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normal vs pathological?

Pamela H in Texas

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This may have been addressed in some recent threads, but I can't keep up with all of them.


At what point does normal cross into pathological? 


For example, a 16yo is abusing his sister s8xu@!!y, but what about the 10yo doing a similar act?  or the 6yo?


For the first example, when we see the 3yo doing it, we may say it is exploration.  We redirect and whatever.  But you supervise a little more, using teaching moments, etc, right? But if he did it again at 6 and 9, is it different?  At what point do you have a Josh Duggar situation that needs to be addressed differently?  And how?


It is so easy for us to look back and say they should have done something and what they did do was not enough.  But at what point should they not have allowed him to play unsupervised with the other kids?  And to what degree?  Do you check every few minutes?  Do you put up cameras?  Do you put an alarm on the door? At what point, should they have gone to counseling?  

Again, I think it is so easy to say it should be different and more should have been done.  But in the moment, it seems like you walk the line between over-reacting and not doing enough.

For example, we had this one sibling group at one time.  The one child was bigger than anyone else but probably the most immature of the group.  He had such a sweet heart.  And he was the most fun to play with because he had a wild imagination.  The kids loved him despite his social issues.  He had some sensitivities and a temper.  He also had seen some stuff and been through some stuff.  So do you let this child play with the other kids when you can't directly supervise him?  Do you just deal with the aftermath?  For how long?  Does it matter if he was 3 or 8 or 12?  Obviously, you keep using teachable moments and do social skills training and connect with him and and and.  But each time you loosen the reins, he does something over the top mean eventually.  But where it is obvious you must keep the 15yo version from bullying, possibly severely hurting, someone, what do you do with the 6yo version or the 10yo version?  You don't know if that is even the path he is on.  He seems so young. Maybe he isn't a sociopath in the making, just an immature little kid.  And the therapies (OT and play) helped somewhat and probably will more.  But do you risk the next punch, push, stab with a dinosaur tail?  


Anyway, this is something we've dealt with.  It is actually something I'm very sensitive to because a family member seemed borderline in these ways (both) as a child.  He "did things."  But he was  young.  And some things are normal to an extent.  And you can't really (and should you?) be in your elementary kid's face all the time.  The behavior escalated and was definitely inappropriate.  And yet, he also turned out okay, a normal functioning member of society who has a very normal life, is not an abuser, etc.  He just "did things" more and to a greater extent and later than I guess I would consider normal.  


I have a kid who is "grumpy" and pushes the envelope sometimes.  I think because of my family member and the child's past, I'm hypervigilant, maybe to an unhealthy degree.  Or maybe I'm protecting other people in ways they should be, in ways I should have been.  


I'm really trying to process this all.  Obviously, recent events give a nice jumping off spot for a real discussion.  The problem really seems to be that we don't want to parent in fear, guessing that every temper tantrum a child throws at 2 is indicative of him being an out of control 25yo.  But we want to address things appropriately along the way...but when and how seems a bit unclear. We all just know that in the end we don't want OUR child to be like the parents of the kids I get each year or to be like Josh Duggar or.....



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This is a really broad question.  I think the main problem I have with the way the Duggars handled it is that they didn't get their kids help from a licensed therapist immediately, and they kept him in the home until it escalated to a very small girl, and then they let him back in the home without therapy.


They refused the help that was available because of their religious bias, and in the mean time they didn't get real help for their kids.  Just brochures that blamed the girls for their own abuse until much, much later when police were involved.


So if there's a questionable situation, reach out and get help. Licensed therapist help for everyone in the family so there's objective, outside oversight that ensures every child's interest is being protected.


Remind me, are you a foster parent?

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I think age probably matters a lot - what's normal at 3, is not at 10, but also it matters whether the event was mutual anatomical exploration or whether it was coercive and bullying.


When we have foster kids identified as 'sexually reactive', I do let my own girls know and I keep an extra eye on their play. We take mostly preschoolers and young school age kids. In honesty, I think in the three kids who came with that label, none of them were really pathological. Two, I suspect, were experimenting and just not well supervised and one 4 yr old girl was so into playing "house" and wanting to be "the baby" that it got a little out of hand when she started undressing to be diapered. To me, that's a little weird, but not a situation that should be labeled as abuse.

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I think the issue is sometimes that we are actually looking for "the least" we need to do -- which is why people sometimes under-guess the severity of a childhood situation, and under-respond. I think it can be a form of denial (a completely human reaction) to minimize parenting problems with frightening implications... And also a practical reaction, because bigger responses are more difficult and more expensive.


