What is considered “normal” and acceptable is constantly changing in our society. One night while reading an Enid Blyton story to my children, The Magic Faraway Tree, it struck me how different parenting had become over the years. In the story, each morning after the children had done their chores they would pack a lunch and head off for the day on an adventure. They would set off into the woods with no parental supervision and not return until dusk. The freedom to be kids without an adult watching over them, constantly pulling them into line, is something that children today rarely experience. A couple of years ago on a pupil free day my sons rode their bikes to a park on their own (aged 13 and 11) and a passerby actually stopped and asked where were their parents and why weren’t they in school. The recently coined term “helicopter parent” has come about for a reason - a child playing without parents hovering nearby was once socially acceptable but societal norms have changed and now many view it as poor parenting or even immoral.
Our education system in particular has norms that children are expected to conform. These have changed over the years and are slowly improving but still have a long way to go. When my father was a child he was naturally left handed but was forced to use his right hand because even well educated people perceived left handedness as a sign of other less favourable traits such as stubbornness, willfulness, clumsiness and in extreme cases a possible criminal risk. While today we know it is ridiculous to ever link hand dominance to criminal activity we still steer children who are uncertain of their hand dominance in the direction of their right hand as it will be easier on them in a largely right hand dominate society.
In our current education system it has been decided that children should be able to sit, concentrate and learn for certain periods of time from a young age. It is also expected that children will learn to read using a particular learning style and by a certain age. So what is it like to have a child that doesn’t fit in to these perceived norms of our education system? The children who are struggling to read suddenly find themselves being pulled out of class away from their peers for special lessons to help them be more like everyone else. These children, who are often incredibly intelligent, suddenly feel different to their peers. Up until now in their life they have felt just like all their friends blissfully unaware that they were in anyway different. From now on they will be labelled (even if they never receive a diagnosis). They will be considered less than their peers - even if not by other children, they often feel it within themselves. The children who can’t sit still in class may become known as the naughty child and as a consequence may find themselves excluded from play dates and parties. They may struggle to find a close group of friends and instead float between different friendship groups.
It is not only the child who has a different experience but also the parents. The schooling journey for your child becomes something completely removed from what you expected. Instead of watching your child effortlessly move through the education system each year you find yourself researching the best ways to educate your child and constantly meeting with teachers to advocate on their behalf and discuss the best way forward. Instead of knowing that your child is happily playing each day you worry about how they are coping and if they are being excluded because of their either extra energy, lack of energy or aggressive play style.
This can feel like such a foreign experience to the one you envisaged when you first held your newborn because naturally you envisaged your child fitting into the societal norms of our time. Perhaps in the future as we learn more about these wonderful children they will no longer be viewed as “abnormal” or problems needing to fix. One day someone may hopefully be writing in disbelief about how even in the early 21st century we only educated our children in a certain way and expected every child to conform. Until that day comes, to all you mothers out there who are tired of listening to how well behaved other children are or how many A’s they are receiving on their report cards, know that your child will shine in their own way in their own time. You have been given these children because you are the perfect person to help them through this time as society slowly moves to having a more in depth understanding and acceptance of these wonderful children. It is not our children who are behind, it is society.
Counsellor & Author of 'Ben's School Daze'
Owner Motherhood & You
Co-Director Magnetic Moves