I estimate that one-fourth of the questions parents ask me involve issues or behaviors that merit little if any concern. Some of the "problems" in question are normal to certain stages of development. Others are nothing more than little glitches that will resolve themselves in time (and might develop into real problems if people respond to them as such). And some are reflections of personality (or temperament), which is inborn and therefore fairly fixed, although not immutable. These include things like shyness, which most shy people figure out how to successfully compensate for by early adulthood. Here's a short list of things parents needn't worry themselves about:
. Preschool children who have imaginary friends, even if the child in question seems to believe the friend is real. These inventions, which typically appear during the third or fourth years of life, are nothing more than the product of a young child's rapidly developing imagination. I almost always recommend that parents play along with these additions to the family. After all, the child with an imaginary friend is going to occupy himself better and ask for a lot less parental attention than would otherwise be the case. That's a win-win!
. Tantrums during early to middle toddlerhood, even when the child seems to be completely out of control ("He acts crazy!"). At this age, tantrums are an expression of a child's reluctance to accept that he isn't the Grand Poobah. Granted, parents should definitely not give in to them, and it might be a good idea to assign (or take) the child to his room until the storm passes, but in and of themselves, tantrums at this age are nothing to get in a tizzy about.
. Thumb-sucking. Early on, some kids figure out how to self-calm by sucking their thumbs; some don't. I've never figured out a reliable way of getting a thumb-sucking child to stop, but I have found that when parents try to force a child to stop, the usual result is an increase in thumb-sucking. As for dental problems, nearly all kids are going to have to have braces, whether they suck their thumbs or not.
. Night terrors. These are to be distinguished from nightmares, which cause children to wake up. Night terrors occur when a child seems to get stuck in a hallucinatory state between sleeping and waking. They are not reflective of psychological problems, but they can be quite anxiety-arousing for parents. When one occurs, don't wake the child abruptly. Just prevent him from hurting himself, hold him (unless he refuses to be held), talk soothingly, and wait for it to pass.
. The child is obviously no more than run-of-the-mill in the IQ department. So? Have you ever been to a high school reunion? If so, you surely noticed that a good number of folks who were not especially good students have managed to hold decent jobs, pay their bills, stay married to one person, raise well-behaved children, and develop interesting hobbies. Why, more than a few successful people (however one defines successful) never even went to college! Did you know that president Harry Truman did not have a college degree?
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.)