Don’t Worry, It’s Normal! – A Quick Guide To Normal Behaviour For Babies, Kids And Teens

Don’t Worry, It’s Normal! – A Quick Guide To Normal Behaviour For Babies, Kids And Teens

Just when you’ve figured out what’s normal for your little one, they grow and change.

Trying to keep track of what to expect and what’s normal for each age can feel overwhelming.

So many little behaviours can seem worrisome, or you may wonder if your child’s behaviour is simply naughty.

Is it healthy for your baby to cry every time you leave the room? I mean, you’re only going to the bathroom, you always quickly come back, and yet every time you leave she cries.

And your teen, why do they always have plans? Did you unintentionally push them away?

As parents, we often stress about common behaviours. It isn’t until we chat with other parents that we realise how normal some behaviour is.

We can make things more difficult for ourselves and our children when we aren’t aware of developmentally appropriate behaviour.

The World Is Big And Life Can Be Hard – What Does That Mean For Kids?

Even as adults, we have bad days. We have moments where we feel overwhelmed by the bigness of the world and the difficulties in life.

While we may want to throw ourselves on the ground and scream, generally, as adults we find better ways to process our emotions.

For babies, kids and even teens, handling this big world can be hard, and processing emotions even harder. It means emotions which feel manageable to us, can be overwhelming for them.

When emotions get to be more than a young person can process and there’s a lack of ability to articulate feelings, it can lead to meltdowns.

When our baby is up hourly from painful teething or if our kid is acting out every morning when asked to hurry up and get their shoes for school, we can hone in on just how hard our day is. In those moments, we tend to forget that they’re having a hard day too.

When you know what to expect at each stage, you can help them process these emotions. You can know that your child isn’t simply being naughty. You can know they’re a day closer to learning how to handle emotions. And perhaps, most importantly, you can reduce stress by knowing what is and isn’t normal.

What To Expect From Birth To 1 Year

A newborn and a 10 month old are quite different. For an in-depth look at each stage in the first year of life, be sure to follow our week by week guide for the first year.

In general, your baby is likely to:

  • Desire touch and closeness to feel secure. Your baby is wired to be with you, to be near a safe caregiver.
  • Cry when you leave the room and be wary of strangers (you knowing someone doesn’t mean baby knows them).
  • Cry to alert you of a need – babies don’t cry to manipulate.
  • Be drawn to faces and patterns.
  • May easily become overstimulated – the world is new to them and there’s quite a bit to process.
  • Put everything in reach into their mouth.

You can support them by:

  • Answering their cries and meeting their needs.
  • Be understanding and patient when they fuss or cry when they’re away from you.
  • Consider babywearing, room sharing/co-sleeping, and other ways to help meet their need for closeness and touch.
  • Be conscious of their environment and help them take a break if they’re becoming overstimulated.
  • Make sure they’re not surrounded by choking hazards.

Your biggest task in your child’s first year of life is to help them feel secure and safe in their new, big world. Meet their needs, including their need for feeling secure.

What To Expect From 1 To 2 Years

In many ways, your one year old is a whole new creature compared to when she was six months old. But in other ways, she’s not as “grown up” as some think toddlers are.

One year olds often:

  • Still desire closeness. Perhaps not as often, but they like the reassurance you’re nearby and available when a cuddle and security is necessary.
  • Say “no!” and “mine!” which are cute at first but may eventually make you crazy.
  • Play near other children but not always with them. This is parallel play and developmentally appropriate. No need to worry that your child’s anti-social.
  • Throw tantrums due to frustration as they lack the ability to clearly communicate while they learn what they are allowed and not allowed to do.
  • Are possessive. Not because they’re rudely selfish but they’re still learning about a sense of self and objects. They’re not mature enough to understand sharing.
  • Explore their world by doing. By throwing, taking apart, testing, going where you wish they wouldn’t (like in the toilet…).
  • As they near two years of age, they may become defiant as they explore and test out independence.

You can support them by:

  • Be positive and excited when they’re doing the right thing.
  • Use redirection and gentle discipline to keep them from dangers and things you don’t want them to do.
  • Help them find words for their emotions like, “It’s frustrating when you can’t stay at the park longer.”
  • Their attention span is short which can be a good thing, and a hard thing. It can mean they’re easily distracted from doing something they’re not supposed to do, but it can also mean quickly ending a good task to go find something they’re not supposed to do.
  • Start implementing rules and letting them know what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour in your home. Be patient, know they won’t always listen or understand. Consistency is key.

