What if we gave children the space to develop at their own pace?

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What if we gave children the space to develop at their own pace?

Education for kids can feel like a minefield, especially if your pre-school child has shown absolutely no interest in reading or writing. Even earlier, at playgroups, in childcare or pre-school, as parents we often go into comparing our child’s development with other kids.

“My child really should be walking by now”

“Mine really should be talking by now”

“Mine really should know the alphabet by now” and so on . . .

Parents are often worried or anxious about their children meeting expected normal child development milestones, but no matter how much we tell ourselves they will get there in their own time, the anxiety is there and the suspicion that ‘I haven't got it right’ as a parent. This pressure starts early, even before they are old enough for us to consider a place for them in school.

On top of this, there is the global race in Education that governments are so focussed on – a race that permeates down even to the level of pre-school. If our little ones are not fitting in with the so-called normal academic pattern or developmental stages, then we can feel anxious that their lives will not be successful in the race to get the best school, the best results and the best jobs.

Do we feel our kids have to beat off the rest of the competition to succeed?

No wonder we feel worried and exhausted. We would like to feel that we are living in a supportive society, yet we can often feel pressured and anxious, and it’s like we are in a constant race – in competition with those very same people in our community who are feeling just like us!

I had my own experience of anxiety when my child was in preschool, which I realised came from my desire to control and make everything okay, fitting in with so-called normal stages of child development – but okay for whom? My son still wasn't talking by the age of two, when other children his age were, but it certainly didn't mean he couldn't express and communicate. We were signing together and got each other totally. Sometimes there is legitimate cause for concern when children are not speaking by the age of two, but this needs to be read and interpreted for each child – in many cases further support will be needed for the child to develop their expression and in others, like with my son, they simply need to be encouraged to bring out their natural ability to communicate.

There was also the potential worry that my son wasn't interacting with other children and seemed to be a bit of a ‘loner’. This can be a signpost for a potential developmental delay, but with gentle support my son came to interact and speak with others in his own time – in fact now he has many, many friends and doesn’t stop talking!

Parents who are connected to their child know how they are going and what is needed for them. What if parents trusted this knowing rather than allowing their perception of their child to be solely shaped by outside influences? The more parents connect to their child and trust their own knowing, the more absolute they become in discerning what is needed for their child.

Gradually I have learnt to not impose my worries and the pressure of certain expectations onto my son, allowing him to unfold at his own pace and not at the rate set by standardised developmental milestones. We can encourage and support our children, and at the same time, let them make their own choices at their own natural pace of development and learning.

When we try to force and control things, children feel this pressure and the learning doesn’t flow naturally. Ultimately, I have come to realise that some of the worries we have actually stem from our own lack of confidence as parents, which opens us up to be swayed by external pressures.

Is it possible that by being more allowing, rather than pushy, our children will feel honoured rather than barraged, and in this space, their learning and development will naturally flow? Standing back can sometimes be better than diving in.

Filed under

AcceptanceParentingChildrenAnxietyEducationSchoolRaising Children

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    By Michelle McWaters

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    Photography: Joseph Barker

    To sketch, paint and question life. To cook, laugh and wonder why. To hug, hum and appreciate the sky, to look into another's eyes. These are some of the reasons Joseph loves life and is inspired to contribute to this amazing site.