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Avoid comparing milestones between toddlers

Two young children hugging

Dad teaching bike riding - avoid comparing milestones between toddlersWe’ve all heard the saying “You can’t
compare apples and oranges.” The
message is that since the two fruits are
special in their own way, to evaluate
them side-by-side is inaccurate and
irrelevant. Despite this logic, there is
still a parental instinct to compare our
own children to others of a similar
age. Often, when I meet a mom with a
child around the same age as mine, it’s
usually only a matter of time before
we start politely inquiring about the
other child’s development. It’s as if
we’re searching for any reference
point that will help us determine how
our little one is doing – and in turn,
how we’re doing as parents.

During my son Eric’s first year, I
gleefully let the video camera roll as
he babbled, clapped, rolled over and
crawled. I wasn’t preoccupied with
monitoring if he was doing these
things in the right order or at the
right age. It was during his second
year that a kid-to-kid comparison
left me rattled. I was visiting with
my neighbour and her 18-month-old
son, making plans to go to a Mighty
Machines show. I said to Eric (20
months old at the time), “We’re going
to go see the big machines!” Eric
responded with “ah-da”, his go-to
sound for everything from “Dad” to
“sippy cup”. My neighbour’s little
guy waved his arms and exclaimed,
“Bulldozer!” I nearly fell over.

My first instinct was to figure out
what I was doing wrong. Eric was
an attentive toddler. We read books
together, and I talked to him so much
I felt like a play-by-play announcer
of our entire day. Yet, compared
to another child, his development
seemed behind schedule.

“Ages to reach milestones are
just a parameter, not an absolute,”
explains Dr. Tracy Mihalynuk, a
family physician in Victoria, B.C. She
advises parents: “Rather than worry
about stages and their timing, focus
on how beautifully unique your child
is. Treasure his health and existence
– not his rate of development.” She
also points out that it is counterproductive
for concerned parents to
fixate on a certain skill and practise
it excessively to help a child “catch
up” to her peers. She warns that “this
can interfere with normal play and
development in other areas that might
not be denoted as a milestone.” It’s
important to notice and celebrate all
the skills acquired in the early years –
not just the ones that typically appear
in a baby book.

In situations where a child’s
progress falls dramatically outside
the usual developmental range, Dr.
Mihalynuk notes that “it is good for
the parents to recognize this and to
bring it to the attention of their health
care provider. In some cases, it can
signify a problem, and assistance or
special testing may be needed.”

For his part, Eric talked when he
was ready. After his second birthday,
it was as if a switch marked “talk”
flicked on inside him. He is now in
kindergarten and demonstrating
excellent verbal abilities. Ironically,
when I received a letter inviting me
to his class’s observation day, it had
this statement in large print at the
bottom: “Let’s keep in mind that no
two children are alike; please try to
avoid making comparisons.” I was
grateful for the reminder. Comparing
kids, as with apples and oranges, is

When siblings aren’t similar

Ever look at your
kids and feel
mystified that
offspring from the
same parents could
turn out to be so
different? Here are
some reminders to
help you enjoy each
of your children’s
distinct qualities
(even if you can’t
figure out whose
gene pool they
came from).

Expect differences

Each child has a personality
all their own – and it will
inevitably contrast with
a sibling in some areas.
One child is terrified of the
vacuum, while the other
begs for a turn with it.
Perhaps one swims like a
fish, while the other dreads
setting foot in the bath tub.
One might munch happily
on crackers, while the other
dumps them out to play
with the empty box. The list
is endless.

Forget you first’s firsts

It’s tempting to use
your first child’s milestones
and experiences as a
frame of reference for child
number two, but don’t
bother, as children have
their own inner schedule.
The good news here is that
you’re likely so tired from
your parenting duties that
you no longer remember
the exact dates and details

Celebrate variety

If everyone was the same,
life sure would be boring.
Take a moment to think
about what each of your
children has taught you
(or may still be teaching
you). It may be patience,
sensitivity, a renewed
sense of humour or the
ability to lighten up and
live in the moment. Be
proud and enjoy the fact
that each of your kids is
one of a kind.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

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