When our daughter was newborn and well into her babyhood, we were often worried about her weight. It was a combination of things that led to a period of great anxiety. A part of this was probably the worry of inexperience as parents and as a breastfeeding mom, but a part of it also had to do with the fact that whether due to circumstances at birth or her personality, she was not that interested in food.
In pediatrics, there is a technical term for babies who are not gaining enough weight: failure to thrive. Early childhood is a time that is being more and more recognized as a critical period during which proper physical growth and evelopment may impact later life. In combination with tracking height and weight on standardized growth charts, parents are asked to pay attention that children are meeting developmental milestones. These standardized markers provide a basis for children who need additional help to be identified. They are stressful for new parents because we recognize how detrimental insufficient growth and development can be for our children.
When our daughter, E, was around 18 month old, a teacher from a play group noted that E was not speaking as much as her peers and offered to recommend her to a speech therapist. She ensured us that it couldn’t hurt: the worst case scenario was that we spend some extra time with a professional and realize nothing was wrong. In contrast, her rationale went, if we declined but found out later that she needed help, we may not be able to access the same resources as easily.
I realize that her recommendation came from a place of caring, but ultimately chose to wait and see. Children develop at different speeds and their personalities affect how they are perceived by others, especially those who do not know them well. To me, placing her under the scrutiny of a stranger (no matter how professional) could do more harm than good.
Our child tended to be quiet and introspective, even at an early age, often earning her the label of “shy”. She took longer than most to adapt to new people and environments. While the majority of her peers were already playing, she would still voluntarily siting on the sidelines seemingly bored. I was already trying hard to deal with my frustration at her non-participation and help her handle her strong emotions that tended to flow and spill over over almost everything. I was having a hard enough time shelving my own expectations of her much less manage anyone else’s additional expectations of when and how much E should be speaking. Given that there were no additional indications that she should be developmentally delayed, she did not need the opprotunity for additional labels.
Our almost 4-year old still takes her time warming up to new people and places. But, with people she is familar with, she will talk without filter and without end. At circle time, she still remains that kid who looks completely zoned out and seated as all the other kids around her jump about to participate in an action song. But, once we get home, she will know the songs word for word and create new lyrics to known tunes as she leads circle time while imitating all the mannerisms of whichever teacher led the group.
Rarely do we have to make such decisions when it comes to our own lives. In an adult world, when physical growth is completed, the term “thrive” takes on a different meaning. It is no longer something that we track on a chart or compare to others. Yet, it remains relevant as ever. Thriving is becoming the person we are meant to be. Nobody bothers us any more, even when we fail to reach our potential. As we age, surviving becomes enough. How many of us are failing to thrive?