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The Normal Child
Dr. Debasmita Dey

Worried parents turning up at psychiatrist’s clinics with their kids who are apparently behaving ‘abnormally’ is a common sight nowadays. Add to that prep schools and other educational institutions that insist on getting the child ‘evaluated’ for various apparent abnormalities, the parents are at their wits end. Though the trend is good in the sense that awareness about mental health is increasing, we need to understand that ‘normalcy’ in psychiatry is a complex concept, more so when it comes to kids. This article is a glimpse into the mindof today’s kids.

At the outset it is essential to remember that the world has changed rapidly in the past decade or two. There is hence a huge difference between the environment in which we are rearing our children and the one we grew up in. Let us explore them one at a time.

Family structure has changed from joint families to nuclear families. On top of that, in most households both parents have a full time job that they are trying to balance with their domestic responsibilities. Child rearing is reliant heavily on domestic helps and daycare facilities. The bonding that children share with their family is not well formed as a result. This is a major obstacle that hinders easy parenting later in life.

Most kids are sent to prep schools quite early to groom them for admission into reputed schools at the right time. It is necessary to understand that at this age the children show a wide variation in their rate of development. Meaning that though they may be of the same age, all of them do not have the same maturity level. There is nothing wrong with that. The ones who are lagging behind usually catch up in a few years. The same can be said about distractive and disruptive behavior. Some children have a difficult temperament, while others have an easy one. Obviously the latter will be easier to ‘manage’ at prep schools and daycare facilities. But that does not mean the former group is ‘mentally disturbed’.

Repetitive complaints from schools send the already distressed parents into a frenzy. Here is a word of advice for such troubled parents. Spend more time with the child, preferably with the aid of their grandparents. A mentally disturbed child will have a persistent and pervasive pattern of disruptive behavior, that is the ‘abnormal’ behavioral pattern will be displayed in all settings (at school, at play, at home etc.) at all times. This simple observation can eliminate half of your worries and many “ADHD” labels. Often, children who are ‘ill-behaved’ at school do surprisingly well when left with their grandparents! As they say, experience and patience counts.

Children who have very little interaction at home often have slow developing speech and are socially awkward. They are not all “autistic“. Majority will pick up speech when exposed to a more social environment. Social skills are a set of learned behavior. Left with their peers, most children will learn them voluntarily, without the aid of special educators. Same goes for nightly bedwetting. Proper toilet training eliminates many problems, without going for medications.

Giving a detailed description of all childhood disorders is beyond the purview of this article. For further clarifications and queries, feel free to seek professional advice.