In children’s early years, teaching basic skills for getting along in the world – social skills (play nice with your sister!), self-care skills (big girls use the toilet!), and communication skills – fall on mom’s shoulders. And more and more, moms get their information on just how to teach these skills from parenting books and experts. When I had young children I had a shelf full of parenting books, and many of the young moms I know have lots of books on their shelves, too. Sometimes these books were very helpful, and other times, not so much.
Have you had the experience of buying a book about a problem, then realized the expert was talking about children very different from your own? Or perhaps their philosophy was very different from yours, and you didn’t feel entirely comfortable following their suggestions. Or you did try the suggestions, but they didn’t work? Me too.
When my children were small and I tried to follow an expert’s advice, I often realized that the expert at all when it came to my child. They assumed, for example,
- that my 2 year old was speaking in short sentences and could describe what he was feeling. (Why couldn’t he do that?)
- The expert in another book assumed my 2 1/2 year old would let me know when they were ready to use the toilet, and not to rush it or push it on them. Well, my child had no incentive to use the toilet, didn’t mind wet undies and was too busy to take the time to stop playing and go all the way down the hallway to the bathroom.
Sometimes it seems like all the parenting books by experts assume that your child is developing typically, has good language ability, and is physically perfect. They just need a little ‘tweaking’ – that is, they need to be taught specific skills (how to sleep through the night, how to use the potty, how to ‘use their words’ instead of hitting). After they learn these skills, they’ll be even more perfect and parents will have no more worries.
But sometimes your child (and mine) is not perfect. He or she has limitations. They might be behind their same-age peers in
- understanding what’s said to them
- being able to do things for themselves because of physical limitations
Perhaps you’re not sure what’s going on with your child – they just seem to be a little ‘behind’ their peers. They might seem to have their ‘own agenda,’ or they’re just different from the perfect children the experts talk about.
The experts’ advice might not be ‘right’ for your child.
What do you do if your child does have limitations or delays?
accept that all children have strengths in some areas, and challenges in others. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing only what our children can’t do and not celebrating all that they can do.
My delayed talker had great large motor skills, and could run and climb like a champ. He could distinguish between several makes of cars and could say their names (Ford, Toyota, Nissan!). He just couldn’t use them in a sentence and needed to work on language.
It helps to have someone around who can remind you of all the great things your child is doing. Dads are great for this, and so are grandparents. If you have a supportive girlfriend, that’s icing on the cake.
If you don’t have someone like that close by, you could make a list of accomplishments alongside the one or two skills they’re behind in. It helps give you some balance, and highlights the areas where your child really shines!
you can assess where your child stands in learning the skill they’re behind in. For example, if they’re delayed in talking, it helps to look at a developmental chart to determine what typically developing children are saying at your child’s age.
There are many websites that contain developmental charts, and I’ve linked to a couple on the “Resources” page of this site that you might find helpful. If your child seems significantly delayed, you might want to talk to your pediatrician about your concerns. If your child is very young (birth to 5 years – not yet kindergarten age) contact the Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education (EI/ECSE) program in your area. Links to these programs are often found on your state Department of Education website. It’s also probable that your pediatrician can direct you to the one in your area.
After a screening process (often over the phone with you) the EI/ECSE program in your area can assess your child (birth to 5) to figure out whether their delays are significant, then work with you to create a plan to address their delays.
no matter what kind of delay your child is demonstrating, it’s really helpful to push him or her a little. Encourage them to do ‘part’ of something that’s difficult for them, even if they can’t complete the entire activity. This can be done kindly, but with the expectation that they are capable of doing some of it.
For example, if your toddler isn’t talking, but prefers to point at something and expects you to give it to them, require a little more from them.
- If you know what they want, tell them, “Oh, you want the ball. Tell me, ‘ball.’ Wait for them to respond with an utterance, then praise them when they do – ‘You told me ‘ball!’ Here’s the ball!!’
- If you don’t know what they want, from a shelf lined with food, for example, take down a couple of choices that are okay with you for them to have. Ask, “do you want _________ or ________?” Only give one to them when they’ve made a sound for the one they want. Reward any utterance with praise and enthusiasm! (‘You said, _______! Here’s the ______!)
The same principle applies to children who are delayed in physical skills. For example, if they’re having trouble taking off their coat and expect you to do it all, raise your expectations. Let them know that you know they can do it, then offer to help ‘a little.’ Pull down one of the sleeves off their shoulder and over their hand so that the coat is still on, but easy to slide their arm out of. Tell them, “You do the rest!.” Then let them. You may have to walk away. Get busy tidying up or putting your own coat away.
Once one of their arms is out, it’s pretty easy to get the rest of the coat off. After they’ve gotten the coat off (no matter how they accomplished it!) praise them. “You took your coat off all by yourself! Yay! Let’s put it away!”
Remember that no matter what limitations your child has, from mild to severe, they can learn to do more. Because you know your child better than anyone else, even experts, you know what they can and can’t do yet. With your help and gentle guidance, you can help them learn what they need to, in order to get along in the world. Make these beginning skills things you expect your child to learn, make it fun whenever possible, and you’ll find teaching much easier.
You’ll both feel great – your child will feel proud, and you’ll feel more confident. That’s a win-win!
Now it’s your turn. What is your child really good at? When do you feel your heart swell with pride? Anything you’d like to help them learn?