“My child walked at 9 months old.”
A wonderful accomplishment for some lucky parent to boast. But that parent was not me, and that child was not mine.
Not every child begins to walk at such an early stage in their development. But some do and that’s just fine. When a child begins to walk, he or she has reached an important developmental milestone.
When my first born was growing, during infancy, I had read many books about children’s development, and had majored in psychology as a college undergraduate. With all of this information before me, it was still very confusing being a new parent. Theory is much different from practice. Being a parent, especially a new parent, is about practice, because there is no definitive book on parenting.
Guided by a particularly famous baby book, by Penelope Leach, it was my personal bible. I was constantly checking for symptoms of possible illnesses, if my daughter cried too much or I saw a spot on her skin. With every diagnosis I read about, my daughter seemed to have those symptoms. I just knew that she had colic, if she cried and I didn’t understand why or what she needed. Most times, she only needed to be burped or cuddled. I wanted to do the right things for my child-no different from any other parent.
When it came to the developmental milestones, I would measure my daughter’s progress against every new skill she was supposed to have mastered. She sat up on time, held a bottle on her own appropriately, even though I breastfed her. If the book stated that she should be making certain sounds by a particular age, I had to check my child for those sounds. I encouraged her growth.
I was scared, paranoid and sometimes assured at the same time. So, her growth was encouraged on a daily basis. That is not a bad thing. It’s actually recommended. As soon as she could focus her little eyes, I had books in front of her. We read all day long, and it was fun.
Where I really began to panic was that most expert books for parents were saying that most children should be walking at age one. Well, her 1st birthday passed and she still crawled. I worried that something was wrong. I wondered if she was ‘delayed’ in some way or whether I was doing my job as a mother. I called my pediatrician for every little thing. Fortunately, I had a good rapport with that doctor, because thinking back, I would have driven anyone absolutely crazy by my ‘paranoia’. Today, I prefer to say I was being a conscientious parent.
She began walking just shy of her 13th month birthday. Finally. Yes! After a while, I began to think that my books were doing more harm than good. They drove me crazy. But, they helped me remain alert and actively involved in my child’s growth process. Monitoring developmental milestones helped keep me attuned with moving her forward. I was alert to everything she was doing.
Developmental milestones are skills that most children achieve by a certain age. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act, and move. Skills such as smiling by 2 months, walking with help by age 1, and waving “bye-bye” by 18 months are some common developmental milestones, though there are many more.
Children develop at their own pace, so it’s difficult to tell exactly when a child will learn a given skill. That is important to remember. However, age-specific developmental milestones give a general idea of the skills to expect. These milestones in child growth are now included in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s[CDC] Developmental Milestone Checklists and reflect what MOST (estimated between 75%-90%) children achieve by a given age.
Developmental monitoring is tracking when or whether a child reaches the milestones that are expected by his or her age. It is something parents and other caregivers can do, on a regular and ongoing basis. Doing so provides important information about a child’s developmental health. Using CDC’s developmental milestone checklists makes it easy, much easier than it was for me when my children were between 0 and 5 years old.
At the heart of my concerns was whether my daughter had developmental disabilities or delays. Monitoring developmental milestones helps parents know what skills they can typically expect at certain ages and what to expect next. This also helps them to know when to act if they see signs of possible challenges. This enables parents to seek supports and services as early as possible. Staff will usually help parents monitor their children’s development and support them in taking action when there is a concern
Parents know their children best. If a parent thinks there could be a problem with their child’s development, it is important to consult with their child’s primary care provider or a program for screening and follow-up.
Developmental disabilities and delays are relatively common. Approximately 1 in 6 children, from ages 3-17, have developmental disabilities-conditions that affect how children play, speak, learn, act or move for their age. Children from low income families are at even greater risk.
The fact is that many children aren’t identified with a developmental disability until after they start school. In light of this reality, parents and families should be encouraged to monitor every child’s development. Learn the signs of healthy development, and act early at any possible developmental concerns. Talking with your doctor and asking for developmental screening helps in early identification.
If your child has been identified with developmental delays or disabilities, it is not the end of the world-for your child or you. There are supports and services that will help you navigate your parenting journey. Just ask about them. Educate and empower yourself to help your child learn and grow. Most of all, with or without developmental delays or disabilities, love your child unconditionally. Every child deserves the loving presence and support from adults in their lives.
As an informed parent, with the best interest of the child at heart, it’s never a waste of time to monitor your child’s developmental health. Just as tracking height and weight, indicators of healthy growth, milestones can be indicators of healthy development. Please, don’t stop monitoring your child’s development- academic, social, personal, physiological and emotional. That’s never paranoia; that’s called parenting.