I get more questions about child development than any other psychological phenomenon and I’m not surprised. When I became a mom I was floored by how much there is to know, how many “experts” can contradict each other, and how common sense seemed to have no place in many parenting situations. Shouldn’t there be some kind of owner’s manual that comes with your new kid? Maybe the reason why we don’t have one is because much of parenting is viewed subjectively. Meaning, we base what is right and what is wrong on our personal values (or our parents’ personal values… or our in-laws’ personal values… or the values of the well-meaning yet intrusive elderly man at the grocery store), not on hard based facts. This is why, in my opinion, things get way harder than they need to be. Basing parenting decisions on objective information such as brain development, would make everything a whole lot easier for everyone.
First, let’s start with what is normal behavior and what is not.
But before that, let’s get you in the right head space:
While even the word “normal” can be subjective, let’s not get too caught-up on it. Falling outside the normal range isn’t necessarily bad, it just means that there is important information to be taken into account. So shake-off any fears about what not being normal might mean. If your child does fall outside of the normal range, they need you to be ready to handle it and you definitely can. It’s ok to be scared at first, be honest about it, but don’t let yourself dwell. There are so many resources available and as long as you’re willing to ask for the help you may need, you’ll handle this like a champ.
Now, on to the red flags.
- A Dramatic Change in Personality or Behavior
Was your child once shy and introspective and is now chatty and needing to be around others constantly? Or maybe they were quite friendly and now want to be by themselves the majority of the time. Do they suddenly display violent behaviors or explosive anger? Or maybe your once potty trained 5 or 6 year old is now bed wetting.
Any time we as therapists hear a report of a dramatic change in behavior (that can’t be accounted for by medication, illness, or life event), we assess for abuse. If you are concerned after reading this, please don’t hesitate to talk to your child and have them assessed by a mental health professional.
When a behavior change is probably due normal development: