Do developmental milestones matter?
If you’ve ever had a meeting with a health, educational or psychological professional, you’ll have probably been asked about your child’s ‘milestones’. Or if you’ve ever read any child-rearing or child development books, you’ll usually find lists of milestones there too. By milestones, I mean those key ages when children start walking, talking, feeding themselves and so on.
Do they matter?
Well, yes….and no. Let’s start with the ‘no’. A key thing to remember about the ages associated with different milestones is that they are averages: in other words, ‘typical’ children seem to do the specified thing at approximately the specified age. But because they’re an average, it means some children do them earlier and others do them later. No need to panic, then, if your child doesn’t start walking till 16 months when the book says 14 to 15 months. Most children get there in the end.
It can be concerning when you’re at a parent and baby group with children born at the same time as yours and the other children seem to be able to do more than your little one can. Especially as everyone is probably comparing their own child with all the others, just as you’re doing.
Sometimes, you must take the context into account as well. I remember a family where the youngest child was a boy with two older sisters. Both girls and the mum were very articulate and liked to talk. However, the little boy, although he seemed to understand everything, didn’t say a word till he was nearly 3. Why? Given the amount of conversation between his sisters and parents, especially, his mother, there simply wasn’t the space for him to enter a conversation. At the same time, on further observation, it appeared that a little pointing at a desired object and one of his siblings would give him what he wanted. He had no need to talk! A little constructive misunderstanding and ignoring his pointing soon led him to start chatting away and making his vocal presence felt.
So, why do health professionals, educators and psychologists keep asking about milestones then?
If a child hasn’t acquired the expected skills by some while after the expected time, then it may indicate that something’s not quite right. Or if they seem to be ‘on track’ in most areas but one aspect of their development, maybe speech or mobility, for example, is lagging, then perhaps alarm bells should start ringing. Perhaps there is an underlying issue, such as hearing or vision, that needs checking out and is affecting their development.
As a parent, you know your child best. If you can see that things are not progressing as they should, and you’re concerned, that’s the time to seek some help or advice. With very young babies and children, a good first point of call is the health visitor or your GP. With slightly older children, have a chat with the nursery or your child’s teacher. Or give me a call at Valuing Minds and we’ll talk it through.
But please remember – children develop at different rates. Not all of them will be composing symphonies when they’re starting full-time school like Mozart did!