Phew! It’s Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids & Teens – And What They Need From Us

Phew! It's Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What is Normal Behaviour for Children and Teens

Being a kid or a teen is not for lightweights – it’s tough out there! There are important things that need to be done, that only they can do. The nature of these jobs depends on the developmental stage they are at. Knowing what is normal behaviour for children and teens can help to smooth the path for everyone involved.

Even as adults, we can be prone to tantrums, tears and wanting to give the world (or particular people in it) an almighty spray sometimes. For the most part, we can hang to the dramatics and anything that might land us in trouble, but even with all of our experience, our fully developed brains, and our capacity to see around corners, it’s hard some days. Imagine what it’s like for our kids.

Understanding what our kids are wrestling with and the developmental goals they are working towards will make their more ‘frustrating’ behaviours easier to deal with. Things will run smoother if we can give them the space and support they need to do whatever it is they need to. Of course, none of this means totally surrendering our boundaries around what’s okay and what isn’t in terms of behaviour. What it means is responding with greater wisdom, clarity and with more appropriate consequences. Life just gets easier for everyone when we are able to take things less personally.

Here are some important developmental stages and the difficult behaviour that might come with them. You’ll often find that their behaviour, though unruly and baffling at times, is completely normal and a sign that your child is flourishing and making his or her way through childhood or adolescence exactly as they are meant to.

The ages of the stages are just a guide. When checking to see whether your kids are on track, read the stages around the actual age of your child. The progression through the stages is more important than the age at which this happens. As long as kids are moving through the stages, it doesn’t matter if they get there slower than other kids.

Infants & Babies (0-12 months).

  • Everything will go in the mouth – hands, feet, food, toys, shoes – you name it.
  • If they are crying, there is something they need – a sleep, a cuddle, food, changing. They don’t yet have the words to communicate, but crying is a spectacularly effective way for baby humans to get big humans to move mountains for them. One of the beautiful things about babies is that they will never ask for more than they need.
  • Wary of strangers and might get upset when familiar people aren’t close by.
  • Babies will stare. They love faces and will stare at faces in real life, in books and in mirrors. Oh to be at an age where staring at other people is socially acceptable – and cute.

The support they need.

Babies have an important job to do – they need to learn whether or not they can trust the world and the people in it. For their part, they will work hard to give you the opportunities to show them how safe and secure they are. They might not have much of a vocabulary but they are masterful little communicators when it comes to letting you know when something isn’t quite right. Be consistently attentive to their needs so they can feel the world as a safe and secure one for them. Feed them when they are hungry, comfort them when they are scared, cuddle them when they need to be with you.  This will form the foundation for their exploration of the world, their independence, their confidence and self-esteem, and their relationships.

1-2 years.

  • Will become more interactive.
  • No understanding of intentionality – they see, they do without thinking about why or what it means. For example, when they bite, it is not to hurt, when they grab toys from other kids it’s not to cause upset, it’s to … well, everyone knows that things are for grabbing, right. Or eating.
  • Will follow their curiosity and will pull things down or apart to see what happens. Ditto with throwing anything onto the floor.
  • Not developmentally able to share.
  • Might seem bossy and selfish, but keep in mind that anything they are interested in or considers to be theirs will be seen as an extension of themselves. Of course, nobody else is entitled to take it!
  • Beginning to understand possession, and developing a strong sense of self.
  • Two of their favourite words to say, ‘Mine!’ and ‘No!’
  • Two of their least favourite words to hear, ‘Mine!’ and ‘No!’
  • Will often wake during the night.
  • Towards the end of this stage, they may become more defiant as they start to experiment with their independence. May tantrum because they become frustrated by their lack of words and their lack of ability to communicate.
  • Tantrums will also be driven by their experience of big emotions (frustration, anger, sadness, shame) that they don’t have the words for.
  • Will be more likely to play alongside other kids, rather than with them.

The support they need.

  • Their attention span is still fairly short, so use distraction to direct them away from what you don’t want them to be doing.
  • When you give them a new rule or direction, it’s likely that the old one will be forgotten. Sometimes you will love their short attention span. Sometimes you won’t.
  • Be positive when you see them doing the right thing.
  • Start letting them know the things that aren’t okay.
  • Ignore the small stuff. There’s so much to learn so it’s best not to overload them. Let them get used to the important things first.
  • Your child will be starting to understand what you are asking but for the sake of your own sweet sanity, let go of the expectation that they will do as you ask. Keep asking and guiding, but don’t take it personally if it doesn’t happen straight up. Or at all.
  • Be kind and gentle when correcting. They are doing their very best with what they have. If you ask for too much you might end up with a more anxious or more defiant or less confident three-year-old.
  • Help them put words to what they are feeling, ‘It’s upsetting when you have to pack your toys away and you want to keep playing isn’t it.’

3 years old.

  • Will experiment with independence. May lead to tantrums.
  • Will want increased control. May lead to tantrums.
  • Will become frustrated when disappointed. May lead to tantrums.
  • May see an increase in tantrums.
  • Will flip between wanting to be independent (‘I do it!’, or ‘by myself’) and wanting to be treated like a little person (‘carry me’ or ‘you do it’).
  • Will form a special attachment to the word ‘no’ and will practice it often. Even when they might mean ‘yes’. (Ahhhh toddlers! Fortunately, evolution has given them a profound capacity for cuteness while they are sleeping. This is important for those catastrophic events, such as when you miss the notification that sandwiches are now to be served as little triangles, not little squares as was previously deemed acceptable. If this happens, just go with it – you’ll need your energy for when they realise you haven’t bought the toothpaste with Elsa on the tube.)
  • Might stutter or stammer.
  • Will start to assert control over their environment by wanting to plan activities, do things by themselves, try challenging things.
  • Might keep calling you back when they are put to bed.
  • Might develop sudden fears and phobias.
  • May confuse real and make-believe, so may have one or a collection of imaginary friends.
  • Still won’t understand sharing and will often assert ownership, ‘Mine!’.
  • Might show jealousy when parent gives attention to other children.

