Monday, October 17, 2011

Respecting the pace of the developing child

Is there anything we don't feel the need to hurry? Anything we don't feel the need to enrich, improve      upon, advance, or compete over?  While we haven't figured out a way around the nine month gestation  period, once that baby is born, its childhood seems to be "fair" game for acceleration.
                                                                                                                - Kim John Payne

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want so much for them. We want them to be smart, talented, compassionate. We want them to have self-esteem.  We want to give them every opportunity to grow into their best possible selves.

Unfortunately, I think we often get so caught up in these feelings, fueled by our profound love for them, that we want to do it all now, as soon and as fast as possible.  We often see books, toys, DVDs and products, which are marketed to us as "developmental," and we think we should get as many of these things as possible to teach our children, to enrich them, and give them a "head start."

I know I have done this plenty of times with my now 5 year old son.  We had Baby Einstein DVDs, books on every imaginable subject, toys that sing the ABCs and teach addition and subtraction, and flash cards.  We started him in pre-school shortly after he turned two.  We put him in gymnastics at three and soccer at four. I was so anxious for him to learn in every way, and proud when he learned things "early." We became frustrated when potty-training took "so long."  Impressed with his pre-reading and writing skills, I had high hopes that he would be reading at age four.   I wanted him to have every opportunity to get a head start, intellectually, emotionally, socially.  All of these things, I did out of love, and also I'll admit a little for myself as well.  Many parents, I believe, hinge their "success" as parents on the "success" of their children.   However, I never really stopped to consider if faster and sooner was actually better.

"Childhood has its own mysterious processes, its own pace." -Kim John Payne

Children learn at an amazingly fast rate about the world around them every day.  Just think about the complexity of everything they are learning from what different things feel like to the touch, to how to control the different muscles in their bodies, to what different facial expressions mean, to how other people respond to their actions.  These are essential lessons that are learned by being able to experience these things in their world over and over again.  I believe that when we try to control and direct their learning too much that surely other more basic aspects of learning must suffer in some way.

 Have you seen the product called "Your Baby Can Read"?  When I first saw this product, I thought "hmmm - I wonder if that works." Now, when  think about this product, I think, "How ridiculous!  Why on Earth would a baby need to know how to read, and who would want to spend these precious months trying to teach a baby such a thing?!"  Surely, there are much more important and enjoyable things that should be happening during the first couple years of a persons life!

I remember how anxious I was for Aiden to become potty-trained.  We used a sticker chart to reward him for using the potty. We put underwear on him and let him wet his pants very day for a couple weeks when we were tired of using pull-ups.  Now, I think "Why were we in such a rush?"  I bet if we hadn't used stickers or tried to rush the process, that it probably wouldn't have taken much longer than it did, and probably would have been a lot less stressful.  I think with Owen, I will take a more relaxed approach. It will happen eventually - he won't be going to Kindergarten in diapers!!

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when teaching children is to follow their lead.  Children are naturally curious, and they will let you know when they are ready to learn a new skill.  I am not saying wait until a child asks you specifically to use the potty or to learn the ABCs.  Offer them opportunities to do these things and then let them control the pace.

"Simplifying  . . . acknowledges how a child comes to understand the world - through play and interaction, not through adult concerns and information.  The pressure is off when childhood is no longer seen as an "enrichment opportunity," but instead as an unfolding experience." - Kim John Payne

I think when we rush our children through their stages of development, we take some of the joy out of being a child and out of being a parent.  I still want my children to have every opportunity to become their best selves, I am just beginning to believe that perhaps the way to do that is with less, rather than more.

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