Raising Kids: Celebrating the Differences in our Children
Raising kids is hard enough as it is. Comparing our kids to others makes it even harder. Instead of comparing, celebrate the diversity in your child!
Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned how natural it is to want your child to achieve every milestone “on schedule”. Crawling by 7 months, walking by 12 months, so many words by this many months, and on and on and on. If they ‘fall behind’ by as little as a month or two parents get worried and wonder if there is something wrong with their child.
Personally, I felt like I was pretty relaxed about my first child achieving these milestones and wasn’t too worried about how he compared to other children. That is until we visited some friends who had a daughter who was putting two words together by her first birthday. Sheesh!
As it turns out, my friend’s little girl just happens to be the exception when it comes to language development. Most kids are not putting two words together by 12 months of age, let alone saying any words at all! But my eyes were opened to how it feels when another child progresses in different areas more quickly than my own. It truly makes a parent wonder whether they have been doing something wrong, whether the child is always going to be behind, and what more they should be doing every day to help their child “catch up”.
This experience gives me an interesting perspective when it comes to my work as a clinician. We do a lot of group work with children through Harmony Music Therapy, and we try to place kids together who are in the same age range and/or level of need. In some of these groups, I can see how parents might fall into the trap of comparing their child to others in the group. This may be especially true in groups where we have typically developing children mixed with those who have special needs.
For those who are raising kids and find themselves in this situation, I would like to throw out a suggestion for a new way of thinking about your child: recognize and celebrate your child for who they are, despite where you or others think they should be. We do not aim to “cure” children with special needs, but rather find ways to help them maximize their natural gifts.
This isn’t to say that we don’t try to help the child gain skills that help them improve functioning in day to day life (such as increased communication, improved social interaction, or more accurate fine motor skills, to name a few), but we do strive to maximize a child’s intrinsic abilities as well. If a child is particularly interested in shapes or numbers or trains or fans (or even a particular freeway exit!), we can use those things to help them learn and grow, and to see something unique in the individual. I personally strive to utilize those natural gifts and interests to help the child grow, instead of putting them off to the side and asking them to be ‘more like other kids’.
Not only does this perspective of positive diversity give the child a break from feeling like they aren’t good enough in the moment, but it can give the parent a break from the comparison trap. We want our children to succeed, but not value their success in relation to others. So the next time you feel a tendency to compare, remember that you have permission to relax, enjoy the moment, and celebrate your child for who he or she is.