Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Looking for Normal

I was at a meeting the other day where someone was talking about children who are in the foster care system. These children have often experienced abuse and deprivation that NO child deserves. These kinds of experiences can have a profound effect on a child's development. It can become skewed. They may be "normal" in their learning in one area, delayed in another, and sometimes even ahead of their peers in another.

For example, a child can be starved for emotional connection and may seek contact in all the wrong ways, being too friendly with people they don't know, with poor to none existent healthy boundaries. Or a child might be delayed in language development because no one talked to them on a regular basis or they had poor nutrition. Or still another child might be too interested in sexual matters well beyond their years if they have been exposed to inappropriate sexuality. Any one of these children could potentially be right on target with milestones in other areas of their development.

When we really examine this issue, we are reminded that each child grows at their own pace, influenced by many different factors. Parents and other providers often hold up the standards of "normal" to gauge where a child is today. We need to be careful in our expectations. For just about every marker of a child's current growth, there is a very wide range of what is actually "normal". And what is "normal" for one child, may not be for another.

Years ago I took our young son to a new doctor for his regular well-check visit. He was a very tall, well-built child. He was not over-weight, but he had broad shoulders, a large head, and a big frame. Like many children his age, he was a picky eater, but in spite of this, he ate reasonably well. This doctor who didn't know him or us took a look at the growth charts they all have and saw that he was about 95% in height and 90th in weight and was concerned about his size which was "normal" for our son. He was actually pretty evenly proportioned because the percentiles were very close. This doctor didn't really even understand the charts he was using and cautioned me about providing the right nutrition.

What is "normal" for you, for a child, or for another person is just what is "normal" for each of them (within some reasonable limits). Rather than looking for or striving for the mystical, allusive thing we call "normal", it seems to me like we need to be doing more to accept our children and our selves right where we are. And work with doing our best to provide the nurturing and enrichment that maximizes each person's on-going growth and development.

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