Whether your child can't seem to break out of that all-powerful tantrum phase or your pre-teen appears overly involved in her peer circle, many parents often wonder what constitutes normal child behavior and development. While there are milestones that mark the developmental pathway, normal -- or typical -- child behavior may look slightly different for different kids.
Definition of Normal
Using the word "normal" in the context of child behavior and development is somewhat misleading. While parents may want to think that there is one standard, or norm, for each type of behavior or mode of development, there is actually a range that kids display. This may mean an age range or a range of behaviors. For example, some children take their first steps early on at 10 or 11 months, while others may not walk until after they turn 1. Although there are typical or universal expectations for developmental milestones, there is no exact date that equals normal progression. If the child misses an expected developmental mark, his pediatrician or another qualified child development professional can evaluate the issue to determine if it requires further action.
Connections Between Behavior and Development
Before looking at your child's behavior and thinking that it seems abnormal, parents should evaluate how it stacks up to developmental expectations for the child's age. Some behaviors that may appear off or abnormal for an older child, teen or adult are actually perfectly normal for a little one who still has immature social or emotional skills. Abilities such as self-regulation and keeping emotions in check are certainly expectations for a fourth grader, but not so much for a 4-year-old. Likewise, you might not blink an eye when your toddler refuses to share a toy with her friend as this is a typical -- yet unwanted -- behavior for a 2-year-old, but in a 12-year-old this is certainly not the norm.
Types of Behaviors
As your child develops, there are different types of behaviors that can range from normal to atypical. While specific expectations for normal behaviors may vary depending on your family's, culture's or community's beliefs and values, there are some standard types to look for. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website, parents should look for three primary types of behaviors when classifying normal and abnormal actions. These include positive wanted and approved behaviors such as doing chores or acting in a polite way; conditional tolerated behaviors such as acting out when a child feels sick; and behaviors that are not tolerated at all such as physical aggression.
Your child grows every day. In doing this, his development will progress in some sort of fashion, whether it is normal or atypical. This isn't to say, though, that his development happens in a vacuum. There are a number of influences that have an effect on your child's behavior and development. From family influences to friends and the media, your child is constantly learning new norms that are, or aren't, socially acceptable. As your child develops into a teen, his friends are becoming a more prominent part of his life. The ways that his close circle acts will have some degree of influence on his behaviors. Judging whether these learned behaviors are normal or abnormal often means looking at them through a new lens or from a different point of view that may conflict with your family's beliefs.