Is He Already Behind?

Am I doing enough? Is my son already behind? These are questions that have passed, and sometimes stuck, in my mind. Let’s face it, it’s hard not to wonder.

In this era of modern parenting, where kids of all ages are increasingly scheduled and involved with a social calendar of their own, it is easy to get wrapped up in the tidal wave. There are so many options for enrichment activities; swim, dance, music, gymnastics, museum outings. There are an overwhelming quantity of engaging toys on the market. And there is always the talk at the playgrounds, about what all the other parents are doing with their kids. It all makes it easy to wonder: am I really doing enough for mine?

This can be an even more difficult question for those of us that opt out of this hurried mainstream lifestyle for financial, philosophical, or pragmatic reasons. It can be hard not to worry: is my child already behind? Am I putting him at a disadvantage because of our lack of battery-operated bilingual toys? But mostly, am I going to regret this all later?

Rather than allow myself to get wrapped up, worried and sucked into the mainstream school of thought where more is always more, I took a moment to look around and remind myself of all the learning and growing that happens each day right before my very eyes. Often this learning happens with little adult encouragement or support, even smaller amounts of money, and, through it all, it is filled with the joy that should accompany new learning and mastery.

At this age, and I’m speaking of my toddler, the majority of learning and development can be lumped into six groups; gross motor, fine motor, self-help, language, social, and cognitive skills. Putting a name to these skill sets makes it seem too difficult, like something I’d certainly need professional help with. But, when I took a minute to break it all down, to examine what these skills truly entail, it became simpler than it seems.

Let’s examine each of those skill sets one-by-one and how we, more specifically he, is accomplishing them each day simply by living life, exploring his world, and doing what comes naturally to a toddler.

  • He builds gross motor skills by kicking balls outside and balloons around the house. He doesn’t do it to build skills or to conquer the next milestone; he does it just because it’s fun.
  • Each time he builds a tower with the Nerds boxes from Halloween he develops the fine motor skills and coordination he’ll need to do even more complicated and intricate tasks in the future.
  • Each time we engage as a family, having dinners together or going for a walk, he witnesses the social skills that make our society work. With each interaction he learns about the niceties and pleasantries that make life smooth. While he still doesn’t implement them all on his own, he is seeing them in action and, slowly, learning how they fit into our lives.
  • With a toddler size table and chairs of his own, I often find him seated working quietly on an activity he chose. He’s also figured out how to climb up to the dinner table on his own. His drive to be independent, his deep desire to do things for himself means that the self-help skills he’s supposed to develop come easily and naturally.
  • The same goes for language skills. At this age he is a virtual parrot, mimicking everything he hears. We walk about the house and neighborhood, touching and labeling everything in sight. For him, developing the ability to communicate is a source of power and pride.
  • In the middle of a rather nasty bout of bronchitis this past week, I was parked on the sofa, not wanting to get up for much of anything. Luckily for me, my toddler was eager to demonstrate his new-found cognitive skills to follow two-step directions, “go to the dining room and get mama a tissue, please.”

See, right there. Six different things from our normal, mundane, everyday life that help my toddler achieve the developmental milestones our culture is so obsessed with. Even better, these things didn’t require any money, any special toy or video, or even any real effort from us as parents.

And, I think, that’s the way it should be. Early in life, children are motivated to learn about and explore their world. They didn’t need our prodding to learn to crawl or eat or walk. They were then, and are now, intrinsically motivated to move forward on their own path towards independence. If we provide them with rich environments, reminding ourselves that a rich environment is not necessarily synonymous with busy or expensive, and large blocks of time, uninterrupted and unfettered, they will continue to push themselves in ways that surprise, amaze and, with any luck, inspire us to do the same.

