A mother of a two-year-old, pregnant with her second child, talked about the confusion caused by all the advice about child-rearing online and social media platforms. She wondered how one would know which advice is right for her own child. The question really should be, what do we know about where our child is developmentally and what he or she is capable of doing?
The answer is not always simple. Sometimes mothers try to answer it by looking at charts that tell you what children are supposed to be doing at different ages. Sometimes we compare our own children to others of the same age. This is not very helpful because not only is every child different, but one’s own child is a real child, not the hypothetical child in the advice.
Also, there are different aspects to development: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and a range of development within each one. Children’s development often varies from one area to another. These various areas of development don’t all grow and develop evenly, or at the same pace. This can be confusing since steps in some things may not relate to where a child is in others.
We often find a child jumping ahead with many skills, such as learning letters or numbers, playing complicated games, having interesting conversations. Yet that same child may resist dressing herself, or start to act babyish, or continue to provoke a younger sibling. Also, children’s understanding of what we are asking of them is usually way ahead of their doing what we ask. That’s why when you ask him to “stop doing that”, it often does no good, even though he understands what you are asking.
Our children may show their ability to reason and yet seem unreasonable in their behavior. Aside from the fact that what seems reasonable to them may not seem reasonable to us, there are other factors that influence their behavior. One big one is impulse control. A child’s ability to control the expression of his feeling in behavior –not to strike out when angry, or to throw something when frustrated – often lags behind his understanding that he is not supposed to do that. Understanding and control are two different skills which may not be in synch with each other.
When we seem to be getting stuck on something we want a child to do, it is helpful to think first about whether the advice we get matches what we know about our own particular child. The mom referred to above was asking how one would know which is the right answer in choosing the right nursery school for her child.
The point is there is no right answer that fits everyone. In the case of nursery schools, my experience has been that when parents visit different schools and classrooms they seem to have a real sense of an environment that feels right for their child and one that doesn’t. The question to ask oneself is, do I see my child in this class with this teacher? Sometimes it is difficult to put into words what it is that makes on environment seem right and another wrong.
The problem really seems to lie in having to use one’s own judgement – the apprehension about making a mistake. Yes, mistakes will be made, but that is how we learn about our own children, their readiness to take certain steps and the difficulties they may be having changing their own behavior.
Just as our children will make mistakes in the process of learning, so will their parents. That’s how we both grow.