The support they need.

  • Write this down, ‘It won’t be like this forever’. Now stick it on your mirror where you’ll see it every day.
  • Let them know when they do something well. They want to know that you’re happy with them and that they’re doing okay.
  • Be gentle when they get it wrong. Your child wants to do the right thing but has things to do and places to be along the way. Don’t come down hard on mistakes – they’re still figuring it all out and they have a way to go. Treat mistakes as opportunities to teach them something valuable.
  • Don’t have too many rules and be consistent with the ones that you have. Too many rules and consequences that are all over the place will only confuse them and will set the monkey on your back. If you teach them that sometimes they can get away with it, they’re going to keep going. You’d worry if they didn’t.
  • Use ‘no’ gently and in moderation. You want to encourage their exploration and experimentation with the world and their place in it. Guide them, but don’t take away their initiative. And don’t give them any more reason than they have to use it at you.
  • Give them the freedom and space to play and encourage their experimentation with physical and imaginative play. Support their efforts to initiate play so they can feel their own capacity to influence their environment.
  • Encourage decision making but limit choices (‘Would you like to have a bath first or choose your pyjamas first? Would you like to wear the red shirt or the yellow shirt today? Would you prefer corn or avocado with your dinner?’ And then, maybe when they’re bigger … ‘Would you prefer to make me a tea or a coffee?’ Oh let’s just indulge the glorious possibility of it all for a moment.)
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking time out for yourself to recharge. The battles will be easier when you’re replenished.
  • Have bedtime rituals. Bedtime at this age can be exhausting for everyone. Have a ritual and let it be lovely for both of you – a story, a cuddle, a spray of lavender around the room, a kiss, and the words, ‘Love you. Night Gorgeous Boy,’ – or something.

4 years old.

  • Will start to be critical and will define the world in simple terms. Things and people will be right or wrong, good or bad, nice or not nice.
  • They will start to realise the power of their words and will sometimes use them to get their way or to control others. Their command of language will still be loose, so they will often back up what they are saying with actions (hitting, pushing, grabbing) or non-verbals (tone, volume, facial expressions, posture/stance).
  • Will become competitive.
  • Will still blur reality and fantasy sometimes. Might tell lies, extravagant stories, or have imaginary friend/s.
  • Still building their sense of self and experimenting with independence, so might be stubborn, defiant and bossy.
  • Will do all sorts of things to avoid bedtime.
  • Might have bad dreams.
  • Might develop a fear of the dark or become anxious thought of being separated from parent or caregiver.
  • Will start to enjoy playing with other kids rather than simply alongside them.
  • Will test their limits with you but will still be keen to please and help you out when they can.

The support they need.

  • When you set rules, talk to them about why the rules are important. They are curious and developing their ideas about how the world works. It doesn’t mean they’ll ‘get it’ straight away, or that they’ll comply.
  • Keep your requests simple.
  • They desperately want to make you happy. Let them know whenever you see good behaviour.
  • Don’t argue with a four-year-old. Just don’t. They’ll out-do you any day and if they don’t have the words or a sound argument, they’ll just keep asking ‘why’.
  • When it comes to less-than-impressive behaviour, ask what happened but don’t ask why they did it. Asking ‘Why did you do that?’ will just encourage a lie because the boundary between fantasy and reality in the world of a four-year-old is very – very – loose.
  • When they do something wrong, apply gentle consequences but explain why the behaviour is wrong and that you know they can do better next time. They need to know you believe in them – they will do as you do.
  • Be consistent. If you don’t think it’s always important to enforce a rule, your child will, understandably, think it’s not won’t always important to follow it.
  • Encourage their independence but remember they are still young. Let them be little people when they are stressed or tired.
  • Give them lots of kisses and cuddles, even though they are ‘big people now.’

Five years old.

  • Will understand the importance of rules but might divert from the rules when playing. Rules tend to be ‘flexible’ – for them at least.
  • May accuse others of cheating if they don’t win a game.
  • Will start to show empathy and an understanding that other people might have points of view that are different to their own.
  • Will be able to share but might still find it difficult, especially when it comes to their special things.
  • Might be afraid of failure, criticism and spooky things like ghosts or monsters.
  • Attention span will start to increase which will impact on the type of discussions you are able to have with them.
  • Might come across as being an ‘expert’ on everything.
  • Will enjoy joking around and will start to develop ‘potty’ humour.
  • Will be looking to make their own decisions, particularly around what to wear and what to eat.
  • If starting at school, might be moodier, more sensitive or more tired than usual. It’s exhausting having to sit still and concentrate for long periods.

The support they need.

  • Encourage anything that will get your child moving, particularly if it is in a group or a team with others. This will help your child to develop important skills like taking turns, getting along with others, working together, negotiating, compromising, and winning or losing graciously.
  • Set aside time each day to play with your child or spend one on one time together. This will give your child the opportunity to let you into their world, which will always be one of the best places to be. From here you can get a feel for what is going on in their beautifully flourishing minds.
  • Start to expand your child’s emotional literacy by naming and discussing feelings.
  • Connect rewards to responsibilities. ‘How about you help me clear the table and then you can have dessert?’
  • Continue to keep rules simple and try not to have too many.

