Why You Shouldn’t Obsess Over Developmental Milestones

It’s natural for parents to obsess over their child’s development, celebrating when the child reaches milestones “ahead of schedule” and worrying over any perceived delay. Parents may compare their child to others of the same age, anxiously read books detailing developmental milestones, and wonder if their child is developing at a “normal” rate.

But the majority of the time, all of this worrying and progress-tracking isn’t necessary. Developmental milestones aren’t as significant as you might think, and overemphasizing them can be harmful to your child.

Child Development is a Continuum, and Milestones Are an Average

Every child is different, and each child will develop at his own pace. Milestones are simply an average, so individual results will naturally vary. There will be outliers at both ends of the spectrum.

Child development is a continuum, a sequence of skills that children acquire as they develop. As long as your child is passing through these stages, you don’t need to obsess over exactly when this occurs.

If you want to use developmental milestones as a guide, use a list like this one, developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and used by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA). It places developmental milestones at the far end of a reasonable spectrum. Walking, for example, may happen around 18 months of age. Some children don’t walk until closer to 20 months and are still perfectly healthy.

Don’t Rush Your Child

When you worry too much about your child’s development, you may try to rush your child through the developmental sequence.

This can be harmful. Occupational therapist Lourdes Brewer says, “This can lead to teaching…[children] splinter skills and pushing them toward the next milestone before they have had a chance to consolidate their skills or before they are ready.”

Each step in the developmental process teaches your child valuable skills. Let your child acquire these skills at his own pace instead of pushing him to achieve at what you feel is a “normal” rate.

To promote your baby’s development in a healthy way, spend time bonding with and talking to your child, provide “tummy time,” play games, engage your baby’s senses, and help your baby feel secure. Enjoy early parenthood and what your child is achieving instead of obsessing over a developmental checklist.

Still Worried?

If you’re still concerned about your child’s development, talk to your pediatrician. They may be able to ease your worries.

Even if there is a developmental delay, remember that it’s not your fault. And it’s very likely fixable: 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5, so when delays are caught early, children are more likely to recover with the help of therapy.


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