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“Hey, Good Looking!” - Are We Praising Kids for the Wrong Things?

Emily Sutton by Emily Sutton Additional Needs

Emily Sutton

Emily Sutton

I was launched into the world of special needs on New Year's Eve 2012, on the birth of my son, Jenson. He is fabulous, sprightly and loving, and ha...

At first, especially during that haze of new-born fever, you feel like your little treasure really is the best-looking baby that ever did grace this planet.

No other baby could compare!

It is a credit to you to receive these compliments, after all, you created that little cutie, out of your own DNA, and why indeed should you not feel immensely proud?!

As part of my arduous yet enriching journey through Jenson's first few months of life, I have so far been honoured to meet many babies and children who probably, in reality, do not get showered with such niceties.

Why not? Because they don't look quite right.

They don't meet that stereotypical norm that we are programmed to accept and expect in society.

They don't resemble the cute squishy picture-perfect little pickles that we see on Pampers packs or on baby formula adverts.

What makes these children less deserving of compliments?

Jenson is a very special and unique child who has a multitude of physical and developmental problems, but as fortune would have it, he is (to the untrained eye) a 'normal' looking baby.

And in being a 'normal', looking baby, he is in receipt of many a sweet compliment.

It is only since being exposed to the less fortunate children around us, that I have been less allured by these comments than I used to be.

You see, I would give anything to swap Jenson's deep blue eyes and button nose for a brain that is developing properly.

To exchange his mass of shiny floppy hair for a straight spine.

I would sacrifice his scrumptiousness for the sake of him being able to look up at me and say 'mummy'.

If a baby's deservedness of praise was measured by their ability to learn, copy, play, speak, walk, then Jenson sadly would have had very few.

And it is these abilities that I would do anything for.

People who really know Jenson share their excitement with us for the remarkable progress he has made to meet milestones and climb metaphorical mountains that we never thought he would reach.

When he achieves the previously unachievable, like negotiating his ride-on car around the garden, eating yoghurt, or bashing a toy with a hammer:

It is the responses to these achievements that we really love, from people that really understand.

So compliment away friends and strangers, but maybe have a thought about the depth of your platitudes and think about what things in a small child's life really are worth gushing over.


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