Children's Behaviour: What is normal?

Professional Parents Network 20 June 2014

For those of you in The Netherlands, we hold a monthly meeting in Delft and this month, our guest speaker was child psychologist, Jet Sichterman.  No matter where you are in the world, the information she shared is relevant to parents everywhere!  Read below for a summary.

Here’s Jet’s introduction prior to the event:

As professional parents, you have a lot on your mind. On the one hand you will have questions and stressors at work, on the other hand your family life takes a lot of your time and resources as well. Since all children are unique and developing in their own specific ways, you cannot simply read a manual and know how to be a parent. This means that being concerned and uncertain are an inherent part of parenting and you (as every parent) may at times wonder whether certain behavior is normal or not.

Luckily this is my area of expertise. My name is Jet Sichterman and last year I founded my practice for Expat Child Psychology in Zuid-Holland. Within my practice I offer support for expat children (0-12) and their families. I am passionate about stimulating children’s development and social skills, and love to share my knowledge about childhood development and behavior with parents.

During my talk at your June meeting of Professional Parents I would like to share some of my insights about normal vs. abnormal behavior with you and give tips about what to do if/when your child is showing behavior that is unexpected or challenging. I will also be available for your questions about (normal or abnormal) child development & behavior.
You can read more about my services at my website or read some articles about child behavior & development on my blog at

Here’s a summary of the notes that I made at the event:

Ultimately, there is no clear-cut yes or no answer to normal verses abnormal children’s behaviour.  There are a lot of things to consider and not one way to say if something is right or not right.  However there are guidelines that psychologists use to help identify potential “problems” and to assist both the parents and children in understanding and addressing these.

Overall, child development is not a straight path.  Typical developmental milestones are reached at different times for different children and it’s very important to keep in mind that most things are perfectly fine and normal – even if they vary a lot from another child’s behaviour.   It can help to read up on “typical” developmental stages and generally, these fall into categories such as:

  • 0-1 year old – Baby
  • 1-2 year/s old – Infant
  • 2-3 years old – Toddler (Peuter in Dutch)
  • 4-6 years old – Pre-school (or early years at school.  Kleuter in Dutch)
  • 6-12 years old – School age
  • 12+ – Puberty

Instead of focussing on the question “Is this behaviour normal?”, it may help to instead ask “Is this behaviour a problem?”.  A further interesting clarification is “WHO does the problem belong to?”.  This will give you a new perspective – is the “problem” behaviour an issue for the parent or teacher for example, instead of the child.

Jet stressed what I’ve heard a number of times since I’ve become a parent – trust your gut.  If you, as a parent, feel something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.  She gave a good tip on how to deal with this.  Choose just a few close family members and friends and talk things through with them first.  Instead, many parents now ask for feedback on Facebook and end up with 20 or more answers, which are all different, often conflicting and which all have some truth – and then you don’t know what to do.  But if you talk things through with just a couple of people close to you, it may be easier to just pick one plan of action and try it.

There are a lot of theories and there is truth in all of them.  Pick one that suits you and your family’s situation, and stick to it for at least a couple of months as you need this long to have an influence on behaviour.   We also talked about issues such as dealing with change and the need for parents to be kind to ourselves and get support. You know your child best, and if you feel you/your child needs help, continue to ask for it until you receive what you need. Talk to the daycare and school if you feel like there are behavioural issues and see if it’s also happening there – often staff will have some tips and can work with you.

A huge thank you to Jet for taking the time to talk through children’s behaviour and what is normal with us.  Also thank you to Noa, Nareen, Sue, Nik and Nathalie and their little ones for taking part in the discussion.

Renee Veldman-Tentori

One thought on “Children's Behaviour: What is normal?

  1. In the book: “The Undutchables”, the authors described how children in the Netherlands (when the book was written) were given far too much ‘free rein’. That so much struck a chord with me (As a primary school teacher, in New South Wales) as I observed Dutch children, visiting relatives and exploring the Netherlands, just before and just after 1970. I trust that “what is normal” in the Netherlands regarding children’s behaviour management been modified since then. Jo Mulholland. Was Joop Mul

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