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Is this just a phase???
Episode 10218th May 2023 • How Not to Screw Up Your Kids • Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:28:20

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I’m talking about the question we all ask ourselves and each other. “Is my child’s behaviour a phase, or is it a more permanent issue which they might need help with, and how do I know the difference??" 

We know our children will naturally go through ages and stages as they go from baby to adult - I’m talking about whether there’s a way of knowing for sure

Here are the highlights: 

(2:00) Is it an age or stage or do you need support?

(6:50) What else is going on in their life?

(12:09) Consistent scaffolding

(16:25) Has there been any regression in other areas?

(19:15) Are there accompanying changes in sleep, appetite or behaviour?

(22:09) Is the change in behaviour affecting their daily life?

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Hello, and welcome to the how not to screw up your kids podcast. So pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. This is episode 102. And today's episode, is this just a phase? I'm talking about the question we all ask ourselves and each other, is my child's behaviour a phase? Or is it a permanent character trait or issue they might need help with? And how do I know? Now we know our children will naturally go through ages and stages as they go from Baby tiny, little cute baby that we bring back home. Sorry, I'm obviously having one of those days. But you know, we know that they're going to evolve as they go through that tiny baby to adult. But I'm talking about whether there's a way of knowing for sure if the stage of development that they're going through is normal or not. Now, the bottom line is, sadly, there is no hard and fast rule. Trust me, I have really wanted to give you a hard and fast rule, as I researched this and reflected on it, because I absolutely wanted to give you a 100% reassurance and what before I record a podcast episode, I do a lot of reflecting and I do a lot of research before I sort of put in some of the kind of key things that I want to mention. And I really wanted to come up with some sort of flowchart of like, ask this question. And if you get Yes, go down this route, if you get no go down this route, to really, really try and absolutely nail it. But sadly, it's just not possible. However, there are some general rules and principles. If we go through some specific questions, which should help not just one way or another, as to whether we have to ride out this particular stage, obviously, with love and support, of course, or whether we really ought to be getting some support elsewhere, beyond the family, whether that's professionally, we just reach out to somebody who can give us a little bit more support, or knows that little bit more. Now, what I will caveat, firstly, is to trust your gut instinct. If something feels fundamentally off, then do seek help, even if you've gone through my flow chart or my questions. And it's sort of indicating that there isn't an issue, because I really think it's important that we trust that gut. And I just want to give you a an example of when my children were younger. So when my daughter had just started school, and I just want to note that she is a summer birthday, so she's quite young for her year. Now. She was unwell a lot. She had lots of sort of problems with her throat, lots of issues, she had quite a serious amount of time off school in that early stages of just starting school where you really want those sort of foundations to be embedded. And she was given antibiotic after antibiotic treatment. And when I asked the doctor whether this was no more I was told well, it's just a phase and not to worry. But after a little while, my gut instinct told me otherwise. So we managed to get a referral to an ear, nose and throat consultant. And that consultant confirmed almost immediately that her ears were simply not draining properly. And she needed grommets. And the consultant made the analogy that Catherine was basically listening to the world as though she was constantly underwater. Now, I will just remind you that this is a normal part of typical development. But for Catherine, she was just stuck in this phase for quite some time. And when they did actually put her grommets in the feedback that they got off that we got back after the surgery was that situation was actually worse than they had imagined. Now had we done nothing. I am absolutely sure I'm absolutely sure 100% that her jaw would have naturally expanded as part of the issue with sort of grommets and it's just simply that their jaws haven't sort of yet sort of grown as such in such a way that the tubes that in her ear that basically would have drained it away, had just were not in the correct position. And I'm absolutely sure if we'd done nothing, it would have sorted itself out and her ears would have naturally started draining properly. However, by acting early her language development was not hampered her ability to hear in class was significantly improved and therefore her learning wasn't hampered. And no doubt her play with her peers was enhanced because she could hear them properly.


