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If this is "normal", why can't I stand it?

Written by: Elaine M. Gibson
"If a child's behavior is normal for that age, but not a particularly positive behavior, can the parent do something about it?"

This question comes up all the time. Parents worry about a problem behavior until they find out that most kids of the same age act the same way: Once parents are assured that a behavior is "normal", they stop worrying about the child and worry about how to survive "normal".
The Usual Questions:
Should parents ignore the behavior and trust that it will go away since the child won't be this age for ever?

If the behavior is ignored, will it ever go away?

Is there something that can be done to help the child through this stage?

Normal is often strange.
Children adopt some strange behaviors as they work through the conflicts and demands at each stage of development. Even stranger -- most kids try the behaviors at approximately the same age. When we study child development and observe children, we realize that at any given age, children have a limited set of responses for the frustrations and pleasures of living. The type of responses reflect children's experience.

Should parents do anything?
It depends. For whom is the behavior a problem? Both parents? Then the answer is yes. As parents, we often see the same behavior but with different interpretations. One parent will seem oblivious to a behavior that drives another parent up the wall. If it is a behavior that children simply outgrow, the behavior will be a problem for the parent on the wall. That parent will need to do something about it "now" for their own sanity, not for the child. It is not up to the "no problem" parent to do something.

Parents can always ignore the behavior and try to maintain some perspective. When a behavior is considered normal, parents should not take the behavior too seriously.If we expect problem behaviors to be temporary, they usually are.

Time away leads to a better perspective.
The best way to maintain perspective during any difficult phase is to get away from the child. Whether the child is 2 or 15, separation time is often a good solution. Children can't be pleasant all the time and neither can parents. Going out in the evening is wonderful if the parents can arrange to return when the kids are in bed and asleep. Regardless of what a child has done during the day, just one look at a sleeping child can put everything back into a better perspective.

When parents need to get involved:
If the behavior is causing problems for the child, parental intervention IS necessary. Children continue any behavior that is reinforced -- that means a behavior that wins attention of any kind.
We cannot force a child to hurry up and grow out of a particular stage. We CAN help the child develop more appropriate responses through positive reinforcement. We can change our responses. We can make changes in the child's environment.

We can't force maturity on our children but we can guide them in the process.

Develop a plan.
  1. Think about the situation:

      Is the behavior a problem for the child?
      The child needs help learning more appropriate actions.

      If the behavior is a problem for the parent, can it be ignored?
      Ignore it.

      Is it too annoying to ignore?
      Then do something about it, something reasonable.

  2. Ask for help:

      Ask the pediatrician, teacher, or caregiver what he or she suggests.

      Read about that problem to find some intervention techniques.

      Ask other parents what they did and how they worked on the problem.

  3. With several possible solutions in hand, decide which approach seems right:

      For the particular situation.

      For the child's age.

      For the desired outcome.
By that time, the child will probably have grown out of one problem stage and will be into the next. It's called "the challenge of parenting".

Article used by permission of the Author: Elaine M. Gibson

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