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Is your toddler

Toddlers & preschoolers f Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?

We look at kids' antics: those that might cause concern and others that are just plain kooky

Oddily bodily

'Since she was a baby, my daughter has played with her genitals,' says Jenny, mum to 3-year-old Jodie. 'Anc now she openly rubs herself with anything to hand!' This fascination with the human body is mere exploration, and if it feels nice or comforting, she'll keep on doing it!

Children may even fondle the genitals of their peers, which is all quite normal. 'But if it's inappropriate, the best thing to do is distract the child,' says Richard Woolfson, PP's child psychologist and author of What Is My Baby Thinking? (Hamlyn; from amazon.co.uk),

Dr Woolfson continues: 'If you say, "Don't do that, it's not nice," you're introducing emotional currency, and the behaviour can become more powerful than it originally was.' After spotting a 'fondle', get the children to wash their hands to avoid infection. If one child isn't enjoying the attention of another, or you think it looks dodgy, it must be stopped.

The entire body is open to pulling

'There, there, don't cry. Let mummy give you a cuddle'

and poking - it's all part of discovery. 'My 2 year old presses his eye and pinches the skin around it,' says Lucie, mum to Raff. This could just be about sensation, and 'seeing stars', but prolonged or invasive habits should be checked out by your GR

Cross purposes

'Lately, Tara, who's 2/2, has started to yank her hair or bite herself when we tell her off. I'm worried!' says her mum, Janey. Any form of apparent self-harm is bound to be upsetting, but it's not usually dangerous. Much of it is manipulation. How many times has Johnny hit the deck with

'If you say, "No" one more time, I'm going to hit my head on the floor '

'If you say, "No" one more time, I'm going to hit my head on the floor '

a painful thud after you've said 'No' to something he wants?You might be worried, but the truth is: if it really did hurt, he wouldn't do it.

Anger and frustration are a breeding ground for the bizarre. Take breath-holding, for example. Around 5% of children use this as a technique to alarm. Sometimes the child may turn purple and pass out (if he turns pale, see your doctor right away, as it may be an involuntary seizure). Check with your GP for reassurance, but generally it's all part of the power struggle.

Pressing your panic button is almost a little person's life's work, and passive-aggressive behaviour is best ignored. 'Experiencing rage is normal,' says Dr Woolfson. 'If ignoring them doesn't work, parents should try distraction - and it's up to us to help them express rage in a way that's less destructive.' But if your child's repeatedly self-harming in certain situations or when alone - or when there's actual pain inflicted - seek advice.

Funny bones

Sometimes kids don't need rage to trigger alarming behaviour - they do it for fun! 'My son loves head-banging,' says Ellie, mum to Hugo, 2. 'He does it on any hard surface and then laughs his head off!'

Head-banging is common in toddlers as well as babies, and one study found head-bangers to be of above average intelligence. So he may not be such a silly boy, after all. 'Some kids like the stimulation and noise - and the reaction it gets,' says

Dr Woolfson. 'It doesn't indicate anything sinister, but if you see it coming, it might be a good idea to divert his attention.'

'Our head-banging son was prone to fits of hysteria and screaming,' says Simon, dad to Louis, 2/2. 'So we forced our GP to investigate further. Only then was he diagnosed with glue ear, which slows speech and learning development (due to lack of hearing), and causes bad behaviour due to frustration. Louis had grommets [pellets containing antibiotics that go in the ear] fitted and his development is back on course'

There are other contrary habits that could actually prove reassuring, as they're indicative of development. Babbling shows that the child is getting to grips with phonetics, talking in different voices shows a grasp of social dialogue, and then there's talking - non-stop.

In all cases it's just language practice - being able to produce sounds is exciting, and in play they're unrestricted by having to make themselves understood. They're just enjoying mimicking what they hear: their parents speaking on the phone, the rhymes read in bedtime stories, mum and dad telling them off...

If you're worried about your child's 'energetic' behaviour, contact the Hyperactive Children's Support Croup (01 243 539966).

Ritually speaking

Children can be so finicky! They can't bear to have yogurt on their fingers (though It's liberally smeared across their face) and they stress out over bubbles in the bath. And some like the same book every single bedtime.

Having a routine is comforting; it gives children some control over their lives, especially at unsettling times, like going to a new school. Minor sticking points - like saving the crust until last - you can let slip for an easy life, but indulgence isn't always the best policy.

'One should be careful of slavish following a routine, though,' says

Bad habits?

'Whether toddler behaviours are a "problem" or not depends on how frequent, intense and extreme they are compared to other kids of the same age, and if they interfere with the child's or family's normal life.' Frances Gardner, Oxford University Lecturer in Evidence-Based Social Work

Dr Woolfson. 'You should always build In some flexibility. The child has to grow up in a world where things are changing, so he needs to be adaptable.' If you're concerned about obsessive routines, problems with communication or intense attachment to possessions, log on to autism.org.uk.

Social conundrums

'Josh, my 3 year old, has suddenly started calling me by my first name y when other people are around - they must think we're very "liberal",' says

Rebecca. In this case,Josh's mum needn't worry at his grown-up play. It's fun to be different, but more dramatic changes in social behaviour shouldn't be Ignored.

'My Z year old recently started to Isolate herself at nursery. She doesn't want to be a part of the group and runs away from them,' says Sarah, mum to Star. And Jodie, mum to Lilly, 3, says,'My daughter has suddenly become ill-behaved at nursery, throwing tantrums and refusing to toe the line.'

A period of shyness Is typical at age 4, and it's not usually a problem,' says Dr Woolfson. 'But if there's any sudden change in your child's behaviour, you've got to look closely at possible contributing factors. For example, a new nursery, bullying, detachment or loneliness.'

If you notice any changes in your child's behaviour, speak to his carer or childminder. And you'll find lots of advice in The Secure Child: Helping Children Feel Safe and Confident in an Insecure World by Stanley I. Greenspan (Da Capo Press, £11.50) .

Bottom shuffling rather than crawling may indicate later problems with reading, writing or sequencing.

2 They're slow to sit up independently (ie, they're over 8 months when they do).

3 They make a lot of reaching and grasping moves with only limited success.

1 They have difficulty with rhymes and odd-one-out games.

2 Having difficulty playing Simon Says may show sequencing or auditory processing problems. 3 They don't favour a hand for writing or a foot for kicking. This uncertain handed-ness is often a puzzling cause of learning difficulties.

'You need to see some - and not just one - of these in the child. Plus, you need to see them in their differing stages of development. Make sure the person you talk to about this is qualified - it will lead to confusion and unhappiness if they're not,' says Kate Hadley at Springboard, the only Specific Learning Difficulties Teaching Charity in the UK (020 7701 7581; springboard.org.uk.) PP

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