What To Expect At Age 3

Three year olds are a mix of wanting to be big like a child and wanting to be treated little. They can flip from trying to refuse to hold your hand to cross the street, to wanting you to carry and snuggle them.

Generally, you can expect your three year old to:

  • Throw tantrums. You thought the tantrums left with the terrible twos? Well, many parents would say the threenage year is filled with tantrums that made the twos seem like a walk in the park.
  • Explore independence which may lead to frustrations. An attempt at independence often goes really well, or it ends in a massive tantrum. This can get exhausting, but it’s normal as they’re still learning emotional regulation.
  • Struggle between identifying as a child (“I do it!”) and identifying as a toddler (“You do it! I can’t!”)
  • Say “No!” as a default response to nearly any question or offer. Always wait to put away the denied snack because in 30 seconds you might be yelled at because they really meant yes.
  • Have newly discovered fears, phobias, nightmares, etc. They often seem silly, but are very real to them.
  • Have trouble deciphering between make believe and reality.
  • Bedtime struggles are common because they may need more water, a back rub, someone to take out the monster under their bed, to go potty…
  • They will still struggle with understanding sharing, including sharing mama or daddy (even with siblings!).

You can support them by:

  • Establishing routines. When a toddler or young child knows what to expect throughout the day it can help them feel more secure.
  • Creating a bedtime routine with boundaries to limit some of the bedtime struggles.
  • Being patient and remembering this is just a phase.
  • Choosing your battles. Don’t overuse ‘no’. Try to tell them what they can do, rather than only what they can’t do. You don’t want to discourage exploring their world, but of course you do need to keep them safe.
  • Not having too many rules. Choose what’s most important and be consistent.
  • Reassure them that even though they’re growing up, you’re still available for hugs, cuddles and security.

What To Expect At Age 4

You may be surprised how much your child changes from age three to four when it comes to communication and understanding. They’re certainly not all grown up yet, but you can explain to them why things are done the way they are.

You can expect your four year old to:

  • Continue to explore independence and a sense of self. This may translate to bossiness and defiance.
  • Understand the power of words and may try to use them to manipulate others to get their way, such as ‘I won’t play with you if you don’t let me…’.
  • Begin critical thinking and judge their world. This is often in black and white ways such as good and bad, or right and wrong.
  • Will likely play with other kids verses just parallel play.
  • Pull out all the tricks to avoid bedtime.
  • Continue to have a little trouble deciphering between fiction and reality. This can contribute to nightmares, fear of the dark, etc.
  • Possibly experience a resurgence of separation anxiety.
  • Test boundaries (do children ever not do this?) but also desire to please and help you.
  • Make up lies.

You can support them by:

  • Being consistent with rules and consequences. Keep rules simple and explain why you have them. When they break rules and a consequence is given, be sure to explain why, but also that you know they’re capable of following the rules. Reassure them you believe they’re able of making good choices.
  • Not making rules you can’t be completely consistent with. You can be consistent nine times out of ten, but the one time you aren’t can lead to a million times of attempting to bend the rule again.
  • Giving them age appropriate opportunities to be independent and make choices.
  • Explaining why you do things, why they can and can’t do things, etc.
  • Being loving but consistent with bedtime routines.
  • Giving lots of praise for good behaviour, they want to please, and never think they’re too big for cuddles, kisses and hugs.

What To Expect At Age 5

Five is a big age. Many start preschool, kindergarten or elementary school, they may be involved in organised activities, and they’re set on being even more independent.

You can expect your five year old to:

  • Let you know they’re an expert in everything.
  • Be sensitive to criticism and failure.
  • Start finding more of a sense of humour which unfortunately can translate to a fascination with potty humour.
  • Struggle with losing in a game, enough that they accuse others of cheating.
  • Be better with and understand sharing, but still struggle with it especially when it comes to favorite things.
  • Want to make decisions for themselves, especially regarding clothing and food.
  • Begin to show empathy and understanding for others.
  • Be physically and emotionally exhausted and even act out (meltdown and tantrum) after a long day of school. It’s hard work paying attention and sitting still at this age!
  • Have deeper conversations which can be a new and rewarding way to bond.

You can support them by:

  • Setting aside time and connecting with them. Ask about their day, their interests and start really getting to know them on a deeper level.
  • Not keeping a laundry list of rules. Continue to keep them simple and ones you can be consistent with.
  • Connect chores, responsibilities, etc. with rewards: “Let’s tidy your room then we can head to the park.”
  • Helping them become more emotionally literate. They’re beginning to have emotional regulation. Being able to name their feelings can further help them to process and handle big emotions.
  • Getting them involved in some organised activities to help them build physical skills as well as social skills like taking turns.

