June 21, 2013 by Dadinator
Okay, I have tried to get this post rolling about 4 times now. It’s a tough little topic this one…. So here’s my umpteenth attempt to say something on this subject, which has been banging around in my brain for a while. So I thought relate it to something I know well. Computer Role Playing Games. I spent some of my life playing World of Warcraft. I fell out of the habit years ago, and nowadays I have neither the money or the time to pursue it, so it has fallen by the wayside. Not all together a bad thing, most of you would agree.
In Role Playing Games (RPGs) you control a character which has a ‘level’. You start at Level 1, as you play you gain levels, or you ‘level-up’. It is linear, orderly, structured and sequential. It is designed to reflect an individual practising, gaining skill and ultimately mastering them. When you gain a level, you suddenly gain new abilities, new magic spells or the ability to wear cool stuff or use new weapons. As soon as you level up you gain these abilities, and once learned they are yours and they are reliable. What does this have to do with babies? Some people like to draw parallels….
See character progress in an RPG kind of looks like the graph below:
There is relatively fast progress at first, tapering off as they get further into the game, passing certain points and gaining specific skills… Oh hang on, THAT WASN’T A GRAPH FROM A COMPUTER GAME AT ALL!!!!! Mwah ha ha ha. It’s about child development. (note how 0-1 doesn’t count in this graph, does that strike anyone else as odd?) And sometimes I think it’s easy to expect our children to progress and develop in an orderly, linear fashion. I mean once the learn a word, they know that word right? Once they walk then never crawl again, right? It’s like riding a bike. Actually once they learn to ride a bike, they’ll always be able to do it, right?
So this all set off thoughts in my head and my expectations on development before I became a dad. I think I did expect progress. I expected it to come in fits and bursts, but I didn’t expect it to oscillate. I thought skills would remain acquired, words and concepts would stick, but they don’t. At least not all the time. The Lad can do things he couldn’t do a year ago, he walks, he babbles, he can open doors (wish he couldn’t), he can pick up my keys take them to god knows where and hide them from me. But, spending almost every day with him it’s easy to miss progress.
Let me draw you another graph. I made it myself using my fully sick Excell spreadsheeting skills.
Sure there’s an upwards trend, but kids, well, they don’t know they’re supposed to fit graph one. They have off days, they forget things, they manage to do something and then lose interest in doing it again. The Lad managed to feed himself porridge with a spoon a few weeks ago. ‘Awesome!’ thought myself and The Mamanantor, ‘that’s one less thing we have to worry about in the morning, he can just feed himself from now on if we have porridge’. Yeah, right. He hasn’t done it independently since. Why? Who knows? Maybe he likes having mum and dad’s attention to feed him? Maybe he can’t be bothered? Maybe if he’s concentrating on hand eye coordination he can’t look around at lights and cats and fun things? Maybe he’s forgotten how to do it? It doesn’t really matter. The point is that he went up the graph, levelled up in porridge eating, and then went ‘backwards’ again. That doesn’t happen in RPGs (well none I’ve played, maybe they’re fancier these days….)
It’s easy to get hung up on these directional words. We all want our children to be healthy and free from problems, and if they don’t hit milestones it can cause you to panic. Sure, we need milestones in tracking a child’s development, mostly so any problems that might require intervention or treatment can be identified and managed, but it is so easy to get hung up on these things. It starts from birth. How does he feed? How does he sleep? How much weight is he putting on? Is he an ‘easy baby’? Has he rolled over? Is he crawling, walking, talking, able to do basic integral calculus? Writing 5 act plays in iambic pentameter? Has he come up with a plan for peace in the Middle East? etc etc etc….
In my experience, they go in leaps, starts and fits. Quantum leaps, if you will. They go forwards and backwards. Words come, then go and come back again for no apparent reason, at least not to us observers. There’s a trend, certainly, but on a day-to-day basis it’s hard to keep track of it. I’m sure toddlers and babies have their own reasons for doing things their own way, they just can’t explain them to us yet. And if they did explain them to us, there’s no guarantee they’d bother explaining them again tomorrow. It’s also one of the reasons why you never work with kids (or animals). They are not good performers…. He has said “grandma” to me plenty of times, won’t do it in front of grandma though. Its a real shame, I’m sure she’d love to see it. And it’d make me look like a fantastic dad too, but no. I was denied in-law kudos by the fact that my son is not a computer who responds simply to commands, but instead has free-will and can chose not to do something, he can misinterpret things and he can forget things even when provided with the same inputs. Nothing about parenting follows smooth curves and graphs. At least it doesn’t when you’re at the coal face.
So what’s the point of this? Don’t get too hung up on kids progressing from level 0 human characters to level 25 fire wizards. It doesn’t work like that. If you ever have any concerns that your child isn’t doing what they should, or even not doing what they did yesterday don’t have a heart attack. Keep an eye on it, it could change in an instant. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to diagnose disorders or problems with children, especially the real young ones, they are all genuinely different. Keep yourself informed, seek advice if you feel you need it (even if it just reassures you it’s a good thing), and don’t go chasing child psychologists trying to get them to say your child is a genius.