Six years old.

  • It’s pretty likely that they will know a lot more than you. Just ask them.
  • May start tantruming again.
  • Can start to test the limits but will still want to please you and help out.
  • Will seek praise for their school work and for the good things they do.
  • Will seek to master new skills and to feel competent.
  • Might worry about being away from you.

The support they need.

  • Encourage their efforts and acknowledge when they have worked hard.
  • Encourage effort over outcome to help them develop a growth mindset and a strong self-belief in their capacity to achieve.
  • Ensure they get the support they need if they are struggling at school.
  • Avoid overpraise or meaningless praise and let them know that they are special, but so are other people.

Seven years old.

  • Might tend towards complaining, usually about their parents or the rules, but also about friends and other kids.
  • Will feel misunderstood by many.
  • Can be dramatic about school, friends or life in general.
  • Will try to use words to talk about how they are feeling but may become frustrated and angry when they are upset.
  • Will be becoming more aware of what other people think.

The support they need.

  • Listen and validate what they are feeling and know that you don’t need to fix their problems.
  • Discuss how they might solve the things that are causing them trouble. Give them space and encouragement to come up with their own ideas.
  • Don’t be drawn into the dramatics.
  • Don’t immediately think that things are a mess because they are saying they are.
  • Jump on the positive.

Eight years old.

  • Will want you to think the way they do and will have little tolerance for your difference of opinion.
  • Will be very sensitive to what you think of them.
  • Will often fight with the mother.
  • There won’t be a lot of grey. Things will be black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.
  • This tendency to think in absolutes might cause a little trouble with friendships. Take comfort in knowing that yours won’t be the only small person struggling with this. They’ll be okay – this is the part where they learn about friendships and how to get along with people.

The support they need.

  • When you’re praising their good behaviour, be clear about what it is they have done.
  • Avoid arguing whenever you can. With their black and white thinking, an argument will just mean that someone is right (them) and someone is wrong (you). Instead, ask them to explain their point of view and encourage them to see things from different angles.
  • Spend plenty of time together to cement the relationship for the pull away that is coming at adolescence.

Nine years old.

  • Friends will start to be more important than parents, and this will continue through adolescence.
  • What their friends think will start to become more and more important.
  • Will narrow the friendship field by having closer friendships, but less of them.
  • Will share jokes and secrets with friends.
  • Will push against rules and directions and may disrespect you.
  • Will be able to be loving and silly but will also develop the capacity to be selfish, argumentative and abrasive.

What to do.

  • Provide them with opportunities for independence and to make their own decisions.
  • Avoid being too bossy or directive.
  • Encourage them to start thinking about things from another point of view, ‘What would so-and-so say about that?’ ‘How do you think she felt when that happened?’

Ten to eleven years old.

  • The tantrums of childhood will be calming down by now. Enjoy it because adolescence has heard that you’re relaxing and it’s on its way.
  • Might still argue about rules and the necessity and detail of them.
  • Will try to explain away misbehaviour through excuses and justifications. They will fight hard to find the loophole in the rule.
  • Promises become important and they will remember EVERYTHING – except when it’s their turn to take out the rubbish.

What to do.

  • Don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep. Once they have something on you, they have you.
  • Avoid arguing with them whenever you can. They will often have an argument for everything. Hear what they have to say, make your decision, then pull out.
  • Let them push against you in safe ways – let them try different things, express their own opinions, and make their own decisions when appropriate.
  • Know where your boundaries are and be ready to implement consequences when they make a bad decision. Make the consequence about their behaviour, not about who they are.

Adolescence

  • Friends will be more important than family. You’re still important, but there’s something they have to do – find who they will be when they step into the world as a healthy, independent adult.  Just like you had to do at their age.
  • What their peers think of them will be a source of stress to them for a while, peaking for girls at age 13 and for boys at age 15. They might go to extra lengths to try to fit in with their peers. This might involve making silly decisions or putting themselves in risky situations. Breathe. It will end.
  • They will become more argumentative and will push against you more. This is perfectly in keeping with their adolescent adventure and their experimentation with independence.
  • May become more emotionally distant from you (don’t worry – they’ll come back but maybe not until they leave their teens).
  • Might not want to be seen in public with you – however cool you are.
  • Will experiment with their image, their identity, and the way they are in the world.
  • They may become sexually active.
  • They might be impulsive and they might start taking risks. (For a full explanation of why they do this, see here.)
  • They will be more creative and will start to think about the world in really interesting, different ways.
  • They will act like your opinion of them doesn’t matter but it does – as much as ever.
  • They will often misread your emotional expressions – reading anger, hostility or disappointment when you feel nothing like any of that (See here to understand teenage emotional flare-ups).
  • Their sleep cycle will change. Their circadian rhythm will move them about three hours past where they were as kids. This means that they will fall asleep three hours past the time they used to and unless they are completely exhausted, it will be biologically very difficult for them to fall asleep earlier. They will need about 9-10 hours sleep so will need to sleep in for later.
  • Will want to make their own decisions about the things that affect them.

What to do.