What To Expect At Age 6

If you thought your five year old was an expert, just ask your now six year old anything. They clearly have more knowledge than you!

In addition to acting as an expert, you can expect your six year old to:

  • Still struggle with big emotions and have the occasional tantrum or meltdown. This is especially common after long days at school or activities. They put a good bit of energy into behaving all day, and they aren’t likely to process all their big emotions throughout a busy day. So, they save it for you at home!
  • Continue to want to please you but also test limits.
  • Enjoy trying and mastering new skills.
  • Seek praise for accomplishments, especially school work.

You can support them by:

  • Taking an interest in the skills they wish to master and praising their effort in mastering.
  • Continuing to help them become emotionally literate.
  • Praising their efforts but not overinflating their ego. Let them know they’re special, but so are others. Encourage and praise effort over outcome.
  • If they are struggling in any areas at school, be sure to help them and provide them with support and resources if necessary.
  • Continue with clear and concise rules you can be consistent with.

What To Expect At Age 7

With the preschool years behind, you now have a big kid on your hands. In some ways, they may seem incredibly mature. Then at the drop of a hat you can be quickly reminded they’re still growing and learning.

Generally, you can expect your seven year old to:

  • Begin to be conscious of what others may think of him.
  • Become more emotionally literate but still struggle with handling the emotions. They may become angry or frustrated that they’re experiencing strong feelings.
  • Be dramatic about their life, friends and school.
  • Feel misunderstood. They have more words and social skills, but they can feel misunderstood by you, teachers, and even peers.
  • Start complaining about things. Do I haaaave to take out the trash? Why can’t I stay up after 8.30? It’s not fair!
  • Start forming more relationships with friends.

You can support them by:

  • Listening with the intent of simply hearing them and validating their feelings. You don’t need to fix their problems, but you can be a great sounding board.
  • Not getting drawn into their drama, don’t encourage or feed into it.
  • Continue to point out their positive behaviours and help them see the positives in their life.
  • Praising their efforts, and not outcomes. Help them begin to build a strong work ethic.
  • Helping them build problem solving skills and giving them the space to fix things that are causing them trouble.

What To Expect At Age 8

Your eight year old has come quite a long way since his toddler years. There will be a fun maturity about the conversations you can have. There will still be reminders of how much he still needs to grow.

You can expect your eight year old to:

  • Still see the world mostly in black and white. There is good and bad, right and wrong. How he views the world is how the world is and he expects that you feel the same way he does.
  • Sometimes struggle with friendships when there’s a difference of opinion. While this can be a hard phase, it’s part of learning how to manage relationships.
  • Begin arguing with parents, especially their mother.
  • Be sensitive to what you think of them. They may take direction or correction personally, as if your intent is only to criticise.

You can support them by:

  • Investing in a close relationship. Soon enough they’ll hit adolescence and begin pulling away. The more you invest now, the easier it will be to weather the teen years.
  • Avoiding arguing with them. If you get caught in a back and forth, they’ll continue to see the issue as right versus wrong. Instead, encourage them to explain their thought process, then explain yours and help them begin to understand other points of view.
  • Continuing to acknowledge proper and positive behaviours. However, be sure to be clear about what you’re praising, let them know the specific task or attitude you’re pleased with.
  • Being clear during discipline and correction that it is a behaviour, action, etc. that you are disappointed with and not them as a person.

What To Expect At Age 9

Their final year with single digits. It can feel like you’re nearing the end of a chapter.

You can expect your nine year old to:

  • Begin to be more concerned about what their peers think of them, what peers are interested in, and making choices they think will help them to “fit in” more.
  • Begin having inside jokes and secrets with friends.
  • Start seeing friendships as more important than parents. Wanting to go to friends’ houses, talk with, and desire be around peers more than family.
  • Push boundaries, test rules and limits, and even test out being disrespectful.
  • They’re still loving, may seek the occasional cuddles, but will also be selfish.

You can support them by:

  • Choosing your battles and not being too pushy. Don’t push too much over silly clothing choices, or insisting they finish the last bite on their plate.
  • Allowing space for independence and decision making.
  • Modeling and teaching about healthy friendships. They’re going to be influenced by their peers, so help them learn how to choose good friends as well as how to be a good friend.
  • Having clear expectations for behaviour and attitude. Children can have bad days and big emotions, but they needn’t be mean or hurtful. It’s okay to remind them what is and isn’t okay for expressing emotions (e.g. “You can be mad about not going over to Bobby’s house, but you may not yell rude things.”)
  • Making one on one time a priority. Even if it’s short and simple moments, be sure you’re connecting with your child.

