Do developmental milestones really matter? That is the million dollar question many parents ask. And just like all things related to parenting, opinions can vary far and wide. Some parents obsessively track their babies’ every move, nap, and poop with an arsenal of baby gadgets and apps, while others don’t really worry about milestones as long as their baby seems to be doing what other babies are doing at around the same age. With such different views and practices, should we care about developmental milestones? And my short answer is YES!! I believe developmental milestones do matter because they are important signifiers that can help you better provide for your baby with the best possible start in life.
How? Developmental milestones are age-specific skills and functional abilities that young children develop and learn.1 In the United States, 1 in 6 children of ages 3 to 17 years old have one or more developmental disabilities.2 Early detection and treatment is key to helping these children reach their highest potential (in some cases, brain connections can be rewired if caught early enough!).3 So that’s why pediatricians and other care providers use developmental milestones to help them evaluate children’s learning and development over time. The more you are aware of the signs, the more thorough they can be. A quick 20-minute well-child visit may not be enough time for a doctor to observe and understand all that you know of your child from your daily interactions together.
But how can we use developmental milestones without driving ourselves mad with worry every time junior misses a skill or two? Here are some helpful tips:
DO see the bigger picture. Developmental milestones are meant to help you track your child’s developmental progress over time. It is not meant to alarm you over isolated instances or slight deviations from the norm. Focus on understanding what to observe and expect of your child’s development. If you see an ongoing pattern of atypical behavior or development, be sure to consult your care provider about it.
DO NOT compare your child to others. “Oh no, every 12 month old in play group is starting to walk, but junior is just learning to cruise!” Relax. Try not to worry about whether your baby is hitting every milestone exactly on time or appears behind in certain skills compared to his play pals. While developmental milestones have a “normal” range, your child may just be developing at a different rate, but still right on track.
DO use your observations to personalize learning. By observing and tracking your child’s developmental milestones, you can easily tailor his learning activities and experiences to support his specific interests and needs. There’s nothing better than authentic personalized learning!
Remember that developmental milestones do not exist to drive you crazy, overwhelm you with information or give you unnecessary worry. Quite the opposite, really. When properly used, developmental milestones can help guide you on when to be concerned or not, and enable you to become an effective advocate for your child and give him the best attentive care, if necessary, so that he can reach his highest potential.
1 Developmental Milestones. (2013, August). Retrieved from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/devmile.htm.
2 Boyle, C. A., Boulet, S., Schieve, L., Cohen, R. A., Bluberg, S. J., Yeargin-Allsopp, S.,…Kogan, M.D. (2011). Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in US Children, 1997–2008. Pediatrics, 27, 1034-1042.
3 Majnemer, A. (1998). Benefits of Early Intervention for Children With Developmental Disabilities. Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, 5(1), 62-69.