“Do you think she has a…problem?”
My husband asked this about our three-year-old because, recently, she has become really stellar at looking us square in the face and completely ignoring the words coming out of our mouths. I’ve noticed she normally utilizes this tactic when asked to do something. Namely, something she doesn’t want to do.
This child is the same one who can sit, enthralled, in a book for 20 minutes at a time, yet “just can’t” take her cereal bowl to the sink. She has no trouble following Mickey Mouse’s instructions to reach, jump, or spin, but when I ask that she clean up her dolls, she simply walks in the opposite direction of the myriad of princesses heaped helplessly on the floor. Or she goes on a ten minute tirade about why “grown-ups always ask kids to do ‘fings’ all day long! Kids always have to clean up all the ‘fings’ all the time always!”
Does she have a hearing problem? Difficulty completing tasks? The only problem she has is Three Year Olditis.
Not every unfocused kid has Attention Deficit Disorder. Not every ornery child has a behavioral issue. I’ve encountered too many moms and dads who want a scapegoat for bad grades or mediocrity, so they find a label to slap on their kid and voila! Their job is done.
“Little Jimmy can’t stay still on the soccer field; he’s hyperactive.”
Or, he’s a normal four-year-old.
“Michael isn’t passing math class because he can’t focus; he has ADD.”
Or, he’s bad at math and stopped trying because he’s frustrated.
“Susie can’t come to the birthday party; she suffers from separation anxiety.”
Or, she’s shy.
Society is label-happy, and parents are falling for it. I am not dismissing the reality of true disabilities; I understand the importance of identifying a person’s strengths and weaknesses in order to help him succeed in every aspect of life. That said, we don’t always need a clinical term to describe someone who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. What’s more is if we continue to slap labels on a person the second he begins to struggle, those who truly need the extra help and attention become needles in a haystack.
So many parents would rather believe their child has a problem than have to expend the energy on working to improve the person; it’s easier to rely on interventions, like professionals or medications, to help their kid because then they don’t have to.
What do we accomplish by tagging the kid who can play Minecraft for six solid hours, but who can’t focus on a 30 minute Shakespeare lesson, with a learning disability? We accomplish enabling a lazy child. Is it so awful to tell him to try harder? Or–GASP!–sit with him and make sense of Act I in Hamlet together?
It’s common sense that we concentrate better on the things that interest us. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t revolve around only our interests. Yet so many of us want personalized, customized, individualized everything for our kids. Because they need it. Because they can’t succeed without it. Here’s the thing: what our kids need is for us to be hands-on, supportive, and realistic. What they don’t need is an excuse for their shortcomings, teaching them that an asterisk by their name and a whipping boy for their resistance is the easy way out.
WAIT! If you don't hate me after reading that...