Parents constantly worry about whether their child’s development is “on time.” Family and friends constantly ask for proof of the baby’s health and intelligence by asking questions about when the baby first smiles, rolls over, sleeps “through the night,” walks, talks, identifies colors and so on. However, most parents would be surprised by the extremely wide range of ages at which the development of a particular milestone is appropriate.
There is nothing wrong with finding joy in a new behavior or accomplishment as your child grows. However, each child has his or her own internal clock, and the speed at which a child moves through the milestones in any particular area (social, emotional, gross motor, fine motor, etc.) is most often indicative of nothing more than that child’s individuality. That said, it is important to be aware of lags in development that can signal underlying health concerns. So what is a parent to do?
One of the most important factors in recognizing normal (that is, in the range of normal) development vs. abnormal development is to attend regular well baby visits with a doctor or other appropriate health care provider. Parents can ask questions about any concerns regarding the child’s development and doctors will ask questions tracking appropriate milestones or testing them during the visit. Most times, concerned parents will learn that a perceived lag in development is normal. If the doctor is concerned about the timing a particular milestone, he or she can pursue testing that will explore any potential underlying issues.
Comparing children to friends or siblings is usually a poor indicator of development. Children tend to move back and forth between areas of development – a spurt in gross motor for example, while little happens in verbal development. If the child’s best friend is having a spurt in verbal development, or is simply on a different pace in this area, this can be disconcerting.
For parents who really, really want a chart of milestone development , the CDC offers a wonderful resource. What I like about these charts is that they include both “typical” developmental milestones for each age as well as a specific list of behaviors or absence of behaviors that would signal concern. Looking carefully, one might note the often significant gap between when a milestone is common vs. when its delay is actually a concern.
My best advice to parents whose doctor advises no cause for concern, but is still worried about development is to not be in such a rush. Every stage of development is a gift. Parents who are too focused on what is next are missing the joy of the child that is before them. Too soon, children will walk and soon run away from us. Revel in the world of your child along with them, at whatever stage, because in the blink of an eye, the child of that moment will be gone, replaced by another equally as wondrous. Simply enjoy the present, and the future will take care of itself.
For books on child development, in my opinion, the Gesell Series on Child Development is unmatched. Their book, Child Behavior, provides a summary of development over a child’s life and an understanding of how development works. For a more in depth picture of each age, see their “Your X-Year Old” series (Your 1-Year Old, Your 2-Year Old, etc.). I have all of them and have read them each year. They are eerily accurate at describing the path of development in detail. I was surprised to read that at a particular age (I think it was 6) it is quite typical for children to fall repeatedly off of chairs, and then to observe it for myself! The discipline advice is a bit outdated and I tend to ignore the sometimes punitive advice, but the development details are still quite on target.
Gesell "Your-X Year Old" Series and other books by these authors