He’s not naughty, he’s just a taller-than-average toddler

Do you have a taller-than-average toddler? Often tall children have their behaviour judged more harshly because people think they're older than they are, explains Miriam McCaleb.

Ask anyone, and we'll tell you. Parents should not judge other parents. They'll likely tell you that being judged is unpleasant, unhelpful, and unnecessary. But stick around a while, chat to those same parents a little longer, and you're all too likely to discover that the judge-ee has become the judge-er. Passing judgement on one another's parenting is a national pastime. How many tut-tuts have you heard as you held your grizzling toddler in the supermarket checkout? No? Just my toddler raising heck, is it?

It seems to start innocently enough, perhaps before you became a parent. It was probably quite helpful to observe the way that friends raised their children (“That works well, I might try that!”). And I'm guessing you had times where you drove away from the chaos of a baby-filled home with some eye-rolling and some gold-medal judging (“I will NEVER do that when I am a parent!”).

Soon enough, though, you became a parent, and I hope that the realities of life with a baby have calmed your judgy ways down. Having worked with children for a decade before bearing my own, I was full of theories and self- satisfied nonsense. A few crazed weeks of sore boobs and no sleep sorted my head right out.

Here's the thing: Nobody cradles their new baby in their arms and thinks, “I can't wait to stuff this up!” Having worked with many, many parents – solo parents, the super-wealthy, the out-of-work, teen mamas, parents in prison, adoptive families, mothers dealing with depression – it is my profound belief that we all do the best we can with the skills, knowledge and resources we have, and that can vary from day to day. If we give other parents the benefit of the doubt about their situation, perhaps they will extend the same courtesy to us.

Sarah Napthali, author of Buddhism for Mothers, quotes a mother named Kim, who wisely says, “As I keep finding over and over again, when I make judgements about people I am always wrong. I think it is finally time to learn the lesson not to make judgements. People are people.”

All that said, there does seem to be a particular breed of judgement at work in our communities. It's especially unhelpful because it threatens to set up patterns that undermine the optimal development of our more statuesque children. What's that, you ask? Yes, dear reader. I am talking about tall children, who look older than they are, being unfairly measured against a developmental yardstick they cannot possibly measure up to! I'm talking about the two-and-a-half year-old who looks like he's four. He's a taller-than-average toddler.

SOME TWO-AND- A-HALF YEAR-OLDS LOOK LIKE THEY'RE FOUR... TALL CHILDREN, WHO LOOK OLDER THAN THEY ARE, ARE UNFAIRLY MEASURED AGAINST A DEVELOPMENTAL YARDSTICK THEY CANNOT POSSIBLY MEASURE UP TO.

Now, a toddler-appropriate meltdown is suddenly perceived as a naughty four-year-old's wilful display of terrible behaviour. And OH! The tut-tutting will take on a whole new volume and intensity! Rachel is a mother of two rather tall boys. She recalls when her youngest, Joseph, was two-and-a-half. “He was taller than all the four-year- old girls in his brother's class at kindy. I would get a lot of looks when I was out with him, as people expected four-year-old behaviour from him. I wanted to say, ‘He is very well- behaved for a two-year-old!'”

So there it is. I ask you to join me on a pledge to Smile More, Judge Less. (Unless anybody reading this is a High Court Judge and then you must please continue to judge all you like, Your Honour).

And may I sign off by suggesting that anyone with screen-printing abilities would do quite well with a range of onesies, bibs, and T-shirts for taller-than-average toddlers emblazoned with “Not Naughty, Just Tall”. Only a small commission will be necessary, lest you are judged terribly for nicking my idea.

Miriam McCaleb has been a kindergarten teacher and a university lecturer. These days she parents full-time, blogs upon occasion, and does a bit of writing in between. Visit her at baby.geek.nz.
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