Developmental Charts: Friend or Foe? | Parenting from the Heart

My Dislike of Developmental Charts

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Recently, my husband, kids, and I attended a preschool health fair. Held at our local community centre, the place was bustling full of resources and interactive displays. Grandparents, parents, and children were moving about getting free hand-outs, playing in sensory bins, having their faces painted, and making crafts. As we made our way around to most of the kiosks in a very helter-skelter sort of a way, I slowly picked up our share of resources and books. Once my kids settled into a sensory bin filled with chestnuts, I noticed the infant development booth about a meter away. Very intently, I went up in the hopes of getting some tips on how to encourage my son’s speech development. What I got handed was a series of charts to refer to. Being a mom of two, and having been a parent for almost three years, this certainly isn’t my first time reading and referring to these checklists. Though I understand they are meant to be helpful resources, I do have a general dislike for them and here is why.
In the case of my first born, I definitely consulted such charts much more often than with my second. It seems most first-time parents are worried about doing everything as well as possible, and, therefore read over expert tips, advice, and checklists more than with subsequent children. When I watched my first-born’s development unfold organically, I felt immense pride in how unrelentingly she worked at trying to crawl; how her language started off with rudimentary approximations, and then suddenly picked incredible momentum to the point she is now speaking in fairly elaborate sentences. As I am witness to her development outside of any framework, I see her strengths as being limitless. However, when I hold a developmental chart and look at her, in that moment I think of her as being “above average”. Instead of thinking of her as her, I am thinking of my daughter as compared to others.

 

Developmental Charts: Friend or Foe? | Parenting from the Heart
As I held the charts given to me at the fair, and looked at them in the context of my son, I found many of his gifts and aptitudes were barely, or not touched on at all. Although, it was written quite clearly that my son should be speaking more than he is. At just over fifteen months, he has few words, but understands more than I would expect a little one his age would. I approached the infant development booth, knowing his spoken language might need encouragement, but was and am so proud of the extent of his receptive language in both English and French. In this case, I felt all I got from this hand-out was that in one dimension, he wasn’t meeting expectations. Adding a bit of insult to injury, the woman who had handed me the sheets seemed to listen only to what I was saying my son wasn’t doing as opposed to what he could do, and do well for that matter. Additionally, she stated my son needed to be assessed. After I made my way back to the sensory bin, she and her colleague were obviously looking at my son and discussing his output. I came away from what should have been a wonderful experience at the fair feeling hurt, and amiss. I cried the whole way to my night class that night. I felt like so much had been discounted that day. And, it’s not like they discounted me. They discounted my baby. Firstly, most parents have a good understanding of their children’s strengths and areas that may need some help. For instance, my daughter is incredibly empathetic, but could afford to work on patience and always saying, ‘please’. Most families are out in their community at parks, community centres, and at playdates or dinner with relatives and friends with kids enough to notice what most kids of a given age are able to do. For instance, patience is something that most two-year-olds could afford some work on 🙂 If a concern or question arrives, I can simply ask my family doctor, or a talk to the early childhood educator from the StrongStart we attend regularly. Furthermore, charts lack empathy and are fairly superficial. And because of that, I think it especially makes sense to talk to a trusted, trained professional. I made the mistake of talking to a professional who I didn’t know; in a context that was set up for brief interactions. By speaking to my doctor, or an early childhood professional that I have an ongoing relationship with, my explanation of my son’s development likely would have been met with warmth and reflective listening, followed by recommendation.

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My children are the source of the purest, most immediate and profound love I have ever known; their every accomplishment is a source of immense pride in my life; their individual expression of who they are has me constantly thinking of possibilities, and I am already grateful of how they teach me through who they are and what they gravitate towards. The idea of imposing a very limiting framework on either of my toddlers to evaluate their competencies is something that does not work for me 🙂 If you would like to look at a framework I do love, check out Gardner’s Theory of Intelligences here. Is there a parenting staple you’ve done well without? Or, do you have an example of how your child is a standout in ways that might not be measured on a chart? Please share! I would love to hear your thoughts <3

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28 thoughts on “My Dislike of Developmental Charts

  1. You’re so right! Charts are superficial. I never liked the growth charts because my kids were always in the 0 percentile for weight.

  2. I actually think developmental charts can be damaging. When you think about the entire developmental process, there are so many variables that it’s slightly stupid to even try to chart it. My husband is pretty much a genius and was subject to all kinds of confusions and tests when he was younger because his parents didn’t think he was developing properly. He was just developing his brain before his social skills. To be compared to other kids, though, was really hurtful to him as a child. He felt like he was never good enough for his parents because he didn’t develop normally.
    I had 6 brothers and sisters, and we were all radically different. Some of us walked before others, and I was reading before my older sister, just because I liked it and she liked playing outside. We were different, and that was a good thing. I’m glad you’re not holding your kids to charts. God made each kid different, and it’s amazing!

