parents, parenting, OLA, SAFE AND SANE, dr ola
Safe & Sane With Dr Ola Ibigbami

Last week, we concluded our discussion on the effect of sound parenting on child development. This week, I will be addressing the issue of factors that have been identified as being contributory to the variable outcomes that can be observed in some children in spite of the parents exhibiting adequate and sound parental judgment in their care for and disposition to their children. I will try as much as possible to make this presentation as basic as possible. I am still trying to learn how to stay away from too much medical “jargon”. Kindly let me have your feedback if you think I am not being as simple or as lucid as you would like me to be.

The truth is that in spite of seemingly “adequate parenting”, some children just turn out differently. Some of these differences can be “very good” or “not so good”. For instance, some infants start walking at nine months while some wouldn’t take their first footsteps until they are more than four years old! Some children are regarded as smart while some are not so smart. Some children find it easy to make conversations even with strangers while some are not able to even look their parents in the face or give a smile in response to gestures from their parents. Some parents (due to no fault of their own) just have children that fall within the group of “extreme outliers”. What we know is that virtually all human characteristics seem to be “normally distributed”. What is meant by normal distribution is that very few have a little, very few have a lot while majority just have some.

A typical example is height. Some people are short, some are tall while majority are of average height. This seems to be the case for most (if not all) human characteristics. Any characteristic or trait you see in your child will always fall within these typical groups. You need to ask yourself the simple question about what you have observed. Is this common among the majority of children or is this found only in some children? You need to take it one step further by asking if it is also something that can be observed within the child’s age group.

With regards to the age of a child, there are attainments that are expected within specific time frames in the child’s life. What we know is that when a child exhibits some delay in achieving these milestones, it becomes obvious. Initially it might be obvious to the parents then later, to others. These delays get the parents worked up most times. For instance it is expected that a child is already able to sit without support by six months. For some reasons (which might not be so good) some children do not sit until several months later than is expected. Some parents just have children who fall within this category.

Determining if a particular characteristic is delayed in its development with respect to a child has to be with the consideration of what is expected for most children within that age group and at other times what is considered to be normal with respect to the family. Some families sometimes might have their own time frame for attaining specific characteristics.
Some characteristics run in some families. Some traits also occur more or less in some families than others. The role of genes in the determination of the presence (or absence) of features in offspring cannot be overemphasized.

A typical example is the concept of “sub-cultural mental handicap”. Previously, children who had intellectual challenges were classified into two groups; those that had pathological or abnormal changes in their brain and those who had no obvious abnormality in the brain that could account for their low level of intelligence. Further attempts to explore these two groups of children with learning disability revealed that in families who had one child with subnormal mental handicap, there was a likelihood of another sibling having the same problem. However, the researchers also found out that these families also came from the lower social classes. This brings forward the need for us to consider the contribution of environmental factors in the determination of the reasons for specific human characteristics, the role of ”nature” versus the role of “nurture”.

Whatsoever we expose our children to early in life have been shown to have long lasting effect when they grow older. For instance, children who are born to mothers who were ill during pregnancy could be born with some health challenges which might be mental or physical health related. Babies whose deliveries were considered to be difficult or prolonged could also later on develop health challenges. The difficult deliveries could result into a compromise of blood supply to the brain which eventually leads to various degrees of brain damage. Some children begin to show features of differences in their growth/development, temperament and other characteristics as early as the first month of life when they have undergone any complications of pregnancy or delivery.

Also, extensive research has shown that individuals who are exposed to adverse childhood experiences later tend to develop health and social problems in adulthood. These untoward childhood experiences include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect and emotional neglect. Other experiences include children who witness their mothers being treated violently, children who are born into homes where alcohol and other substances are being abused and children who are born into homes where one or both parents (or other blood relatives) have mental illness. Family dysfunctions leading to separation or divorce and a family member with criminal records or records of going to jail were also shown to be adverse experiences for children which later on in life predicted the likelihood of poorer outcomes with regards to health risk behaviours later in life.

Some parents do have children that turn out differently. The negative differences observed in these children tend to bring much emotional and psychological unrest to the parents. These parents most of the time can do anything or give anything just to make their children stop being different, which could make them vulnerable to exploitation. For instance when parents are given a diagnosis or an expert opinion about their child that is not so good, they simply refuse to believe it and just continue to shop around for another diagnosis. Many parents spend lots of time and resources trying to change the unchangeable. They pay lots of money to fraudsters who give them false hopes that the incurable can be cured. While in their quest for solution, they end up losing lots of valuable time. By the time they come to terms with the plight of their child, lots of ground will have been lost. Intervention that should have begun by the age of two or three years will now begin by the age of sixteen or eighteen. Some children never get the help they need due to the denial of their parents with regards to their condition.

The conclusion of the matter this week is that every child that has a difference that is “not so good” deserves to have an expert assessment. No matter how much we try or how hard we reject it, some parents will have children who will be different. Some of these differences will be revealed as early as when the child is in the womb. Some mothers will tell you simply “this pregnancy is different”. Other differences become overt at birth or within the first year of life or even later in adult life. The key is to get an expert assessment as early as possible in order to begin the right intervention as early as possible. This will ensure that the outcome is as favorable as feasible. I always say this “ALL BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS CAN BE MANAGED SUCCESSFULLY”.

Next week, I will be discussing another issue that is still related to differences in children. Before then, Stay safe and sane; help someone do the same!

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