How Far Should You Push Your Baby?

She’s a baby any parent can be proud of. At only nine months of age, Darce (pronounced “darz,” thankyouverymuch) has already said her first word (charmingly, it was “foyer”). She is also pulling herself to standing and has taken a step or two – and was caught before she fell, but still, that’s impressive! Meanwhile, her sociability with the other nine- to twelve-month-olds at her Montessori daycare is far ahead of the curve; her teacher even believes she’s seen evidence of attempted sharing and turn-taking, rare in the under 15-month crowd. You’d be so proud of her…if only she were yours.

“Is My Child Falling Behind?”

“Why isn’t MY child doing that?” you may ask yourself every time you see a Darce on social media performing tricks you haven’t even dreamed of yet for your own child (heck, she’s ahead of YOU some days). Don’t think you’re alone, either. We’ve all been there: parents worried that our children just aren’t making the grade developmentally. (Even parents of the most apparently advanced babies have these concerns once in a while.) Comparing babies – and worrying – is a longstanding tradition, so we can’t blame social media entirely for this, but the internet has certainly amped the comparisons…and the worries. It’s so normal – we want our children to be happy and healthy…but we also want them to have an edge. So when our children aren’t reciting the Latin names for the plants in our garden by age three – or even if they aren’t turn-taking by preschool - yes, we worry. But should we?

How Far Should You Push Your Baby?

Superbaby… Well…

Everybody Else Here’s the reality: babies aren’t robots; they don’t always perform on command, on request…or even on time. Many a parent has stood helplessly by while her child’s pediatrician insisted, “Your child is entirely normal. Don’t push her.” You’d love to listen to that and heed it. It all seems to make sense, but worries remain: if you don’t push your child now, what if she starts falling behind? To make your concerns even worse (and even bigger in your own mind), “superinfants” are all over social media, placed there by (deservedly) proud parents. If your baby just gooed his first two-syllable word, Superbaby has put together her first three-word sentence (at two months younger than your son). Cute picture of Rolph the retriever licking your child’s face? Superbaby’s pet exploits have just been captured in slow-aperture lens as he attempts to teach the dog the basics of American Sign Language. When your toddler puts together alphabet blocks and cries out “A!” correctly, Superbaby will be there on your feed giving both the long- and shwa-sound version of the letter. You get the idea. Oh, sure, It’s a given that Facebook isn’t real life…not exactly, anyway. What parent posts his or her worst moments there? On the other hand, pics and video don’t lie. Prompted or not, someone else’s child is performing at any given moment, and you’re right there viewing the evidence. Is it time to worry? And more to the point: is it time to push?

Developmental Milestones:

If She’s in There…It’s All Good Relax. Unless you suspect a legitimate developmental delay (in which case do not hesitate to make an appointment with the pediatrician to express your concerns), if your child is falling within normal ranges for development, it is not time for worry. Please note that “normal ranges for development” does not mean what you think other babies your child’s age are doing. It means basic, fairly broad ranges in any given age group as given by a large-scale, legitimate, medical or medical-associated, data-collected source. (Here are CDC guidelines, for example. You may prefer another source and/or prefer to ask your child’s pediatrician what she recommends.) We know, we know. It’s so hard to not just do something when you believe your child is lagging at the bottom rather than top end of “it’s okay, relax, she’s fine”. But release your worries and your competitive edge. It truly isn’t a competition. If your child is not showing worrisome signs that need addressing, and she is moving along within professional guideline suggestions, your worry is all about you, not her. Let it go.

