Is your kid normal?

Last week we talked about the importance of building strong networks to support your children as they grow. It’s a simple thing that any parent can do, and in my opinion, is one of the many markers of strong parenting. Sometimes when a parent invites me into their family’s support network to discuss something that’s going on or has happened in their child’s life, there’s a sense of doubt. “Do I really need to work on this,” “Is this as big of a deal as I’m making it,” “Is this a bigger deal than I’m making it,” “Is this normal?” That last one gets a lot of airtime.

When my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, we attended a parenting and birth-education class that was actually lots of fun. The class was wholly comprised of first-time parents who fell somewhere on the spectrum between totally excited and totally terrified at the prospect of becoming a parent. When the instructor spoke of the actual birth experience, she spoke a sentence that has become one of my favorites; it turns out that, as a career-long nurse, she too had fielded the, ‘is it normal’ question on more than one occasion. Somewhere along the way she coined the term, “There is a wide range of normal.” No two births look the same, but the vast majority are still, somehow, normal. I know that we’re talking people here, but just for a moment let’s talk statistics. (For those of you with actual statistics knowledge, please forgive my simple approach to this.) Statistically speaking, 99.7% of just about any group is considered “normal.” So, to any parent asking the question, “Is my kid normal?” I ask you to consider another question in response: is your child a part of the 99.7%, or is your child one of the .3%? A wide range of normal, indeed.

As with births, no two children are the same, and yet, the vast majority are normal. As it turns out, your kid (yes, yours) has some amazing talents! They are wired to seek out connection and success, they are designed to soak in experience in much the same way that an infant does, and because they haven’t come preprogrammed to understand the world in any particular stereotyped way, they show some amazing creative abilities. These are some of the things that nearly every child or teen has in common – and also where some of the differences begin. It’s the experiences they have, the successes and failures they experience, the ways in which they begin to understand the world that will help to shape them into individuals. It’s in these different experiences and expressions of individuality that many parents will find themselves asking, ‘Is this normal?’

Of course, not knowing who in the world is actually reading this, I can’t with any certainty say, Yes, your kid is in fact normal! But I can say this: you’re probably not alone. Someone else has a kid that did the same things, said the same things, acted the same way – you are not alone.

Over the next several years, your kid is going to change, try new things, seem odd, act funny and repeat it all over again. She’s seeking out successes, trying to avoid failures, he’s trying to fit in, learn what he’s good at…it’s all up in the air waiting to be decided – they’re just trying to make those decisions. Part of your job as a parent is now to help them make safe decisions, all while allowing them to experience safe failures. And yes, it’s normal to worry about your decisions as a parent, too.

Next week we’ll take a look at one of the largest generation gaps our world is experiencing today – media use. Talk to you in a week!

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