So we have a gut instinct quite often. And if we just give ourselves some space, and some grace to listen to it, we often know whether this is an age or a stage, or whether we actually do need to go and seek some additional help. And it's really relevant when our children's behaviour is really challenging. Maybe they're having some monumentally big emotions, or they're worrying. And we're thinking God, is this an anxiety thing? Do I need to sort something out, maybe your child is bedwetting, having been supremely dry and no issues and now that it feels like they've regressed, or maybe they're biting, or they're being a fussy eater, you name it. That's the thing that we're kind of really looking at. And the one thing we need to remember, before I start, is that with change comes stress. So our children go through natural ages and stages as part of their development, and that will create some change. And that change comes with it some stress, because our children and normal stress, our children have to navigate this new age and stage that they're going through. And so that is going to be affected, that is going to be a normal part two, we have to bear that in mind when we're trying to work out whether our child's change in shift in behaviour reflects a wider sort of large scale change in their development. And that new behaviour is just a fallout of it, or whether this is actually something that is the beginnings of something that was really going to be an issue, we do need to seek out some help. So how do we know if this is just an age and stage? And when do we need to worry. So let's look at these areas, specifically. And what I've done this week is sort of put them into sort of five broad questions or statements that I want you to consider. So the first one is, what else is going on in your child's life, because what we're trying to do is identify potentially a root cause as to whether this is a wider issue, or just an age or stage. So for example, if you've got a child that maybe might be wetting the bed, so they've been dry before, and now they've started wetting the bed. When we asked that first question, what else is going on in their life, we can start looking at, okay, they've changed school, or maybe we've moved house, or maybe we've got an arrival of a new sibling, or there's some tension specifically at home because we're having a difficult time with our partner. So it's really looking at the wider picture as to what else is significantly happening in this particular child's life. So could it be that what they're showing would that bedwetting is actually a reflection of stress that they're experiencing, because their life is had some additional stresses, some additional changes that they are also trying to navigate? And it also then helps us look, if everything else has stayed the same. There's been no significant differences in terms of the demands being placed on them. There's no additional stresses, there is just this Bedwetting, then of course, that gives us an idea to think about, okay, is this an age of stage? Or is this something that we actively need to get support with? And particularly with the example of bedwetting is that often? Well, not often, actually, the reality is with Bedwetting, there, it will be one of two things, it will either be psychological. So they are experiencing a certain amount of stress. And that's why they've progressed with that, or it's something physiological, there is something around the development within their body that is then creating that issue. So now, obviously, I'm giving one particular example. And there could be so many things that you're asking yourself about whether this is just a phase or not. There is really looking at what are the wider things happening, and there'll be obvious things that we can put our finger on, we've moved house, our children have changed school, there are the arrival of a new sibling. But what we're also looking for, is we're really trying to identify some of the subtle changes. So it could be that they've been at the same school, but actually, is there been some subtle changes in terms of their friendships, in terms of how they've engaged with their teacher? Are they starting to use language around their ability to perform? So we're starting to notice a confidence issue? Are they starting to also struggle with falling asleep at night? You know, are they having challenges around? Not challenges, but are they now becoming particularly fussy about their food or we're noticing some additional changes? So with this, we really want to scan and have a look at what else might be going on in their life? Have we noticed the there some very subtle and lying issues that are not big ones, but necessarily small ones that might be able to help us understand. So if there are if there have been some changes, this could genuinely be a stage and then we're looking at supporting some of those big or small changes.


