To help shift your focus away from your child’s specific behavior and toward his interpersonal adjustment, consider the following illustration.
Joe’s mother and father are sitting at the dinner table talking after Joe and his brother, Terry, have eaten and left the kitchen. “I’m worried about Joe,” his mother says as Mr. Butler pours his wife another cup of coffee. He sits, waiting until she continues, “It’s hard to put my finger on it. He just seems to have lost interest in his friends and the things he had seemed to enjoy. I guess I don’t know if he has any friends anymore. He talks on the phone sometimes but I don’t think he does much with anyone. He just stays in his room and does things he can do by himself. He seemed to be getting along fine. At least, I hadn’t noticed anything until lately. I don’t know what happened. I really am concerned.”
Mr. Butler thinks about what his wife said and then says, “I know what you mean. It may be even more of a problem than you’re saying. I know Terry asked him to shoot some baskets and he said he was too busy. All he did was watch television. I don’t know if you have noticed it or not but the last few times someone has called him, he’s made some excuse not to talk with them. Have you said anything to him about what you’re feeling?”
Mrs. Butler does not know what to say. She finally says, “I’ve tried to talk to him. He says everything’s fine and I’m making too much of a deal out of it. He brushes it off and won’t talk about what he’s thinking. He just shuts me out. He acts like he doesn’t have a care in the world. I don’t know. I’m worried.”
Joe’s case is an example of how interpersonal problems can catch you by surprise. Had your child never developed good social skills or if he had always had trouble getting along with people, you would know there is a problem and likely know why. It would still be something needing your caring attention but not be so surprising.
The surprise comes when you find yourself in the situation in which Joe’s parents found themselves. Things are fine; and then one day you find yourself wondering what is going on. Things with your child do not seem quite right. It is hard to put your finger on exactly what is wrong; but you are concerned.
Trust your intuition. Something has changed and you and your child need to think about it, talk about it, understand the change. Being familiar with the common signs of relationship problems helps as you focus on your child’s difficulties and try to understand what is happening.