Of course we worry about our kids. It’s only natural to do so. We love our children more than life itself and want them to be happy and successful, and when they aren’t it hurts. When we see our kids struggle, have trouble fitting in, or recognize that they are somehow noticeably “different” from their peers, our worry buttons go off big time.
So when should you worry—really worry–if your child is “quirky,” or noticeably different from the other kids?
When does quirkiness just mean being eccentric, thinking outside the box, or being creative or gifted or just wonderfully different?
And just when should you go along with the recommendation of those “well-meaning” relatives and get your child diagnosed and seek out special treatment because your child’s quirkiness is more significant and causing it difficult for him to function let alone feel good about himself?
Those are clearly some of the tougher part of parenting. I was a special education teacher and know that those questions are always at the tops of parents’ minds. If you have a quirkier kid here are a few strategies I shared on the Today show to help you know when to worry or when to just relax and learn to accept your child’s unique eccentric ways.
4 Tips to Decide “It’s More Than Quirky”
1. Use the “Happy Test”
Tune into your child a bit closer over the next few days. Watch her in different situations (with siblings, friends, relatives, classmates, teammates, strangers, as well as alone). On a scale of one to ten (ten being the highest and one the lowest), rate your child’s overall “Happiness Quotient.” Keep in mind that every kid has good and bad days and even weeks. The big question is: “How happy is your child in general these past few weeks?”
Worry if your child your child’s overall “Happiness Quotient” or emotional well-being is a persistent problem, and not a one day or one week event.
2. Target specific quirkiness
Pretend you are describing your child’s quirkiness to your best girlfriend who has never met him. Be specific. What would you say? “She flaps her hands when excited; he never makes eye contact; her speech is delayed three years according to those charts; he has exorcist-like tantrums and can’t calm down.
Worry when your child’s quirky behavior is not intentional (she can’t stop flapping her hands, she doesn’t mean to put her hands over her ears to block out any sounds), overly obsessive and is causing relationship hardships.
3. Decide if life functions jeopardized
Is your child “differences” getting in the way of his life or are his quirks something you just can’t accept? Keep in mind your child may well be having a perfect good time in that classroom even though he’s not invited to all those birthday parties. She may be passionate about her grasshopper collection, even though the rest of the kids are completely turned off.
Worry if your child quirkiness is making it difficult for her to function if life such as in school, home, with peers, in public.
4. Know when to consult experts
So when should you act on your worry and get help about your kid’s quirkiness? Worry if you are haunted by a persistent feeling that something is not right.
When To Worry And Seek Help
Your worry is nagging and persistent over a period of time: “Something isn’t right. I just know it!” You know your child better than anyone.
Your child’s persistent quirkiness is getting in the way of his character, reputation, or peer relationships.
Family life has become difficult; the other siblings are suffering; you’re walking on egg shells.
The quirkiness is a medical or pre-existing family condition.
Individuals who really care about your child and whose opinions you trust are telling you to get help.
Your child is struggling–really struggling. This quirk is getting in the way of his happiness. It’s time to pick up the phone.
Consult only professionals who have thorough understandings of child development. Do know that even then their advice varies depending upon their training (a pediatric neurologist opinion will be quite different from an occupational therapist or special education teacher).
What About Labels?
Sensory Disorder. Asperger’s Syndrome. ADHD. Learning Disabilities. Autism. Your next worry is whether to diagnosis the quirkiness and label your child. There’s a catch: Without the label your child might not be able to receive available educational and psychological resources.
There are no easy, clear-cut answers to the labeling game. Labels were designed for one aim: to facilitate treatment The right diagnosis can be a huge relief and save you hundreds of dollars if your child needs special resources, and the earlier the treatment the better. But unless he does, forego the branding. Those labels can be stigmatizing and self-fulfilling.
Think through the pros and cons carefully. Vote “yes” if the label just might help your child’s chances for a better, easier life. The real question is to weigh whether or not your child’s quirkiness really needs that label. that answer will help you decide which course to take.
The fact is each kid is different. I think some kids are just more like sunflowers and tumbleweeds and roll with the punches, and are plain easier to raise from the get go. Others are more temperamental, need more nurturing, and are simply more difficult (think of African Violets or orchids). Temperament does matter.
Our big parenting challenge is to figure out what makes our child tick so we can keep his spirit and self esteem high, and provide whatever he needs to really help him get along in life.
Besides, the most effective parenting always is tailored to our kids.