or it could be that actually, there are some fundamental things here that we need to address. So we really want to start off with that. Almost like a bigger picture, let's look at that whole terrain and that landscape to work out what else might be going on in their life that might be able to help clarify whether this is an aged stage, or whether this is something that's a bit of a wider issue that we need to look at. So that's the first question that we really ought to be looking at. And when we're looking at that, we really want to have conversations with all interested parties. So don't just look at what's going on at home. If your child is at school, ask the school we're noticing, you know, our child has started Bedwetting, our child is starting having issues around going to bed at night. Or they are, we're having a few challenges in terms of the language that they're using with us or their behaviour, whatever it might be, have a conversation with school, if your child has got a nanny, if your child is going to a child minder, if your child goes to after school activities, if they're being looked after by your parents, who ever else is involved in that day to day support and care for your child, when you're looking at the landscape, you have to look beyond just home, you want to be having conversations with everybody else who's involved, because that really helps get that broader, wider picture. And if we're asking some of those questions at school, it also gives school some knowledge about what is happening at home. And whilst they may not have initially noticed something, maybe they might not be having a conversation with you, because they've noticed things. If they understand what is also happening at home, they can keep their eye out, they can then start fine tuning and looking at things that might help to be able to kind of work that out. And that's not just for school, but anyone else who might be interested. So we need to kind of take a really super broad view and really get involved and have conversations with everybody who's helping and supporting and raising our child. So that's the first thing that we want to do. And that helps us understand whether it's a face or not. The second one and this is quite a crucial one is that when we consistently apply some interventions, some scaffolding, or such to help support our child when we kind of sort of maybe instinctively think one thing or another. Are we seeing any difference occurring? Now that difference is not necessarily a big shift and or you know that that behaviour is gone. But more a case of are we beginning to see some movement in the right direction. So I'm conscious, I'm using the bedwetting analogy, but I'm just going to keep going with that one for a minute. So if we think that the bedwetting could be a physical thing, so maybe we think bums me probably having far too much to drink before they go to bed, and we've not been keeping an eye on that, or they've not been going to the toilet regularly before they go to sleep. And we're consistently I'll come back to that word, but we're consistently reminding them to go to the toilet or beginning to cut down on the amount of liquid that they have. And we're noticing that, okay, that bedwetting is still happening, but it's not happening all the time that we're beginning to see a shift in that, then that is some specific progress. And it could be an agent stage. If we think that the bedwetting might be to do with just feeling anxious and worried and nervous, because there's been a lot of big changes for the for them in their lives, that we've then noticed that by putting in some tools and strategies and some support through scaffolding, that we're offering them, that we're beginning to notice that that's happening less often than it is unlikely to be something that is permanent, that this is much more about an age and stage and development and then we can help scaffold them. What is important with this particular second point is that the strategies, the intervention and the scaffolding, must be consistently applied. I genuinely say this with love. Quite often as parents, we tend to sort of hear advice and I am 100% guilty of this. We hear advice we hear Listen, maybe you listen to something I say on the podcast, maybe you read something in a parenting book, and you start implementing it and you slightly throw the Botha the the baby out with the bathwater, because it's like, Oh, for goodness sake, that's ridiculous. It hasn't worked. There's clearly a bigger problem. But we haven't applied the strategy or the scaffolding consistently and consistently means we need to be doing it often. So you can't say categorically that you've tried everything. If you genuinely have not been consistent, and I would much rather you try one thing and apply that consistently. Then try one thing one day and it doesn't work. So you throw it out and then you try another thing the next day you throw it out because that doesn't work. Consistency really is about sticking with a new strategy a new tool, it might not be the best


One, it might not be the best tool for that. But the only way to know whether that tool is working or not, is by applying it consistently, not only yourself, but across everyone who's helping and supporting in raising your child. So that's that's why it's so important that we have these bigger, wider conversations with school with a childminder with nannies with our partners, with our parents who are involved in raising our children. So you can only answer that question, honestly, if you have been consistent in applying that, and sometimes it just is impossible to be consistent. So we just add less weight to the response from that particular question and more weight to some of the other responses from some of the other questions. So this isn't me being critical or judgmental for you. I'm just being honest, is that so often? We say? Well, it's not that I've tried that it doesn't work. But it's really because we've just not applied it consistently. So the first one is what else might be going on in their life. So we're looking at the wider landscape. The second question is, have we tried strategies to support and scaffold and they've not had an impact they've made showing absolutely no improvement. So it may well be that this might be something that we need some additional support with. The third one is looking at actually has my child regressed Have they gone back in other areas of their development so that this might indicate that I'm actually dealing with a much bigger issue that is beyond something that I can do. And this is not a phase, but something that I need to get some support in. So if we go to that,


