The following guest post is from Dr. Alicen-J. McGowan PhD, a Child and Adolescent Therapist in Chicago. Her specialties are Substance Use Disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Parenting is challenging enough without added pressure from outside sources. Meaningful relatives and friends ask questions such as, “Why isn’t she walking – your cousin’s girl was walking at this age?” or “My grandmother always told us that he should have teeth by four months – I wonder why he doesn’t have teeth.” We begin to doubt ourselves and think that maybe we should talk with the Pediatrician, but we don’t know where to begin. And besides, we don’t want to bother the Doctor about silly things. But at some point – and it is different for everyone- we feel the need to have outside professional help if our child is behind in certain areas of development.
As a mother, grandmother and Child Therapist myself, I understand your concerns. Conversations about parenting challenges and your child’s development are difficult. We fear the worst. If you feel like your child is falling short in one or a few areas, the following tips will help you determine how to move forward.
WATCH FOR EARLY SIGNS AND COMMUNICATE
This is tough because sometimes things are not as simple as they seem. Your Pediatrician will provide you with a list, detailing where your child should be at each stage of his or her development. jUST ASK FOR IT. This list is built with the typical child in mind and it’s important to understand that children fall on both sides of the markers and grow at different rates. If you start to see that your child is not excelling in a particular area- be it mentally, physically or emotionally- have a detailed conversation with your pediatrician, giving examples as early as possible. This will help the doctor guide you toward a better understanding of what to watch for. When you leave the appointment, continue to track your child and follow-up with the doctor accordingly. But remember this is just a guideline.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND YOUR SPOUSE
No one wakes up one morning and says to the universe, “Gee, I would like to have a child with all sorts of special needs and challenges.” There is little or nothing you can do to change what is given to you. This is one of those gifts you cannot exchange. But you can change your attitude. The most successful parents are those who work as a team. Talk, laugh, live well, and keep learning about your child’s struggle. But do it together. Support each other and do not take this on as a one-person crusade.
LOVE YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILD EQUALLY
Now this may be difficult at first. We are socialized into believing that our children must come first at all costs. But just as in the airplane instruction manual, when the oxygen mask falls from above, put yours on first. You need to stay in good shape by taking time each day for yourself. Reach out to a friend for an hour of their time, so you can take a walk. Sit down on a chair and read while your child is napping. Or give yourself a facial. The housework will be there later. And that one hour will be rejuvenating.
UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR PEDIATRICIAN IS NOT A WIZARD
He or she is trying to be compassionate. They take your observations and put them into a category. That is all the name or diagnosis is – nothing more, nothing less. It is a starting point for developing a game plan to help your child become even more wonderful. You already know there is a challenge ahead. So deal with the news as a newspaper reporter does. It is just information. Don’t give the label power. The words are a guide – neutralize them. And begin your plan for a new adventure with your amazing child!
You can tell if your child has delays. You can see if he or she is behind what are socially expected norms. Your child will develop on his own time schedule – not yours or mine! If you are certain that your child needs more time, so be it. You and only you are the authority on your child. Now, that does not mean that you keep your head in the sand. Make sure you continue to monitor your child’s development and educate yourself along the way. If he or she continues to excel at their own pace, that’s wonderful. If not, it might be time to get some outside support.
Lastly, keep this in mind. Your Pediatrician or Nurse Practitioner are there to help facilitate your child’s wellness. They understand that we, parents, do not have all the answers and neither do they. But if we work together, we can be certain that our child will have a great head start on a wonderful life.