When I worked with the developmentally disabled I was sometimes asked to define mental retardation. What is it? Parents would ask how to explain to others the difference between their child, who was not achieving at a normal pace, and other children. The answer is as profound as it is simple. Intelligence is the ability to predict. When a child has difficulty predicting compared to others of his age we indicate that he is developmentally delayed.
Existing in an environment that is predictable fosters intelligence. When a child masters the rules to live by, when a child learns what to expect in his world, when he learns what to expect of himself, when he learns what he can and should do, when he learns what to expect of others, etc. growth occurs.
Until the child can accurately predict what will happen in his world under certain conditions he will spend all his energy trying to figure out the rules. He experiments with behavior that can be classified as naughty, selfish, and/or rebellious.
Helping a child live ordered and predictable life is important. Knowing this the wise parent recognizes that it is not money or a great house that gives meaning and order to their child’s life. It is not a great education or lots of enrichment. It is simply being consistent and predictable. Parents need to be predictable in good times and bad times. They need to be predictable living together or apart. They need to be predictable at home or in the grocery store. Parents need to be consistent and live predictably whether in church or driving home from church.
Children have a great capacity to figure out what this world is all about and how to learn and cope on their own. When parents give the gift of consistency and predictability they allow the child's native intelligence to be used in constructive rather then destructive ways.
To give a few practical applications of this idea let me suggest that parents do some simple things to help the child.
· Do very little spur of the moment or surprise activities. When activities are "sprung" on a child a sense of disorder or lack of control is present which destroys the child's sense of predictability.
· Set ground rules that you live by and do not deviate from them, not even once. If your rule is that you sit if you hit, follow through no matter what excuse the child gives. You can always vary the sitting time if you sense remorse or a desire to comfort the person hurt. Even if the hitting was a mistake the child will get the sitting over with and recognize that the world is predictable and that consequences can be lived with even if you don't think they are fair.
· Eat meals at the same time. Use the same routine when putting a child to bed or getting them up. Put everything that the child has in the same place every time.
· Help the child by asking her what she is doing and have her describe the next step. "I am putting on my coat and after I get that done I am going to put on my boots." When a child can tell you what is going to happen next they possess a sense of predictability helps to bring order to their world.
· When a child's world is in disarray or they have to suffer the consequences of poor choices, help them to predict what will happen next time they are in similar circumstances. Say things like, "How sad, but I bet you will know what to do next time when this happens. Can you tell me how you would handle this situation if it happens tomorrow?"
Even though these suggestions may be helpful the parent must do more then provide a predictable environment. The parent must be predictable. The child needs to know that nothing they can or will do will ever influence you to be disappointed in them. Let them know that you know who you are and that you have great faith in their ability to solve problems. Your will always be there to assist, help, and love them. This is the consistent foundation on which they can discover who they are. This is the foundation for their intelligence