Should you freak out when your child misses a development milestone?

Should you freak out when your child misses a development milestone?

There are no universal rules of development. Milestones are useful estimates and not stringent deadlines. Every child is different. Has your child missed a milestone? Don’t raise a red flag yet. Read on to know the right way of dealing with it.

As soon as a child is born, parents immerse themselves into books about child development. Mothers connect with other mothers who have children of the same age group and share their children’s progress. ‘Oh my child flipped on his tummy today’, ‘Oh my little one blabbered his first word’ and so on. If another child within the group is not showing similar signs of progress, the mother freaks out. She starts researching developmental lags and missed milestones on the internet. To add to the anxiety, there are relatives and neighbours who constantly enquire about the child’s progress. Before long, the newborn is part of a competition he doesn’t even know exists. The rat race begins.

So how important are development milestones? A lot of research has been done on what your child should be doing and when. And no matter how relaxed you are as a parent, it is difficult to ignore these neverending studies. But fear not, here are a few things you can do before you start freaking out:

Make an Apple to Apple Comparison:

Development milestones can be different for different ethnic groups. Most of the research studies you read about online are based on a sample from U.S. So make sure you get your reference right. Your best bet is to check with your local pediatrician who can give you the most recently updated sheet for your region. Don’t select a pediatrician whose parenting style doesn’t match yours. If he doesn’t make you feel good about your child’s progress and always hands over a checklist for his development, you probably need to find a better consultant.

Know the Range

Child development cannot be measured precisely. One cannot give a precise date for every change. Your child may complete one year on 15th May. If she can’t walk by then, you must see a doctor on 16th May. Right? No, of course not. There is a wide period within which a child should achieve a certain amount of progress. He can start taking his baby steps anywhere from 8 months to 16 months. As long as you are within the upper limit, you can relax. And you can relax even if his friends are running and your child is only sitting up. Don’t lose your peace of mind over petty comparisons.

Remember, there is a law of averages. The benchmark that most parents know about is a mean number – some will do better; some will do worse. Before you run for an evaluation, give your child a couple of months and he’ll probably progress on his/her own.

Appreciate the Uniqueness

Sometimes parents are so concerned about their child’s progress that they are constantly checking what their child can’t do. In the process, they miss out on all the little joys of parenting. They fail to appreciate what the child can do and that he/she is so different from everyone else. Some children are ahead with their physical skills and only lag on communication. Others take a different path. Missing one milestone by a tiny margin is no reason to worry –  Keep calm

Don’t Rush

Don’t be in a hurry to achieve a milestone. You’ll end up literally trying to teach your child to walk before he can crawl; If you push him to walk, he may miss out on crawling completely. You may be overwhelmed by the early milestone achievement but you might take away another key stage of development. Crawling is a weight bearing activity that develops children’s ability to grip. Children who crawl get the pencil hold better and have much better handwriting as a result. Let him explore and learn at his own pace. You can only aid the development, not push it.


“Times have changed. But children haven’t. Young kids are on the same evolutionary path they’ve always been on. It’s our expectations that are off. We are trying to make children ready before the next stage of life before natural development allows them to be ready. It’s like expecting 10-year olds to drive a car safely, or expecting a four-month-old to walk.”

– Heather Shumaker, author of ‘It’s OK to go Up the Slide’

Aid the Child

Children are expected to scribble by a certain age. You may feel disheartened if your child doesn’t. However, it is important to check whether you provided him with crayons and pencils well in time. If you never did, how will he ever get familiar with gripping and using them? As long as you provide the right stimulus at the right age, the child will reciprocate with the right skills. If you are a parent who doesn’t want to stand by, wait and watch, feel free to contribute.

To strengthen his grip, get him to do plenty of clay play. Let him tear newspapers and crumple them up. To aid crawling, place attractive toys inches away from him. Be a silent observer while the child takes your cues and works on them. Don’t drag him into walking or running by forcing him to. If he is not physically ready, it can cause more harm than good.

Seek Help

If your child is simply past the upper limit of a development milestone and you have waited long enough, acknowledge your doubts. Don’t live in denial. Milestones are very helpful in identifying the need for a detailed checkup. Your child’s play school may also help you in observing and noting critical behaviours. Your family also assumes a vital role in this.  Inform your kid’s specialist about any stresses or concerns you may have. Your pediatrician will invest energy into viewing your child and chatting with you about your child’s progress since the last visit. He may recommend formal screening too. Screening includes checklists and observations regarding your child’s capacity. He may be given specific age-appropriate assignments. Or he might recommend going to a specialist for the particular delay he envisions.

The Bottom Line

Don’t freak out too early. Comparing your child with other children in the neighbourhood is not fair. Living by the book is also not recommended. Let your child make his own progress in his own time. Stay calm until the upper limit of the milestone is reached. If you suspect a delay even post that, don’t shy away from seeking help. Science has progressed to a level where a little professional help can be enough to catch up on any delay. Human growth is a very complex process and you never know what might’ve gone wrong. Some of it may just be  genetics. So, don’t blame yourself. Simply be around, understanding your child and helping him cope with peer pressure. Your patience will help your child push himself while keeping his confidence in tact.


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