I’m sure it’s a different list of “behinds” for your child, but they’re there nonetheless, and the pressure to make sure your child isn’t behind the other kids weighs on you like a ton of bricks. We all want our kids to show up to kindergarten like an old, learned professor: “Ah yes, the alphabet.”
I came across the article quoted above the day I started and finished Thomas Sowell’s brief and accessible volume Late-Talking Children, a largely anecdotal text based on a parents group he started after writing about his own son who didn’t talk until nearly four years of age. When public school teachers tried to label his son (“classify” in contemporary terms) Sowell put his foot down, and thank God he did. His son’s success story (childhood late talker to successful computer scientist) along with many others in the book written in 1997 support the growing backlash against public education, in particular what we’re doing with kids under 6 years old.
There is overwhelming evidence that we are putting far too much academic pressure on children age 5 and under. Children as young as 2 years old are expected to know their colors. Want to know precisely how neurologically complex that simple task is? Check out this article published in Scientific American in 2010. Not only does a certain level of language development need to take place, grammar concepts have to exist as well. And we’re expecting that from a kid who’s only supposed to have conceptually mastered about 25 words?
In her book Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, social worker and psychoanalyst Erica Komisar highlights the fact that American culture pushes cognitive development at the expense of emotional and social growth. The developmental reality is that cognition—academic learning—is dependent upon the foundational building blocks of emotional recognition and regulation. A child who can’t regulate his emotions will not function well academically. Which is probably why research indicates that a child’s self-control is a better predictor of future success than his I.Q.
Komisar emphasizes the importance of the mother-child relationship in terms of daily, focused communication and shared experience through play. Children who are lacking in this necessary attention, often because they are placed in a daycare setting for long periods of time before the age of 2, are prone to aggressive behaviors at the preschool level. A lack of emotional regulation leads to an inability to learn; a lack of emotional regulation combined with an inability to learn leads to classification and stigmatization as soon as the child enters public school.
In Late-Talking Children, Sowell describes a conversation he had with a PhD colleague regarding his bright toddler who had yet to speak. In their conversation Sowell admitted that his son was not receiving much attention from either parent, both of whom were quite busy with work. The colleague advised,
Don’t try to teach him to talk, not right now. You just give him lots of love and attention. Take him with you wherever you can. Let him know that you think he is the most wonderful little boy in the whole world. And when he feels confident and secure—he’ll talk.
Sowell’s son was fortunate to be born before the Internet age, the era in which parents compare notes obsessively, and before the era in which public schools received funding for every child classified with some form of emotional, social or intellectual impairment. Sure enough, with dedicated attention, Sowell’s son began speaking. It is a story that illustrates Komisar’s theories perfectly, and I’m sure it isn’t the only one.
What children need from the age of 0-5 isn’t academic pressure, its individualized attention with a focus on healthy emotional and social development. This doesn’t happen when parents bow to societal pressures forcing their children to fit inside a clinical definition of “normal” designed by a cadre of federally funded “experts” with political and economic bottom lines. Parents don’t need to waste their time fretting over their toddler’s academic performance. Parents simply need to ground themselves in the fact that their child doesn’t exist to be plopped into daycare until he’s old enough to make a school district richer off his level of emotional and psychological discontent.