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They’re everywhere for new parents – lists upon lists and charts full of developmental milestones. What should your child be doing at four months old? How about at eight months? What kind of speech is right for a two-year-old? And when should your child be able to jump or run or hold their own fork?
We want what’s best for our kids. We want to do right by them and to be sure that they are getting what they need from us, so we check and recheck these milestone charts to make sure that we haven’t missed anything. Every good child check in those first few years has parents asking their child’s pediatrician if everything is alright.
Most of the time a missed milestone isn’t anything to be concerned about. Kids develop at their own pace, and each child learns and grows individually.
Parents can really get worked up and worried about what the significance of missing one of the early milestones is, but in most of the cases by far it’s going to be just fine. Even children who lag behind in a milestone or two are on the whole not going to see anything detrimental happen during their long term development. Just like some babies come a week before their due date and some come a few days after, these milestones are more guidelines than they are rigid timetables.
There are times when your child’s missing a milestone can be of concern, and when it’s time to get serious. Here are the five times that you SHOULD be concerned about your child missing a milestone.
If your child starts losing skills, then this is a HUGE red flag. There’s a difference in losing skills and just not being interested in them anymore, but if your four-month-old was pushing up onto her elbows last week and is suddenly not able to do that anymore, or if your 18-month-old was jumping last week and can’t jump anymore, then it’s time to talk to your pediatrician.
This goes for social and speech milestones as well – if your child suddenly stops making eye contact or loses words, then this is the time to get things checked. It could be as simple as the little one having a mild illness that makes them feel yucky that’s keeping them from doing these things, but it could also be something more serious. This is definitely the time to call!
If your child is under a year and has a milestone that’s more than two months past, then it’s time to call the pediatrician. After age one look for milestones that are more than four months past before you talk to the pediatrician. Sometimes kids just develop at different rates, and as long as that milestone is on the horizon, then your child is most likely just fine.
Some children like crawling so they don’t learn to walk until later. Or sometimes kids won’t speak because they have an older brother who always gets them what they want. Most of the time even a long overdue milestone is nothing to worry about.
No alternate skills
Often milestones are really not about the milestone itself but about the overall skill. For instance, if your child at 9 months isn’t saying “mama” and “dada” but is instead using some other words, then they’re not really delayed. Or if your child is using a baby sign for words instead of saying them, then again it’s an alternate skill and nothing to be truly concerned about.
What you really want to see is that your child is moving forward on their motor and communication skills, so as long as they’re progressing in some fashion, then it’s nothing to worry over.
Missing many in one area
If your child is missing a great deal of speech or emotional milestones or is delayed in a whole set of milestones, then you should speak to their pediatrician. Sometimes milestones are missed because of poor eyesight or hearing – things that can often be readily addressed in order to allow your child to get back on track.
All milestones are delayed
If your child gets to their first birthday and hasn’t gotten to ANY of their first-year milestones, then that’s a time to start looking at why. Some kids are developmentally delayed for some reason – trauma at birth, simple genetics, etc., but that delay catches up.
In fact, that’s what usually happens when there’s a delay! But when all of the skills that a child should be reaching are late then it might mean that there’s something more going on. This also is a concern if development seems to suddenly stand still and your child is not gaining any new milestones.
Looking for some further guidance on milestones? Check these good, down to earth books that can walk you through what to expect and when to worry.