How to Support Your Unique, Quirky Child
Your child behaves differently from others - it's endearing, but is it OK? Put your mind at ease, and find ways to celebrate your child's unique nature.
Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In by Perri Klass, M.D. and Eileen Costello, M.D (Ballantine Books, 2003)
Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics by Melvin D. Levine, William B. Carey, Allen C. Crocker (Elsevier Health Sciences, 1999)
The Saga of Baby Divine by Bette Midler, illustrated by Todd Schorr (Crown Publishers, 1984)
By GreatSchools Staff
A boy receives a train set as a gift from his father, but after a few standard runs, decides it's more interesting to crash the trains, and does so repeatedly. Another boy stubbornly refuses to wear his coat in the winter because he sees other children in thinner coats. A little girl thinks nothing of standing on tables and singing at the top of her lungs in public.
You might think those children's unusual behavior would have a negative effect on their development. Not so - those are childhood stories about Steven Spielberg, Albert Schweitzer and Madonna.
Some children are a little quirky and quite different from other children their age. They may be creative, insightful and courageous, but they also may have to struggle with peer rejection, loneliness, taunts and frustration. Their behavior may overshadow family events, or make their siblings irritable. In a world that expects conformity, how do you make sure your unique child is happy and well-balanced?
What's Going On?
The first step is to make sure that there's not an underlying issue. As you watch your child develop, you'll see behavior that is within the average developmental cycle for a child his age. It's a pattern of behavior that might trigger a sense that something is not quite right. Some parts of the pattern and some general examples are:
- Extremes: Very needy or very withdrawn; much too loud or much too quiet.
- Struggles with communication: a delay in speech development, rambling or interrupting conversation traits, difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, like facial expressions.
- Slowly developing or delayed motor skills: clumsiness or difficulty in performing simple physical tasks, like getting dressed.
- Sensitivity: disturbed by loud noises, irritated by the feel of some things on the skin (like a shirt label), bothered by wind or the brightness of the sun. Undersensitivity may be an issue as well: a child who twirls and spins uncontrollably, likes to run around naked or roll around in the mud or the dirt.
- Obsessing: playing the same game again and again, in a particular way without variance.
In their book Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In, Drs. Perri Klass and Eileen Costello call that trigger the "pivotal moment." They state that "one extreme performance may be what it takes to crystallize in a parent's mind all the floating anxieties and worries of many months." The "pivotal moment" is not just one moment of extreme behavior, but the last in a series of "impossible-to-explain-away behavior that resonates with the parent's long-considered and long-avoided fears."
If you think there might be an underlying issue to your child's unusual behavior, then getting a professional opinion or a diagnosis is an important step. Don't be alarmed at the prospect. Dr. Stacie Bunning, one of GreatSchools' consulting experts on child behavior, says, "Many times parents will avoid consulting a specialist out of fear - they are afraid of being blamed or judged, or they fear that their child will be forever 'labeled.' In fact, obtaining a professional opinion can be viewed as an aspect of information gathering,as parents work to make decisions about what is best for their child." She points out that one aspect doesn't necessarily make an entire personality. "There is so much more to an individual child than her particular diagnosis - strengths, skills, and unique traits should be celebrated, too."