Is my child normal?

By Lori Baker '86 A.M. / November / December 1998
November 22nd, 2007
At ten years old, Johnny can't stop worrying. When he was younger, he suffered from the typical childhood fears: monsters under the bed, loud noises, big dogs. But now Johnny's preoccupied with everything from global warming to next month's book report. His parents, meanwhile, are worried about Johnny and worried that his irrational fears might all be their fault. Sound familiar? Until recently, says Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Henrietta Leonard, such parents have had to cope with their fears alone. "So many parents," she says, "are asking really important questions about their children, like 'what are normal worries?' It's really hard for parents to know when they need to access professional help."

Is It "Just a Phase?" provides a detailed overview of such normal childhood problems as excess energy, picky eating, shyness, and worrying - and also gives guidelines indicating when these behaviors have "crossed the line" into such psychiatric disorders as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, social phobia, or generalized anxiety disorder.

This realization spurred Leonard, along with her co-author, pediatrician Susan Anderson Swedo, to write a book answering parents' questions about childhood behavior. Published in October by Golden Books,

"We wanted to give a sense of the spectrum of childhood behaviors," says Leonard, training director of Brown's child psychiatry program. "Many things are normal at a certain age for a certain time. What we try to say to parents is 'Don't panic, but let's look at the bigger picture.'" Leonard and Swedo emphasize the importance of getting a child's teachers and pediatrician to help parents judge the seriousness of their children's behavior. Unfortunately, Leonard says, "Many parents don't even ask their pediatrician about these things."

Leonard is no stranger to the border between normal and abnormal behavior. Her previous book, It's Not All In Your Head, which she also co-authored with Swedo, addressed women's mental-health problems. "That book was about the breadth of medical symptoms that may appear to be psychiatric symptoms," she says. "The classic example is that of a woman having chest pains and being dismissed by her doctor as hysterical. She adds that, in a way, that book was a segue to Is It "Just a Phase?" "We really want to help people figure out what door to get into in order to get the treatment they need."

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November / December 1998