I've been going through a rough patch with my 10-year-old son. I love him, but to tell you the truth, sometimes I just don't like him. And I definitely don't understand him. I'm generally even-tempered and happy, but he has bouts of moodiness that make no sense to me. When I ask him what's going on, he just clams up. What can I do to get inside his head?
If his bouts of moodiness don’t make any sense to you, the odds are good that they don’t make any sense to him either. Have you ever been in a situation where it seemed like someone was trying to force you to talk about something you were feeling that you couldn’t figure out? What did it feel like? Did it make you feel loved, valued, and understood? Were you encouraged? Did it make you want to open up more to this forceful person?
Don’t assume the worst. It’s possible that he’s clamming up because he doesn’t want to talk, but it’s more likely he is clamming up because he may not be sure what you are asking and/or isn’t sure what’s going on inside, let alone how to put it into words. The abstraction skills of a boy his age aren’t highly developed. We know many adult males (and some females) who have bouts of moodiness that don’t make sense to them or to their spouse and the LAST thing they want to do is to talk about something when they don’t know how to talk about.
Is this his problem or your problem? Make sure your need to know what is going on in his life or to fix his problem isn’t clouding your perspective and causing you to magnify the issue. Talk to other parents of 10-year-old boys and see what their sons are acting like. This could be in part a developmental stage and some other parents might be experiencing the same thing with their sons.
Give his teacher a call. Is something going on at school? Is he having problems in class or with some other students? Is it a health issue? Is it a normal developmental transition or is there some factor you can identify? Has there been a death or some other loss in the family? Has there been any significant transition such as a move?
If trying to force your way into his “cave” hasn’t worked then try something different. When he appears sad, withdrawn, discouraged, or troubled to you, let him know what you are observing. Let him know that you love him and that you are available to do anything you can do to help. Let him know that God cares too by praying with him and for him.
Let him know that there are a lot of kids and adults that experience being “down” and that many have found that just talking about it to someone else is helpful. Be careful to communicate that you are inviting him to talk and not insisting. If he says he doesn’t want to talk about “it,” ask him if there is something else he’d like to do. What does he enjoy doing? What makes him laugh? One of our sons liked to go to McDonalds for a cone and a Coke and we found that on our way there or back he would open up. Another son would open up when we would go into his room at night to tuck him into bed and pray with him.
Perhaps the best thing you can do right now is to look, listen, be available, be his friend, be his own personal Barnabas (encourager) and pray, pray, and then pray a bit more. At the risk of sounding like we are spiritualizing this, we’ve discovered again and again that the faithful and consistent prayers of Godly parents can accomplish a lot.