I was watching a comedy show this week and they mentioned a favourite story of mine. ‘What was odd about Einstein’s childhood?’ the host asked and I was shouting at the telly ‘He didn’t speak a word until he was three!’
Apparently his first words were ‘This soup’s too hot’. His parents asked why he hadn’t spoken up to that point and he replied ‘Everything has been in order until now’. Tough for those parents to have one problem instantly replaced by a far worse one (we thought he was mute but actually he’s a smug little tyrant).
I love this story because it just goes to show that we can never know. It’s quite common for late talkers to begin talking with full sentences and all that time we had been thinking they were slow when really they were developing at the usual pace but just hadn’t thought to articulate it.
I like to think that Einstein’s genius came from him spending those first three years concentrating on observing, listening and collating information without distracting his brain and squandering its energy with the talking stuff.
We can never know. The precocious child who is putting together sophisticated sentences at age two is not necessarily going to become the brilliant straight A student. The socially awkward child who withdraws from the group is not necessarily destined to become a sad loner. The hugely popular charismatic child who has everyone running after him at Primary school may fade into the background at Secondary school. The mean girl who manipulates the friendship group in the early years may transform into the compassionate good friend later.
The problem we have as parents is that we are encumbered with brains whose default setting is Expect the Worst. Expecting the worst has been an effective survival strategy for humans, and the trait has been genetically selected obviously because those who were afraid of coming across a lion as they roamed the Savannah were the ones who exercised caution and didn’t get eaten. It’s a useful trait in many ways, it makes sense to consider the worst case scenario when planning ahead in various areas of life.
When it comes to parenting though it can mean an awful lot of time wasted in worrying when you could have just been enjoying your child. Children move through various stages trying on different personalities, and just as the silent child may suddenly produce a sentence, a ‘follower’ may emerge into a ‘leader’, a ‘withdrawn’ child may suddenly flower into a gregarious entertainer, a sulky child softens into a cheerful easygoing character.
We invest a lot of energy into trying to ‘change’ or ‘help’ our children when we are worried about them. Maybe we should lighten up a bit and trust that they are learning what they need to learn through the path they have chosen, and that the growing and learning is taking place, we just can’t see it.
It amuses me to wonder at what point Einstein’s parents looked at each other wide-eyed and said ‘Bloody hell! And we spent three years worrying about HIM..??!!’