if we're if we're looking at a situation, and we've suddenly found that our child is now no longer falling asleep on their own, they've now struggling with their big emotions, they're now becoming fussy, they're now starting to bite, whatever it might be, you might be looking at one particular thing. But we're finding that in other aspects of their development that they had quite clearly navigated through that particular age and stage, and they've moved on from that, we're now starting to see that other areas have began to slip. And so this is actually an if that is the case, then this isn't necessarily an age or stage, but could be part of a wider issue. Now what I would caveat that way, there's, for example, if we're going through stages with our teens, so you've got a child that is going through those teen challenges, you might find that they will be regressing in certain areas, because maybe they've always been really good at doing what you've asked them straightaway. And then not would they've now appeared to regress with that tool. It's looking at our responses as part of the broader picture of these five questions. So if we're finding that actually, four of the questions it looks like it's clearly an agent or stage, but one of them is


not that way, then I would look at okay, well, all the other indicators, the kind of the huge waiting is around that this being an agent state. So I'm just going to observe for a little bit longer before I do something, or it may well be that that one question is your gut is saying, Do you know what? I know that only that one thing is suggesting that it's a bigger problem, but that's the one thing that worries me the most. And so my gut instinct is saying that I need to do something about it. So it's really looking at that. So that third one is looking at, when I look at my child's profile, broadly, there's a signet, there are significant areas that they're that they have regrets that they've gone back with. And so actually, that's saying to me that this is a bigger problem than than just simply an agent stage that they're going through. So the three so far are, what else is going on in their life. So looking at that landscape, have we tried applying some intervention, some scaffolding, some support, through strategies that were in that we're implementing at home, and it's making absolutely no difference? We're now noticing that they're regressing in quite a few areas that they're going backwards in time now beginning to think this might actually be not a stage and an agent stage, but much more of a wider issue. Fourth one is, are their accompanying changes to their sleep, or their appetite and their general temperament? So this helps us see that, okay, when we look at that particular behaviour, that new thing that we're wondering whether that's an agent or stage, are we noticing them some accompanying changes over some of the big stuff? The reason why I've got sleep, an appetite and their character, they're just sort of general temperament is that these are some very big underlying indicators that something is not right. And those changes are not just subtle changes that are happening every now and again, these are big fundamental, big changes.