  • Don’t be judgemental or critical – they need your love and connection more than ever.
  • Understand that they need to find their independence from you. Give them the space to do this. Over time, their values will be likely to align with yours.
  • Know that your teen isn’t rejecting you, but is finding their own way in the world – it’s an important, healthy part of being an independent adult – even if it feels bad.
  • Let go of control and go for influence. The harder you fight to control them, the harder they will push against you. The truth is that when it comes to adolescence, we have no control – they will decide how much they involve you in their lives, how much they tell you, and how much influence you have. Make it easy for them to come to you when something happens or when they need guidance.
  • Give them information, but don’t lecture.
  • You may or may not know when they start to become sexually active, so it’s important that they have the information and guidance they need to stay physically and emotionally safe. See here for an age-by-age guide for what they need to know.
  • Don’t buy into arguments – ask them to state their case and talk to you about the pros and cons of what they want. By nature, teens will overstate the positives and underestimate the negatives. Encourage them to tell you some of the cons – nothing is ever black or white.
  • Be the calming force – breathe and wait for the wave to pass over you. It takes 90 seconds for an emotion to be triggered, to peak and to start to fade, provided you don’t do anything to give it oxygen.
  • Help them to plan ahead and see around corners, but without judgement.
  • Encourage their social connections and give them space to strengthen their relationships. An important part of their development is to decrease their independence on the family tribe and to do this. To do this, they will feel an increased need to strengthen their affiliation with a friendship tribe. Encourage and support this wherever you can.
  • Help them find safe ways to take risks such as sports – competitive and non-competitive.
  • Let them know you will always do whatever you can to collect them from any situation when they want to come home – regardless of the circumstances and how late or far away it might be.
  • Let nothing be off-limits when it comes to what they can talk to you about.
  • Wherever possible, let them sleep in to catch up on sleep deficits.
  • Listen more than you talk.

And finally …

Know that along the way from infant to adult, there are some important things that need to be done. There are things to learn, mistakes to be made, boundaries to be pushed, independence to be found. It will be a beautiful, exhausting, baffling, sometimes terrifying, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes traumatic adventure for everyone. Be patient and don’t take their opportunities to learn and grow away from them by taking their mistakes and their less than ideal behaviour personally. Their greatest growth will come from the mistakes they make and the boundaries that they push up against.

Even with the strongest supports in place, they are going to make mistakes – sometimes spectacular ones! Provided they have the support they need, their mistakes will be about their growth, not your parenting.

For our part, it is important that we are there with love, nurturing and a steady hand to guide them and with boundaries for them to feel the edges of themselves against.  Understanding what is normal behaviour for children and teens will make this easier. Growing up is a journey of learning, exploring and experimenting – for them and for us.

175 Comments

Rachael

Can you ask her sister/your other daughter to intervene? I can’t imagine the thought that something I was doing was breaking my dad’s heart. Does she know how much she is hurting you? You were being honest and as much as it upsets your daughter, hopefully she will realize the truth someday. If your ex wife is the way that you say she is then your daughter will find that out on her own. Hopefully, she won’t have to learn that lesson in a very difficult way. I understand that your daughters may not leave with you if you try to remove them from the situation and you can’t force them, really. Have you tried to talk to the police or a lawyer?

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blake

you are in every right to be frightened but remember there your children too and you and you have a right to stand up for them and yourself

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Mike

Hey Gary:

I went through the same thing with another selfish, manipulative lunatic.

I reported it to the police and social services. Three months later I had full custody.

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Cem

Excellent article!! Very specific descriptions of what children need at every age. My parents were neglectful but I’d take neglect anyway to helicopter parents who scrutinize their child’s every behavior. I was the youngest of five so benefited from the experience my parents received from parenting 4 children before me. My advice is the same as this authors—childhood is all about mistakes. Good to ignore most of them but know which ones you really need to address. Cruelty is a biggie. Lying and stealing should be addressed but in an age-appropriate way. But let the little stuff go!

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Reese

Pray and take it slow. Clearly, your daughter hasn’t seen anything in her mom to make her believe she’d EVER say/do that. Also, sometimes we say things we don’t mean, out of hurt. While I’d NEVER condone what she suggested she’d do, I do know the pain of misspoken words! Your daughter needs to find out for herself, if there is anything TO “find out”, how/who her mom is! It’s never a good idea to badmouth a parent to their child(ren). Let them learn from SEEING, not hearing. Just my thoughts! Blessings to you!

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Keith H

My daughter is 10 years old, her mother and I split about 3 years ago, but I saw my daughter regular enough, however now, she lives in Spain and I am still in Brasil. We communicate by whatsup, it used to be on a daily basis, more than once a day but has gone down to maybe once a week now. I message her 3-4 times a day to let her know I think about her all the time and tell her I love her. She will respond sometimes at an odd hour, and sometimes she will check her messages but not respond. Her mum says she is so like me, in her manner, ie, she does not converse a lot, if there is nothing to say, she is content to be quiet, like her dad. I am from Scotland and am a quiet, reserved guy, mind my own business etc. she is exactly the same. When we lived together her and I could communicate by looking at each other, and if her mum sends me a photo of Bella, she makes sure she gets a message to me. Its me that is finding it difficult being apart, I just think she does not understands how much I miss her, and how much it hurts when she does not reply, although I do understand.

