Reasons Why Your Child May Be Unhappy and How You Can Help

Children go through changes over time that are be unpredictable. It can be hard to tell if are they are unhappy or just moody. However, if a child is unhappy they need their parents to be there for them and help if needed.

Why may a child be unhappy? Kids can be unhappy sometimes just like adults, it’s normal. There are other instances when parents should be concerned. Some worrying reasons for unhappiness are driven by loneliness, adversity, or technology usage. By working to understand why a child is unhappy, you can begin to plan to help them address it.

As parents, we all want to develop our children into competent well-adjusted adults who are prepared for the challenges they will face later in life. Sometimes life will make them feel unhappy and they will need to learn the skills for how to deal with it.

Other times, parents should be more sensitive to their needs as they may be facing a challenge with which they are having real trouble.

Challenges Faced in Modern Society

Modern society is quite different for children growing up than the societies in which their parents and grandparents were raised.

Gone are the days of playing freely outside with your friends for hours at a time and figuring out your problems with your peers on your own.

Today, playtime is scheduled by parents and children to spend way more time inside than they ever have before.

They resolve their problems by going to adults to mediate them instead of solving them on their own. Natural norms for behavior have changed and are less aligned with what kids are evolved to do.

Society is still catching up to these changes in norms, creating uncertainty for all of us.  

Loneliness

One of the best things we can do for our kids is to help them feel like they belong.

A sense of community goes a long way in promoting purpose and connection. Children who feel alone often have poor relationships with their peers and struggle to rebuild those relationships once they have been damaged.

They tend to feel excluded from their peer groups and engage less in peer interactions, which further exacerbates the problem and leads to missed opportunities to develop their own interpersonal skills.

Over time their actions become their habits and they defer to the withdrawal position because it is the behavior with which they are most familiar.

Anti-social habits can be managed, mitigated, and possibly reversed as they are forming to ensure the child develops in a socially and emotionally healthy manner.

To help the child it is beneficial to first understand the driver(s) of the problem. There are some questions that can be explored to point the parent in the right direction:

  • Does the child feel a close connection to their parents?
  • Does the child feel a close connection to other members in the nuclear family?
  • Is the child experiencing conflict in the home?
  • Does the child feel a close connection to any peers in school?
  • Does the child have the social skills necessary to make friends in school?
  • Is the child bullied in school?

Notice the first three questions are centered around the family.

The family unit is the most important relationship hub in your child’s life and the place where you and other family members have the most control to impact each other in a positive way.

The answers to the above questions may serve as an initial guide to help determine where your child is emotional.

There are other factors that could contribute as well. For example, they may have moved to town recently or a close friend moved away and they are struggling to build another close connection.

It’s up to you to consider the variables at play, but these questions are a good place to start.

Bottom line – you are trying to determine if the problem is being driven by issues in the home, issues at school, or both.

Before you attempt to address the problem, try to identify its source. Once you determine the answer understand that you as the parent hold significant power to help.

The strength of your relationship with your child will be a big factor in your ability to do so.

First, ensure your relationship with your child is as strong as it can be. This is a moment where they need you and in order for them to trust you, they must know they are your priority.

If your relationship has been bumpy in the past now is a great time to begin the healing process. Although they may feel lonely in part because of family reasons, they can also feel better because of an improved family dynamic.

Make it a priority to connect with your child every day.

As young kids get older it’s easy to fall into the routine of life. Now may be the time to change that routine. Carve out a block of time each day to reestablish your connection.

Talk about your day, read a story, or just lay on the couch together. Remind them that you are there for them no matter what. Work with them so they start to talk to you about what is on their minds. Listen.

Give them the opportunity to be heard and build trust together as the conversations continue.

It may not happen right away, but the information that they share with you will give you the tools needed to move forward.

As they talk listen intently to their message and work to identify opportunities for growth. Is there something you can do to strengthen your connection? How about another member of the household?

If there is a factor in the home that is driving their sense of loneliness do something about it. Events in the household are more within your control than events at school.

Additionally, if a child feels safe and loved in their home they are way less likely to be seriously impacted by the normal drama of student life in school.

If the factors impacting their loneliness are school-related, work to dig deeper and get a better understanding of those dynamics. Is this something that has gone on recently or for a longer period of time?

Are the students impacting your child close friends or just classmates?

If they are close friends it may be easier to guide your child through a conversation so they can work through this challenge together.

You are also better positioned to talk to the child’s parents so the adults can help them learn to work through their disagreement themselves.

If they are not friends with your child, it may be time to talk to someone at the school that can facilitate a conversation about acceptable boundaries. There is no reason a random child at school should feel empowered enough to persistently bully someone they barely know.

