How does your child measure up?

22nd Oct 15 | Family

There are many tools provided for you to check and measure your baby.

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.' See here.

You can also buy an app for your smartphone, which gives you updates on milestones reached by your baby at a certain age of his/her life.

You can use charts to compare and check your baby's motor development, cognitive skills, emotional development, etc.

You can do home-checkups for your little one and obtain information to be happy about or to worry about - depending what pattern your baby develops on his/her path of progress.

Following your baby's development with your own loving eyes does not seem to be 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 influences 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 specialized knowledge. 

What is wrong with the chart?

First of all, let’s 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 the 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 that ‘16 months’ number, it will raise some concerns and  cause us to take action, i.e. asking for a professional advice or searching the internet for answers. When in actual fact, there is nothing to be worried 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 normalizing expectations.   

Labeling the child

There is only one step between checking babies against the chart to labeling them. You won't have to wait long until you hear your own internal voice - maybe raised by anxiety - labeling your baby: slow, stubborn, fussy - referring to some of the charted dimensions. Labeling 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 a very vivid example of this phenomenon. The preoccupied mother was claiming that the baby at the age of 15 months was not able to walk. It was actually a case 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 do 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. It is natural that we are fascinated about their progress and we love seeing them taking step after step in the right direction. Our baby as a person comes first, our appreciation and respect can follow.  

Agata lives in Galway, she is a mum of two children and author of blog Balancing She promotes creative and confident parenting. She is a psychologist, with experience of working as a personal skills trainer and academic teacher. Find her on Twitter @agata4parents