OT Talk: The mommy therapist
Hello again. I am pleased to announce another guest blogger Samantha Slaven. A fellow Occupational Therapist, very passionate about early childhood intervention, with much to teach us. I absolutely love her bravery in sharing a bit on her experience as a mommy therapist. Have a read… It’s a good one.
Current research shows us that the first 1000days (conception to 3 years) is a crucial time of development for our children. In this time frame the foundation for movement, learning, emotional development and much more is built. This foundation influences their entire future as they continue to develop and interact with the world. No pressure then!
As a therapist I have had the privilege of working with little people from NICU right through to 12 years old. Each individual has had their own combination of typical and atypical development, their own set backs and advantages. I have soaked in as much information as possible about early childhood development, assessments and interventions. I was quite confident in my theory and ability to share that knowledge with parents and care givers. And then … became a mom!!!
Suddenly I felt as if though I knew absolutely nothing! How was I actually going to take care of another human being who was completely dependant on me 24hours a day? So, after the shock of having to navigate the moment by moment survival needs of my new born, suddenly, my OT brain started to kick in, and the pressure moved more towards having to stimulate my baby and give him every opportunity to meet his milestones on time. Mommy clubs and baby groups added on more pressures, with comparisons; “My baby can do this… can your baby do it yet?”. Even more so, I was expected to be the expert in the room which brought about more questions; “When should my baby start sitting? Do you think my baby is normal??”. No pressure… Again!
Then it dawned on me… It doesn’t matter how much theory or experience one might have, or possibly feeling like we have neither, most moms, just want the best for their little treasures, and so, we desperately want to know that we are doing it “right”. We need constant reassurance to ensure that we are not causing harm to our children. Additionally, there is so much pressure on our children to perform, even from birth, with an endless number of checklists. Which, sure, milestone charts, developmental checklists etc. are all important and helpful but can also cause us to forget to watch and wonder as our children grow and develop.
So today, I want to remind us that the check lists are merely meant to be guides, and also to point out any major red flags or fallouts. They’re not meant to put added pressures on parents or children, for that matter. Having said that, there are no set-in stone norms for all children. These norms are generalised and merely meant as indicators, for instance, one child might sit at 5months, whereas another might sit at 6months, one might crawl at 6months another might crawl at 8months, and that’s OKEY!
Having a baby completely filled me with such wonder as to how amazing God has intricately designed us as humans, majority of development happens so naturally. Yes, there may be slight variations but most of the time, in the end, the main goals are met.
From a different perspective, this also opened up my eyes as a therapist. You see, though we often push development to occur in a certain order according to theory when we encounter atypical development, we really need to take a step back and meet the child where they are at. Guide and encourage, watch and wonder, to facilitate a more natural process of development, as an example I started working with a little one when he had just turned 2, he could not even hold his head up let alone sit ,crawl or walk… now he is 4 years old, he still cannot crawl typically BUT this little one is walking faster than my toddler, he is happy, exploring his environment and growing in leaps and abounds in so many areas of development and its OKAY, its wonderful!
So hear is my mommy therapist advice:
Five tips for early childhood development
1. Love your child, as you love them you get to know them and how they tick. Whether your baby has severe reflux or is easy going…eats and sleeps like a dream. Lavish your love on them and you will find you know your child better than you think. Research shows that when a baby/child receives love all their other developmental milestones flourish. Even babies who do not follow the norm, survive and accomplish so much more than medically predicted.
2. Enjoy each stage of development, don’t rush on to the next step in a hurry, little ones thrive on repetition, repetition, repetition. Let you child master his new skills and enjoy the process. This promotes happy healthy brain development.
3. Use your checklists as a guide as to what to expect, what to encourage and how to give baby opportunities to explore. Milestone charts are helpful to identify if the child is experiencing a difficulty and the earlier it is identified, the more successful an intervention can be. If you are concerned or need reassurance go to a professional for clarity and support.
4. Count to 10. Take a step back and stop worrying. Fear robs you of enjoying your baby and can often hide the accomplishments or the difficulties your baby experiences. Often a few seconds to refocus is enough to banish the fear. Breath and take one moment at a time even in the overwhelm, count to 10 and start again if you need. Always remember, there is so much support available so ask for help when you need it.
5. This ones for the therapist… watch, wonder, support mom and give baby time and space, you cannot speed up development you can only encourage, facilitate and give opportunities and allow the clogs to fall into place even if in a different order!
Its time to take the pressure off moms and focus on what is really important, enjoy your child, love them completely, guide and encourage, get help when you need it, support your child’s strengths and let them bloom as they are made to, even if in a different way.