One of the most common questions I hear when a parent enters my office to talk about their child is “Is this normal?” We often wonder if our child is developing and behaving in typical kid-fashion or if there is something more we should be identifying.

Children move through innumerable phases as they develop. Some phases appear normal and some appear odd. Some phases are so wonderful that parents wish it would never fade away and other phases are so challenging a parent wishes it had never arrived! Whatever phase your child is going through, it is common to begin wondering if it will ever change and if it is normal.

When observing a child growing and developing it is important to remember that each child is an individual. Even in those tiny human packages a unique little person is developing! Children develop at varied rates and in different ways. We learn at infancy to measure our children in accordance with other children as doctors explain height and weight percentiles at every doctor visit. Although this information creates helpful guidelines, it does not translate to a strict ruler from which we assess a child’s overall development. When wondering if your child’s behavior is normal you’ll want to remember that “normal” has a very broad definition.

As a caring, responsible parent you may be questioning if your child is acting or developing normally. Here are some guidelines to help you decide:

Observe other children his or her age

You can gather quite of bit of information when you have the opportunity to observe other children of similar age. Whether it is before or after school, on the soccer field, at the mall or in karate class, observing similarities and differences between your child and others may be helpful. Again, it is important to remember that your observation will not gather all the information you need, but it is a nice sample of behavior.

Talk with other parents with children the same age or older

Every parent has a unique story of raising their children, yet there are often similarities that may be comforting to hear. Parents with older children can often provide verification that the phase your child is in will likely pass, as well as tips on how to get through it successfully. On the other hand, if you do not share similar experiences with other parents it may further validate your concerns.

Ask the opinion of a teacher or professional who works with many children

As your child is growing he or she will likely work with many adults like teachers, coaches, counselors, etc. If you hear repeated concerns from a variety of professionals this will be helpful information that your child may be demonstrating behaviors or learning patterns that are outside the norm. If you are not hearing concerns but are wondering about your child’s current development, ask a trusted professional if they share any of the same concerns or how the concerns compare with other children they usually work with.

Determine if the phase or behavior is interfering with the child’s daily life

More importantly than how your child parallels with other children is the question, “To what degree is the concern you have interfering with the child’s daily life?” Is the concern affecting any of the following:

  • Academics
  • Social Development
  • Behavior
  • Leisure Activities
  • Communication
  • Mood and Emotional Development
  • Daily Living Skills (eating, dressing, chores, etc.)

If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, then maybe there is a concern to be addressed.

Make adjustments in your response to your child’s behavior and observe

A child’s behavior is a form of communication. It is wonderful that you are already listening and paying attention! A child often behaves in a way that gets his or her needs met yet the child is usually unaware of the chain of events. If you are noticing a pattern of behavior, make a guess about why the child is acting that way. Then try responding in a different way and observe if the behavior changes.

As an example, if the consequence for your child’s misbehavior is doing 1 hour of running errands with you on Saturday, and your child is actually craving your attention, 1 hour on Saturday may be a great way to spend time with Dad. Even though the child didn’t act out just to spend Saturday with you, the 1:1 attention did not serve the consequence you were hoping. If you make the correct guess that your child is craving your attention, try to provide the attention when he or she is engaging in positive behaviors and remove your attention when they are misbehaving (when you are able). Observe if this subtle change makes a difference in your child’s behavior. You will need to give this strategy some time before you draw your conclusion.

Have a conversation with your child

Many times we forget to communicate with our children. We must pick our moments of communication carefully, assessing for a calm mood and willingness to dialogue, yet these moments can be so valuable! Depending on the child’s age and ability to communicate you can ask direct or indirect questions to help gather information about his or her insight.

Seek professional guidance

You can also seek information or support from a professional therapist. A trained and experienced professional will help to assess if your child’s development is on track. If there are concerns, a treatment plan can be developed to best support your child and your family’s needs.