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Is it "Just a Phase"?: How to Tell Common Childhood Phases from More Serious Problems

by Drs. Susan Anderson Swedo and Henrietta L. Leonard

Review by David Seaman and Brenda Bickel, NAMI Literature Committee

Apr 1999

As their present book title suggests, these highly qualified physicians (who earlier authored the helpful Itís Not All in Your Head) now respond to the most frequently asked questions by parents concerned about the behavior of their children, whether toddlers or teens: Is this normal or do we have a serious problem? And how can we tell the difference?

Part I focuses on problem phases of normal development, such as picky eating, excessive activity, childhood fears, thumbsucking, bed-wetting, separation anxiety, nightmares, shyness, and the like. Informed advice and very practical strategies, helpful for all parents, are offered for these common problems.

Part II discusses emotional and psychiatric illnesses (when itís more than "just a phase"), including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention-deficit disorder (ADD), tic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), general anxiety disorder (GAD), unipolar and bipolar depression, alcohol and drug use, and serious eating disorders. One impressive chapter is devoted to PANDAS syndrome (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with strep), behavior problems triggered by strep throat infections, a fairly recent discovery by NIMH researchers. The latest advances in the diagnosis and treatment of these serious illnesses are fully explained. Each chapter concludes with some excellent suggestions for further reading.

One of the reviewers was surprised to find that the book says nothing at all about schizophrenia, not even to the extent of differentiating that illness from the affective disorders. Perhaps the authors believe that parents can do nothing to prevent its eventual development (usually in later adolescence) if a child is genetically susceptible. However, a candid discussion of the subject might have been helpful for many NAMI readers.

But thatís a rather picky cavil. The book as a whole is very well done, very helpful, and qualifies as an important contribution to pediatrics and child psychiatry. All parents would benefit from reading it, the sooner the better.

Is it "Just a Phase"?: How to Tell Common Childhood Phases from More Serious Problems by Drs. Susan Anderson Swedo and Henrietta L. Leonard. Golden Books, 1998. 358 pages