If you’re like most parents, you want reassurance that your child is on the right track.
You are probably familiar with “developmental milestones” and if not, you will hear about it very soon, I promise!
Let’s be honest, the measuring starts in utero with crown to rump length and cute fruit and vegetable comparisons throughout pregnancy. Aw, little junior is the size of a peach this month. During your anatomy ultrasound, they will look for 10 little fingers and 10 little toes, 4 chambers in their little heart, and the most exciting part…do they have a hotdog or a hamburger down there?!
Right after birth your baby is laid on a scale and a measuring tape is placed from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. The first questions loved ones often ask are: “How much does the baby weigh? What is the baby’s length?” There seems to be a natural curiosity and desire to know these details. And the questions will continue; your pediatrician, your neighbor, your grandmother will all inevitably ask, “is she crawling yet?” “is she walking yet?” or “is she talking yet?”
And then the predictable comparisons follow: “My son was speaking in full sentences by the time he was this age.” Or how about the mother-in-laws recollection of your husbands pure baby genius “[insert your husbands name] was saying the National Anthem by 18 months, you should read more or sing more with [insert your babies name]”—> queue feelings of failure and anxiety and thinking maybe there is something wrong with your parenting or worse, something wrong with your child.
Developmental milestones are tracked, celebrated and compared; these comparisons might not only be to medical charts, but also friends’ and family’s babies.
Copious research and detailed charts tell us when we can expect babies on average to achieve certain abilities. Whether it is rolling over or a first smile, we have ages in mind that we expect specific behaviors. The key thing to remember here is these are averages, not cut-offs. Many babies will start doing things early, and others will do it late.
When observing your child’s emerging skills and abilities or developmental milestones, consider the following five domains of development and sequence of events within the first two years:
Physical domain: this includes motor skills- rolling over; sitting up; grasping objects; crawling; standing then walking; drawing on paper and kicking a ball.
Cognitive domain: following objects with their eyes; object permanence (looking for something out of sight); following simple instructions; use 3 to 4 words in combination.
Social / Emotional domain: reacting to adult expressions of emotion (smile); stranger anxiety; repeat behaviors that receive attention; imitate adults in play.
Communication domain: this includes language- babbling speech; symbolic speech (signs, gestures and pointing); first words and use of “yes” and “no”
Adaptive (or self-help) domain: crying to express hunger, laughing to express delight; holding a cup and using pincher grasp to feed self; attempts at dressing and undressing; bowel and bladder awareness or regulation.
It can be easy to, but not necessarily helpful, when we start to attach feelings to the timing of these achievements (i.e. when they reach a developmental milestone)
Early achievement of developmental milestones can lead to a sense of parental pride: “look what my baby is doing already!” And this sense of satisfaction often gets generalized with an expectation that they will achieve other things sooner, too. But this is false thinking. Just because he or she reaches one milestone sooner doesn’t mean he or she will be more advanced in subsequent milestones (though kids who get their first teeth earlier also tend to lose them earlier- this is the exception).
On the other hand, parents may start to stress when a child is yet to perform a milestone by the average age. Whoa, pump the brakes! Remember, it is a range of ages that children perform certain behaviors. Being later than a neighbor’s child or even a sibling is not automatically an indication of a problem.
There are numerous factors that influence when a given milestone emerges. For example, second born babies may be slow to talk when older siblings do all the communicating for them. Environment, siblings and birth order are important in addition to genetics and neurobiological growth.
So, what is “The Best Approach to Measuring Your Child’s Developmental Milestones” you ask?
Before you get out the scale, the measuring tape, the milestones charts, or your recent growth curve stats giving you your child’s height, weight and head circumference percentiles…
You may find it helpful to do these things:
– Use social comparison judiciously. If you have a wide enough circle of moms with similar age children, it will reflect the diverse ages at which babies are first cooing, making eye contact, or feeding themselves. But if you only have one or a few babies in your circle and you are drawing comparisons to shape your expectations, this distorted ruler may be counterproductive. Use social comparison judiciously when evaluating your child’s developmental milestones.
– Embrace and Respect your children’s unique differences. For moms who keep meticulous baby books, it will be easy to compare when one child arrives at a milestone in comparison to another. However, it can also be a non-productive habit that can feed parental anxiety and foster a strong foundation for sibling rivalry. You’ll probably find it suits everyone better to embrace and respect their unique differences, including arrival at developmental milestones.
– If you’re not seeing an expected milestone, ask your pediatrician what you can do to support your child’s development. We know children who spend more time on their bellies develop neck control and roll over sooner. Babies exposed to more words develop richer language. Check out UNICEF’s “Early Childhood Development Kit: A Treasure Box of Activities,” for ideas of stimulating activities you can share with your children to promote their physical and cognitive development.
– Understand that early interventions are likely to be temporary. When interventions to support development are recommended, it can raise parental anxiety and worry. Please remember these early interventions are to support your baby, they will most likely be temporary, and do not mean your child will always be delayed.
Deki Pem refers to the “Golden 1000” as the days counted started from conception until the child is two years of age. “If timely interventions are taken within this critical period, the problems are reversible and will gain maximum benefits. A healthy child especially within this age will have better cognition and learning capabilities, and consequently have impact on social, economic, physical and cognition.”
–Trade Anxiety for Peace. Trust me, read this through. A milestone is defined as an event or action marking a change. Although change is exciting, enjoying where your child is at right now in their journey of development is where you’ll find peace. I get it, you may be at the stage where they need you for EVERYTHING and you’re ready for them to be a little more independent, but hear me out.
When we live in the future, or try to rush the present it causes anxiety. The definition of anxiety is exactly that- the fear or nervousness about what might (or might not) happen (a future event).
Find peace in knowing that no matter where your child stands on the growth chart and regardless of which milestone they’ve yet to achieve, they will get there when they get there and where they are today is okay. As long as they have you, a parent that cares enough to read this though, they will be okay and so will you!
For more information, visit The Center for Disease Control (CDC) for milestone checklists and information.
Pem, D. (2015) Factors Affecting Early Childhood Growth and Development: Golden 1000 Days”.Adv Practice Nurs 1:101. doi:10.4172/2573-0347.1000101
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