Several weeks ago, I gave a talk to the parents whose children attend a local Montessori School. I usually talk for about an hour and then leave a half an hour or so for questions. One of the questions I received was familiar and similar to the ones I hear from parents in other venues. This mother was concerned that her son was not diligent enough about his homework and seemed unmotivated. Other parents ask about children who are messy, who neglect their household chores, or won’t eat their spinach. In the past, I have tried to give these parents some explanations for their children’s behavior. I believe that knowing the cause of any behavior is the best guide to knowing how to modify it. But at this last evening I answered in a different way. I surprised myself because it was nothing I had thought about in advance, or planned. It was entirely spontaneous and from the heart. Afterwards, many parents came up to me and thanked me for my answer.
What I told the parents was the following story. Two and half years ago my son and daughter-in-law finally had the child they had been trying to have for several years. But their daughter, Maya, had Down syndrome. We were all devastated. Our expectation that our new grandchild would be as bright and beautiful as her cousins was crushed.
We all went through a period of mourning for this child who never came. But we have all grown to love and to cherish the child that we do have. We are lucky in that Maya is very healthy and at the top of the scale of ability for Down children. She is a warm, loving child who is making remarkable progress thanks to the commitment of her parents and an extensive early intervention program. She already has good language, swims, and rides horseback. She will enter a regular preschool this fall. Yes, she has accidents, has trouble articulating because of poor muscle control and other problems. But any distress about the negatives is totally eclipsed with our joy in her positive achievements.
I ended this little story by telling the parent, who had asked the original question, that she should be so happy that she has a child who is able to do homework. Having a child with disabilities makes you realize how lucky you are to have such a youngster who does not. From my new perspective I suggested that rather than try to correct what the parent saw as faults, she might want to show her appreciation for all of the positive things her child is and does. Perhaps if we accentuate the positive, the negatives will take care of themselves. In the end my message was: “if you have a healthy, normal child just count your blessings.”
By Professor David Elkind. Renowned child psychologist David Elkind Ph.D. shares his experiences, opinions and insights on children’s perceptual, cognitive, and social development. Read his blog to learn more about how early experiences in infant development impact growth into adulthood and how you can support your child’s healthy development every step of the way.