Luisa Williams, CEO & Founder from My Family Psychologist joins us on the blog with advice for any parent who has asked the question, is my child ‘normal’?
I have rarely met a parent who has not at one stage, wondered if their child or their development was ‘normal’.
And no doubt, many of you have asked friends or googled it.
There are so many ‘help books’ and comments made by other parents which challenge our sense of what it means for our child to grow up ‘normally’.
Hitting certain developmental milestones at certain ages is the hot topic amongst parents at playdates who are keen to show off their children and their achievements. However, this can often leave some parents feeling down heartened if their child is not in line with other children.
So, the real question here is, what is normal?
The concept has become a pivotal taken-for-granted way in which we make sense of human development. There is a tendency for it to be treated as a benchmark to determine things as they should be rather than what they are.
How do you know if your child is struggling with something more serious? When should you seek professional help? It is natural to want to jump ahead and try and solve a problem, even when there isn’t a problem to solve.
Some developmental challenges may require more time and practice. It’s important to go at your child’s pace, often combined with support, sensitivity and patience.
Diversity and labelling
It is important to not get overly concerned with what is the ‘norm’.
Diversity in children should be welcomed and appreciated. However, there is no harm in monitoring your child. For instance, activity levels in children may vary; some children may have bursts of energy and require the need to run around to burn it off compared to other children their age.
This does not mean that there is anything ‘wrong’ with your child, however, at the extreme end of the continuum, hyperactivity may be suggestive of a condition called ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
ADHD is a label which has been typically been overused when referring to children who have a lot of energy. It does require a thorough assessment to diagnose this condition.
If you suspect that your child may have symptoms of ADHD, then please get in touch so we can talk you through the process and support you if you require an assessment for your child. We provide assessment services which may help you move forwards.
On the other hand, some children may exhibit very low energy levels and getting them to engage in any physical activity can prove difficult. Lack of play or interaction with others can worry parents and question whether their child is normal.
If you are concerned, have discussions with other parents and teachers to see if they have noticed this in their child or whilst their child is at nursery or school.
Talk to your child and check in with them to see how they are feeling. Remember some children have strengths and developments in different areas and this is okay.
Monitor major changes
All children have emotional ups and downs; periods where they may experience moodiness, appear withdrawn, uncooperative, and impulsive or even dips in academic performance which may sound alarm bells for you as a parent.
As human beings, emotions fluctuate all the time and children are no different. It can be harder for children to communicate their thoughts and feelings as they not equipped with the knowledge or skills required to manage their emotions.
This may cause parents to feel that their child is being difficult or challenging. For example, your child may be eating less than usual or may appear to be ‘zoned out’ which may act as an indicator that they may not be feeling okay.
If you notice considerable changes such as a change in appetite, sleep pattern, physical health or emotional regulation, it could be time to speak to a professional such as your GP or a therapist and ask for a consultation.
Behaviours to watch out for when deciding whether your child needs help.
If they express hopelessness or talk about suicide/suicide ideation.
If they make comments saying ‘I wish I wasn’t here’ or ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’
If you notice that they talk about or engage in self-harming behaviours.
If they become withdrawn from family, friends or activities they used to enjoy.
If they express that they feel low or express negatively the way they look.
If they show or vocalise excessive worry about the future.
If they engage in negative behaviour more frequently.
If they have repetitive behaviours such as hair pulling or skin picking.
These signs do not necessarily mean that they aren’t normal, but rather, something abnormal may be going on for them which they see as being normal.
Always make every effort with your child instead of confronting them in a challenging manner as this may make them defensive or make them feel worse.
Children have mental health too and it’s okay for them to be kids
Parents often have a limited understanding of the psychological aspects of social development and healthy emotional wellbeing.
This can apply when thinking about gender expectations and identity. Would you consider it unusual for a boy to play with a doll or a girl to run around with a stick pretending to have a sword fight?
If your child does not appear distressed, then the chances are, they are being expressive in their own way. If their functioning is not impaired, then it does not mean that there should be cause for concern. Encourage them to explore themselves and enjoy being a kid. Those years don’t last long.
Fairness and pressure
Often as parents, we want what is best for our children. We get them involved in after school activities to broaden their skills and open their minds.
Sometimes, we may push too hard and some children may find this type of behaviour demanding and feel pressured.
Children are allowed to have strengths and developments as no child will be perfectly good at everything.
Try not to push them to do things which they openly express that they don’t enjoy. Instead, nurture their talents and support them with their developments as this will enhance your child’s performance.
Make time for your children
Valuing your child is so important to ensure that you are spending some quality time with them.
Try something called ‘child-directed play’. Allow your child to direct the playtime and avoid asking too many questions about the play (even if they are inventing made-up characters, go along with it).
This one on one time will help you bond and connect with your child around their interests and enhance your relationship with them.
You may notice that it is likely to improve their overall behaviour. Remember, this 1:1 time is important at all developmental stages, even in teenage years when it will become less about playtime and more about engaging in activities that they enjoy.
Get in touch
If you have any concerns about your child and feel that you would benefit from accessing services to help support your child, family or to get an assessment, please contact My Family Psychologist to find out more.
We work actively with children and families to explore issue including anxiety, eating disorders, self-esteem and attachment.
Family law advice
If you would like any advice on divorce and the impact on your children please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers here.