No, I’m not suggesting that we all get our clipboards out and formally appraise our children’s performance. However, just as Jancis Robinson is unlikely to “just enjoy” a glass of wine and David Beckham is unlikely to have a “casual kick about” in the back yard, as a child psychiatrist, it was not possible for me to witness my children’s development without assessment, consciously sometimes, but largely unconsciously.
It became apparent to me that I had done this as I attended Big Sis’s parent’s evening at her nursery (this is the expensive Ofsted Outstanding one). They reported to me their detailed assessments of Big Sis (which did involve a clipboard). “She can jump with two feet together, she can cut along a straight line, she can recite all her numbers to 20, but sometimes misses out 15”. I realised that I knew all this already – down to the number 15 which always went missing. How? Because I had unwittingly been doing 360 degree appraisals on my kids since they were born.
The famous Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget did experiments into children’s cognition largely using his own children as subjects. Whilst I wouldn’t say I went that far, there are times when I have put forward specific problems to my children to see how they would respond. The majority of the time though, I observed their reactions to problems that happen in day to day life.
Some people that I have spoken to about this have asked me what I look for, and whilst I am not recommending that people go out and do this (it is not validated, comprehensive or scientifically proven and is completely something that I have hodge-podged together when thinking about my own children), if you did want to know, I will tell you what a child psychiatrist observes and thinks about.
For me, there are 6 axes which are important to think about:
1) Core ability – here, I put processing speed, memory, impulse control and attention span. These are factors that affect ability in all other areas; deficits in the core factors will detrimentally affect ability on the other aspects of function.
2) Intelligence – verbal and nonverbal as per the standard IQ test
3) Social ability – ability to read social situations and to adapt in different social situations
4) Emotional regulation- ability to understand one’s own emotions and to control them
5) Motor ability – gross motor (running, kicking, catching a ball) and fine motor (writing, sewing, untying knots)
6) Creativity – ability to problem solve, improvise and generate something new
This information is not just for “tiger mothers” (on which I will blog another time), but my view is that having an accurate view of your child’s ability allows you to push forward or reign in on expectations. An individual’s development waxes and wanes, so continuous assessment is required. Most employees will be expected to do a 360 degree assessment every few years as a minimum and I would suggest that children are no different. Some children will develop quickly then may slow down, others may start slow but catch-up quickly so no one off-assessment, particularly in the early years is going to capture a child’s ability. Saying that, if continuous assessment over childhood into adolescence continues to follow a trajectory then natural outcome may be more predictable.
Bespoke continuous assessment of your own child can also allow you to add or seek help to support areas of weakness although I would always strongly advocate “acceptance” of “ball park ability”. None of us as adult employees would be impressed with our supervisors if following a 360 degree appraisal they sent us on training and then expected a 100% improvement in performance. We should neither expect that from our children and expectations of our children must be bound in reality.
Most schools will be doing this type of assessment as standard on children, but in my mind, its always good to double check external assessments, and also to see that there is consistency of ability in the less structured out-of-school environment, on which teachers will not have access to information. The more you know and understand your child, the more you are able to guide them.
Over the course of the next few months, I hope to blog on each area in more detail.