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Thursday, 29 December 2016

Is it OK to say my child is "bright"?

Duckling is now nearly three. Thirty-four months if we're being precise. He will soon be starting nursery, and we have been given a questionnaire by staff asking us to "describe our child". I imagine this is to help them get a sense of who he is and what he can / can't do. I like this as an idea, but it's a hopelessly open ended question and has presented me with a bit of a dilemma. How exactly do I describe him in the three lines we've been given? 

There are some obvious words that spring to mind. He is, as many of my friends and family have pointed out, something of a 'character'. I think this is a polite way of saying he's a bit bonkers / melodramatic. But he is also quite contradiction. Enthusiastic yet cautious, bossy yet initially shy, very imaginative yet also frustratingly single minded (a.k.a. stubborn) at times. The main word that comes to mind though is "bright". And here is where I'm struggling, because using that word makes me a bit uncomfortable.

As an example, I was talking to my midwife the other day and she commented on how articulate and chatty Duckling was. I obviously felt proud she thought so, but also awkward, so I ended up saying "Yes, he's a bright little spark and he certainly knows how to communicate. Mind you, he still can't properly climb the steps up the slide at the swing park". Then I felt completely awful. Why on earth couldn't I just accept the compliment? Why did I have to temper it with an apparent criticism of my own child, and even worse, while he was in earshot?

It seems, whether about me or my family, I do not take praise well. Like most English people (particularly women), the thought of showing off, putting others down by elevating oneself (or one's children) or appearing big headed fills me with horror.  It probably doesn't help that my school days taught me that having brains and voluntarily putting yourself in the limelight earns you no respect, and makes all but your very best friends hate your guts (and I'm sure some of them got pissed off at me from time to time too - and probably still do).

Anyway, I digress. Before we had kids, Drake and I often used to roll our eyes at parents who made out their infant was a bonafide genius while said child sat in a corner picking their nose and staring into space. We did not want to be THOSE parents. Now we have a nose picker of our own, we understand parental pride a bit more. We give Duckling heaps of praise and take and share photos of his achievements like anyone else. Nonetheless, that fear of appearing blinkered and naive remains. We still make a point of laughing at each other when we go too overboard on the admiration, knowing full well that five minutes after any major accomplishment, Duckling will probably be ramming a spoon in his ear or, like yesterday, trying to construct a shelf out of two bits of wood and his youngest cousin's head (good thing Goslingino is a pretty chilled little chap).

It's not just a self-conscious modesty or a fear of people rolling their eyes (or worse, contradicting me) that makes me balk at the 'bright' word though. It's easy to say Duckling is enthusiastic (the word "wow" gets used about 20 times a day) or bossy ("NO Daddy, you not do that!") but intelligence is so much more subjective. What exactly makes you clever? Is it academic brilliance? Verbal dexterity? Fantastic problem solving abilities? A high IQ? Emotional intuition and empathy? EVERY decent parent thinks their child is brilliant because we love them and choose to focus mainly on their achievements and skills, rather than their failures and challenges. What we may class as 'bright' behaviour might be totally different from the type of acumen another child displays though. Plus our kids develop so rapidly that every new skill learned and milestone achieved really does seem like an Einstein level accomplishment. Even with handy online guides, I still find it really hard to objectively assess whether Duckling is genuinely "advanced for his age" or if I simply think he is because I subconsciously ignore all the dumb stuff he does that's actually totally typical of a child of two (or, ahem, younger). And I know, realistically, he does plenty of really dumb things.

Yet, as my midwife pointed out, verbally, he IS doing very well. He speaks in clear, complex sentences, has a great memory and can understand and explain all sorts of concepts very clearly. Today, as a random example, he had a conversation with me about a broken tape dispenser (bloody Xmas wrapping) that went:
"Mummy, why you put that in the bin?"
"Because it was broken Duckling."
"Oh. But you can fix it?"
"No, the little tape cutter snapped off."
"Oh, that a shame. I can fix it Mummy? With my glue or my screwdriver? Can you get it back Mummy?"
"No darling, thank you, but it's properly broken. I don't think glue or a screwdriver will help."
"I can fix it Mummy! I juuuuust need my screwdriver."
"No, Duckling you really can't."
"Oh. Humph. Maybe we buy a new one?"
"Good idea, let's do that."
It was not all that dissimilar from conversing with Drake to be honest - he always thinks he knows how to fix things better than I do too...

My chiropractor's son of two and a half on the other hand is still stuck at the ten word level Duckling was when he was 17 months or so (you have to discuss something when they're sat on your leg, cracking your spine...), while another friend's daughter speaks in whole, descriptive sentences and she isn't even two.

So how can you compare? Should you even try? I think the answer is probably not. As every Health Visitor will tell you, children develop at different rates and will prioritise some skills over others. Being very verbal at this age has little real bearing on future braininess, however you choose to define that. Except maybe in those truly gifted children who are talking by one, doing long division by two and playing Beethoven by three... He is definitely not one of those. Furthermore, I'm not sure it really even matters. In the grand scheme of things, I'd rather have a healthy and happy child than a Nobel prize winner any day of the week.

After a lot of unnecessary overthinking, in the end what I wrote on the form (amongst other things) was our honest opinion: "We feel Duckling is quite bright." Because we do. Because he probably is. For a two year old anyway. He still can't bloody climb steps though, bless him.