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HM

I am in the exact same situation. I am happy to read about your experience because now I know I am not the only one. My 10 year old daughter lives with her mom and her younger brother in Europe (I am in America). She and I used to talk on Whatsapp daily for years and all of the sudden it stopped when she turned 10. I thought it was something I did but I know now that it’s because she’s growing as a person. She’s making friends and living her life while I wait by the phone to see if she replied. She used type and record long messages with heart emojis. Now all I get is ‘K’, “Fine”, etc. I miss my little princess. I had no idea this would happen; we used to be so close. If I knew there was an expiration date of that sweetness I would’ve made the most of it. My son is turning 10 next year. He’s the kindest soul. Will he turn out this was too? I really hope not. Being a long distance divorced dad sucks. It hurts to watch them grow from a distance and the only way to stop hurting is to sever contact. That is a terrible idea.

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Alienfunk

Dads you are doing the right thing and the best you can in your circumstances, keep up the contact with your children no matter what. I know if hurts to be ignored but believe me when they are older your contact will be used as a reference to how much you loved, wanted and needed them. They will forget all the times you tried to contact them unless you keep the messages flowing. Believe me when I say there is nothing worse than a parent that doesn’t bother, it makes you feel unwanted and uncared for.
I’m 47 years old now and unfortunately my dad was one of those dads that tried up until my teenager years when I rebelled and then he backed off all together and I grew up thinking he didn’t care. We are in touch now but he doesn’t phone me, I always have to phone him and that kinda hurts. That said I know he loves me and that’s what keeps me calling him.

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Eva

Call the police and take the children. You have every right to do that, especially as you fear for their safety.

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Annette

My daughter is 42 years old. She moved about 4 hours away and I have not come to see me and over six years she thinks because she married a woman with four children that it’s my responsibility to come see that. I don’t want them to come see me I want my daughter but she doesn’t see my point of view. I don’t know if it’s because she’s selfish because she’s spoiled or what. I turn 60 this year and ask her for a visit 3 months before my birthday and I offered to pay all expenses she never said no she said she just started a new job and it should be fine. My heart is broken I had my birthday by myself with anticipation that my daughter would be there and wasn’t. I don’t know if this is normal or not but I’d like to hear what others think.

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Theresa M

I will be 60 this year as well. My daughter is 34 and has three children. I take on most the responsibility for our relationship because – hey, she is raising three children. I meet her at her place – which means we do dinners at her home, because it is easier for her. I text her because she can do this and tend to the kids, drop the conversation, and pick it up later. I try to remember how much I had my hands full when I was in that season of life.

I don’t think your daughter is spoiled – I think she is very busy. If it has been 6 years since you have seen her, you both are at fault; but for me – I would be making a road trip. I would not go that long without seeing my daughter – or my grandchildren. Perhaps you have both dug in and it is time to be the one to make a move.

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Katie

Hi, my name is Katie, and I am sixteen. Me and my mom are very… complicated. Whenever I try to tell her how I feel (like she asks), I get pushed away, or get scolded at. I have built up a defence from her, that whenever she says something completely inappropriate, I drown her out. Whenever I try to hand out with them, she thinks I’m trying to shove my family away, and kiss up to my friends. I don’t get a lot of freedom, and when I stick up for myself, I get scolded or even beaten. Is…is this normal?

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Karen Young

Katie I’m so pleased you’ve reached out. It’s not at all unusual for relationships between adolescents and their parents to be ‘strained’. What I know for certain is that your mum would love you so much. This is a time when people your age are looking to build their independence from their family. They still love their family, and need them, but it’s not unusual to experiment with a different way to be. This can be really tough for parents. Sometimes we can feel as though we are losing you – even though that’s not the case! It can be really difficult when the strain is there, but one of the important things to remember is that people will be more likely to hear you if you can present your point of view in a way that doesn’t feel like blame or shame. And I know how tough this can be! Sometimes people will hear blame and shame anyway. Try letting your mum know that you love her, and that you need her, but you’re figuring out what the adult version of you might be like. Here is an article that might help https://www.heysigmund.com/what-your-teens-need-you-to-know/. Keep being amazing.

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Robert W

Me & my roommate are 17 & 16 years old, and we like to play outdoor activities with younger kids. There is people who pick on us calling us retarded or stupid & weird for playing with kids younger than us. Personally I enjoy being around kids because they remind me of my nephews and it is one of the many things that brightens my day. I have thought of even staring my own daycare center one day for the passion of taking good care of kids. It hurts me to hear people make fun of me for liking to play with kids, so please someone tell me weather or not it is normal to play with kids or not.

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Karen Young

I’m sorry there are people picking on you because for wanting to play with kids. The most important thing is the same as it is for anyone wanting to spend time with children – that the children are safe, and that they are never encouraged to play in ways they don’t want to, or in ways that feel uncomfortable for them. I hope that one day you follow your passion.

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PR

It is absolutely normal to play with kids. I am only a 13 year-old girl. But, I always play and talk to kids from ages 1-18.

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Natasha

Your arrival really struck a chord with me as my 10 year old son affixes constantly , remembers everything and accuses me of lying if I forget or change my mind . He has terrible temper flare ups still but less
So as I have stopped reacting to them . In many ways he is like a teenager and battles with me constantly. Some of his rage may be due to the fact he has never had a father figure- his dad died when I was pregnant. He has been to play therapy and I am myself trying counselling. Sometimes I despair as I see the years ahead and dread the teenager he will be – when he is already rebellious and often full of contempt for me .
The good thing is his school reports which are glowing and he is well behaved when visiting and very popular- it is only me who is a problem! I wonder if yoh think his lack of father is the main problem and source of his anger ? And how can I help ?