Either way, use this event to further build your connection with your child and reinforce the in-home relationships that matter most.

Go out with them more on the weekends. Take them to get ice cream or to the movies for no reason. Play outside in the yard together.

Read together. Bonding can serve as a powerful reminder of who matters most in life, especially when times are difficult.

Adversity

As children progress through life they will face challenging situations that force them to push their boundaries.

In these moments, they have the opportunity to grow and expand their skillset and mental capacity. The process through which this growth can occur is not always comfortable.

Some kids don’t respond well to adversity. They need their parents to help them learn how to deal with it, as working through challenges will be vital to their success in life.

Be aware that kids take things very seriously.

As a result, events that may seem minor to an adult can actually have a significant impact on their self-image and the development of their identity.

Adversity to one person can be abuse to another. It is really important that you are in tune with your child’s needs so you don’t allow them to be in a position where they are facing more than they can handle.

Aside from the very real impact of the child’s perception, another significant factor results from the modern experience of growing up. Kids don’t solve their problems on their own as much as they used to. Instead, they seek a mediator to do it for them.

Over time, their reliance on adult problem-solvers creates a dependence that is not easy to break.

When faced with challenges that they have to deal with on their own, today’s generation is less prepared than those that came before.
It’s the parent’s job to help them build a tolerance for adversity and an ability to solve problems.

Understand that it will be a process and these will be some of the factors you will face as you work together.

Even if you have worked hard to teach them independence, social norms have taught them to ask adults to solve their problems for them. They may need help navigating this landscape so they can start figuring things out for themselves.

Additionally, when a child is presented with a new problem it can seem worse to them than it is in reality.

That’s no reason for you to take it any less seriously as you help them through it. Work with them to stabilize their emotions so they don’t get the best of them.

Show them the difference between what they interpret the problem to be and what they are actually facing. Guide them to find perspective through past experiences. Perhaps yours, theirs, or someone else’s. Identify stories that resonate and help them see over the horizon.

Kids sometimes have a hard time believing that things get better over time.

Help them see that a given problem has many possible solutions, and the one we will choose is often not the one we immediately think about. Use this as an opportunity to teach them how to analyze a situation so they will be less intimidated by the uncertainty of the situation.

As they begin to understand the potential of many solutions they will also begin to appreciate the control they have over the situation.

Although this may not happen the first few times you guide them through adversity, over time they will begin to realize that the options they have are liberating and give them more control over the situation than they thought they had. Options can bring a greater sense of control and stability to a situation.

Most importantly, continue to be there for them throughout the entire process.

Technology Usage

Technology is pushing societal change more than any other contributor. For better or worse, we all need to be prepared as our world becomes radically different.

For parents seeking to figure out if their child’s unhappiness is driven by a particular factor, technology should be one of the first possibilities you evaluate. Today’s kids are being negatively impacted by their exposure to technology, and it is driving up rates of anxiety and depression.

If you think tech use may be impacting your child’s happiness, you could consider reducing their time in front of devices.

Technology usage is linked to anxiety and depression in teens.

In the past, kids were able to live in their own worlds and not have to worry too much about what was going on in the real world. They were also able to detach from their peers and leave them at school or on the playground. That has changed.

Social media has made it possible for kids to be inundated with constant messages from their peers as well as news articles that appear catastrophic to them, like school shootings and climate change.

Help them reduce their exposure to constant stimulation. There are many helpful strategies that you can employ to reduce your child’s technology usage.

Taking Action

As you plan for how to best meet your child’s needs make sure the basics are covered and that they are; eating right, getting enough sleep, playing and exercising, feeling truly connected to their family and friends, seeing the value in themselves and how much they mean to the people in their lives.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Reach out to your pediatrician or school counselor if you are having trouble determining if your child is engaging in normal behavior or if there is something about which to be worried. It’s better to start a conversation than now than wish you had later. 

Related Questions

How do you make an unhappy child happy?

Hug them. Talk to them. Play music that evokes a positive emotional response. Truly engage in life’s daily activities with them and talk about why they are important and fulfilling.

Reduce time exposed to devices. Establish routines in your home that reinforce a sense of connection and gratitude. Assign the child in household chores and activities that give them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Talk to your pediatrician if you are worried. 

How do you know if a child is unhappy at school?

Children who are unhappy at school typically try to avoid attending.

Their academic achievement may be suffering and they are not completing their school work or homework. Sometimes they may even ask to go to another school.

If you think your child is unhappy, connect with them, talk to them, help them open up so you can help. Talk to your pediatrician if you are worried. 

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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