So how does your kid measure up? It’s a question that can create anxiety attacks for some parents whose children don’t precisely meet the measure of today’s abundance of child development tests and learning milestone charts.
What veteran educators and researchers say is: relax. Love and hugs count more than test scores when it comes to child development.
“Children develop at different rates. They’re all unique,” says Terri Lopez, director of operations at San Antonio’s Madonna Neighborhood Center, which houses Early Head Start, daycare and after-school programs.
Lopez’s philosophy is similar to that of the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine in that a parent’s influence is more important than expensive gadgets.
“We often think we need to run out and buy special toys, music and games to stimulate our child’s development, but we have to remind ourselves that it is more important to provide … every day activities you can do with your child to encourage brain development,” the Center reports.
“Give your child lots of love and attention. No matter what a child’s age, holding, hugging and listening are important ways to show your child they matter,” the Center advises parents.
Parents who tend to go online to see how their kids are doing should keep in mind that the glut of information available via the Internet can be good or bad.
“In this age of the Internet, it can be a good resource, and it can also stir up a lot of anxiety,” says Sherry Rantz, a San Antonio therapist and clinical social worker whose more than three decades of experience includes former positions as a teacher and school social worker.
“Every child is different,” Rantz says. What kids need to hear from parents is that “they’re okay just as they are. They’re just different,” she says. “Send a message to the child that we’re in this together. It’s up to us to assist them.”
Parents who feel shame or guilt about a child’s failure to meet someone else’s measurement tools should recognize that in themselves and understand that such feelings can hurt a child’s sense of self worth, Rantz says.
Or, she adds, some parents can succumb to “total denial and not seek any resources” to help a child. “They’re just continuing to watch the child struggle,” she says.
Her advice to parents is to begin with accurate information for “a realistic look at how children develop differently,” she says. “You can start with your child’s pediatrician. Parents can access support services through local school districts. There are a lot of good, solid San Antonio agencies.” Or, parents can choose “a more personal and more private route” with an outside therapist, Rantz adds.
UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has engaged the United States and more than 160 other countries in its “Education for All” global monitoring initiative to study child development from an international perspective.
Not surprisingly, the organization acknowledges “each child’s unique developmental timing.” The organization recommends that child development tools in every country should take into account the different pace at which a child develops intellectual and social skills.
“Not all children develop competencies on the same schedule – the question is whether children’s development is on track when taken as a whole, rather than whether a child can ‘pass’ a specific item at a specific time,” the organization reports.
The Madonna Neighborhood Center’s Lopez says parents can easily, inexpensively help children who are behind on language skills development.
“Talk to them more. Describe things in more detail using words like large, small, oblong. Expose them to singing. Keep exposing them to different environments and different experiences,” Lopez says. “The key thing to language stimulation,” she adds, “is to turn off the TV. “
Also encourage children to talk, she says. “Ask them how they are feeling. Let them talk it through,” she says.
At every age
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a one-stop clearinghouse for “things you as a parent can do to help your child grow and learn during each stage of development” as part of its ongoing Positive Parenting campaign.
What’s handy for parents is that the organization has compiled development measurement trends, positive parenting tips and links to other resources for parents that are organized by specific age groups.
For example, there’s information specific to parents of infants ages 0 to 1, toddlers ages 1 to 2, toddlers ages 2 to 3 and preschoolers ages 3 to 5. Information is compiled by 2-year increments for middle childhood ages, young teens and teenagers up to the 15 to 17-age bracket. For more information, visit cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting.
Renee Haines is a San Antonio freelance writer.