by Nicole Loughan
While surfing the net the other day I came across an article titled, “What every four-year-old should know.” I clicked on it for a play by play list of what my four-year-old should be doing, items like being able to count to twenty, knowing all of the colors and the alphabet, but what I found instead was a list that started with the statement, “They should know they are loved unconditionally.”
That statement hit me like a punch in the gut. I read on, the message of the article was clear, stop comparing your children, stop worrying about their development and enjoy them.
This is particularly hard for me as one of my children was diagnosed with a speech delay last year. I noticed the speech was not coming in as fast as other children. While my child was saying only “mom” and “no,” other kids were coming out with words as advanced as “fire truck,” “sorry,” and even “dinosaurs roar.” I constantly found myself asking other people how old their children were and feeling heartache when they said 14 months to my child’s 16.
To make matters worse, once you point out to another parent that their child speaks well, many of them say things like, “Oh yeah, he can stand on his head and count to fifty, too.” Suddenly the kid who just said “dinosaurs roar” has the ability to recite Shakespeare. I found it incredibly hurtful to have other people crow about how advanced their children were, knowing that my child was behind. What’s worse, I realized that with my older child, I, too, boasted about her abilities. I felt a sense of pride when she was so advanced in certain areas. After I was in the missed milestone boat, I realized I must have contributed to other parents’ worries at times, too. As parents we should think our children are great; that’s our job. However, nobody, other than a child’s grandparents, needs to hear every detail of their grandeur.
Every time I met somebody who told me their child spoke in full sentences at sixteen months, I felt my child was even further behind and worried even more. At our next checkup, I told my family doctor about my concerns. He told me that children with siblings often develop speech later, because the other kids talk for them. He gave me the option to be referred to the county for services or to wait and see. I researched the matter and decided there was no harm in getting my child evaluated.
My child was given an assessment, which was free from early intervention, and we learned we were dealing with a 25 percent speech delay, significant enough to qualify for services. I felt like that delay was a sure sign of complete failure on my part as a mother.
I went into services worried about being judged, but the more I learn about delays and the speed at which my son has caught up to “normal” has convinced me that some things are out of our hands. How high our little ones can count, how clear their speech is or how fast they learn the alphabet has little to do with us, so long as we are providing a safe and rich environment for learning with books and play.
When we started to receive services, much of what we did was change the routine, such as getting my older child out of the house more, so I could have one-on-one time with my son and not allowing my daughter to speak for her brother. I realized when I asked him a question, she would answer. I stopped listening to her and waited for him. I also was more aware of the need to constantly talk and label. I learned that children have different repetition needs and my younger child needed far more repetition than my older child.
We made little tweaks to our routine and fell into a good rhythm. We were recently recommended for discharge from services as the latest testing showed no delay.
I am starting to feel more comfortable about the job I did as a parent. And I am changing my mindset about what is important. It’s not that I want my children to say “dinosaurs roar” when all of the other children do, it’s that I want them to grow to be healthy and happy individuals. I want them to lead productive live, and no amount of comparing them to other children or checking off boxes on a milestone chart will achieve that goal.
I have decided to take another approach by showing them more affection and no longer testing them. I am teaching them through running outdoors in the grass, through cooking together, making messes and even just lounging around together and laughing. I am worrying less about their development and more about their happiness. I am enjoying my children and trying not to compare them to others.
If I see that look of worry from another mother, I am quick to share my story and let them know that delays happen. It doesn’t mean you messed up and you can do something about it. Tell a professional and seek out services early. But above all make your main priority enjoying your children, no matter what they can or can’t do.