When my 3-year-old first discovered ants, he'd sit for hours on our front porch, watching them scurry about. It was sweet to see his fascination with this tiny part of the world around him, and I imagined him someday majoring in entomology or producing nature documentaries. That dream lasted just a few weeks--until the day I spotted him smashing the helpless little critters with his fists.
"I'm breaking the ants!" Zachary shouted gleefully. The lab coat I'd envisioned him one day wearing instantly morphed into an orange prison jumpsuit. Was I raising a sociopath? Probably not, says Michelle LaRocque, Ph.D., associate professor of exceptional student education at Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton. According to her, kids of all ages do scary things that might lead their parents to believe they've produced a bad seed, but testing limits is normal. Of course, there are some behaviors you really do have to worry about--and that may necessitate an appointment with a child psychologist (ask your pediatrician for a recommendation). We can help you identify what's developmentally appropriate--and what shouldn't be ignored.