    1. God made each kid differently is RIGHT. It makes me so sad to think of your dear husband as a kid. SO bright, and being worried about because he wasn’t typical. He clearly wasn’t typical because he’s gifted. The reading example got me thinking of myself. I barely could read until about grade 3. Not because of inability, but because of fear of making a mistake. What it came down to is I was better off reading in my head. By grade 4, I was pouring through novel after novel, an avid reader.

    1. Christa, thank you for your comment, your example, and for linking your post. I’m about to head out now but am looking forward to reading it. My son is more of a gross motor boy, but loves reading to the point that I have to cut off our reading time on a daily basis because about a half dozen books in one sitting seems to be enough. lol. Thanks again for your commentary <3

  3. Aw. My best friend’s kids were in the zeroth percentile too. They’re such beautiful, smart thriving kids. It would break my heart to think of anyone putting too much emphasis on size or any other silly measure. You’re so smart Cori to just trust your doctor!!

  4. I lived and died by the charts with my son, who was always falling short since he was a preemie… now I have realized that the charts don’t always work and I barely even consult them with my daughter. Your little man looks so sweet in that pic of him sitting by himself..

    1. Lauren, I don’t know how you couldn’t live and die by charts with a preemie! I would have clung to them too. So awesome both of your kids are just flourishing! And thanks for the compliment about my little guy. Whenever the indoor play area gets too busy, he sits there waits, and then gets back at ‘er when it calms down 🙂

  5. My son talked late as well, but I knew he was learning. He could point to everything in the world if I named it, but he wouldn’t say the animal’s name, the color, etc. As he got closer to age 2, he finally started talking, and now he talks all day long! I agree with you that the charts are kinda cold-hearted. Luckily my pediatrician was very reassuring that my son was simply a late talker.

    1. Nick, this is so affirming! Thank you for sharing your story. I can tell all the language is in my son’s head; it’s just not ready to come out yet!

  6. I think charts can be helpful to glance at, but I wouldn’t put everything into one. I did like the Wonder weeks app for when my son was little. It was a chart that showed common times for when babies would go through development leaps during the first year. During these leaps, babies would often be cranky or, like my son, have trouble sleeping. I would often take a look at the chart if my son was having a difficult time sleep and, sure enough, he would be having a leap. It was very interesting!

  7. I’ve never liked the charts! My kids are so different from each other and they’ve developed different things at such a different pace, there just isn’t much merit to them. I’m sorry you had that experience with the “professional,” I would have been furious! You deserve to be listened to and heard and that women should know better.

    1. That’s the blessing (one of them at least) of having more than one. You see them as equally great in different ways! Thank you for your empathy!!! I walked away in shock, and then thought maybe it was just normal to be dealt with at way. Thank you for getting mad for me! I needed that.

  8. I agree it’s good to have a general framework to see how our children are developing and catch any major issues. But all kids are different and they all do things in their own time. I’m pretty sure no kid ever went to college still crawling and in diapers. They all get there eventually and as parents it’s our job to help them along the way while celebrating them for who they are, not what a chart says they should be. I totally agree with the superficiality of that and how narrow of a view that is for our children…our amazing, unique, beautiful children…no matter what a chart says! Great post as always ❤

    1. Thanks so much, Rachael! I agree with all of what you said. And couldn’t agree more with the fact that no one goes to university still nursing, using a pacifier, or only being able to say Mama. Lol.

  9. I am not a fan of charts either. I agree that charts do not fully account for a child’s individuality. In my work with children there is a lot of emphasis on data taking to ensure that the child is progressing. I prefer to spend my time with the child rather than taking notes about the child.

    1. Quality time really is e way to go. Your page has such insightful, rich lessons. The children you work with are very lucky to have you along side of them!

  10. Wow, I can’t believe that woman had the nerve to state that your child should be assessed!! Even people who know you should tread lightly when making such a recommendation. It’s very impressive that your children understand two languages and really you can’t measure them using a chart. Every child is different! Although I too have succumbed at times to measuring my children on a chart, it’s hard not to with all that information out there.

    1. It is hard to not gravitate towards charts, but you’re right! So much is unaccounted for. And thank you for getting angry for me! I walked away thinking maybe what she said to me and her not caring about what he could do was just “normal”. Thank you for what you wrote! It means a lot <3

  11. When I saw developmental charts, I had to stop and read. As a mom of four, with two on the autism spectrum, I had the dismay of reading and scouring charts. Instead of being a helpful guideline in my struggle, all they did was increase my panic, because so little emphasis is placed on keeping a cool head and recognizing each child is different. It took getting my kiddos diagnosed for me to finally find a kind doctor that provided a lovely, balanced view, pointed out their incredible strengths as well as their particular challenges. Having taught preschool in addition to teaching my own, I have found just how important the proper perspective on this can be.

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