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Kim

This article is very spot on with what we have and are experiencing with or 16 year old son. The problem is that when we started seeing risky behavior we went with the listening, give advice, provide information approach. The behaviour just got riskier, he started and continues to use and abuse us, he has constantly broken our trust and just generally makes life in or home or on any family outing or vacation a miserable nightmare. We’ve had to have consequences because some of the behavior is just not morally acceptable (drugs in or home). You’re right that control over him doesn’t work but neither does just counseling him or advising him. We’ve been living is s state of anxiety, and visually walking the ridge of his rage (our walls and doors can attest to this). He has seen several therapist at his own request as well as tried several medications for the hallucinations, feelings and voices he says he sees in his head but he won’t consistently take the medication and always stops taking it. Since he’s not a toddler or child I can’t force him to take it. He constantly skips class or school altogether and has been found stoned in class. He totally is unconcerned about the schools threats of kicking him out for and doesn’t believe their threats. My husband and i are a very close team but we live a constant state of “what’s going to happen today” and not in s positive way. We’ve gone from the couple everyone envied for our great family to the one that is pitied. We’ve had to have the police come because he was threatening himself (this behavior stopped once the ambulance took him to emergency for observation and he admitted to doing it to get his way), and another time because he was angry that his girlfriend mom and i started communicating and so he was trying to break down my locked bedroom door. Aa child he was loving, respectful, kind, knew and followed the families expectations. When he was told no, he didn’t argue or throw tantrums and now he expects no curfew, wants us to be ok with marijuana use, elects us to just hand over money, be ok with him barely attending school and let him have sex and sleep overs with his girlfriend. Wjem he hears no, he instantly wants an argument, gets personally mean and goes into a destructive rage. I could literally go on for days as i think you can tell that we ate really struggling here and life is miserable with him. He won’t talk to us about any of this in a constructive reasonable way anymore no matter how calm, understanding we are.

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Aruba

I can say that the article was great based on my studies. As far as my parenting experience is concerned, I have to parent for the next 20 years to appreciate the value of most part of your article. Waiting for that time while enjoying what I have at hand now.

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Lisa

Hi,just reading this for the first time. I have a 5 year old who is prone to quite emotional outbursts when told no, who still hits or pinches occasionally, and generally has a short fuse! But he is improving all the time and has developed a huge amount of self control compared to even 6 months ago. But what I am worried about is that he will still sometimes hit, be rough or scream if things aren’t going his way. Is this normal? He has great communication skills, is very creative and very social, is developing empathy, is very physically active. He is just starting school too, and we had an incident when he hit two girls. I don’t know exactly what happened because I wasn’t there,but the teacher told me not to be worried about it. I am involved in my local Playcentre, they are part of family, they have just raised with me that they’re concerned about how he is going to end up if he continues. I admit he seems to be going through a rough patch, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Can you offer any things to look for that should be concerning? I’m feeling very confused after being reassured for the last 2 years that he is just a normal boy…thank you.

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Karen Young

5 year olds having emotional outbursts isn’t necessarily anything to worry about, but it depends on the circumstances such as how often, does it happen more when he is tired/hungry or does it seem to happen all the time, does his behaviour hurt others or mainly himself? It is understandable that children may get upset when they don’t get what they want, but if their response involves hurting other children, it is cause for concern. The risk is that it will make it more difficult for him socially as children become wary. It’s important that he understands it’s okay to feel angry/hurt/jealous – whatever he needs to feel – but that it’s never okay to hurt anyone. It’s likely that this is his frustration getting the better of him, and while it’s okay to feel frustrated, he needs gentle guidance to understand what is happening for him and the impact he will be having on others. Here is an article that might help https://www.heysigmund.com/how-to-self-regulate/. Your little man will be okay. Kids develop at different times, and he will get there provided the messages about his behaviour are consistent and he is gently steered towards a healthier way of being.

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Shelly

I have a 11 year old daughter and she loves to spend time with her friends. She always is asking if they can come over or have a sleepover etc. On a normal basis I usually don’t have an issue with it. But sometimes we’re busy or I just don’t want other kids around. My point is…when I tell her “no not today” (this is usually a conversation we have before school). She says ok mom but then calls me from school, after school to ask me again! So I have to say no over again. It gets tiring! Every time she says that she forgets. But I don’t know If she forgets or she’s just trying to play me. Any advice???

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Karen Young

It’s very normal for kids and teens to check whether ‘no’ really means ‘no’. It’s so exhausting as parents to have to keep saying the words (oh gosh do I know!) but enjoy that your gorgeous girl has determination and tenacity, and remind her that you’ve already said no, and no still means no. Let her know that you can see how important it is for her to be with her friends, but that today (or whenever) won’t work for the the sleepover or play date. She’s establishing exactly where the boundaries are, and she might continue this for a few years yet. Stay clear on where they are for you, and keep teaching her that your ‘no’ means ‘no’, and that it doesn’t ever mean ‘if you keep trying it might turn into a yes’.

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Chantel

I need help, I don’t know what to do. My 15 year old daughter is acting out. I took her phone away and she refused to give me the password. I knew something was going on. I finally got it from her and I found all these pictures of herself in her underwear in provocative poses. I was devastated and I also found pictures of boys with no shirts on. She is taking the birth control shot and i have talked to her about sex but how do you control her when she totally disrespect herself like that. I took her phone away , She is forbidden to go with her friends right now. I’m steaming with anger. I don’t even know how to react to that. She is my only daughter. I have no one to ask for advice. I want to do the right thing. Please help me!