To me, I recognize that this is what everyone is likely to do, and so it is probably what I am likely to do: even when I don't feel like I'm doing it. So I run the logic. Is a child likely to be harmed by psycological help (if it turns out to have been not needed)? Is a child likely to be harmed by *not* getting psycological help (if it turns out to have been needed)? Is it possible that psycological help can benefit even in cases where it is not strictly needed -- examples of potential benefit: enhancing social skills to overcome the problem, communicating to the child that this 'misbehaviour' is serious to adults, gaining pro confirmation that the behaviour is not an extreme case, etc.


So, instead of "do I absolutely need to?" As the question, I try to ask, "what are the reasons not to?" And go from there. It puts me in the right head space.

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One think I have found is that on the other side of people not wanting to do anything, there seem to be some people who don't seem to have a very good sense at all of what is normal sexual behavior is in kids - and sometimes in adults either.  So for example - people who think children have no sexual feelings or curiosity, people who think all sexual interest in children is sexual attraction and reflects what their adult sexual interests will be, and people who don't realize it is actually pretty normal for many people to have sexual desires/thoughts that would be, if acted out, inappropriate, wrong, or even gross.


I tend to think correct information about those kinds of things needs to be combined with correct information about development in other areas.  It is normal for three year olds to have no sense of boundaries or real understanding of why inappropriate behavior is inappropriate.  It is normal for young kids to do a poor job interacting with other kids sometimes, being bossy or even a bully, or manipulative, or unkind.  It is normal for 10 year olds to sometimes fail to control their behavior, or to try and get away with things, or do them because they are daring.  So all of these things can be combined with sexual behaviors and just be normal kid stuff that will be left behind as they develop more self-control or interpersonal skills.


So, if a 10 year old did something like that - I wouldn't necessarily consider it abnormal.  It is not abnormal to be sexually curious at that age.  It isn't abnormal to be bossy or unkind to other kids.  It isn't abnormal to try and get away with things apart from parents.  It isn't abnormal to make bad decisions that a healthy adult would not make.  It is normal to not fully appreciate the significance of a lot of sexual behavior.  I think that combination could easily lead to an inappropriate incident with another child that would require parental direction, but is not a sign that the child is some sort of pervert or needs therapy.


There can also be something of a tendency for some people to assume that a kid that has a pretty average incident of this kind with another child will be irreparably damaged and in need of some kind of intervention.  I think though if this can potentially make what would have been an insignificant and forgotten incident into something worse.


So I guess what I would say is, if it looks like it is something that the child is not going to succeed in developing appropriate behaviors as they get older - they are out of normal alignment in a significant way - that would be a place where intervention might be a good idea.  Much like when you make a decision to send a child to a speech pathologist, say.


As for supervision - that is hard - I would probably play it by ear, and provide more at the beginning with the idea of baking off if it seems appropriate. 

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So do you let this child play with the other kids when you can't directly supervise him?  Do you just deal with the aftermath?  For how long?  Does it matter if he was 3 or 8 or 12?



Not dealing with the issues you're referencing (meanness, sexual things), but I have a child with impulse issues in general.


My answer is absolutely I do NOT just let him play and deal with the aftermath. An ounce of prevention v. lb of cure and all that. And while what is appropriate at 3, 8 and 12 are different things, if he is having trouble with appropriateness at any age, my answer is the same.


Forever. Until he's grown or, in the cases you mention, the child needs someone else to step in and assist.


Of course, all this hangs on the parent actually knowing what's appropriate at different ages.


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Thanks y'all.


My fear, in the case of my child, is that we have gone to such an extreme to make sure NOTHING ever happens, that even normal stuff CAN"T happen, that he can't figure out even normal preschooler type stuff.  So yeah, we've made it where he can't X or Y (the extremes), but we also made it where he can't A, B or C either, things we see EVERY other child try.  


I have *really* struggled with the level of supervision and structure my one child requires.  


Every child over the age of two gets therapy at least long enough to determine if it is necessary and/or helpful.  The one child is back in therapy again, doing a new kind of therapy with someone new.  And we chose providers with more education and experience.  Child also is medicated and has an additional psychologist on the side as well as has seen the same primary provider for years.  We are definitely trying to cover our bases in order to make sure that we are helping him the best we can.  


And our religion supports appropriate medical interventions.  No one is judging us for doing any of these things. 

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I acknowledge that this is a very tough question.


I would make sure the other kids know to come to you if anything happens.  And I would give close-in-age kids time to play without direct in-your-face supervision, as long as I didn't have reason to believe he would take the opportunity to hurt someone.

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