Typical and Atypical Behaviors in Children at Different Ages

Children have typical and atypical behaviors depending on their age. If your child exhibits atypical behaviors, consult a professional.
Typical and Atypical Behaviors in Children at Different Ages
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 18 June, 2023

The vast majority of parents wonder whether their children’s behaviors are typical or atypical. That is, whether or not their behaviors are to be expected according to their developmental stage. If so, adults feel relieved about their children’s health. On the other hand, if certain striking manifestations appear, concern quickly arises. Keep reading to learn more about this topic.

During the first years of life, children present a huge number of milestones in their cognitive, physical, and social development. Likewise, there are some behaviors that are to be expected in school-age children and adolescents. Find out about them here!

Typical and atypical behaviors in our children: What are they?

Keep in mind that the dividing line between typical and atypical behaviors can be blurred. This is because culture and context are factors that directly influence people’s behavior. Furthermore, child development isn’t always linear. This means that under no circumstances should we interpret a behavior in isolation to determine the presence or absence of a disorder.

  • Typical behaviors are those that are expected of a person according to their age. In general, they indicate healthy development.
  • Atypical behaviors: These may indicate the presence of a problem or disorder. We’re talking about those behavioral responses that aren’t expected for a given age. However, it’s essential to know that some atypical behaviors may be adaptive in certain situations and not related to any developmental disorder. If any behavior comes to our attention, it’s important to consult a professional.

Typical and atypical behaviors according to age

What our children do deserves to be observed with responsibility and caution. We share with you some of the most significant typical and atypical behaviors of children and adolescents.

A mother feeling overwhelmed by her baby's crying.
Children’s behaviors are relevant information that can be useful when detecting and treating a problem in a relevant way

Infants (0 to 1 year)

Infants are expected to be able to hold their heads and tend to visual and sound stimuli. In addition, they should develop skills such as social smiling and babbling. At six months of age, crawling and standing up usually begin.

At this stage, failure to fixate the gaze, to vocalize, and babble, or to lose acquired skills are warning signs. These could indicate a neurodevelopmental issue.

Toddlers (1 to 4 years)

Toddlers are expected to start walking, be able to climb steps, and have an interest in playing with other children. In relation to language development, it’s typical for children to begin to enunciate words. Therefore, between two and four years of age, they should make themselves understood when they speak, although it’s common for them to present difficulties with phonetics.

The absence of verbal language and disinterest in interacting with other people are some of the behaviors to pay attention to. In addition, obsessions with routines and restricted and repetitive interests correspond to clinical manifestations of children with ASD.

School-age children (5 to 12 years old)

School-age children who are developing in a healthy way like to play with their peers and get involved in social activities. At the same time, they exhibit more abstract thinking, as well as greater impulse control. In turn, they’re expected to acquire fine and gross motor skills and improve their coordination.

At this stage, children over the age of seven are expected to be able to read and write or perform simple calculations. According to Jean Piaget’s conceptualizations, children at this age are strengthening their concrete operations, that is, they move from intuitive thinking to conceptual representation. Meanwhile, the absence of operative thinking is an atypical behavior in this vital period.

Typical and atypical behaviors of adolescents

A teenager lighting a cigarette.
Although it sounds contradictory, in adolescence, the absence of challenging behaviors or the lack of intense emotions are atypical aspects.

Regarding typical adolescent behaviors, seeking autonomy and independence, as well as the approval of their friends, is to be expected. At the same time, mood swings are frequent, as they’re in the midst of discovering their identity. Therefore, emotional ups and downs are very common.

It may sound paradoxical, but atypical behaviors in young people are to be expected. Therefore, it’s very difficult to define what’s normal or abnormal at this stage, as it’s a problematic period in itself. However, we can mention some behaviors that may be risky:
  • Irresponsible consumption of alcohol and drugs
  • The practice of extreme sports without any notion of danger
  • Unprotected sexual relations
  • Excessive and imprudent use of social networks 
  • Isolation and hermeticism

Although the presence of some of these behaviors isn’t surprising in adolescence, it’s important to observe them carefully. Also, we must apply a series of communication strategies to approach them in an empathetic way. It’s through respect and understanding that we should help them to go through this stage of life in the healthiest and most satisfactory way possible.

If in doubt, ask for professional help

Often, children present atypical manifestations that worry parents. However, not all striking behaviors signal the presence of a neurodevelopmental problem or behavioral disorder. Child development is complex and diverse, which means that growth doesn’t look the same in all children.

Each child is unique and is embedded in a specific context. Moreover, there are no pathological behaviors per se, but rather dysfunctional and maladaptive behaviors, which need attention. Now, the manifestations mentioned in this article are those to which we should pay attention. Keep in mind that many of them could indicate a significant developmental problem.

If your child exhibits any atypical behavior, it’s essential that you consult with a professional for a complete health assessment when considering contextual factors. Ask for help if necessary!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.