5 Reasons Children Struggle, Plus the Saints to Help You Out

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"5 reasons children struggle" by Ginny Kochis (CatholicMom.com)

Image credit: Pixabay.com (2017), CC0/PD

People have opinions, especially when children are involved.

I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now courtesy of unsolicited advice at the checkout or the stares that burn through the back of your head. You might even have received a whispered, “I’d never let my child do X,Y, or Z” statement, offered with just enough volume for you to “accidentally” overhear.

Here is the problem with people’s opinions. The more often they share them, you begin to wonder if they are true.

Is my child a brat?

Am I failing her as a mother?

Is it her diet? A lack of virtue? Are we subject to some sort of family curse?

No, he’s not a brat, and no, you aren’t failing as a mother. Diet could have something to do with it, but I don’t want you to worry about that just yet. It’s not a lack of virtue, and I doubt it’s a family curse. You have a unique, unrepeatable child who is communicating the only way he knows how to.

Those opinions don’t consider a surprising revelation: perception is not reality when you’re raising a “different” kid.

5 Reasons Children Struggle (Plus the Saints to Help You Out)

What it Looks Like: an angry kid who can’t control his emotions, tends toward negative thinking, fakes stomach aches to get out of school and/or activities, and has a negative attitude about trying new things.

What it Might Be: Anxiety

Childhood anxiety doesn’t look like you’d expect it to. Yes, they might verbalize big worries, but for the most part, it’s going to manifest in different ways. This is why anxious children often display angry outbursts: she’ll be fine one minute and fly off the handle the next. She might complain of stomach aches before tests or big performances; she may even lose interest in favorite activities or friends.

Techniques to Use: If your child’s anxiety is limiting daily functions, seek out an evaluation and counseling. In the meantime, try helping your child learn to identify the signs of anxiety and find positive ways to channel it. Some children benefit from physical exercise when they are anxious; others do well with something more creative like art.

Saints to Call on For Intercession: St. Dymphna; Padre Pio.


What it Looks Like: a smart kid who is lazy and has no interest in school. He never does his schoolwork, barely pays attention, and struggles with underachievement.

What it Might Be: Twice Exceptionality

Contrary to popular belief, a child can be intellectually gifted and struggle with learning differences. This is referred to as Twice-Exceptional: the child is both GT and special needs. Conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD, ASD, and others can occur comorbidly with giftedness. Typically, the strongest indicator is a child who shows great intellectual ability but has difficulty accessing an academic curriculum.

What to Do: If you are able to seek out an evaluation, do so. If not, try to identify in which areas your child struggles. Make an appointment with the teacher to work out specific strategies (preferential seating, untimed testing, help with notetaking, etc.) or, if you homeschool, try a variety of learning approaches.

Saints to Call on For Intercession: St. Joseph of Cupertino; Herman the Cripple


What it Looks Like: A brat whose explosive meltdowns are a clear expression of poor discipline at home. A picky eater and all-around avoider of certain sensations; alternatively, a child who is constantly moving and can’t keep her hands to herself.

What it Might Be: Sensory Concerns

A child who exhibits meltdowns, has aversions to sensory stimulation, or, alternatively, seems to seek stimulation at every turn is not a brat or a behavior issue. Rather, such children typically struggle with sensory integration difficulties. They may also be on the autism spectrum and require help with coping techniques.

What to Do: Learn the difference between tantrums and meltdowns. Schedule an evaluation if you have major concerns. Offer lots of opportunities for sensory stimulation on your child’s terms.

Saints to Call on For Intercession: St. Zelie Martin; St. Thorlak


What it Looks Like: a rigid child who can’t learn to be flexible. A child who is picky in ways beyond eating and insists things be just so. Also, a child who continually wonders if God really loves him (i.e. suffers from scrupulosity). A child who obsesses over outlandish or frightening thoughts.

What it Might Be: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

I have a child with OCD, and let me tell you – it was not my first suspicion. It wasn’t even on my radar because she wasn’t a frequent hand-washer. She didn’t spend hours organizing toys in her room. My daughter’s symptoms are some of the most common signs of OCD of which most of us aren’t aware. Intrusive thoughts, scrupulosity, and even anxiety over the Sacraments (especially confession) can be a tip-off.

What to Do: Seek advice from a counselor first and foremost. Catholic Charities has been great for us. For younger children, don’t focus on the “stuck-ness” or try to explain. Just distract and move on to something else.

Saints to Call on for Intercession: St. Ignatius of Loyola; St. Dymphna


What it Looks Like: On good days, an absent-minded professor. On bad days, Mr. Hyde. Poorly behaved; doesn’t know how to act in social situations. Loses anything and everything. Has a room that is always a mess.

What it Might Be: Executive Function Disorder

EFD is a disconnect within the brain’s ability to order itself. Common in children with ADHD but not always a comorbid condition, EFD basically means your child’s brain has difficulty processing multi-step directions. Even something as simple as getting dressed is problematic because the brain gets distracted or forgets.

What to Do: External support systems – everywhere. This isn’t something your child will ever outgrow. Visual schedules, checklists, and reminders are excellent ways to help your child stay organized and ordered. You can learn more about this (and snag some ready-made schedules) here.

Saints to Call on For Intercession: St. Maximillian Kolbe; St. Zita


So yes, people have opinions. And yes, those opinions are often wrong.

Your child’s not broken. You aren’t failing as a mother. The behavior you see is communication. Learning to listen will help you both.


Copyright 2019 Ginny Kochis

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About Author

Ginny Kochis is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mom to three differently-wired children. She founded the Not So Formulaic community to support Catholic moms raising out-of-the-box kids. Ginny believes God gives curious, creative, intense children the exact mother they need to thrive.

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