I recently asked an audience of over 100 parents, teachers, and child care professionals attending my talk (see more here: https://www.doctorbrunner.com/spotting-camouflaged-but-common-and-dangerous-pediatric-rattlesnakes/) the following question: “how many of you are confident that your own child, or your child patient (for healthcare practitioners) is going to be just fine as long as they do not have any diagnosed emotional or behavioral problems?”
How many hands do you think when up? NONE!!!!!
The unfortunate reality is that raising children is less about preventing conditions we can diagnose, and more about always assessing where their skill gaps are, given their current developmental stage. So much of the best work that great parents do, and so much of the most effective work I do, involves helping children internalize a set of skills to fill in any skill gaps they have.
WARNING: There are a multitude of common skill gaps that operate under the radar of any parent, pediatrician, or teacher.
I call these camouflaged but common skill gaps “pediatric rattlesnakes” because while we as parents live with our children day in and day out, and teachers work with them many hours a day, these skill gaps are missed by parents and teachers regularly. These rattlesnakes easily elude detection, and that is why I am passionate about getting the message out regarding some of the most common but derailing rattlesnakes.
Common examples of these rattlesnakes that often go undetected by anyone other than a highly skilled child specialist include the following: fine motor writing skills problems, subtle focusing problems, sexual or physical abuse (it’s more common than you think!), impairing social awkwardness, and anxiety.
These are all problems that can easily be solved if caught early, but which all turn into much more serious problems when left untended.
Too many parents put way too much trust in their child’s pediatrician and teachers!!! It is naïve to assume that those child care professionals are going to screen your child for emotional or behavioral problems. This is your responsibility, ultimately.
Too many parents report to me that they felt like there may have been a problem with their child years before they bring their child to my office. By then, I have to help the parents and the child solve not just the original problem, but the snowball of problems that have developed over time alongside the initial rattlesnake bite.
Another major problem is that some parents more easily bring their child to a psychiatrist when they should consider first taking the child to a child psychologist. Medication is rarely, if ever, the recommended first-line treatment. Research backs that up. And medication does not teach your child skills.
Whatever beliefs you have about what it means to bring your child to a child counselor or psychologist, you need to understand that there are scientifically advanced and well validated methods that can be used to help your child find their potential.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that much of human society still operates using the archaic notion that if there are not diagnosable conditions, your child is doing okay. If you believe this, you are naively misguided. There is a world of problems that are not diagnosable either because no one ever created a category for them, or they are too subtle currently. This reality is best represented by the “water bottle” with several holes in it where water is pouring out.
I used this image at my recent talk and discussed how even healthy and well developing children, if they have certain kinds of “pediatric rattlesnakes”, can be dangerously affected by those few skill gaps represented by the holes in the water bottle. Just as a bottle with only a few holes can empty quickly, a child with only a few skill gaps can feel (or become psychologically) drained and empty on the inside.
As a responsible parent, your most important job is not to try and prevent your child from being diagnosed with an emotional or behavioral problem. Rather, it is to constantly be assessing where the skill gaps are, and bring them to the most credible professional – when necessary – so your child can learn key skill sets leading to sustainable solutions.
If you want to understand more about what normal development looks like, you can read several other blogs I have written, including the following: