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?
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:
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."
Quite often unusual behavior is not indicative of a disorder or a debilitating imbalance. Once you've established that with the help of a medical professional, what should you do, if anything? Is it OK for your daughter to spend her entire time in an active playground sitting alone having an invisible tea party, or for your son to wear his pajama bottoms on his head around the house? That depends on a few things. First, is your child happy? Does he like who he is? If he is, and is suffering no real negative effects, be sure to consider:
Obviously, a child who behaves differently might have a hard time fitting in or making positive connections with people. His behavior may be a reaction to negative experiences, or due to stress at home or at school, a lack of role models or simply underdeveloped coping strategies.
Even if it's just your child's natural predisposition, there are a few things you can do to help make his life a little easier.
Drs. Melvin Levine, William Carey and Allen Crocker, authors of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, closed their research textbook with a chapter aptly titled, "The Right to Be Different." Some children may behave differently than their peers, they write, but they all have more in common than they have differences - similar emotions, potential for growth and desires for happy and rewarding experiences. The doctors point out a new awareness of "stylistic differences" in child behavior, and that there is a "greater tolerance of…the expression of unique styles during childhood."
There is, after all, something to be said for being unique, quirky and unconventional. Many of us have stories of our own nutty behavior in childhood, and it's tough to tell those stories without smiling. Bette Midler (surely an unusual child in her own right) put it best in her 1983 children's book, The Saga of Baby Divine:
If you're still concerned that your wonderful, quirky child is ever going to make it in the world, take heart. Many children who don't fit in during childhood become effective and creative adults. With love, support and understanding, you can clear a path for your unusual child, and watch her walk, dance or cartwheel into her full, unique potential.