A guide to common concerns regarding preschool behavior.

By Amy Landsman

Preschoolers often exhibit behaviors that parents may worry are odd, unusual, or symptomatic of a disability. Most are nothing to worry about, but there are some you should keep your eyes on, just in case.

Stuttering
“Approximately 5 percent of all children will stutter for some period in their life, lasting from a few weeks to several years,” states the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders on its website.
Actually, stuttering is most common in children who are between the ages of 2 and 5, and it occurs more frequently among boys than girls. So, don’t panic if your child occasionally hesitates or repeats syllables or words—such as “li-li-like this.” These disfluencies “are usually signs that a child is learning to use language in new ways. If disfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, the child may just be going through another stage of learning,” according to the website of the Stuttering Foundation of America, a nonprofit that helps children and adults who stutter.
If your child has a mild stutter, the Foundation urges you to model slow and relaxed speech when talking with him or her. Also, keep in mind that up to 80 percent of all children who begin stuttering will stop within 12 to 24 months without speech therapy.
However, if you child has stuttered for at least three to six months, or if there’s a family history of stuttering, you may want to have him or her evaluated by a speech-language pathologist.

Writing Letters Backwards
While many preschoolers struggle to express themselves in writing, some parents may be alarmed when their young child writes letters backwards.
But, in fact, according to public television station WETA’s educational initiative Reading Rockets, “Writing letters backwards is a normal part of developing writing skills in preschool.”
Children with a learning challenge such as dyslexia generally will struggle in several areas that persist over time. According to The International Dyslexia Association, those areas include difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes, or songs, transposing the order of letters when reading or spelling, difficulty learning the sounds of letters (phonics), and consistently misspelling words.
As with stuttering, dyslexia often runs in families. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, a reading specialist or psychologist can make a diagnosis.

Repeating Movements
Children often engage in repetitive motions, such as spinning, rocking back and forth, or even head-banging. While these might be tics, the movement disorders nonprofit group, We Move, notes that at least 10 percent of all boys experience “transient” tics during childhood, which usually last less than a year and are slightly less common among girls. If a child’s repetitive motions are mild and do not interfere with his or her daily life, they’re generally nothing to worry about. But if they persist, or if you notice that they are getting worse or are preventing your child from doing his or her normal activities, contact your child’s doctor.
Additionally, if your child exhibits other signs that are troubling, such as avoiding eye contact or losing language or social skills, contact his or her doctor or a developmental pediatrician for an evaluation. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says that rocking, twirling, or self-abusive behavior, such as biting or head-banging, could be a sign of autism.

Another common concern regarding preschool behavior is how young children may express curiosity about their bodies through self-stimulation of their genitals. Remind your child that this behavior is not appropriate in public. And, if the behavior persists or if it seems excessive, again, discuss the issue with your child’s doctor.
Finally, as with any concern you may have about your child’s health or behavior, go with your gut feelings. As the parent, you know your child better than anyone else.
As the popular parenting blog, www.Mommie911.com, states, “If something seems off or if a doctor diagnoses your child with a disorder you feel is wrong, don’t accept it, get another opinion, and keep educating yourself.” BC

For More Information

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/stutter.asp.
The Stuttering Foundation of America, www.stutteringhelp.org.
Reading Rockets, www.readingrockets.org.
The International Dyslexia Association, www.interdys.org.
We Move, www.wemove.org.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm.

© Baltimore’s Child Inc. June 2011

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