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Karen Young

The most important thing is not to get angry at her. When our children reach adolescence, we have no control, only influence. We have the illusion of control but it’s possible that an angry response will be met with anger and further secrecy. Our kids need to know that we can handle anything they throw at us – that’s how we have influence. Your anger is completely understandable and it’s completely okay to feel it, but in relation to your daughter she needs your guidance and your influence and for that, she needs to feel safe with you. Talk to her about the risks she is taking in relation to putting these pictures of herself on the internet. With teens, their brains are wired in such a way that they will tend to focus on the positives of a situation and downplay the negatives. As well as this, it is often super-important that they feel as though they are part of a tribe. For your daughter, this may be a way she is cementing her sense of belonging or ‘likeability’ – as potentially disastrous as it is. Let her know you understand she probably had good reasons for doing it, then ask her to talk to you about the risks. This will engage the thinking part of her brain that is able to consider consequences. It is the pre-frontal cortex and it is the last part of the brain to develop. This will happen in early 20s, which is why in the meantime, teens can seem to be impulsive and risky. They are very capable of making good decisions and thinking things through, but sometimes this part of the brain needs to be ‘switched on’. Having her talk to you about the potential consequences is one way to do this. For this to happen though, she will need to feel safe and assured that you won’t shame her, but rather will explore the issue with her. I understand how difficult this is – of course you will have all sorts of feelings and worries running through you, but the most important thing now is to get her on side so she is open to listening to you, and less likely to be steered by friends or the need to be liked in ways that might hurt her. Here is an article that might help with ideas on how to increase your influence with her https://www.heysigmund.com/increase-your-influence-with-your-teen/ and another that explains what’s happening in her developmentally that might be contributing to her behaviour https://www.heysigmund.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-adolescent-brai/. Your daughter might seem angry at you, or defiant, but she loves you and needs you more than ever. The key is finding a way to make it easier for her to hear your guidance and the wisdom that will keep her safe as she moves through adolescence.

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Mrs T

Why do we insist on benchmarking and making children achieve milestones? Worth remembering each child is an individual to be celebrated in their own unique way.

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Karen Young

You’re absolutely right. Children will get to where they’re going in their own time. It’s also important to be aware roughly of the milestones they should be targeting, in case there is a need for extra support. Some kids, for example, will naturally not talk until much later than many other kids, and often that will be no problem at all. Sometimes though, it might be a sign that they need a little extra help. Recognising the need for extra support, and intervening early to give this support, can potentially make a huge difference to particular outcomes for a child.

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Tammy

I have a 13 year old daughter who does very well in school she currently has a 95% average she seems to have friends at school but outside of school she prefers to be alone in her room reading books watching tv she does not take initiative with friends but waits for them to get a hold of her I worry that she isolates herself so much.
Not sure if this is normal as I said her grades have always been excellent from the first day she started school any advice for me??

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Karen Young

If your daughter is happy, doing well in school, and has friends at school, then it sounds as though she’s on track and doing okay. Some kids are just naturally more introverted, which means she tends to get her energy when she is on her own. (Extroverts get their energy from being around people). She might still enjoy being with friends, but that doesn’t mean she feels the need to be with them more than she needs to. Introversion comes with many strengths and does not need to be changed or ‘fixed’. A great book is Quiet Power by Susan Cain. It’s a book about introversion in kids and the many strengths that come with it. I hope that helps.

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JL

Great article. Any advice for a 16yo son, who refuses to talk to me or respond to messages/phone calls? We are divorced and he lives with dad. I have spoken with dad about he and I communicating better and working on co-parenting. Dad says he encourages our son to respond. After that our son sent me a text saying “stop telling dad to have me talk to you b/c it’s not going to happen. have a good life”. I’ve let him know I’m still here for him. That I’m hearing his anger. But what next? Where do I go from here even with giving him space? Do I just accept this and keep sending messages and such to reinforce I’m not going anywhere every so often? (meaning just weekly messages like Hi, Thinking of you, Love you, I’m still here, etc….

thanks!

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Karen Young

There are a few things that can be going on here. Your son might be in a loyalty bind, which means he feels as though showing loyalty to one parent, means being disloyal to the other. It’s a common process when parents are separated and when you look at it through their eyes, it’s understandable. It doesn’t mean they love one parent less than the other – not at all. Your son’s lack of contact might also be a very normal part of his development. As teens, it’s their job to ‘separate’ from their parents enough to find their own independence and identity. They’ll come back when they’ve figured it out, but in the meantime it can be hard for us as parents – we miss them! Sometimes the closer they feel, the harder they might have to push to feel that sense of independence and separation for long enough to figure out who they are and the adults they are wanting to be. Keep sending him the weekly messages. Just because he doesn’t reply, doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean a lot to him.

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Kristen

My 13 year old son has always been impulsive in one way or another in school over the years and at home I would say that his mood was unpredictable like a flip of a switch. He has never handled changes well. He wouldn’t act out physically and is not aggressive. He would just get very anxious and worry. He would need to know what would happen each day. Often I had to repeat our agenda. He would repeat it back to me and if something changed he would always point it out and at times get upset.

He has gone through many changes, I was married 4 years ago and we all moved together, he had to change schools in 4th grade. My 17 yr old stepson came to live with us last October from Peru. My son has always been an only child, and while it seemed he was looking forward to having a sibling, it crumbled. Language barrier, then they resented each other. Now they hardly talk.

