All parents are told that their children should develop along a certain timeline. You look for your baby to sit up, walk or talk at specific ages.
But when your child doesn't hit these milestones, how concerned should you be? Denene Millner, an editor at Parenting magazine, visits The Early Show on Monday to answer those questions.
Millner, a mother of two girls, says, "Moms are looking at books and on Web sites and at their friends' kids trying to size their own kids up. If they're not doing what the book says, then you start to flip out."
Parenting magazine reports an important source of these "norms" is the Denver Developmental Screening Test, "for which thousands of children were examined to create ranges of development that have been used by doctors for more than 20 years."
However, Millner notes, it has now been determined that not all kids follow these pre-determined timelines. It's perfectly natural and healthy for a child to develop on his own timeline. Parents should see the milestones laid out by doctors and books less as a deadline and more as a suggestion.
Her message to parents: Chill out! As long as your child is within two months of the suggested age, there's nothing to worry about. She warns if you put too much pressure on yourself and your child to meet developmental deadlines, you pass that stress along to your baby.
Factors Influencing Development
Temperament - "We all know kids who are daredevils: the first to climb onto the coffee table to see out the window and - later - the first to jump off the diving board," Parenting writes. "These are frequently the ones who walk early. They may talk early too, since they don't worry about how they sound - they just plunge in and see what happens."
Other kids are naturally more cautious. They don't want to climb onto a chair until they have figured out how to get down.
It's OK to encourage your cautious child to be more adventurous as long as you encourage him in gentle ways that makes him feel comfortable. For example, when you play together, put a favorite toy just out of his reach so he's tempted to crawl or point.
We all have a forte - be it writing, running, public speaking, etc. - and these strengths reveal themselves early. Your early walker could very well be a coordinated athlete later. However, Parenting magazine makes an important point about natural strengths: "This doesn't mean that children who are late bloomers in these areas won't thrive in them eventually; in fact, they may observe other kids' skills so carefully that they turn out to be very successful too."
Older brothers and sisters can dramatically affect a child's development. Many babies with siblings reach milestones sooner because they push themselves to keep up. On the other hand, some babies allow their siblings to do everything for them.
"There's nothing more frustrating than when you have an older sibling who is so excited and wants to do everything for your little one," Millner says. "At age 3 or 4, they don't know that they should let the baby try things for herself."
In these situations you simply need to tell your older child, "thanks so much for helping out sweetie but let's see if your sister can do this by herself."
Practice makes perfect, and the more opportunities your child has to practice rolling over or talking, the faster he will reach those milestones. For instance, place your baby on her stomach often so she can learn to pull up her head and crawl. Talk to your baby a lot and ask him questions to encourage him to speak.
Whatever you do to encourage your child's development, you should be sure to do so in a positive way. Do not put stress on your child to achieve. Placing your baby on her stomach because you expect her to crawl and then being very disappointed when she doesn't do so is not helpful.
Being a Preemie
Babies born early take longer to reach milestones. When gauging a child's development, don't base deadlines on the child's birth date; instead base it on their due date. For example, a baby born three months early should be expected to reach at six months the milestones of only a three-month-old. By age two, however, preemies will be back on track with other kids their age.
When To Worry
Sometimes, reaching milestones late can signal a problem. Here are warning signs that may prompt you to consult with your doctor or a specialist.
- Your child is delayed in more than one area.
- The delay is dramatically different from the norm. (Delayed over two months)
- Your child doesn't seem to understand or respond when you talk.
If you ask your two-year-old what she wants for breakfast and she doesn't answer verbally but points to a box of cereal, you have nothing to worry about. However, if she acts as though she didn't hear you or just stares at you, there may be a problem.
- The delay seems to make your child upset.