When Our Toddlers Don't Measure Up

child development, parents and children
Come on, kid, dazzle!

Wilson Diehl knows her daughter is a genius. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell. Her daughter isn’t speaking as much as her peers. She hasn’t done much that would technically qualify as “dazzling.” This weighs at bit on Diehl.

I know exactly how she feels. It’s hard not to feel a twinge of panic when those oh-so-important milestones aren’t hit until well after everyone else. To realize our stunningly clever babies — how they smiled! How they held that spoon! — are just average. Here’s what I wrote a few years ago about how we really feel about being average:

Like everyone else who grew up watching Oprah, I talk a good game about personal best and individual achievements. As if being good enough is, well, good enough. The truth is: we don’t celebrate the average Joe or Jane. We’re bored by Average. We pity it. We’re in a world of super stars, stunning beauty, unquestionable gift, real genius. Average is bland and difficult to market; it doesn’t pop on a resume. Experts and coaches and teams of handlers are hired to kick Average up a notch, to give Average a makeover, to give it an edge. And we cringe for Below Average, which gets eliminated in the first round or swiftly voted off by its peers. Most of the time, Below Average doesn’t even compete.

I spent even more time than I admitted in my essay being stressed out about my Frances, but let me assure you that now? It’s all good. Way good. At 6, she’s clever and motivated and stubborn and self-assured. Oh, and she’s walking and she talks (in case I left anyone hanging).

I’ve thought a lot about how Frances had carved out her own toddler timeline and I think about it when it dawns on me that Earl hit those milestones even later than my “average” girl. He didn’t really talk until after he was 2. He’s still got a sort of caveman cadence when he speaks. When my girls were his age, blab, blab, blab all the time. Complete sentences! Profound (-ish) insight! Earl though? He wants to reminisce  on a shuttle bus we rode during the summer. But it’s there, somewhere, I can see it now — now that I’m not really worried about it.

I would never try to talk Diehl or anyone else out of their feelings about how their kids are progressing. Because I get it. Diehl’s even more honest about it than I was:

Perpetually holding ourselves to the highest, or at least next-higher, standard keeps us from becoming complacent, bored, bogged down in our own mucky mediocrity. As difficult and exhausting as it is to self-motivate, it would be way harder in a vacuum.

It’s a sickness, this competitive thing. I genuinely believe that my kid is awesome and amazing and super smart and attentive and silly and has the capacity to do anything she wants in life (save for being a professional athlete, which does seem pretty unlikely, given her lack of innate physical prowess—e.g. when climbing the stairs she has to be reminded to move her hand forward on the railing before ascending the next step—says her mother as she trips over her computer cord on the way to the bathroom). When it’s just us two hanging out at home, I have no concerns about her intellectual or verbal or animal-naming abilities at all. I know she’s fine. More than fine, even.

But show me a child her age talking in complete sentences, and a terrible, familiar feeling begins to settle in — an itchy, uncomfortable feeling of not measuring up, not being quite right, not being okay or worthy or able.

Has your toddler’s development ever caused you to worry? Have you ever wished once, just once!, your toddler would outdo some other kid at playgroup?


Article Posted 5 years Ago

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