Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Growing Up by Judy Lyden

Every child is different and so is every parent, and the combination of parent and child is infinite, that's why it's so interesting. One of the most diverse parts of childhood is growing up - literally stacking on the years one day at a time. Everyone does it differently, and every response is different. So growing up is truly a many splendored thing.

Dictating "HOW" a child is supposed to grow up is a difficult task. When I was first a mother, my doctor handed me the usual growth charts and ability tests for my infant. Because my son was my very first experience of young children, I didn't know what was normal and what was super normal. I would look at those charts and think, "This is dumb." My child was WAY beyond those charts, so the very idea that there was "normal" development was lost to a beginner mother with a super child. CHILD SHOULD BEGIN TO SIT UP AT SEVEN MONTHS. Mine had been sitting since month two, and crawling. And he stood up the day he was born.

It was not until my second child that I discovered that not all children are the same. My son had had difficulty with eating non pureed foods and would gag while eating table food along about six months. My second child could eat bacon and eggs at four months. She slept more than the first child, and did not crawl at all. She simply stood at a year and walked. Unlike my first child, my second spoke clearly at ten months. My son was nearly three before he upped a sentence.

The third child was more closely tied to the charts, and the fourth one was a lunatic and screamed and was unmeasurable for the first 3.5 years of her life. So they are all different even in families. Now let's look at parents.

Every parent, like every child has different ideas about how things should be. Some parents are happy with the charts and happy with the ordinary and healthy child. Some parents are interested in the over achieving child, and that's great so long as the child is an achiever.

There are battlefields in early childhood that create stumbling blocks for parents and for children. One of these is food, one of these is toileting, one of these is speech, and one is freedom.

The truth is, you can't make someone eat, use the toilet, talk or be determined about the limits of freedom. There will always be arguments about these things, but there are compromises, and a compromise is the most peaceful way of solving the problems that arise from eating, toileting, talking and freedom.

Let's look at eating. In a healthy home environment, eating is accomplished four times a day. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. If times and meals are consistent, then children will understand that there ARE mealtimes and what that means rather quickly in their young lives. When eating is too much a part of freedom, the idea of junk rather than real food becomes the target of the heart. Here the freedom of the parent who thinks non stop eating or no eating at all needs to be reined in for the sake of the family.

Again, if mealtimes are an extension of snack time, and food follows suit - a great big snack several times a day - then children will never learn the value of a real meal. Establishing real meal times for children is the best thing you can do for them. Sitting down together at the table as a family and turning off the TV and talking as a family will keep families together more than any other single thing a family does. Growing up well fed is a gift to the body of a child.

You can't make a child poop. The secret to toilet training is to start as soon as a child puts a sentence together. A talking child is perfectly able to think well enough to train himself. Children, by the way, train themselves. I was reminded of that recently when I heard my grandson say, "I'm going to use the toilet," and then did, and that was his toilet training.

Most children are ready between the ages of eighteen months and twenty eight months. By three, a child is not interested in pleasing anyone but himself, and will often put off training himself to satisfy himself. He knows exactly what he is doing, and will not accommodate anyone BUT himself. So grabbing a child early and introducing him to the toilet and making the effort early is a great idea. Ultimately, it's his job to do this. By making him somewhat responsible for his mistakes, he will quickly train. It takes about three days to train a child.

Talking is another growing up problem for some families. Parents will often let the TV do the talking they should be doing, and what we need to remember about that is, that TV does not expect a response. When a response is not expected, the child does not learn to speak. Children need to be spoken to with an expectation of a response. Many children never have the opportunity to respond to anyone because their talk is slow and searching, and parents just don't take the time to listen. Therefore speech is delayed. When speech is delayed the whole child is delayed. Speech is our ability to express self to others. When we can't do that, we can't communicate. One will often hear a child cry for attention and for something that he can easily ask for, but tears, he has determined, will get him what he wants more readily than asking for it, and that's a shame.

The eating plan of sitting down and talking helps both issues. Turning off the TV and talking to your child is probably the most important part of his day. Then after a nice meal, and a nice chat, it's time for him to go to the toilet. It's really that simple.

The last issue is freedom. The question is how much freedom can a parent offer and can a child demand? There are some toddlers who can handle a playground, and others who can't. There are some children who can handle playing alone in a room upstairs, and others who can't. There are some children who can handle their own grocery cart and can visit the isle over and pick out cereal, and others who can't. But no matter what the child can handle, the parent should always be watching and waiting for those leaps in independence and offering just a bit more freedom to encourage the child to "do it all by himself."

Freedom to act independently is the key to growing up well. With toileting accomplished, with the gift and ability to speak, with a good expectation of diet, a child is well prepared to take on many things all by himself. Letting go is often difficult for parents because parents seem to treasure the "little kid" stage more than the expectation of the "bigger kid" stage. But if you think about it, a little kid is going to become a big kid no matter what a parent does, and the big kid should want to be a big kid.

Personally, I pushed my kids out of the next because I fully expected to load the nest again. I have always prefered the rapidly growing child to the child who can't. Infancy is only recommended for a year; toddlers should only toddle two years; the preschooler is in preschool for three years, and the child takes off after that in the first grade - set and ready for his life as a "big kid."


careprovider said...

oo, there are many issues in what a child is concerned. Of course they are all different and have different reactions to towards your actions. If you ask me, taking care of them and offering them all they need is the best you can do.

Will said...

"The last issue is freedom. The question is how much freedom can a parent offer and can a child demand?"

I was wondering this aloud a while back, and Karen answered: "When the kid starts to express interest in doing things for himself, let him." I think she's got something there.

As you say, many parents have trouble letting go of the 'little kid' stage because it's so comfy to be needed. Letting go is hard, but it's one of the required parts of the curriculum.