Home » Blogs » Childhood Behavioral Concerns » When You’re Not Sure If They Can

When You’re Not Sure If They Can

I spent time with a friend this week who has a little boy who seems a different than his peers.

He loves to play and be silly and climb on things, like every other boy I know, but he tends to take things a step (or two) further than his peers.

Whereas most kids have to be taught the same lesson a couple times before they really understand it, he usually has to be taught the lesson 80 or 90 times before he understands it. In fact, it doesn’t even seem to be a lack of understanding so much as it is a lack of motivation to do the “right” thing, or a lack of impulse control that would keep him from doing the “wrong” thing.

In the moment, he always chooses what is immediately the most gratifying.

He understands afterward that he’s made a mistake–often even trying to hide it–but he seems nearly incapable of making the right choice in the moment.

His mom has expressed concern and frustration many times over the years about why he’s different from her other children. She has tried more parenting techniques than I would’ve even thought to try. She’s consistent, patient, effective, and intelligent. Nothing she’s doing is wrong.

So why isn’t anything working?

While I saw her this week, we had a discussion about the way brains function and why her little guy’s brain might or might not be unique.

She said (paraphrasing), “I’m afraid I’ll look back one day and realize I was asking him to do something all this time that his brain wasn’t capable of doing. But I’m also afraid of not holding him to a higher standard just because I convinced myself that he couldn’t do things.”

It was such a powerful statement of loving doubtfulness, which I think summarizes every aspect of parenthood.

We all want to challenge our children to be better than they currently are, for the sake of them growing, learning, and maturing, but we’re all afraid of doing it wrong. We don’t want our children to remain stagnant because that would either mean we’re not putting any effort into them or that there’s a development delay somewhere, but we never want to push our them beyond the capabilities that they have, as individuals.

We don’t want to expect things out of them that they aren’t able to do because… well… that’s just not fair.

But where is the line? How do we know where those capabilities start and stop, beyond just intuition?

Start with your pediatrician. If you haven’t noticed yet, your pediatrician will ask you at each annual checkup if your child is doing certain things that a child their age should probably be able to do.

Not meeting one or two of those bullet points isn’t a huge deal. The doctor can check again in six to twelve months to make sure that milestone was eventually met. (After all, there is a pretty big range for when kids should/can start to do things.)

However, not meeting a lot of those bullet points is a different situation entirely. Or when the same bullet points are continually not met, year after year.

If you’d like to do some research into the guidelines your pediatrician will use to assess your child, you can search through resources like, which lays it all out for you. PBS, in particular, has incredibly detailed (yet fluid) examples of where children should be each year.

They cover social skills, academic skills, physical abilities, and even behavioral skills.

If you feel like your child is a little too far off the mark in one or more areas, take that information to your pediatrician and pursue it further. If you don’t get an answer that makes you feel at ease, pursue a different avenue.

If your doctor expresses the same concerns that you have, they’ll probably send you with a paper for your child’s teacher to fill out to see how your child has been progressing in that environment.

If you don’t have health insurance and can’t afford multiple doctor visits, you can get a lot of assistance through your public school system. There are evaluators in every area of development there, and if you ask for it, they will get your child on their schedule for observation.

If your child does end up with a “diagnosis” of some sort (why is that word so stigmatized?), don’t panic.

A diagnosis does not doom your child to a life of medicine and stereotypes.

You can choose to do whatever you’d like with that diagnosis. You can treat your child using natural remedies, you can seek medication as an intervention, you can find behavioral/therapy resources, or you can do nothing at all.

If you want, you can just use that diagnosis as a way to help you understand more about your child so you can be sure of his/her limitations throughout the day.

Knowing is always better than not knowing when it comes to teaching and/or parenting.

So start by searching for more solid answers. Don’t feel strange for worrying that your child is different. Every parent on Earth has worried about that, regardless of their child’s abilities. And don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time if you find out nothing was wrong at all.

Asking questions and finding out everything is fine just means you will have peace of mind and be confident in what you can expect out of your child. It means you care about them enough to be sure.

And don’t feel like you have to wait for years and years, building up enough evidence of your concerns, before you to seek out medical advice. That’s what doctors are there for. They’re professionals who are trained in all things developmentally related. They want to help as early as possible, even if their way to help is to say, “Let’s check again in six months.”

If your doctor makes you feel like a nuisance for asking questions, however, find a new doctor. It’s one thing to say, “I hear you and I’m listening, but let’s check again later,” versus, “I’m not really listening and I’m trying to lump your child into a category that he/she doesn’t fit into.”

A parent’s intuition can’t tell us everything, but it is incredibly powerful. When someone is trying to help you figure out what’s going on (if anything) with your child, be sure that you’re all on the same page.

If this article inspires anyone to seek help with their child, or if you’ve already been through that journey, please let us know how things turned out! The community that is built by sharing our stories is a beautiful one.

See you next week with more about childhood behavioral concerns.

When You’re Not Sure If They Can

W. R. Cummings

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2017). When You’re Not Sure If They Can. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2018, from


Last updated: 26 Nov 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Nov 2017
Published on All rights reserved.