I think you pretty quickly find out what type of parent you are going to be. While you don’t really need to discipline a kid for a couple years, and that is a large portion of what type of parent you are, you can look at your interactions and figure out who you are pretty early.
It turns out that I’m the type of parent that likes to push my kids.
When Jocelyn was born I had read a lot about how holding your child in different positions, and especially laying them on their stomach and making them look around, could really develop their spatial awareness. The science isn’t exact, of course, and a lot of people believe that this is just a head-start and all kids will eventually reach average perception regardless. However, my opinion is simply “why not do it?” I gotta play with this kid anyway, let’s work on stuff too.
So I was adamant about doing ‘tummy time’ with Jocelyn from week 1. I also read about exercises, like baby push-ups, baby squats, and massage techniques to help them identify what muscles to use to move in certain ways. This all sounds much more involved than it really was; I only read like three different sources and only learned like four things. But still, that’s what it was.
I was overly concerned with her development. I always thought she was behind and I always wanted her to be ahead. I don’t think this is unique to first time parents, but my wife certainly had to calm me down on several occasions.
Jocelyn really did great with lifting her head, tracking objects across and up and down, she sat up and pushed herself up on time. She rolled right on schedule and loved to roll across the entire room. She was on the late side of average for crawling forward, and we talked at the time that this was because she would roll to anywhere she wanted to go. She loved to roll; I cannot even really describe it. She would roll and then re-orient herself and then roll until she got where she wanted.
But then the big hurdle that she was significantly behind in was walking. She stood up on time, but didn’t take her first steps until she was about 14 months old. The early range on that is 9 months old. You can guess what age I was expecting her to walk by, probably closer to 6 months old than 14. But it was 14 when it happened. Now 14 isn’t like delayed really; average is 9-12, perfectly normal any time before 16, and even 18 months isn’t necessarily bad. But the early kids go at 9, and by the time 10 came around and she wasn’t even standing up much I was getting worried.
I spent hours and hours doing squats with her, and helping her stand. We bought toys for Christmas and her birthday that first year (only 4 days apart) that we designed to help her walk. And it was a process. Finally she started to walk with the toys, and then the next challenge was to convince her to walk without them. Her first steps to me were from our couch where she was standing to me sitting in my chair about 7 feet away. And those first steps were pretty smooth. She didn’t do the classic baby on TV thing where she took a wobbly step and fell down. She was obviously ready to walk long before she did. But that was when she decided it was time.
And she never really stopped.
For anyone that knows my daughter, this might not come as a shock: she was piecing together short sentences only a matter of a couple months after walking her first steps. She has been speaking clear words since about 16 months old, and tackled 5+ word sentences before her second birthday.
And she never really stopped there either.
My wife and I obviously pushed her hard on this end too. We read her a lot of interactive books, and we asked her to name things we encountered all the time, from the cars driving by to the animals in her books. But we never had the intention of pushing her into speech goals. That popped up far too early for us to even set those kinds of goals.
I guess that is the irony of parenthood. You expend a tremendous amount of energy to help your child meet milestones and give them the best chance at being advanced. And they do, they turn out to be advanced, but just not in any of the areas you were working on.
I haven’t relaxed on my pushing of Jocelyn. I have always gotten her toys for ages above hers. She easily puts together 20 piece puzzles labeled for 6 year olds. We have work books for 3 years and up that she knew all of the content inside before we ever opened them. She loves to play memory with 24 cards turned face down, and surprisingly she has legitimately beaten me at this game… more than once.
Spelling her name, and I don’t mean knowing the letters in order but identifying all the letters no matter what order I point to them, and even spelling her brother’s name the very first time ever seeing it in print was eclipsed months and months ago. The alphabet is down pat, most numbers up to 20 she can handle and we are starting to work on addition and subtraction, but she admittedly is not getting it right now.
I don’t know if any of these early milestones will matter in a couple years. I don’t know if she will be smart or average or slow in the long run. I don’t know if you have a child that passed these milestones at this age and are reading this saying “so what?” or if you have an older child that has yet to do these things and wondering what is happening. I have no idea about really any of this stuff. My philosophy has simply been to push her a little past what she showed me she could do yesterday, and to do that as often as I can.
But I have a feeling that just like when I was pushing her to walk, that she is doing the heavy lifting on her own, and my involvement really means very little. She sets her own milestones.
I gotta tell you though, the first time she ever looked into my eyes and smiled and walked my way, I’ve never experienced that level of pride before. I felt immense weight as she accomplished one of the most important things in her entire life. The fact that I was shaping a life finally hit me.
I was also a little pissed that she had been sandbagging on this for awhile.
And she never really stopped that either.