Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I often feel like my husband is too quick to wonder if there's something “wrong” with our 3-year-old. He doesn’t ride his balance bike as fast as our neighbor. He’s not fully potty trained. He may or may not have pushed his brother down the stairs. He has tantrums and won’t stay in his bed in the morning.
To me, these are all normal toddler behaviors (not that I don’t address them, of course). I’m not an expert on toddler development, but I feel like my husband puts me in the position of being the family expert and of defending our son. I wind up saying, “I really think that’s normal” over and over again. He doesn’t do this with our superficially easier-to-love almost 2-year-old. How can I disrupt this pattern?
Just a Toddler
He’s got the parental head-swivel (watching other kids for cues that his is OK, which is normal), and you’re defensive over something that isn’t personal — also normal. Both of you could use a deep breath or two.
Then, bring in actual experts in toddler development. Not by dragging your 3-year-old to specialists, but by dragging your husband to a good parenting class or seminar. Your pediatrician can likely recommend one. This will allow both of you to be better informed, and also relieve you of “family expert” duty.
Learning the range of normal is important, because you might be right, but so might he. Certainly the potty training and balance bike speak to areas of development where the range of normal is wide. (Age 3 is prime potty training time, not a marker of failure!) Tantrums, too, are part of the toddler package...
But this is where it gets more interesting. There are standard toddler tantrums, and there are tantrums that alert you to a developmental issue. And when you put tantrums together with a gross motor issue and a toilet issue and aggression, you could also be describing a child who needs some kind of intervention.
I’m not saying yours does!! Or even that you have to worry about it. It’s just that you’re balancing two truths: If there is a problem, you want to identify it early; but typical behavior is hard to distinguish from intervention-worthy behavior at toddler age.
That’s why the best thing both of you can do at this point is not close your minds, about either of your children for that matter. That means your husband remains open to the idea that both kids are just fine and developmentally on target, just very different from each other, and you remain open to the idea that small things can mean something bigger if they really start to pile up.
And when in doubt, look to a trusted resource on child development to answer your questions, instead of anguishing that little Jake down the street can throw a 90 mph fastball at age 4.
Re: Just a toddler: Eh, Jake will need Tommy John surgery by age 6. Eight tops.
With a full year of rehab, though, he can still get at least three good years in the majors.
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