What To Expect From 10 To 12 Years

Just like that, you’ve entered the preteen years. It’s an unusual time between childhood and adolescence where they struggle to choose between wanting to play and wanting to be just like a teen. It can be awkward for them, and it can be awkward for you. Lots of changes and big emotions for both of you.

You can expect your preteen to:

  • Value trust. What you say, they will remember and want to hold you to it.
  • Mostly be tantrum free. It’s like the calm before the teenage years. They can still have big emotions but for now, they’re able to handle them in the context of what the preteen years look like.
  • Debate, because rather than jump to disrespect and argue, they may act like a junior lawyer. They can debate with the best and find loopholes to justify every misbehaviour, and try to wiggle out of rules.
  • Possibly struggle with friendships, growing apart or learning about peer influence.

You can support them by:

  • Being patient and remembering they’re dealing with changes.
  • Not getting caught in a debate. Let them push against a rule, say why they did something, etc. then be clear about your position and end it.
  • Allowing them to push back in safe ways like experimenting with clothes, room décor, age appropriate activities (different music, sports, etc.)
  • Being true to your word. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You’re close to the teen years. Do all you can to reinforce they can trust you. What doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, can feel very big to them.

What To Expect During The Teen Years

Ah, the teen years. They can make going back to the teething toddler years seem appealing. In some ways, a thirteen year old is so different than a seventeen year old, but in other ways they’re quite similar. They’re both exploring independence and a sense of self, and trying to figure out where they fit in this big world.

While every teen is unique, and girls and boys can vary, generally, you can expect your teen to:

  • Value and even obsess with what their peers think of them.
  • Feel like events, such as a break up, can ruin their life.
  • Around 13 for girls and 15 for boys, stress is most about fitting in with their peers. They may do things that seem silly, risky, and things you thought your child would never do. It’s a phase. Reinforce good choices, teach them about being safe, and try to take lots of calming deep breaths.
  • Desire time with friends far more than time with parents and usually siblings too.
  • Possibly see you as completely embarrassing in public simply because you exist.
  • Possibly act impulsive and even make risky choices.
  • Push back against rules.
  • Seek more independence and opportunities to make decisions.
  • Start forming more of a mature world view, though with less life experiences, it may still be limited.
  • Possibly become sexually active.
  • Still require a good bit of sleep, 9-10 hours per night, but due to changes in their circadian rhythm they won’t likely go to sleep at the same time as they did during childhood. Be prepared for sleeping in late on weekends.
  • Put up a front that they don’t care what you think of them. However, now more than ever they need to know you care, when you’re proud of them, and that you’re there for them.
  • Have emotional outbursts and perceive your words and emotions as something they’re not.

You can support them by:

  • Understanding that they need to find their place in this world. Don’t take rejection and a desire to be with friends personally. It isn’t a sign they don’t love you nor is it a sign you didn’t bond.
  • Continuing to model healthy relationships and encourage them in finding and maintaining them.
  • Not being harsh or critical, it may push them further away. This doesn’t mean you can’t correct inappropriate behaviour or give consequences, just be clear you’re targeting behaviour, not them as a person.
  • Not trying to control everything. Focus on influencing them.
  • Providing information, but avoid lecturing.
  • Letting them have their emotional outburst. Ride the wave, wait for it to pass, don’t feed into it. Then address it.
  • Understanding that the most successful people in life take risks. Don’t discourage all risk taking, help them focus the urge to take risks in an appropriate way. Competitive sports, trying a new hobby, thinking outside the box when it comes to teen employment, etc. You want to keep your teen safe, but not at the expense of fostering a healthy level of risk taking.
  • Letting them know you will always be available to scoop them up and bring them home when they need, no matter the time or the circumstances. Don’t let them be afraid to call you when they truly need you.
  • Listening more than you talk and letting them know there’s nothing they can’t talk to you about.
  • Helping them look at pros and cons, and how choices can impact their future.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a long journey. Perhaps some of the reason it feels so hard is we aren’t always sure what to expect. We wonder what we did to push our teen away (nothing, it’s a normal part of development) and we wonder if we’re the only parent struggling.

The truth is, we’re all doing the best that we can. Taking time to learn about developmentally appropriate behaviour, however, can be a vital part in doing our best.

Most importantly, remember that every child is a unique individual. Some children will do everything listed here, some will do a few things, and some will do things not mentioned. Spend the early years bonding and building trust, use that foundation to get through the phases which come next.

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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