We've certainly got a child that is not sleeping, they're waking up in the middle of the night, they're struggling to fall asleep at night, they're having, they're waking up with very bad dreams or night terrors, or their appetite has changed quite significantly, they're becoming quite fussy with what they eat, or they're struggling to eat, because they're complaining that they feel sick, or we're just noticing some of that real happy go lucky, optimistic nature in their temperament is now beginning to be very differently very, markedly differently, to who they really are. So if we're beginning to notice some of these consistent changes to their sleep, some consistent changes to their appetite, some consistent changes to their temperament, then this is unlikely to be an age or stage. Now it could be an agent stage, if let's say that we are noticing changes to their sleep and to their appetite and to their and to their character and their temperament. And we've answered to the first question that there is a whole load of other things going on in their life, they're taking exams, that will get them to their next schools, or they're taking exams, that will get them to the next stage, then, of course, that's part of an agent stage, because we know that once they've transitioned through that particular period, that things will then resolve themselves. So we're looking at the response to these questions as part of a bigger, broader picture. But if everything else in their life is static, nothing is changing. There's no big demands on them, then no big additional stressors. And we're noticing changes in sleep and appetite, and their temperament. And they're not navigating a particular agent stage in terms of a natural brain development. So they're not beginning to transition through their teen years, which by the way, is not when they hit 13. It's starting to happen when they're 10 and 11. That if we're not getting these big other changes, but we're getting some consistent changes in sleep and appetite and temperament, then there is something else that we need to look at. This is not an agent stage, but something that we need to seek help and get supported. So that is number four. Number five is probably the most crucial one to look at. Because this will be the shift and decider for so many of these, if you're slightly sitting on the fence is does your child's change in behaviour affect their ability to carry on with ordinary day to day life is this change in behaviour, significantly impacting your child's ability to get up and go to school to then be able to lead these ordinary normal day to day life. And if it is impacting that, then it is unlikely to be an agent stage. So if we're finding that our child is just not able to carry on with ordinary lives, or going to sleep, eating, going to school playing with their friends being able to just be as they typically would be, then it is, then that's where we want to kind of dig deeper, because that is on likely to mean that it's just an age and a stage, it is more likely to be something that we do need to seek some additional help and support with, which is why I made that emphasis that that this sort of fifth point was something that we is kind of an overarching so it may well be that we look at the landscape with number one, and we there's nothing else really significantly going on. And that we've applied various different interventions. And they're not really having an effect, our child maybe hasn't regressed in other areas. But we have noticed some accompanying changes in their sleep and their appetite. And we're noticing that they're just debilitated with their confidence, they're not able to go to school, on their own. Or it may well be that they're struggling with eating because they're worrying. They're often complaining about feeling poorly. Those are the things that we really want to be looking out for. And those are the sort of five areas that help us kind of really get a sense of, okay, the evidence is pointing to the fact that this looks like an age and a stage. So I'm going to keep applying these interventions, I'm going to keep scaffolding my child or it may well be have, you know it really significantly impacting their ability to go to birthday parties, go to school, go to sleep at night, eat, play. So there's clearly something more to this, and I do need to be seeking help. And what that help looks like it may well just be having an initial conversation with somebody. It's not necessarily that the issue is huge, but certainly in my experience, as I sort of shared with my daughter, but just generally all of the evidence whether our child is struggling with their learning, whether our child is struggling with their emotions, and whether our child is struggling in some physical way. All of the evidence points to the fact that early intervention is crucial. The more sort of quickly we put in support strategies, the more we begin to talk with our


children about the challenges that they're particularly experiencing, and helping to normalise some of these issues, the easier it is for our child to then navigate that next age and stage. So it's really crucial that we sort of ask ourselves, those five questions, really start to examine them, and then put that intervention in if we need to continue with the scaffolding, if we think it's an agent stage, and caveat that with this notion that we have to listen to that gut instinct. And quite often when we're in overwhelm, it can be really difficult to do that, which is why it's so important to have these open conversations. And you know, I have been written a sixth one. But if there was a sixth one, it would be about having conversations with other parents about the ages and stages that their children are going through. But if you're going to do that, which is why it isn't formally on here, and I won't be putting it as part of the gift that I give you. Because that can be helpful, or it can be quite a hindrance, because it can be helpful when we hear from other parents who are being honest, who we've got a really good honest relationship with that they will also be saying that their child is going through that. But if you don't have that kind of open relationship with another set of parents that will be honest with you about what is actually going on behind closed doors, then having conversations with other parents can actually make you feel worse. Because what then happens is you judge your parent, and you feel that you failed that this challenge is that this issue is around your inability to support your child's development. So that's why they're sort of consulting other parents having conversations isn't on my number isn't my number six, because I really don't think that's helpful unless you're part and you've cultivated a community, a collective of parents where you can really have those honest conversations. So you can really work out whether this is something that is an age and stage that your child is going through, or some additional support that you need. So my give this week are going to be these top five questions, really, in a checklist to remind you of how you need to go through that will give you the usual space underneath. So you can reflect you can make some notes. And it served as a good reminder for the agent stage and the challenge that you might be going through now or not, or also the agent stage and challenge that your child may still go through multiple times because they we ask ourselves this question all of the time. As usual, all you need to do is head over to my free resource library, forward slash library, where you'll find the link to download the episode. All you need to do is pop in your email address, and you'll get instant access not only to this week's resource, but all the other free resources across all my podcast episodes. As ever, if you have enjoyed this episode, I would be monumentally grateful I would love it. If you could follow and review this podcast so that others can find us and we can spread the love. So until next time,





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