The Pain of an "Average" Child

by Vee Zee Bee
(Singapore)

I am thankful that my child is blessed with normalcy and not has special needs, I can imagine the pain, heartache and toil a parent with a special needs child will have to go through and the potential of social rejection the parent will have to experience along with their child or children. I pray that we as a society can become more sensitive to their needs and be compassionate towards another whose special needs come not from lack of effort, but of the luck of draw from nature.

Yet also seldom highlighted in media, is the pain of the average child. The child who has not exhibited any of the dazzling gift or talent that our world celebrates; nor is the underdog who is able to fight to turn their “shortcomings” into amazing strengths that astounds the world like the autistic American girl, Carly, whose typings astonish the world and bring awareness on the intelligence that autistic children possess.

This is the child who is average (or maybe even slightly below average) in weight, average (or a little below average) in height and in head circumference. This is the child who is average (or just a bit below average) in milestone development. This is the child doctors will brush off with “Oh, yes, maybe she is just a tiny bit slow. But don’t worry; she is still well within the normal in development.”

This is likely the child who has never topped the class in anything, who has not won in any talent or beauty contests or has said or done anything that astounds or astonishes anyone. This is likely the child who will graduate into the average person who toils for the machinery of our economy and becomes part of the anonymous average/majority statistics that researchers uses to analyse trends or situations but who likely does not warrant any additional thought after.

And so far as I can discern, this is likely my child, and sometimes, I feel her pain. After observing her for a while, it is usual for parents to make remarks like, “Oh, that’s nice. Do you know that Adora was able to talk from 12 months old? Wow, and she can talk so clearly. I can hear her distinct “cat”, “dog” the last time I saw her just a bit after her first birthday….” Or (after some time of seeing Z walk around) “Oh you know Issac? He had walked from 9 months old! Isn’t it amazing?”

I know my child can’t speak well yet, but believe me, my toddler can understand what we are talking about, even if we are not talking directly to them. Why has my child’s existence become a regular jumping board of highlighting someone else’s brilliance?

I have nothing against others’ brilliance and I delight and rejoice (ok, sometimes I want to delight and rejoice) in others’ success and achievements. It is of course ok to share about others in normal conversation.

But when you are with my child, can you also acknowledge her current achievement and success? I know walking from 14 months old is nothing special and speaking two-syllables at 15 months old is average in the whole child timeline by the whole child development literature. But to a person who had needed support in moving around previously, to a person who had struggled to master the exact sounds you use to communicate the same ideas before, it is a big deal.

Wouldn’t it be similar as saying to a patient who had taken their first independent tentative steps after rehabilitation “Oh, that’s nice that you can walk. You know Alicia has been walking her whole adult life?”? If I am that patient, I will scream at you, “Yes, yes I know! But look! I was lame and now I can walk! Can you celebrate with me?”

If you have such dialogue constantly revolving around you, wouldn’t you grow up to think, “I’m insignificant, I’m average, nothing special will happen to me.”

Wouldn’t it be more empowering if you say more of “Hello Z, is that the first time you speak those 3-syllables? Good job! You’ve done so well! Next time when auntie sees you again, you show me new things you know ok?” Wouldn’t you make more of a difference in the child’s life if you say “Z, is that your new truck? Can you show auntie how you move that truck?”

Focus on being with the child, be interested in that child, celebrate that particular child’s achievements at that particular stage of their life. For guess what? When we become infirm, and our knees may or may not grow weak with age, which uncle or auntie will the child be more likely to visit periodically and bring in life-giving dialogue and laughter?

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Jul 05, 2013
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Acknowledgement and Self
by: Vee Zee Bee

I guess it depends on whether you see empowerment will directly lead to self-centredness or not.

My suggestion is empowerment does not lead to self-centredness, it potentially leads to recognition of others thus the community instead. :)

Jul 05, 2013
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A Little Clarification
by: Anonymous

Hello there! Thank you for your response and sorry for the late reply, but I'm not exactly talking about "acknowledging achievements".

A little clarification here: The difference between an ordered society and absolute anarchy is mainly due to teachings. It is difficult to strike a balance between simply acknowledging achievements and boosting one's ego unrealistically.

I met up with an ex-teacher recently, who was posted to a JC after having taught in RI GEP.

What stunned him/her was the number of students who produced essays of half the word limit, yet stated their ambitions to be doctors and lawyers. As he/she had experienced RI GEP's standards, he/she encouraged them to be realistic, but then came a slew of complaints against him/her from parents about "demotivating their children". He/She was censured as a result.

If these highly-supportive parents didn't instil the idea of doctors and lawyers into these students, who did?

Empowerment is good when one has an innate inferiority complex inhibiting him/her from developing his/her full potential.

People tend to get disgruntled when they believe that they are meant for better lives, only to be harshly brought back down to reality; this is only natural. Many people think they are capable of achieving more; when they fail to do so, they blame the government for "unequal opportunities" instead of conducting self-reflection and self-improvement.

Case in point: A degree-holding hawker is more likely to be more unhappy with his/her job than a PSLE-holding counterpart.

As a matter of fact, this is already happening - ITE and polytechnic students are questioning their lack of university places. After they graduate, I'm willing to bet that the next question would be about the lack of graduate jobs available. Cue the government blame again.

I'm not entirely certain if this new trend of egotism is due to arrogance or simply the Dunning-Kruger effect (ignorance). But what is certain is that our society is definitely moving towards one with overinflated egos, which isn't a good situation.

Jun 15, 2013
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Self and Society
by: Vee Zee Bee

Hi,

Thank you for your comment. :)

I hear your question, does acknowledging someone's achievements a benefit to society? Your point brings in how self is usually seen as at odds with community and the ill-effects of it in Western society.

I guess the underlying question is "Is self at odds with society?" I understand how traditionally media has often pitched them as opposites but think about the examples I've used. They are all given within the context of a community interraction. Without a community or society, any praise or acknowledgement given is only self-praise and we all know how *valuable* that is.

I guess your underlying concern is how it may inflate the praisee's ego and lead him/her to place themSELVES above others. The point of my article is really to highlight how in our community interraction, we should strive to build each other up, not pull each other down. Humilty as understood by CS Lewis is "not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." The suggestions in this article actually encourages the adult to think of others (in this case the child who is physically present with the adult there) more.

Whether the child turns up proud and arrogant or humble and down-to-earth is a result of many factors. I highly doubt this alone will directly result in pride. Parenting is a complex endeavour requiring wisdom in many areas and this is just one aspect we need to take note and reflect on.


Jun 15, 2013
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Empowerment: For good of for bad?
by: Anonymous

You do have a point in concentrating on achievements for empowerment.

However, the crux of the debate is: Is such empowerment for the betterment of society?

Historically, Eastern societies place more emphasis on the society while Western societies value the individual.

Look what's happening. There are few true, lasting friendshipts. There are many strikes and demonstrations because everyone thinks they are important.

Everyone wants to get a share of government handouts, even though they may not contribute in taxes at all!

Look at China. For all their communist practices, at least they are going somewhere. When the government takes a step, the people follow; they don't demonstrate.

Elitist but true statement: Only a few people are able to see the greater picture. Most can only see for themselves.

So the question is, do we want this empowerment?

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