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Baffling Kid Behavior -- Explained


They won't join the fun, though they really want to

Some kids are cautious or slow to warm up, a temperament that can emerge as early as infancy. A baby who fusses when held by anyone other than Mom or Dad, a toddler who stubbornly refuses to get out of his stroller, or a preschooler who lags back when her classmates are playing may be saying, even without being able to talk, "I'm not ready for this."

"These children are easily overwhelmed by stimulation -- sights, sounds, noise, and commotion. They may even feel apprehension in the most child-friendly places," says Kathy Reschke, Ph.D., professor of early-childhood development at the University of Cincinnati. What really unhinges parents, though, is a child's paradoxical response to what promises to be a great time. Like little Eliot Peitso, who was stuck in the doorway until his mother realized that "even though he was complaining to get out, it was somehow more comfortable for him to remain inside than actually leave the house. Now I talk to him about how 'we're going to go now, we're opening the door now, ready, here we go!' And that makes the transition a whole lot easier for him."

Some kids confound their parents when their brave words and imagination paint a picture of a child ready and willing for new excitement, but all that talk is really a valiant effort to stifle growing anxieties. "Meet Santa Claus? Can't wait! I'll go and make a list right now," such a child will exclaim, only to brake hard at the candy-cane entryway and refuse to cross the threshold. A child's contradictory reaction to an anticipated event may also be due to not understanding exactly what is involved -- for instance, in sitting through his first movie or attending a special class. "For small children, language issues may be the root cause," notes Reschke. "They may not mean what they say. They may agree when they don't really understand what you're saying, especially if they're listening to long, involved explanations."