I recently came across the term "asynchronous development." It is a term applied most often to very gifted children and means that their intellectual, emotional, and social skills develop at different rates. An example would be a six-year-old who thinks like a nine-year-old, but throws tantrums like a four-year-old.
While this issue can be very pronounced, and quite likely problematic, for gifted children (likely more pronounced the more gifted they are in an area), it's something that I observe in my own children and others all the time. Reading about it in severe cases was an excellent reminder to me that, not only do kids not develop skills at the same rate, but also that each child does not mature consistently across different skills. Or, as I like to think of it, sometimes they seem so big, and sometimes they seem so little.
Most of the time, I just marvel at the situation. The same kid who seems to be growing up and growing away from me one day is the kid who needs Mom's assurance the next day. The kid who is starting to read the classics still loves the carousel. It's normal but leaves a parent never knowing just which behavior to expect or how much her child wants or needs her at any time.
Like a lot of parents, however, I sometimes wonder what's "normal" and what's "a problem." I disdain the hyperparenting trend, yet I want to help my child if something is not up to speed.
I don't know about other people, but I have a tendency to downplay my children's strengths and to worry about their weaknesses. My kids are both advanced readers, but I genuinely don't assume they are hugely smarter than the other kids. They are five and eight, and I know that reading skills are developing through the second grade, so I just assume they are developmentally advanced in this particular area.
You'd think I would be able to apply the same logic when it is an area in which they do not excel. Instead, more often than I'd like to admit, I either generalize it as a weakness or wonder if it's a cause for concern. After all, my son may not be that interested in sports, but it's far too soon to generalize his aptitude; he's eight. I worry that a child's occasional tantrum or emotional outburst is a sign of a larger issue, but perhaps emotional development is just an area which the child is lagging behind, not failing.
I need to remind myself that they are works in progress. They are not going to develop lockstep with other kids, and they are not going to mature across all areas at the same rate. Sometimes, I can speak with them as if they are mini-adults. Sometimes, they are going act like poorly behaved children. While I'd like to avoid the poorly behaved part, the fact remains that they are children, and sometimes they are going to act that way. The best I can do is to try to be the parent they need me to be in the moment.
The trick is figuring out what they need. When my kids were infants, I was often frustrated because I'd exhausted everything I knew--feeding, burping, diapering, rocking, walking, singing--and they still cried. I'd ask, "What do you want?" even though I knew they couldn't answer. Now they can form the words, but it doesn't mean they can identify and articulate their needs. That leaves me continuing to wonder what can I, as a parent, do to care for them and make it better?
Yesterday, my son announced that he was "too mature" to use the word "boo-boo." That doesn't mean he doesn't have them, inside and out, and it's still my job to find those boo-boos and do what I can to make them better and teach him how to help himself. It's not easy, but it's my job.