gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

Normal is a bell curve (a parenting truth)

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OR The curse of the milestones.

This parenting lesson is a really big one for me. My kids – and especially my son – had really late milestones. He rolled late, sat late, never crawled but bum shuffled late, walked at 18 months and when I sent him to school at 2 years old, he knew all of 4 words.

People looked at me kindly and said things like, “I’m sure he’ll be fine” in a voice that meant, “This is a disaster”. They would sometimes suck their teeth as they contemplated him. Try sucking your teeth – it’s a very disparaging sound.

There are two reasons that I didn’t worry. Number one is that I myself only walked at 18 months and I have many problems, but learning difficulties are not among them. The other reason that I wasn’t worried was that I understand that normal is a bell curve.

Strangely, I couldn’t find a bell curve of walking milestones for you, so I just got this bell curve of bell curvy-ness:

bell curve

The important thing to understand is that everyone on the bell curve is “normal” (if it’s a bell curve of milestones. If it’s an IQ bell curve, then most people are stupid. But that’s a topic for a different day.)

So while there may be a peak of babies walking at, say, 12 months – most babies DON’T walk at 12 months. MOST babies walk before or after. And the baby who walks at 9 months is till “normal”, as is the baby who walks at 20 months.

For some reason, as parents, we become convinced that all the babies who roll/crawl/ sit/walk/ talk BEFORE the peak are gifted, and all the ones after the peak are challenged.

So let’s go back to my little boy:

Never crawled.

Bum shuffled at 13.5 months.

Walked at 18 months.

Spoke after 2 years.

But now he is a fine big 7 year old who is getting great marks on his Grade 1 report (at one of South Africa’s best boys’ day schools) and is an able sportsman. He is not in a single therapy (unlike many of his classmates) and he is happy.

Because normal is a bell curve, and milestones are a myth. Remember that.

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One thought on “Normal is a bell curve (a parenting truth)

  1. Quite agree because as I understand it, there is a range of ‘normal’ which I believe is between 9 and 18 months for walking. And that is if there is no prematurity. If prematurity is involved, you add on the weeks early to the 18 months.

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