what is normal?

Obviously what we consider “normal” behavior in young children encompasses a wide range of behaviors and personalities. I guess I’m struggling with how to know when to seek professional opinions regarding my daughter’s level of energy and defiance. She has very good days and moments, but not nearly as many as she has difficult ones. I have zero concern about her developmental milestones (she’s scoring near perfect on the Ages & Stages, even in communication where she was behind just slightly) and her intelligence. I’m more concerned with her level of aggression toward me and toward her peers and how it may affect her ability to interact safely and productively with classmates at school, and prevent her from forming age-appropriate friendships and a sense of belonging in her peer group. After that, I am a bit concerned with her struggle to stop moving at full speed. Impulsive, yes, but her energy level from wake up to sleep is off the charts. As she gets older, more and more people, including teachers and those who are around children her age in a professional setting every day, are commenting on the fact that she is super high energy, demanding, and strong-willed. To this end, she is testing the limits I set as she should be doing at this age, but she tests them, all of them, all the time. Sun up to sundown she is testing a limit or breaking a rule just to see how I’ll react.

I don’t work with young children, but from what I see socially it doesn’t seem like her age mates are acting like this to the degree that M is. Naturally, I worry that I am doing something totally wrong. Is there something I’m missing? Some strategy that would help calm the defiance down even a little?

I’m totally open to just about anything EXCEPT punishment/reward systems, or medications. I had a cousin with pretty severe ADHD who did require medications for a time (he’s the first doctor in our family now, very proud of him) but this doesn’t look like that to me. I’m also not willing to label her anything while she may just be a more intense version of a normal two-year-old, acting as a two-year-old should just with more persistence than the average kid. However, there has been a lot of research on alternatives to medication for ADHD and hyperactivity that could be helpful, like diet changes, essential oils, and so on. I’m interested in any of that!

All that being said, I’m going to make an appointment for her at our wonderful health system’s child-parent relation clinic for an evaluation. They are very progressive and can provide me with resources and support geared for parents of 1 to 6 year-olds. They work with foster/adopt children quite often, which could also be beneficial, as well as helping parents who are struggling. Maybe they will tell me she’s fine and I’m worrying too much (I hope they do, in fact) but my insurance would at least cover a conversation with them, and I could really, really use some feedback and support.

Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

10 thoughts on “what is normal?”

  1. Did you say if there was a possibility that her birth mom did drugs or drank alcohol during her pregnancy? If so it is possible that could be effecting her behavior. I agree about the medication, I don’t think it is needed nearly as often as it is prescribed. I think a lot of the time simple adapting the way you teach/parent slightly to better fit the child’s needs works a lot better. If there are aggression problems though it could cause problems in school, so getting her tested might be a goo idea if there is a possibility that her behavior could be partially caused by drug or alcohol use. If her teachers know this they may be more patient and willing to try and help.

  2. Please look into diet changes. The top are gluten, dairy, soy and can make a world of difference. Oh and sugar. I can’t believe how much parents don’t realize that sugar is packed into every kid food. Juice is not necessary. And I would try essential oils too. I am just starting with those so no expertise but what I’ve used has been great. My child does super well in Reggio classroom as a very energetic/ determined toddler. She needs jobs and a challenge or task at every minute. I have to set her up with a job or else we just butt heads when I try to get anything done.

    I think kids are meant to run a bit wild as well!!

  3. What does your intuition tell you it is?

    It sounds like she’s very spirited – I think that’s the term they use? Have you read anything about spirited children and does it sound like M fits that description? My friend Teri has a “spirited” daughter – also very high energy and she was quite challenging at the age M is now.

    It could be something as simple as a diet change. Might be worth visiting a naturopath? I wish I could help you but I’m really clueless about these things.

  4. It sounds like a good idea to get her evaluated. Dietary changes could be good to start with since there are no side effects. I would look to remove any artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from her diet first.

  5. When you get a complete medical workup ask about magnesium.
    Foster children often have parents with genetic tendencies towards impulsivity and a lower level of self control. Genetics share across generations.
    SO I would look for any practices, methods,ideas, sports, activities that focus on teaching the child/adult self control and self focus…. This includes Asian meditation and self-defense skills which start with a focus on controlling responses and one’s own self. Helping a child develop their own structures and routines and talking about how to do this can also help. Taking time to reflect back on the days (highs and lows) is one good way to start, then asking how a low could have been changed or what made a high happen starts the process.
    Good luck. Determination needs channeling, impulsivity needs self control, aggression needs to become assertiveness, clarity in thinking helps with it all.

  6. 2 thoughts….Early Intervention screening for social/emotional therapy?
    Read The Connected Child or join the FB group. We’ve had attachment issues despite having our foster son since birth and loving the hell out of him.
    I also agree about cutting out food coloring and chemicals, it can’t hurt to try it. Our oldest is a demon on food chemicals
    I also want to say that it gets better. Maturity, development, 2 is really hard. 3 is better and 4 is great.

  7. I’m not an expert, but both of my girls are strong willed/busy constantly. When they were little, they would get angry, not sit, etc…I don’t do punishment or reward either, I don’t want them to think they should get a reward for all good behavior. What I did figure out is that if they weren’t listening (usually making me worry they would be in danger or just truly exhausted without admitting it) I would have them sit in a chair. Sometimes I held them until they calmed down. Lots of people use timeout, but my girls just needed time to sit until they could calm down and we could talk. It didn’t take long before they started to notice their behavior and would ask to sit for a bit, watch a movie, whatever. I don’t know if that will help at all, but it did work with my girls and they are very different from each other. Good Luck!! It isn’t easy, for sure. I am a teacher and I think having an eval done is a great idea also, hopefully it is something that can be worked on easily and that will help her understand her feelings and see what she needs to do to have an easier time. Most of the children who have these issues don’t realize they are doing anything they shouldn’t.

  8. My experiences are almost all sort of once removed… Kids are so unique in what works and what doesn’t, of course, so it’s kindof llikepicking a safe trying to get the right combination of things to meet your daughter’s (or any one child’s) needs! I third it fourth the dietary adjustments. Not because I think she doesn’t eat well, and I know elimination diets are a nightmare, but once you get it going, and possibly find a key issue, it’s so worth it. I had to tell myself, “OK, this sucks, but do you really want to find out years from now that instead of years if medications, you could’ve just eliminated ________?” That helped me. And it turns out that for my son, not only wheat, but many different grains were horrible. He couldn’t even eat rice for quite some time. And sugar only exacerbated the problems. And avoiding it is so much easier now than it was ten years ago! He’s thankfully grown out of a lot of things, but wheat still causes him pain.

    Also, I read a lot of foster care blogs (so I’m an expert! Ha-ha) and just recently a smattering of families all encouraged another family to start with Occupational Therapy before medications for a child who was struggling with high energy and major impulsivity bc it had been awesome for some of their kids. That child was much older than M, I think he was six, but perhaps starting young would be a major benefit?

    And last of all, anytime I hear about kids being comforted by spinning or rocking, I think of s friend’s little girl who needed OT for her vestibular and proprioceptive centers / senses. That’s totally me throwing out words I barely understand, (and you as a nurse surely comprehend better than i do) but who knows, maybe that’s something you could ask about at the consultation.

    And I really admire all the work you’re doing to be your best self for M and advocating for her to get everything she needs. You’re doing it right!!

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