Monday, January 17, 2011
I have been a Certified Professional Nanny for almost 15 years, working with children and families from birth into their teen years. I have studied children’s brain development both in the classroom, through books, and during lots of personal experience. I know that the bond babies make with mom or dad in those first few months are vital to the neurological connections that are being made in their brains. As children get older, the connections also are made through many stimuli like touch, feel, taste, sight and sound. I understand that a toddler’s brain will develop best through real experiences. They should be learning balance, coordination, speech, spatial dexterity and social skills. Learning the ABC’s, numbers, shapes and the rest will come but do not need to be pushed at this stage. In fact stressing a child out (and yourself) to learn these lessons earlier and earlier could have negative effects to the development process. The energy being used to memorizing these skills could go instead to the improvement of age appropriate activities.
All this I know from my training, however, I am also a mom. A few weeks ago my almost 3 year old daughter had a play date with a child 5 months younger. During play time the other child began to sing her ABC’s. She got every letter right!! Not only that, she went on to count to 20 without missing any numbers. My daughter says “1, 2, 17” and her idea of ABC’s are “A, B, Q, X.” Suddenly my mommy jealously kicked in. For a moment all understanding of how the brain works and what is age appropriate flew out the window, and I found myself wondering if my daughter was not as smart. Would that mean she would not do well in school and then not get into a good college Then would she not get a good job and be HAPPY!
Okay, maybe I did not consciously think all this in that instant, but my emotions went around these issues. My head started spinning with worry. I know the reality that even if this child was showing signs of greater intelligence by saying her ABC's at 2 years old that does not mean my daughter will not do well in school. Happiness does not come from your intelligence or your job.
But the issue goes even deeper because I know that being able to recite ABC’s and count to 20 at the age of two does not equal great intelligence. It means that this other child has strengths in areas different from my child. Perhaps she is an auditory learner and has caught on to the “ABC song" quicker than my child. Perhaps her mother has worked very hard training her daughter to be able to count to 20.
Whatever the case is my story is not unique. There is a natural instinct in parents to want their child to excel at academics and to compare them to other children. It’s hard for parents to resist this temptation and choose instead to see their child’s strengths. If it is difficult for a mom like me who has been extensively trained and witnessed many children grow healthy and bright who did not know their ABC’s at 2, how much more difficult is it for parents that do not know these things. Therefore it is understandable why it is so common for parents to push their children to learn things they do not need to be pushed to learn.
I was able to quickly regain my rational thinking and genuinely praised the child for her skill. I did not run home and try to force my daughter to learn these same skills. I choose instead to find the things she is really good at, like her imagination and willingness to play with others. Remember that EVERY child has stills and talents that they can do well. It is our honor as parents and caregivers to find those strengths and nurture them.
- ► 2012 (90)