Charted Baby – what the chart really tells you

20140530-175918-64758423.jpghttp://www.mommyish.com

Children in numbers

There are many tools provided for you to check and measure your baby. You can for example: ‘Create a growth chart to see how your child measures up against other children in height, weight, and head size.’

You can also buy an application for your smartphone, which gives you updates on milestones reached by your baby in certain age of her/his life.
You can use charts to compare and check your baby’s motor development, cognitive skills, emotional development, etc.
You can do those home-check ups for your little one and gain evidence to praise about or to worry about – pending on what pattern your baby develops on his/her path of progress.

Following your baby’s development with your own loving eyes seems to be not enough in today’s ‘scientified’ world of parenting. We need the hard science to prove everything is normal and well. We check the charts, hoping for above-the-average performance in at least some areas. We are encouraged to do so by the mainstream materials and tools designed to guide and educate parents.

But do we ask ourselves how this constant measuring and checking influence our children? We tend not to question the charted information itself, taking it as a source of knowledge written in stone. Let us not forget, today’s scientific fact is often tomorrows failed knowledge. Questioning can actually restore our confidence which is often undermined by all the specialised knowledge.

What is wrong with the chart

First of all, lets look closer at most of those charts, which are available online. They are showing average figures for children’s progress. If we would like to take any chart seriously, we would have to look at an age range of results and in doing so, we could also see how misleading the average number is. For example: The average age for a baby to reach the skill of walking up stairs with help is 16 months. But the range in which 90% of infants achieve this skill is 12-23 months! We won’t see those numbers in most of the charts, so if our baby walks up the stairs at the age of 22 months and we compare it with 16 months number, it will raise some concerns and actions, i.e. asking for a professional advice or search through internet again. Whereas there is nothing to be worry or disappointed about.

Parental Expectations

The word ‘disappointment’ tells us a lot about the nature of those numeric tests taken on our babies. The focus on falling into the category of ‘normal child’ reflects the underlying message we give to our children, which is: ‘I expect you to be good and normal’. Allowing for difference and diversity seems to be obliterated in a world of normalising expectations.

Labelling the child

There is only one step from checking babies against the chart to labelling them. You won’t have to wait long, until you hear your own internal voice – maybe raised by anxiety – labelling your baby: slow, stubborn, fussy – referring to some of the charted dimensions. Labelling very often becomes self – fulfilling prophecy: kids who were not fussy at all, will become like that if they constantly hear this adjective from their parents. I recently heard very vivid example of this phenomena. The preoccupied mother was claiming that the baby at the age of 15 months is not able to walk. It was indeed a fact, that the baby didn’t walk when the mother was watching. She seemed very worried and even obsessed about this ‘issue’. One day, the mother and the baby were seen at the playground and the baby was walking freely when the mother wasn’t watching! We can imagine the intensity of emotions the baby was picking up from the mother and had to deal with.

Remembering the right order

Essentially, our babies don’t develop to please their parents, nor they have any influence on how they grow and progress. They are human beings living their lives and facing very intense developmental challenges on the way. This is natural that we are fascinated about their progress and we love seeing them taking the next and the next step. But we shall not reverse the order. Our baby as a person comes first, our appreciation and respect can follow.

Let the children be creative

Being a mother of a 10 month old girl, I pay attention to the messages dedicated to parents and I found myself surrounded by products, services and articles, which are suppose to boost children’s learning skills and creativity. I would say that creativity is on the top of the list of abilities which can be developed through interacting with toys, attending classes, playing specially designed games, and even – eating! I recently bought finger food, which apparently has a number of learning qualities, as the text on the bag stated. I pictured a baby, asking their parents who are looking for the signs of learning processes while the child is having a snack: ‘please, let me eat in peace.’

This obsessive attempt to influence and enhance babies’ experience introduces the pressure of competition in very early stage.
The holy Grail of our society is the underlying promise behind all the products and stream of information that as long as parents stick to the certain strategy, they will be able to develop their children in the ‘right direction’.

Lets focus here on the creativity at the early stage of children’s life. Parents want their children to be creative and they easily find the support in their quest of how to make them be more creative. I would argue that this is tackling the matter from the wrong angle and consequently, setting up wrong parental goals.

The most popular definition of creativity states, that this is the ability to generate novel outcomes that are valued in particular context. The playful way of explaining the subject is the ‘Laconic Definition of Creativity’, which focuses on the three types of spontaneous reactions for the creative outcome. These three are 1) Ah! 2) Aha!, and 3) Hahaha!, which stand for: enchantment, understanding and amusement. If we find ourselves experiencing those three reactions, that means, we are exposed to the creative outcome.

We can now recall any encounter with the toddler, playing freely with the world. Inventing words, games and jokes, making sense of the surrounding, discovering new things and giving them meaning – being endlessly imaginative. If we are just engaged with this kid, we can find ourselves with Ah! Aha! and Hahaha!, coming out of our mouth every second minute.

Creativity is the natural way of being for babies and toddlers. They engage with world creatively simply because they don’t know any other way. They don’t have schematic ways of thinking and cognitive paths which are adults’ shortcuts to solutions and quick answers. They make up the answer each time and they have fun doing it. They repeat their mile stone discoveries and they learn. The most spontaneous and obvious way of engaging with the world is play. And children’s free play is a pure creativity.

It can be inhibited though, by stress, emotional and psychological discomfort. This can have many different sources, child is affected by the difficult life events, as any other human being (even if is not able to fully comprehend the situation).
Melanie Klein, child psychoanalyst, discovered that stressed and troubled children played with toys in a very particular way, which was unimaginative, repetitive, and tense. When she named what was going on for a child (offered them her interpretation), the children came back to themselves and they were able to play more freely. We can assume what were the ‘curing’ factors, which allowed children to come back to their creative selves. It was an adult, being able to:
help them make sense of the difficult situation which affect them,
contain overwhelming emotions,
provide safety and trust.

I would draw an analogy between this difficult situation and parents’ goals in supporting children’s creativity. Parents’s objective is to provide comfort, safety, freedom and trust, which are basics for a spontaneous exploration of the world. Our task is also to help the children understanding their emotions and going through emotionally difficult times. This is how we can participate in our children’s development of creativity.

I therefore argue for changing perspective from trying to be an active agent, who provides children with tools for more efficient development, to being a good companion, ready to follow children in their creative endeavours and step in when it is needed.

I would like to make this point stronger by recalling one famous person, who was a genius student of creativity and wisely choose his teachers. Pablo Picasso was fascinated by children’s creativity and he learnt how to truly come back to this purely creative state of mind, which gets lost with time. He achieved a mastery in freeing his imagination from constrains and schemata, which force most of us to think, feel and see things in a right, acceptable by the majority way.
If we could reverse the situation and learn from children, rather then instantly attempting to teach them, both children and parents would benefit. Perhaps we resist this because we have an underlying fear, that as a side effect of creativity, we would become less conformist…. and that would force us to face ourselves in new ways…. Creativity is much sought after, but so is conformity!

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Pablo Picasso, Female Acrobat, 1930. http://www.studyblue.com