FFFNormal or Not: When to Get Help

No. 22; Updated September 2023

Parents are naturally concerned about the health and wellbeing of their children. Many parents correctly and comfortably see their youngster as normal. However, some parents worry whether their infant, child, or teenager has a problem. These worries can include questions about:

  • How the child is developing
  • The emotional well-being of the child
  • What the child says, thinks, and feels
  • How the child acts, for example, eating and sleeping patterns, behavior at school, getting along with family and friends, or coping with stress

Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help parents and families answer these questions about what's normal and what's not. They usually interview the child and ask the parents about the child's previous health and behavior. They may also ask about how the family gets along together. Infants, children, and teenagers are normal when, at the appropriate age, they fully participate in and enjoy their:

  • Learning, school, and/or work
  • Relationships within the family
  • Relationships with friends
  • Play

Many parents first discuss their concerns about their child's normality with a family member or friend, or with the child's physician, school counselor or member of the clergy--who might refer the family to a child and adolescent psychiatrist. He or she listens carefully to the parents and child and sorts out:

  • The long-term factors that tend to lead to--or protect against-the child's developing problems
  • The short-term factors that set off the child's problem
  • The factors causing these problems to persist
  • The possible roles of other medical conditions
  • The contribution of school learning, social and emotional growth to the child's functioning.

Based on the evaluation, the child and adolescent psychiatrist may:

  • Reassure the parents, explaining how they can enhance normal development;
  • Suggest an activity or an educational program for the child, and/or education for parents, which will support normal development and effective parenting;
  • Provide or arrange for brief counseling to help the child and parents with minor developmental problems, stressful life situations or difficulties due to the child's temperament

If the evaluation reveals a psychiatric disorder, the child and adolescent psychiatrist will recommend a specific treatment program.

Parents, better than anyone else, know their child and know what is usual behavior for their child. If you feel your child has a problem, seek professional help. It is a very important first step in knowing for sure whether there is a problem, and if so, what measures will best help your child.

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