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NAVIGATING CHILD DEVELOPMENT – SO WHAT IS NORMAL?

Is he supposed to do that? Do all kids act like that? Why is my child the only one that can’t sit still? Every parent has asked themselves, at one time or another, while observing a particular behavior in their child, is that normal? As a psychologist, I get asked that question often where parents are trying to determine if they should be concerned or is their child just behaving “normally”. Raising children is one of the most important endeavors that many of us will undertake and yet it is also often the area for which we generally have had the least preparation. Given this, it is no wonder that most parents have felt that sense of anxiety, stress and even dread over whether or not their children are developing “normally”. Luckily, we live in the information age where there is a wealth of information at our fingertips. However, it can be confusing navigating through all of this information and it is important to find sources that you trust and feel comfortable with such as another parent, a professional (such as a teacher, pediatrician, psychologist) and reputable books (Raising Your Spirited Child, Mary Sheedy Kurchinka, The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood, Selma Fraiberg) and websites (i.e. www.babycenter.com or www.childparenting.about.com). 

As a part of understanding your child’s development and gauging where you should have concerns it is important to remember that every child is unique and came into this world with their own particular characteristics and challenges. When considering the child development charts remember that they are guidelines and “normal” has a varied range. Each child develops differently, one child may be the social butterfly and able to adapt in almost any situation where as another child may grasp language so easily that by the age of four they are reading. Both are in the range of normal. 

Development should be considered in all areas including how the child communicates, learns, interacts with others, plays and grows. Remember to not only gain information on how your child will change physically but to also learn how your child will develop intellectually and change emotionally and socially. This will aid with using a child’s strength in one area to help with development in another. Additionally, it is expected that all children will have some difficulties several times during childhood development. Just take a look around, your child is not the only three year old still having difficulty with toilet training or the only eight year old on the baseball outfield still kicking at dirt instead of being in the ready position. As a parent, being aware of developmental stages aids us with knowing when our child’s behavior is so outside of the range that it is beginning to interfere with their functioning. When only the parent understands the three year old, the six year old is still having difficulty with the alphabet, or the ten year old has not made lasting friendships, knowledge of child development expectations will help you as a parent feel confident about seeking further professional assistance. Also, remember that children, just like everyone else, are affected by their environment and sometimes these developmental lags are indicators of their responding to life’s pressures. 

As parents, our biggest challenge is to aid our children with developing to their full potential remembering to appreciate their particular talents and strengths. While it is “normal” for all children to experience some bumps and hills along the way, knowledge of developmental stages helps us with knowing when they may have reached a road block. At these times is important to promptly address the issue, gain needed assistance and successfully aid your child back on path to their successful life development. 

Dea Rabon Montgomery, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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 Life in Real Time is a subsidiary of DRM Consulting Services dedicated to helping individuals successfully navigate life change.