Monthly Archives: June 2013

Normal or Not Normal? Part 3

When should parents of young children seek help?

Red FlagsImage

Early identification of mental health problems in young children is extremely challenging.  There are many resources to help parents learn “red flags” for autism, but other forms of mental disorders are even less clear cut.  Sometimes a parent’s gut instinct is the most powerful “red flag” of all.

When my son with ASD was young, he would throw violent tantrums if his schedule was different, if I took a different route home from his preschool, if he was in too noisy a place, or even if the phone rang or someone flushed the toilet with the lid down.  He would throw the phone across the room, hit his sister or me, and once knocked down rows of boxes in a shoe store.

Given that this happened on a regular basis, I found it really insufferable when other people would say to me, “Oh, every child throws tantrums.” I had an older child and, yes, she had had her moments, but there was absolutely no comparison between the two.

I knew that I was not doing anything to drive the tantrums, like giving in, hitting my child or losing my temper.  Despite my exhaustion and embarrassment, it was EXTREMELY important that I kept my calm.  Otherwise, I just made things worse.  I also used a non-threatening way of restraining him with my arms and legs, so that he was safe and did not hurt himself or others.

If you have provided the right environment and know that your child is getting food, sleep, love, attention, physical activity, and appropriate play experiences, but he or she is still unhappy, disconnected from caregivers, aggressive and/or self-destructive, then you should ask for help.

Talking to Medical Professionals: Describing Behaviors

If you really feel that something is “not right” with your child, please don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s pediatrician or, in Hennepin County, call Help Me Grow at 612-348-TOTS (8687).

When talking to medical professionals, though, it’s best to be as precise as possible.  You could keep a Multiple_Behavior_Chart for one week to show the doctor how often child throws tantrums or hurts himself.  If your infant or toddler cries a lot, time how long the crying lasts.  If you report to the doctor that your one-year-old cries every night for 4 hours, that would have more impact than saying, “My kid is driving me crazy with all his crying.”

NORMAL FOR TODDLERS

NOT NORMAL FOR TODDLERS

Occasional tantrums – Daily tantrums that can last several hours;
– Violent or self-destructive behavior, such as head banging;
– Aggressive behavior toward others
Meeting developmental milestones at slightly different rates – Delays of at least 6 months in walking, talking or social behavior;
– Dramatic loss of skills (speaking, etc.) after a period of  normal development
Meltdowns when tired or hungry – Inability to be soothed or comforted;
– Overreacts to minor changes in routine, noise, light, etc.;

Normal or Not Normal? Part 2

ImageWhen Parents of School-Aged Kids Should Seek Help

Parenting children through their school-aged years can be exciting and fulfilling, but also frustrating.  You may delight as you watch them grow, but you may not always know how to help them through challenges. Remember that childhood is not always rosy, and our kids can be confronting difficult issues like bullying, problems with schoolwork, and peer pressure.

How our kids are responding to the normal stresses of elementary and middle school years is important to know.  The guide below should help parents to consider what types of behavior are considered normal and when behaviors should be of concern.

NORMAL FOR SCHOOL AGED KIDS

NOT NORMAL FOR SCHOOL AGED KIDS

Sometimes not wanting to go to school
  • Actively and continually resisting going to school;
  • Routinely crying about school or having tremendous anxiety about school.
  • Skipping school
Not excited about schoolwork
  • Declining school performance
  •  Getting very behind in schoolwork
  • Easily distracted or unable to pay attention
Growing awareness of and some anxiety about external peer and school pressures, as well as broader issues such as spirituality and world events.
  • Extreme, obsessive or long-term anxiety that interferes with eating, sleeping, or other daily living activities.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches that don’t seem to have a medical cause.
Body changes and awareness of sexuality
  • Sexual acting out that is inappropriate for a child’s age
Some mood swings
  • Having “up” or “down” moods that last for several weeks at a time;
  • Experiencing a dramatic personality change;
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about death or suicide
Testing out behaviors and taking risks
  • Displaying patterns of lying, cheating and/or stealing
  • Aggressive or hurtful behavior, fighting or bullying
  • Recklessness to the point of endangering self or others
  • Substance abuse

Sources: Minnesota Department of Human Services; University of Maryland Medical Center