Last week I took my son to Grow ON, a community program hosted by the YWCA that lets you get in front of specialists in public health, dental hygeine, the local school board, community charitble support groups, behvioural specialists, and support networks for parents of children with special needs. I didn’t need to take much out of the program, but an opportunity to get my son in front of a dental hygenist for a once-over seemed like a good idea.
The program is advertised – generally – as an opportunity to get your child’s development assessed and get an idea of where they sit relative to other children. This doesn’t give people a very clear idea of what the program is about in my opinion. It is really about ssessing whether your child – or your family – need special support, and making your aware of how and where to get it. I have noticed that the way they have choose to advertise this program to the community has two interesting – and unfortunate – effects.
The first is that it is not reaching everyone that it should reach. People who know or suspect that they need help might be less interested in going to an event about assessing their child’s development, because they already know that there are problems. If they instead said that this program would put parents in front of people who can help them assess what kind of help they could use, and get the ball rolling on getting it, then those parents who need the program the most would be more likely to attend. Now, I don’t have concrete evidence to back this observation, but I did notice the moms who frequent the Y at the same time I do who probably could have made the most of these programs weren’t there. At the same time I saw a lot of dumbfounded parents, like myself, sign in and look around to find very little of what was on tap was as relevant as they expected.
The other was that the idea of comparing their kid to an imaginary normal was so stuck in the attendee’s brains that it was the obsessive focus of most of the playroom conversation:
“My X is so far behind on Y that I am worried.”
“Y is so big for her age, but she always seems to have a hard time learning things.”
“I want to make sure that Z has as good a childhood as W does.”
To degree, this is something all parents of small children do often. Looking at developmental milestones is necessry to help you assess whether or not there is something seriously wrong. And it helps you plan for future hurdles and phases your kids are going to go through. Trading notes with parents of children slightly older than yours can be a life saver… but it is something that hs to be moderated. Having it be the centre of a maelstrom of anxiety serves no one.
You can’t afford to spend too much time worrying about whether your kid is ahead, behind, happier, sadder, or as socilized as what would be normal: It keeps you from focusing on what your kid really needs.
Your job as a parent isn’t to raise a “normal” child. It is to raise your child. That means figuring out their unique strengths, talents, interests, and chllenges, and tailoring their upbringing so that they can make the most out of what they have. That means understanding your kid first, and worrying about “Normal” only insofar as being not-normal will disdvantage your child.
Knowing that my son is smarter than the average kid helps me very little. Knowing he is smarter than his playmate, Zizi, is only marginally more helpful, and only insofar as it helps me steer their play to something both he and Zizi will both enjoy and feel included in…
What really helps me, instead is looking at my son without comparing him, and seeing that he is hungry for mental stimulation way beyond what “age-appropriate” toys and media are offering him, and finding creative ways of satisfying that hunger.