When my oldest son, Torin, was born, I had an idea of when he should take his first steps, say his first words, and identify the diggers in My Big Truck book. Every time he did not meet a milestone, I worried. Why wasn’t he pulling himself up yet? When would he say his first word? How does he not know what an excavator is?
This same child really understands people. When I was watching Steel Magnolias with a box of tissues, he crawled on my lap and rubbed my back. Strangers fell in love with him at the grocery store with his huge gummy smile, and at play dates other children naturally gravitated toward him, pushing action heroes into his hands as he smiled and babbled.
What was a mother to do? My answer: Take a deep breath and a warm bath. All our kids have amazing strengths, and when we acknowledge them, we realize that all our kids will be okay.
Now that I’m a mom of four little ones and an educator, I embrace the concept of “variability” and so I’m able to let go of those pesky comparisons and celebrate all my kids and their strengths.
The universal truth is that all of our kids have a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses from the time they are babies. That magical combination, and their own individual timeline, is what makes them who they are. That is variability, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Milestones were defined for the “average” toddler—someone who does not exist. All of our kids have strengths and are wildly intelligent in different ways. Certainly, they may need support to build some skills as they have weaknesses (as we all do!), but it’s a lot easier to build skills when strengths are applied to that journey.
One way to appreciate the concept of variability is to understand the theory of multiple intelligences. Dr. Howard Gardner, a renowned professor at Harvard University, proposed eight different types of intelligences because “intelligence” is far too limiting a concept. When we realize all the different types of strengths our kids have, it can help us to celebrate our kids and push the milestones to the back of our minds.
Instead of worrying about what our kids can’t do (which is so tempting!), it’s important to celebrate how they are incredibly smart in their own ways! You may have a child, for example, who struggles to meet a walking milestone, but is incredibly empathetic and is able to connect with people. Being “people smart” is a talent that should continue to be fostered and valued, because it’s a skill that will take them far.
So, what are the eight intelligences?
1. Linguistic and verbal intelligence (good with words)
These babies talk early, experiment with language by babbling and making up songs and stories, and are early readers. They love telling stories and listening to stories read to them!
As an example, my husband’s name is Lon. When my daughter, Aylin, was less than a year old, she saw a lawnmower and bounced around screaming, “Daddy mower, daddy mower.” She continues to have a way with words and at 6 years old is experimenting with sarcasm (lucky me).
2. Logical intelligence (good at math and solving logic problems)
Maybe your little one isn’t talking yet, but he’s a phenom at puzzles, putting together huge block structures, and figuring out how to get his paci from on top of the refrigerator. If this is true, you’re probably raising a future engineer who will always be able to use that intelligence to think critically and solve problems.
3. Spatial intelligence (good with pictures)
Do you have a little artist on your hands? These little ones love drawing and they recognize where they’ve been when you’re on a walk (“That’s the blue house we saw with the little squirrel yesterday!”). These pumpkins also love looking at picture books and family photos.
4. Body and movement intelligence (good at sports and movement)
My son Brecan was an early walker (he walked at 9 months, and his twin sister didn’t get off her bottom until 15 months!), rode a bike without training wheels at two, and has a running gait like a marathon star. His balance is exceptional, and he picks up sports easily. You may have a child who isn’t a reader yet, but he’s a star at Lil’ Kickers Soccer. Good for him!
5. Musical intelligence (good at music and rhythm)
Is your little lady a star in your music together class? Does she make instruments out of pots and pans and love to sing songs in the bathtub? If so, she’s probably a budding Mozart with a gift for music. Foster that as you’re working on the skills that may not come as easily!
6. Interpersonal intelligence (good with people and communication)
When I was little, my mom used to say that I could talk a dog off a meat wagon. These kids are just good with people. They are outgoing, can converse with strangers, and are probably never upset when you drop them off at daycare because they have so many friends to play with. They are our charmers!
7. Intrapersonal intelligence (self-smart)
Some kids are great at reading their own emotions and thinking deeply about them. They are reflective and introspective and always know when they are sad, mad or embarrassed and why. While many of us work to help our kids understand their feelings, some kids are naturally aware.
8. Naturalist intelligence (nature smart)
Does your little one stop to look at bugs? Love playing in the mud? Is she always pointing out the window to go outside? If so, she probably has a strong naturalist intelligence and loves to garden, hike and roll in the leaves.
So tonight, watch your little one play and consider his or her strengths. Know that these strengths will allow him or her to overcome obstacles and be successful later in life.