Photo Credit: Author


Danielle Reiner is a stay-at-home mama trying her best to live a simple, yet fulfilling, life. She fills her days with dreaming, making, writing, baking, laughing, learning, exploring, and blogging about it all at

Danielle’s post is one of three that NPN is featuring as a special part of the November Carnival of Natural Parenting. To read more about what natural parenting means to our community as well as how you can write for the next Carnival, visit the November Carnival post.

12 Responses to Is He Already Behind?

  1. CKCH  

    My son’s favourite toys are rocks and water. He get’s pretty in to the them. It’s surprising how creative a two year old can get with just a few rocks and a bucket of water. I like how inexpensive it is…:)

  2. Momma Jorje

    How old is your son, if you don’t mind? (As I sit here and wonder about my own daughter’s development.) I’m not real sure I would hand my daughter toothpicks just yet.

    • Danielle Reiner  

      My son is 20 months old. As far as the toothpicks are concerned, at first he was quite carefully supervised. Then, after watching the way he interacted with them, several times, I felt it was safe and that he could be trusted. If he ever demonstrates that he cannot be trusted with those, or any other material or toy, it will have to be shelved, temporarily, until he can.

      • Momma Jorje

        My daughter is now 16 months and I found a very similar activity to the toothpick idea! I’ve been cooking spaghetti lately. I like to break the noodles in half before I cook them. I usually put them in a glass to eyeball how much I need. Sasha likes putting them in the glass for me, generally one noodle at a time. If she misses, they fall onto the counter and she picks them up again.

        Anyway, it reminded me of your article and I wanted to dig this back up and tell you about it. 😀

  3. kreeeestamama  

    Hear! Hear! 🙂

  4. Semi-crunchy Mama  

    I also find myself wondering, “Is she behind?” It’s been hard, especially in the last few months, since most all of her friends have started preschool. I try to remind myself of all the learning that takes place without us really even trying. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Danielle Reiner  

      The preschool thing does make i more difficult. I’m sure we’ll start to feel the pressure a bit more then, as well.

      But rest assured that she is learning quite a bit! If you ever need more of a reminder just sit back and watch for awhile. Watch her come up with rich, fantastic stories. Watch her move and manipulate her body.

      She wants to learn, she wants to grow, so she does!

  5. Dionna  

    Being an OCD perfectionist, I used to worry about Kieran’s development – was I doing enough, was he on track, should I be doing this and this and this . . . and then I got to the point where you are, and I started to relax. And lo and behold, nothing earth-shattering happened. He kept on growing and developing and learning even without me stressing 🙂 Isn’t it a nice place to be?!

  6. Betsy

    Totally. And I can assure you it gets easier to not worry about “achieving milestones” with your subsequent children. I remember being a little stressy about my firstborn not walking till she was 15 months old, with my second I was like, take your time sweetie, and now with my third, I’m kind of like, please don’t start walking so soon…

  7. Amy  

    It’s interesting how we often define life by ideas and experiences – instead of reality. Such as children learning inherently like you have noticed.

    It’s also nice to see the natural observation of a loving parent. If he ever is “behind”, you’ll know and you’ll do something about it 🙂

  8. Darcel @ The Mahogany Way  

    I used to worry about hitting milestones and such when I had my first.
    Then my 2nd came along and I relaxed and now I have my 3rd and it feels good to watch them grow.

    Doctors and sometimes even well meaning friends can make us worry.

  9. Lauren  

    So true! It always strikes me as a bit of cognitive dissonance to think we have to teach our children everything, when we don’t have to teach them to eat, or roll over, or talk, or walk — we trust them (ok, most of us trust them) to do these things on their own, but then we get wrapped up in the idea that they’ll never learn anything else on their own. But my 3-year-old learns things daily without specific instruction, and I’m still learning things as an adult without needing to be taught. So, yeah, relaxing and letting it happen makes perfect sense.

    Your breakdown of all the categories your son learns in reminds me of how unschoolers will make the tasks they do sound nice and school-y for a transcript or progress report. It’s amazing how advanced kids sound once you put fancy terms to their skills! 🙂