When Normal Ceases to be Normal

Early Life Foundations works with children, families and educators across years birth to aged 12 years and our main group of families and children are toddlers and preschoolers. Developmentally, the most common and "normal" aspects of young children as they grow and develop are demonstrated by their early brain development, language development and early elements of temperament.

Children are not mini versions of adults.

Children find it difficult to express verbally or to even recognize their frustrations. They have greater difficulty in controlling and regulating their behaviors, frustrations and tiredness levels.When they are emoting, it is much more obvious!! Tantrums, screaming, lack of self control, being "over excited", over whelmed, and over tired" is "typical" behavior of young children.

Young children who have had a sleepless night are not inclined or able to announce at the breakfast table and provide a well-meaning warning to the rest of the family that they are tired, irritable and it will be one hell of a day ahead due to their lack of sleep!!

One of the disturbing trends that has been increasing in the work and rhetoric from some clinicians and academics who work with young children is that young children are no different developmentally or neurologically than adults.

There has become a sense that all behaviors observed in children and adults are to be viewed and diagnosed almost in the same way.

Consistent with this we now have the most bizarre and potentially alarming new initiative from the government called the Healthy Kids Check  announced over the weekend.

It is always difficult to criticize a government initiative that is placing huge sums of funding toward the early intervention for young children, as all professionals recognize the importance of early intervention, as does our organization.

We applaud the government in attempting to recognize and do something for young children.

However, to confuse and be guided by a minority of professionals who believe that the local GP, with respect, who has very little knowledge of early childhood development or psychology can now recognize and perhaps identify that a young toddler who may appear excessively shy or scared of the dark, may be developing a mental health problem is just absolutely wrong, dangerous and sending the most medicalized message about young children and family life to society.

Nearly all children go through stages of being scared of the dark, refusing to talk to people, for sometimes up to 9 months, having tantrums, refusing to eat, refusing to get dressed. These are the things of childhood, pushing the limits, testing boundaries, ordinary family life.

In the minority of cases where some other additional behavioral or health problems may exist for some young children, other ways of identifying these could and should be identified.

The millions of dollars now being provided for this new mental health check and the wrong message it is sending to the general population about young children and their typical behaviors of toddlers and preschoolers is unfortunately money unwisely and unnecessarily being spent as well as sending yet again another dangerous and incorrect message about what is normal and what is not normal behaviors.

This of course doesn't even start to discuss the potential harm mediations that may be prescribed and the sorts of labels that are likely to be given to children that may be quite normal and will be sent off from referral to referral, label after label and medication, all of which a vast number of them wont need. We were pleased to hear Professor Alan Francis who is visiting from the Duke University, US speak about this today and as he stated, children don't need more labels and dangerous medications just because they are young children doing normal things.

Kathy Walker and Shona Bass