What are the basics of a healthy youngster?

Healthy children and adolescents should grow and develop normally in the sense that there is no significant deviation from expected norms in terms of height, weight, or rate of physical, social, emotional, and mental development.

Healthy children should be able to meet developmental milestones on time with little-to-no difficulty.

Generally speaking healthy children are active, they have a normal appetite (they are hungry when hungry and eat what is offered), they sleep through the night without interruption, they are able to concentrate for long periods of time if necessary (i.e., pay attention for extended periods at school), they are cheerful most of the time without being constantly sad or irritable unless caused by an illness/disease process), their mood is generally positive with no persistent worry or fears that cause significant disruptions in function, etc.

As opposed to unhealthy kids who may exhibit some or many of the following:

— May be excessively sleepy or fatigued to the point that it interferes with normal daily activities (i.e., gets tired after playing for more than an hour, napping on and off during the day, taking frequent afternoon or early evening rests).

— May not be growing at a typical rate of speed (not getting taller/weight gain is either an extremely slow-to-non-existent process).

— Appetite is consistently poor resulting in significant weight loss over time.

— Unusual sleep patterns result in excessive daytime sleepiness (sleeps almost all day) or has difficulty sleeping throughout the night which can cause significant problems with mood or behavior.

— Child exhibits abnormal movements (i.e., tics, twitches).

— Child has difficulty concentrating on tasks that are expected of children his/her age.

— Child exhibits persistent sad or irritable mood with concomitant difficulties in social and behavioral areas (i.e., they may avoid others, be constantly worried about things, easily frustrated/angry).

— Child shows little-to-no interest in typically pleasurable activities (i.e., play time with other kids is poor, doesn’t always want to go outside to play, etc.).

What’s the difference between normal fears vs. abnormal fears?

We all have fears. We all get scared of things we see, hear, or experience on a regular basis. It’s part of being human and is a normal process that allows us to take appropriate precautions to avoid things that may potentially cause harm.

Normal fears, however, generally don’t interfere with daily function. In fact, they may actually help us as we will tend to be more careful around things that scare us. Abnormal fears, however, tend to disrupt or prevent normal activities from occurring because the fear is so pronounced that it overrides other capabilities and/or common sense.

Abnormal fears tend to fall into a number of categories: phobias (i.e., fear of dogs), obsessive-compulsive disorder (i.e., an irrational fear of germs), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; i.e., persistent anxiety after exposure to trauma such as war).

What is the best approach to educate my youngster about fears?

First, it is important to discern if the fear is abnormal or not. In other words, is the fear something that typically doesn’t happen in a given situation or is it a fear that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. For example, if someone is scared of snakes and they encounter one in their backyard, it is likely to be a normal experience. If someone is scared of snakes but they’ve never had any previous interactions with them and they encounter one, it may be an abnormal fear (i.e., a phobia).

Parents and children should work together to understand what the origin of the fear is (i.e., whether it’s something that can be addressed or not). If it is related to an experience someone had, then that should be explored to understand what happened, how they felt about it, etc. Being able to talk about (and sometimes re-live) events like this can help children make sense of what occurred and often diminish fears when they can see that it really wasn’t a big deal after all.

If the fear is related to something unrealistic (i.e., an irrational fear like of germs), then using books or other media is typically recommended in order educate children about various fears and how they affect people in different ways.

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