Children Don’t Level Up: the Developmental Continuum

You can watch the video version of this post on my Facebook page.
This is our LAST MudRoom of 2018! I can’t believe the year is just about over. I’m taking the end of the year to focus on my family and on my health- so we’ll be back with the MudRoom in January, you can count on that. 

Today, I wanted to just- put a bee in your bonnet and give you something to chew on for the next month or so.

Something I see- not even daily, HOURLY on Facebook- is the ubiquitous Mom post on Facebook asking “Hey, when did your 2-year-old do this?” or “When did your 5-year-old start doing that?” And there’s usually like FIVE THOUSAND responses on these threads because they’re quick and easy for Moms to reply. They require no knowledge except your personal experience, and you FEEL like you’re helping a fellow Mom out by contributing to her informal crowd-sourced poll. The problem with these threads is that they are genuinely designed to drive you insane. Because nobody is going to be able to give you a straight answer as to whether it’s quote-unquote “normal” for your 2-year-old to be pooping in the potty, or your 3-year-old to be crying every time they don’t get something, or your 4-year-old to be reciting the alphabet backward and forward- OR ANYTHING ELSE. Because kids don’t level up. YES, there are windows of sensitivity where MOST children develop certain abilities, awarenesses, and proclivities- but what most parents don’t understand is that the window of “typical development” for just about everything under the sun is about a YEAR LONG. 
The other thing parents don’t generally recognize is that each developmental domain- typically they’re categorized as social/emotional development, fine motor development, gross motor development, language development, and cognitive development- sometimes certain frameworks separate out self help development but it can also easily fit into the various ones I just mentioned- each of these domains develops INDEPENDENT OF EACH OTHER. Children are HORRIBLE multi-taskers. They really are- in every single aspect- and it extends to their development. Kids tend to be REALLY FOCUSED on one area of development at a time. So if they’re REALLY into their gross motor development right now- their social development, their fine motor development, they’re cognitive development- it’s ALL taking a back seat. It’s generally pretty dang stagnant. Because they’re laser-focused on one area, and domain-wise it’s going to overtake all the others. Because they’re attending to it. That’s why we tend to call them “developmental leaps” because they stay stagnant for a long time and then suddenly BOOM they take off when their attention shifts to that domain. 
So the crowdsourcing posts aren’t really doing anyone any good because sure- your 2-year-old might be capable of holding a full-on conversation, but that doesn’t mean mine should be able to- because yours might be focused on their language development and mine is focused on his cognitive development. And if I try to compare my child to your child with the belief that children level up- I’m going to freak out because language development is really visible and cognitive development is really not. So that’s going to cause me to start pushing my child’s development in an area that they aren’t ready to attend to- and that’ll cause a lot of tension and frustration for everyone involved. 
And yes, there are absolutely children who have genuine delays- but the way to determine that is not to go online and ask a group of mothers because OUR PERCEPTION OF OUR CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT IS NOT ACCURATE. It’s tainted by our familiarity with them. We’re too close to them to evaluate their abilities accurately, and most moms aren’t child development specialists so they’re attending to the wrong markers. The way to determine a delay is to take your child to be evaluated. Heck, for most common disorders there are lots of free online screenings. And I tell parents this all the time that if you’re genuinely concerned, that reason is enough to have them screened in a controlled environment.  Polling random people on the internet is going to give you such a spread that it isn’t going to actually give you any answers. 
Development is a CONTINUUM. It isn’t a checklist, it isn’t a scorecard, and it isn’t an absolute. I understand a lot of people are just looking for confirmation that their child isn’t the only one who can’t do whatever skill it is they’re fixated on- but I still don’t think that crowdsourcing is the best way to go about that- because you don’t know if it’s even an appropriate expectation to have of your child. Just as an example- someone recently asked in the Posse how to get their two-year-old child to sit at a table without getting up and walking around or fidgeting. Well, MY two year old can do that- he was out of a booster at 18 months. My oldest certainly couldn’t though- he sat in a booster until he was almost 3 for that very reason. In general, I’d say that that’s not a developmentally appropriate expectation to place on a 2-year-old because their impulse control and self-monitoring skills are just starting to develop at two, and when they’re hungry- which is a stressor- it’s unlikely they’re able to USE their executive functioning skills. So if that Mom then went off and asked a bunch of Moms if their two-year-old can sit at the table without a restraint she’s going to get every answer under the sun, but just because some children can don’t mean it’s a reasonable expectation for EVERY child. Just because your two year old can’t sit at the table unrestrained doesn’t mean there’s a problem. There’s also lots of ways for a child to express a skill. Just because your child can draw all their letters in uppercase doesn’t mean they’re necessarily more advanced in their fine motor skills than a child who can’t- that’s just ONE expression of fine motor skills. I’ve seen lots of kids who can’t draw their letters but can do extremely precise beading activities or putting together electronic components that are teeny tiny. Writing letters just isn’t something they’re all that interested in yet- which is cool! Letter writing isn’t the only expression of fine motor skills and a 4-year-old who isn’t writing yet certainly doesn’t qualify as delayed. But again- if you poll a bunch of Moms you’re going to get every opinion under the sun- it doesn’t mean it’s an informed opinion. 
So over the next month- I want you to keep that in mind. Be conscious of WHERE you’re asking these questions- because certain groups are better equipped to answer developmental questions than others and be conscious of what your ultimate goal is to when you ask them. If your goal is just reassurance that your child isn’t the only one- phrase it THAT way rather than as a poll. Because for every affirmative answer you get, you’re going to get a negative one that drives you up the wall with worry. 
That’s it for me for 2018! Thank you so much for being here with me all year long. Have a Merry Christmas!

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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