MYTH OF THE INVIOLABLE GROWTH CHART
The pediatrician did a double take when the mother mentioned her baby was still taking an all-breast-milk diet: “You need to start her on solid foods right away.”
“If she’s healthy and happy and it’s not inconveniencing anyone, what difference does it make?” the mother asked.
“Well, everyone knows babies are supposed to be eating solids by this age.”
No science or logic. No consideration of this child as an individual. Just an assumption that it’s probably written into the child-welfare statutes, somewhere next to the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not nurse thy baby one day beyond this age.”
If doctors can fall for the line, “This child should be doing this by now because all children are supposed to be doing this by now,” it’s a small wonder that parents as lay people get uneasy. If a child doesn’t stand up or say a first word “on schedule,” could he have a mobility impairment? A brain disorder?
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, he’s a healthy, growing child doing what instinctively works for him. If you’re uncertain about your child’s progress, here are three better things to do than fret.
1. Look at the Full Picture
Many exceptional achievers were considered “slow” as children. If your own child isn’t learning “according to the charts,” it may be he’s more intelligent than average, so his greater brainpower needs more time to develop.
In any case, don’t base your whole evaluation on one point of concern. Consider: Is the child physically healthy? Responsive to attention? Showing interest in her surroundings? Testing herself on other skills? If you can answer all the above with “yes,” rest assured that other progress will come in its own time.
2. If You’re Still Unsure, Ask an Expert
If you do see clear signs of poor attentiveness or physical underdevelopment, don’t panic: make an appointment with your doctor or a specialist. Most doctors aren’t like the one who tried to dictate an arbitrary “everychild” approach. A typical pediatrician has seen countless kids and knows the full range of “normal,” plus what conditions need what sort of special attention.
If you do get a doctor’s recommendation on a specific developmental issue, follow the advice, but remember that you still have the most intimate knowledge of your child. Keep an eye on how he responds, and be ready to check back with the doctor if new questions come up.
3. Keep Encouraging Children to Draw Their Own “Growth Charts”
Whatever proves normal for your child—even if her “normal” is “exceptional”—never, ever hint in her presence that something’s “wrong” with her, or that she “should” be doing something by now. Even infants can sense parental doubt, and begin to doubt themselves as a result. The damage of being judged “faulty” can take a lifetime to undo.
In nearly every case, the best approach is to let kids learn and develop at their own speeds, find their own interests, and follow their own paths. Those who ultimately do the most for the world are those who best know their own individual capabilities.