My son just turned 13 last month and we moved but within our town. So the thing is he is not an outdoor kid he prefers to be holed in his room basically. He texts and snap chats with friends, or plays his ps3. I am ok with him doing this but it has become excessive. And he insists on keeping his room dark. He says he doesn’t like light. When it is sunny out he doesn’t like it. He prefers cold rainy days. Total opposite of me. Should I be concerned? He sees a therapist every 2 weeks. He is not on any meds and I prefer to keep it that way if possible. He is being evaluated next week by a psychiatrist as his pediatrician requested this. My son says things impulsively at school. He will use inappropriate language. Always in the office I get call after call. They have given him every consequence. Nothing phases him. He tells me and his teachers he cannot stop himself. That he tried but can’t. I figured it is a cop out, an excuse. But over time and 2 years in middle school I figured ok he may be telling the truth. The thought is he may have an impulse control problem.

Should I be concerned he is depressed, or anti social? He doesn’t spend time with friends outside of school, doesn’t like sports and doesn’t have a passion or intetests outside of gaming, phones,etc. I have tried many avenues but no luck. He has gained some weight and it concerns me as I am an overweight person myself and want him to be healthy. I forced him to play sports. But he gives no real effort. The only sport he somewhat likes is basketball. What can I do?

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Karen Young

You are doing the right thing in getting your son reviewed. It might be nothing, but it’s best to make sure. If something is gound that explains his lack of impulse control, you can be guided on how best to manage it so it becomes less intrusive, bug first you need to know what you’re dealing with. I completely understand how baffling and upsetting his behaviour feels, but there is generally something that will make the behaviour make sense. This might be an unmet need or something undiagnosed. It sounds as though he is in good hands with regular appointments with a paediatrician. I hope your appointment in a couple of weeks gives you some answers.

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Kristen Martinez

Thank you for your support. He did have an appt with a psychiatrist on 7/31 and she agreed with a trial of an antidepressant Wellbutrin to address the depression, anxiety, and lack of impulse control. So far no issues. I do not see any changes yet but I know it takes time. Soon school will start and that is when I can see if it helps with his impulsive lamguage. He was allowed to continue his last yr of middle school at his regular school despite living in a different district. The principal spoke with me and said he would allow my son to continue there but the superintendant who approved this stated in his letter that this is a priviledge and if he continues with his behavior pattern in 8th grade, he will transfer my son to the school in district. I did tell my son and hopefully this will work. Thank you again, just wanted to give an update.

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Nicole

Our 11 year old daughter is very nice, maybe too nice. It seems to make her an easy target for some girls to make fun and/or exclude. Is it normal for 11-12 year old girls to say nasty things about other girls? Why do some girls have to put down others? Is it to make themselves feel good or powerful? Should I teach my daughter how to not be so nice? Thanks.

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Karen Young

It’s not normal, but it’s not uncommon for girls (and boys) to say mean things about each other. Belonging to a group is so important to kids, particularly as they start to approach adolescence. There are many reasons for this. One of the ways children and teens might try to strengthen their belonging to a group is by pointing out the differences in others who are ‘out’ of the group. It’s awful, but it happens. It can also be learned behaviour from home and this can happen in a number of ways. The first is modelling from parents, so if parents are mean or not inclusive or accepting of others, kids learn that this is okay. It can also happen if kids feel disempowered at home, so they act out feeling powerful with others. It can also work the other way, and can happen when kids are given the idea that they are better than everyone else without being taught empathy and acceptance. Here is an article about recent research which was done about why kids exclude other kids, and ways to deal with this https://www.heysigmund.com/playground-politics-peer-rejection/.

The lesson for your daughter is that it’s important to be kind, but if people feel bad to be around, she doesn’t have to be around them and she doesn’t have to accept them. School can feel like the beginning and end of their world. Remind her that it is just one small part and if you can, broaden her exposure to other social groups by encouraging her into activities outside of school (such as team sport, drama groups etc).

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Margaret

This may sound like a stupid question, but reading the section about adolescent circadian rhythms. All I could think was “that is all very well and good, but we can’t let him be 2 1/2 hours late to school because his internal clock changes.” My son has needed exactly 10 hours of sleep since he was a little over 2 years old. He has to leave for school before 7:30, so his alarm is set for 6:15. He is supposed to go to bed at 8:00, usually makes it by 8:30. Where is the 3 hour shift supposed to fit in to this picture? How is the real world, where we don’t get to choose the start time of his school or our work, does anyone accommodate this?

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Karen Young

That’s right – we can’t accommodate it with the current school start times. When studies have been done on the effect of shifting start times to later, grades improved and behaviour improved. At the moment we don’t get to choose the start time, but what would be ideal for teens is if start times were officially made later.

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When you can’t cut out (their worries), add in (what they need for felt safety). 

Rather than focusing on what we need them to do, shift the focus to what we can do. Make the environment as safe as we can (add in another safe adult), and have so much certainty that they can do this, they can borrow what they need and wrap it around themselves again and again and again.

You already do this when they have to do things that don’t want to do, but which you know are important - brushing their teeth, going to the dentist, not eating ice cream for dinner (too often). The key for living bravely is to also recognise that so many of the things that drive anxiety are equally important. 

We also need to ask, as their important adults - ‘Is this scary safe or scary dangerous?’ ‘Do I move them forward into this or protect them from it?’♥️
The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
https://www.abc.net.au/listen/programs/parental-as-anything-with-maggie-dent/how-can-i-help-my-anxious-teen/104035562
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️

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