How Do I Know If My Child's Behavior Is Normal Or Not?
Parents of young children, especially first-time parents, already know that children can be a little strange. They are new to the world around them and social norms are not fully understood by them--in other words, they do not have a verbal or behavioral "filter." So how are you supposed to know what is normal, healthy behavior and what is not? There are a few things to consider--some which may surprise you.
Consider, first, the type of behavior that a parent wants or approves of. This includes doing homework, having proper manners, and performing helpful tasks around the house. These behaviors will readily warrant a compliment from parents and others who interact with the children. Naturally, the positive reinforcement will cause the child to continue these behaviors, and of course, they are normal.
Then there are behaviors which are not necessarily desired by the parents, but allowed under specific conditions. For example, if a child is sick, the parent may exempt him from doing his homework for that day. If there is a life-changing event, such as moving or a new addition to the household, the child may be too preoccupied to help with chores or be a bit moody. Parents need to recognize that these behaviors are a response to the change of pace, and are normal.
Finally, there are types of behavior that children may partake in that should not be reinforced whatsoever. These include anything that could damage the physical, emotional or psychological health of the child or anyone affected by the child. Obviously, children may not know that certain behaviors are wrong until they are told so, so it is normal for them to partake in detrimental behaviors in experimentation. However, it is up to the parent to use discipline to remove these behaviors.
There are going to be behaviors of children that seem, to a parent, off-the-cuff and it is a gray area whether or not it is actually harming them. For example, a child may want to dress as the opposite sex, or eat food combinations that one might consider strange. It is in these situations that a parent needs to establish boundaries. Are these actions really hurting the child, or is the parent just embarrassed by them?
A parent's response is going to shape a lot of things for a child. Reinforcement and punishment are ways to get a child to behave in a positive manner and refrain from hurting others in any way. A good rule of thumb is that kids will be kids, and as long as they are positive in attitude and do not hurt anyone, parents should allow them to be themselves. Otherwise, if a child is not allowed to dress a certain way or have personal tastes, it may be a reason to harbor resentment and cause issues later.
Essentially, parents need to pick their battles with children when deciding how important it is that behavior is "normal." Kids are individual and have very little concept of what is socially accepted, so they are going to do things that may seem weird to others early in life. It is a matter of reinforcing positive behavior, such as manners, punishing harmful behavior, and letting the rest play out as it will.