I’ve studied child development for almost 20 years and I’ve been a parent for almost 9. I do not have all of the answers. But I’ve learned to ask some good questions.
Last week, I listened to a presentation by Kids Included Together (KIT) and I felt inspired to share some of the important takeaways with my fellow parents.
Here is your child development cheat sheet:
1. Understand the complexity of development.
As parents to children with developmental disabilities, we are used to thinking about different aspects of development like speech, learning, big movement and fine motor. This can be helpful when we are thinking about building skills, but it’s also critical to remember that development does not happen in a linear fashion. It is dynamic and it is complicated: there is a lot of overlap between different types of development and, especially in the early years, development is – in the truest form of the word – constantly developing.
2. Be curious.
As parents, we have endless opportunities to observe our children. We see them adapting to different environments, interacting with different people, wearing different things and eating different foods. We have collected so much data in our minds and memories! Use these emotional experiences to help you understand your child’s development or behavior and wonder together: “I wonder what that means?” Or “I wonder what my child is thinking right now?”
3. Give time. Pause. Listen.
We are moving so quickly. Physically and mentally, we have a lot going on. As parents, our instinct is often to fix, but sometimes we just need to listen. We all want to be heard, and when we feel understood, it makes way for development to occur. You are literally creating the space for growth.
4. Share expectations.
As a parent, I’ve gone to appointments not knowing what they were for. It’s confusing and uncomfortable, and it leaves me feeling that I’m at a disadvantage. Our children must feel this way, too. As a professional, I try to always lead with sharing expectations for a meeting or a plan for treatment. Although you cannot expect the unexpected and sometimes plans change, sharing expectations with our kids (in whatever way they can understand) helps set them up for success.
5. Lead with strengths.
This one I’m borrowing from a past blog because it’s one that leads my thinking as a parent and as a professional. As parents in the disability world, we can spend a lot of time thinking about the obstacles in our children’s way. We advocate, we persevere, and we cry with frustration. Sometimes it feels like there is so much work to be done in the world and that we are fighting an uphill battle that keeps growing. We know the challenges and we see what isn’t working because we want to help our children grow and find what works for them. But if we lead with our children’s strengths, not only do we paint a fuller picture of our child, but we get clues about how to use their strengths to build up weaker areas. Wouldn’t you love for people to see your strengths first? And wouldn’t that help you find the confidence to push forward?
Thanks to the Children’s Trust in Massachusetts for offering this webinar from KIT!