When You Should Push

Actually, we prefer the term “encourage,” and we mean that. We’re just a bunch of parents, of course, not a research committee; we’ve learned through trial, error, and plenty of legitimate guidance. But frankly, we’ve never seen a single baby or child benefit, in the long run, from significant parental pushing, which, no matter how it’s couched, is stressful and may rebound later with a defiant child who refuses to “perform.” (Wouldn’t you?) On the other hand, nearly every single experience for a very young child is a learning experience. Even looking out the front window is a learning experience. So is listening to a song or rolling an orange around the kitchen floor. Stimulating your child by providing her with plenty of interaction, colorful, fun toys that “do something” (squeak, crinkle, have levers or buttons to push, etc.) and handing her safe, everyday objects to explore will be stimulating to her mind and emotions. If you’d like to encourage your baby a bit beyond the basics, increase the complexity of her toys by slow increments. Slow (unless she’s quite obviously bored out of her skull). Don’t worriedly study the “ages X to Y” literature on the box anxiously wondering when to shove the next age-up level item into your baby’s face. She WILL sense your stress and play won’t be play anymore. And toy or not, how much fun is that?

What If There’s a Legitimate Issue?

On the heels of “When should you push?” there is, of course, the question, “What if my child really IS behind – like, way behind?” Been there too. We discovered our son was behind the curve before he was three months old. He wasn’t tracking visually, and he shut down – literally – when we looked him in the face and spoke to him simultaneously, a trick all parents perform multiple times a day naturally. Children are SUPPOSED to want to look at you and hear you. What we discovered was that our son could look or listen – not both. In our case, our child was (and is) on the autism spectrum. We’re not trying to frighten you. Nine times out of ten (give or take – don’t forget, 73% of all statistics are entirely invented by the author), a delay, even a fairly large one, will be simply your child being your child, and she will catch up eventually. But here’s the positive side of listening to your instincts when you know something really is up. If you know early that there’s an issue, you can address it early, too, and most child development experts agree that early intervention has a very good chance of changing things for the better for your child. In our case, our son, at age 13 as of the writing of this article, is doing phenomenally well and just achieved his third 4.0 across the board in junior high. He earned a plaque for that. We earned full hearts – and that’s all he, and we, really needed. The moral here: as we’ve been saying all along, don’t panic and don’t think “worst case scenario” – but DO address very significant issues. Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t pretend they might just go away. Instead, go to the experts with high hopes. We believe you’ll achieve those very hopes with physical and neurological care for children advancing every single day. By the way, we posted about a gazillion pictures on Facebook of our son receiving that achievement plaque. Take that, Superbaby. Just sayin’.

What’s No Big Deal, What IS a Big Deal, and How Do You Tell the Difference?

We know, we know. Big Pharma wants your money, will try to drug your child, is out to get you, insert_trendy_view_of_medicine_here. But bear with us. Honestly, whether you go holistic (we do, partially), through modern medicine, or utilize a combination, find professionals you trust and then ask them what they think of your child’s development. If you’re sure you’re right and your doctor is wrong, and this view is consistent, change your doctor. Otherwise, don’t avoid your child’s issues if you think they’re serious – or even if you know you’re probably worrying over, well, not much. Ask a professional you trust and then go from there. Meanwhile, check trusted organizations for basic developmental milestones to get a feel for what generally can/should be expected from a child your baby’s age, especially if you have no idea what to start. What NOT to do? Go on Facebook, look at other people’s fantasies of their perfect children, and judge your child based on such parameters. Just…don’t. Trust us on this one.

Keeping Things in Perspective

How you raise your baby is entirely up to you. We’re not here to judge. What we do have is a collective experience (so far) of eleven children, 27 parenting years, and loads and loads of tears…AND chest-pounding moments of pride. We’ve been enmeshed in the Mommy/Daddy wars. Are they worth it? No. What HAS been worth it? Watching our children grow up and having the privilege of helping them do so. You and your child get just this one chance at her growing up. You’re there to teach and nurture, but you’re also there to accept. She has flaws. So do you. (Psst…so does Superbaby, when it comes right down to it.) Don’t get caught in a competition with your baby in the middle. Teach her, but also ENJOY her, and let her enjoy you, and her own childhood. In that way, you’re both winners.

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