Kids go through so many phases and stages that can leave you scratching your head. Every mom has moments of confusion and occasionally finds herself wondering if her child's behavior is normal. Luckily, many moms turn to Circle of Moms to compare notes about what's normal, why it’s normal, and when (if ever) you need to worry. Here are three common preschooler habits and quirks that, as it turns out, are not only normal, but common.
1. Imaginary Friends
During the preschool years, having imaginary friends is quite normal, and usually indicates that your child has a healthy imagination. She may have just one, or sometimes a whole group of pretend buddies. Although it may be tough for you to keep up, Lori A. (mom to a 3-year-old) suggests that you play along: "I try to treat them as I would any of her friends. When she tells me stories about them and their adventures, I listen and ask questions. If she wants them included when we have a tea party, we get out an extra setting for them."
Many members find that imaginary friends are common among only children, who create their own playmates when they don't have any "real" kids to play with. Most preschoolers don't need pretend friends when they are with other kids, or, as Marilee H.'s son did, they outgrow them altogether when they start school: "My son had several... And to tell ya the truth, since he started school they are all forgotten. He got out with more kids his own age and he never needed them again."
When To Worry
Although the need for imaginary friends should start to taper off as your child starts kindergarten, it's still normal for kids to keep these companions up to the age of 8 or 9 years old. Circle of Moms member Kate C. says imagination is important and that an imaginary friend and that you shouldn't be concerned about it as long as it's not hindering your child's social skills: "If she starts ignoring other children to play with her imaginary friends THEN you have something to worry about." Amy S. agrees: "As long as she isn't ignoring other kids in school, it isn't a problem at all."
2. Genital Exploration
Exploration of one's own body is a normal part of growing up, but it can be difficult and embarrassing for parents to talk about. Circle of Moms member Renee H. takes a level-headed approach to the subject when she says: "As long as my son is healthy and not doing it in front of others I think it is fine, it's a normal part of development."
But what do you do when your child touches him or herself in public? Jenni, mom to a 3-year-old, suggests that it may be mostly about how you react when it happens: "At this age it's really difficult to explain to him that it's inappropriate to do it in front of others. A simple, 'Honey, that's a private part that we keep private' message will suffice. . . eliminate the reaction as much as possible. This means no laughing, no punishing, no smiling (easier said than done), just a simple, calm message that it's a private part."
You Show Me Yours...
A preschooler's body exploration can reach a new level of uncomfortable for parents when the child entertains their curiosity with their peers. Danielle D. wonders what to do about her 4-year-old daughter, who was caught in a 'show me yours, I'll show you mine' incident with a boy of the same age. Amber T. responds that curiosity is very normal: "Kids are VERY curious at that age. It's important to talk to your daughter, teach her about boys and girls being different, and let her know that private areas are meant to be kept private, and it would probably be a good time to talk to her about good touch and bad touch and all that too while you're already on the subject. Just ensure her that she can always talk to you if she ever has any questions!"
Circle of Moms member and former teacher Jennifer R. also had some great suggestions about getting your child to open up and ask you questions: "She may have a burning question or misconception formed from just about anything, she may have heard a friend say something, or seen something on TV... and is trying to sort it all out. . . Don't try to fill her up with facts but let her lead a conversation on body parts, birds and bees, and she will stop at a very developmentally appropriate level."
(For information about when to be concerned about a young child's body explorations, see 5 Common Questions About Preschoolers and Masturbation.)
3. Bad Dreams and Night Terrors
We all know that dreams are normal through all phases of life. Yet somehow, seeing your young child wake up completely terrified from a bad dream can shake you. Circle of Moms member Jodi A. says all of her kids had frequent nightmares from between the ages of three and five: "Nightmares are very common at that age - their imaginations are developing at such a huge pace, and they can really go overboard . . ."
If your child is screaming in the night, seems disoriented, and no matter what you do, nothing seems to calm him down, it may not be a nightmare but a night terror. With a night terror, the child is stuck between two sleep stages, not awake but not completely asleep. Circle of Moms member Morgan M. has gathered some great information on night terrors. Both parents who deal with night terrors and experts say it's actually best NOT to try and comfort them; cuddling or talking can make the terror worse. Member Meghan O. describes the frustration of night terrors: "You cannot wake children having a night terror no matter how much you try. It is more terrifying as a parent than it is to the child since they have no recollection of it ever happening."
Causes and Triggers
Both nightmares and night terrors can be caused by traumatic life events, major changes, or stress. Sometimes getting to the cause and eliminating the underlying problem, or talking through it with your child, can get these episodes under control. As Valerie K., mom of a 4-year-old points out: "Remember, trauma for a 4-year-old could be different then what we adults would consider trauma. . . Trauma for a 4-year-old could be starting school, changing schools, new sibling, observing a fight of loved ones, etc.. Think about it and if you figure it out talk to him/her about it"
Another common cause of night terrors is actually sleep deprivation. Circle of Moms member Renae K. shares that, "The frequency of episodes can be reduced by keeping to a strict bedtime schedule, not allowing the child to become overtired or overstimulated just before bedtime."
You can rest assured (no pun intended) that most kids do grow out of night terrors when they develop good sleep habits and stay on schedule.
What do your kids do that make you wonder, Is this normal?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.