what I’m seeing now. I’m working on what’s deeper to create healthier soil for fruit and relationships with others to grow.

Have you already read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series? If not, check out the intro and start there.



Aggressive Excitement :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 1

Are kids that are homeschooled predisposed to be lonely? Have I destined my kids to either be excessively shy or obnoxiously excited?

Socialize,” they say. “Allow children to play in a group of their peers,” authorities preach.

It seems like there is almost a mandate against children being at home with just their family because this goes against the current popular thought.

We are given pamphlets and handouts at the doctor’s office to mark our child’s milestones. They tell us to be sure to have them on schedule for all of their developmental needs. So it’s natural to start thinking of a child’s needs as a checklist:

  • Development
  • Socialization
  • Academics
  • Food and Shelter
  • Faith and Family
  • Exercise and Activities

Planned. Organized. In the box. But is that truly how anyone feels cared for?

The first warning sign of loneliness in kids isn’t an “alone” behavior. It’s actually seen clearly when a child is about to be in a group. Aggressive excitement.

Before I even begin to explain my thought here, I want to say I’m all about excitement. Or at least I’m trying to be. I have been relearning how to be carried away by the good feelings that being alive brings. Excitement is a good thing.

And it is a very good thing for children to express their excitement.

So what is “aggressive excitement”?

It is when a person uses their excitement to forcefully get others’ attention. It can also be a false excitement. When a person covers up insecurity with aggressive positivity.

And let me be frank, this behavior in kids can be frustratingly annoying. These kids are usually not “rule followers” and they don’t seem easily contained.  It can feel like the only solution for this almost-out-of-control excitement is to give them over to their peers and retreat as quickly as possible.

So how does this behavior show signs of loneliness?

They appear hyper, happy, and eager to be with others. This is the kid who does not seem to be lonely at all. The concern is that these little people are desperate to have their inner need for identity met within a 1 hour social engagement. The let down from any activity leaves them feeling drained and even depressed. Consequently, they have learned to put on this aggression in an attempt to force the engagement fill their need.

Often there are multiple emotional needs not being met in a child who becomes aggressively happy. This magnification of positive feelings reveals that this child has a lot of missing positive feelings and therefore they are trying to “make up for” what they lack.

Possible missing emotional needs are: security, identity, belonging, and responsibility.

What can I do to help a child who acts this way?

First, don’t retreat and don’t avoid social engagements. Again, this is the child who is excited to be around friends. Don’t take that away to solve the aggressiveness problem. Stay with them. Talk to them throughout the activity.

Second, stay calm. All children model what they see. If you want calm children, you must be calm.

Third, don’t focus on correcting their aggression. Build into their sense of identity by spending extra quality time with them at home. In their safest environment, start to encourage them to express their feelings through activities other than social times. Try listening to music, looking at old family photos, going on a walk (or to the indoor nature center if it is too cold outside), or baking cookies together. Somehow make it a point to invest more of your emotions into building up theirs.

Fourth, take note of when you see aggressive behavior and when they seem most calm. If observing your child doesn’t feel natural, then take time off from other activities at home in order to focus on them. Maybe you need to spend spring break entirely engaged by figuring out their patterns. Simply jot down what they are doing when they seem most excited, note how long the excitement lasts, and then note what they were like when the excitement was over. Get to know your child’s highs and lows.

If social engagements are consistently off the charts with excitement, take time to consider if your child needs a break from such emotionally charged situations. One clue that this is the case is if they are also completely drained after the engagement.

One thing I’ve made a point to communicate to my kids is that I have protective instincts. They know I’m willing to fight for them. And they have seen me do it. I’m willing to go to bat so that they don’t have to.  I’m also willing to fight them for their best interest. They are still too young to know exactly what is best for them.

They can be at rest knowing that I take responsibility to do what is best for them so that they do not have to be aggressive to do what is best for themselves.

Support them, comfort them, and be their safe place. Regardless of what educational philosophy you hold, be on the look out for these signs and be prepared to help the kids in your life.

This is part one of the Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids. If you missed the Intro to this series or the list of topics to be covered, check it out here.