As a parent, it can be overwhelming to keep up with all of the new behaviors and preferences that our kids present us with on a daily basis. Our toddler might adore toast with raspberry jam one day and act like it’s worse than fruitcake the next. Meanwhile, our teenager could become exasperated at our inability to keep up with her latest BFF drama. But, regardless of where our children are in their developmental stages, one thing is for sure, they are changing faster than we can learn what a snapchat is.
So, how are we to tell if these changes are developmentally appropriate or a sign of a larger problem?
First, recognize that there is a wide range of growth potential at every age. Just because your child isn’t developing as quickly as some of her friends, does not mean that there is anything wrong with her. New parents often worry, for example, when their babies aren’t walking by 10 months, only to find that each baby has his or her own time-table for these types of milestones. Similarly, if your six-year-old is having a hard time making friends, don’t jump to the conclusion that she is socially inept. She could be an introvert, who recharges during time alone, or, she could simply be slower to warm to new people.
A good rule of thumb to determine whether a certain behavior is a true cause for concern, is to identify whether said behavior is causing major life disruptions in one or more areas. For example, if little Johnny is having difficulty at school because he cannot read any social cues from teachers or classmates, it might be a good idea to consult a professional about testing for autism. In contrast, if Johnny comes home from school one day complaining that nobody likes him, he is likely going through a phase of insecurity, which is just a normal part of learning to be around others. Duration and length of the problem is another good way of figuring things out.
Another way to tell if a behavior is problematic is to identify whether there is a pattern present. If little Suzy cannot make eye contact with others, she may need to be evaluated by a professional, but if it’s only adults that she is avoiding, there may be a specific reason, (although not a logical one), that can be worked through with proper communication.
Speaking of communication, it’s a great way to find out what is going on. Don’t be afraid to talk directly to your children. Ask them how they are feeling, and what they are thinking. Remember that their world-view is very different from yours, and that they have a million things going on in those little bodies.
Even with communication, though, trying to decide whether your child has an issue that needs professional treatment can feel like walking a tight-rope. Sometimes, it’s a fine line between what is “normal,” and what is not. And, really, who decides what is normal anyway? Well, okay, we do. But, you know what we mean. Professional consultation and parenting strategies might be helpful to distinguish normal from cause for concern.
If there is one thing we want you to take away from this article it’s this: most of the things that your kids do are within the normal range. And, even if they aren’t it’s okay. We are here to help.