I get lots of questions from parents who needlessly worry about their children's normal behaviour. Kids think, feel, and act in ways that are usually perfectly normal due to their age.
1. Kids make mistakes, lots of them. Children do lots of things that appear silly or stupid, depending upon the situation. Kids are learning about themselves and how they fit into the world, and do things that are incomprehensible to parents. Be careful about looking for hidden meanings or underlying causes for children's misbehaviour. Most of the time, it's just kids being kids.
2. Kids feel intensely. Whether a toddler or a teen, kids experience the world more passionately than most adults. Little things to us are big events to them, and vice versa. Don't tell kids they are overreacting. Instead, help them respond appropriately to their feelings rather than dismiss them as unimportant.
3. Your kids aren't you. Be cautious about using your own childhood as the basis for understanding your kids' worlds. Their experiences are very different than yours. It generally doesn't help to tell kids what it was like when you were younger. Such well-meaning stories are generally seen as dismissive of their experiences.
4. Kids are vulnerable. What occurs in childhood can resonate throughout a lifetime. Kids who live in homes with domestic violence, child abuse or neglect are at an increased risk for serious problems. If you have a mental disorder or drug problem, don't bother seeking help for your child's bad behaviour. Instead, focus on the real problem, which is to get therapy for yourself.
5. Kids think differently than us. Children are egocentric, thinking mostly of themselves. This is developmentally normal, and changes during adolescence. Don't be hurt by what appears to be children's insensitivity to your feelings and situation.
While it's normal for kids to feel that they are and should be the centre of your universe, please don't treat them that way. Don't make them your highest priority. Help them understand that they are one member of a family. Everyone's needs and wants, including yours, need to be considered and balanced.
6. Kids know more than you think. Parents vastly underestimate what kids know about them. Children tell me about marital infidelities, parental quirky habits, and hurtful comments said in anger or frustration.
7. Kids know less than you think. Children don't understand or have a context for most of the adult conversations that they overhear. Keep kids informed at a level they can comprehend. Have them repeat back to you the main message to check out that understanding.
Kids are pretty cool in their own ways, but they are not little adults.
Dr. Gregory Ramey is the executive director of Dayton Children Hospital's Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources.
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