When you are a new parent, it's hard not to compare your child to other children and worry: are they developing normally?
It doesn't help that social media is full of proud parents — and that there are plenty of books and trending apps that purport to say exactly when a child should do each new thing, from smiling to rolling over to taking their first step. It's almost impossible not to wonder: is my child behind?
It's certainly important to keep an eye on your child's development. But as you do, here are some things to remember.
Every child is different. This is really the most important point of all. Each child is unique, from different backgrounds, living in different families and circumstances. It's impossible for all children to develop in exactly the same way — even children raised by the same family.
There is a range of normal. For example, while we say that children should walk at a year of age, anything between around 9 and 15 months is fine. While those ranges of normal are usually in the fine print of all those books and apps, one specific age usually gets emphasized. This is unfortunate, and can make many families worry unnecessarily.
There are different aspects of development, and children may move through them at different paces. A child may be an early walker, but take more time learning to talk because they are having so much fun walking. A child may be so entranced with learning to communicate that walking seems less interesting. Children are learning how to use their bodies, learn how to communicate, learn how to interact, learn how to understand the world around them — and each child does it in their own way. It's important to look at the whole picture of a child's development, not just one milestone.
What to do with your worries
Understanding the big picture doesn't mean you should shrug it off when your child seems to be developing differently than other children. It also doesn't mean that all apps are bad; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a nice Milestone Tracker, for example.
But before you get worried, you should talk to your doctor. You can also reach out to your state's Early Intervention program and request an evaluation, which is free and available to children younger than 3 years old when their parent or doctor is worried about their development. If a child is found to have a developmental problem, the program works with families to support them in helping their child.
5 tips to encourage healthy development in infants and young children
Here are some ways you can encourage your child's development:
- Play with your child! Interacting with other people, especially those who love them, is the best way for a child to learn new skills.
- Shut off the devices — not just your child's, but yours. Nothing takes the place of actual attention and interaction.
- Give your child time on the floor. Literally. Make a clean space and put them down so that they can learn to crawl and otherwise use their bodies.
- Buy your child simple toys that help them to learn and use their imagination. Rattles or other noisemakers and musical toys, blocks, dolls, balls, and cars are great, as are pretend kitchen utensils and tools. It's actually better if it doesn't need batteries!
- Read to your child! It's one of the best ways to teach them new words — and to love books, which is a great gift in and of itself. It's also a really nice way to strengthen your relationship with your child.
To learn more about child development and what parents and communities can do to support it, visit the website of Harvard's Center on the Developing Child.
Follow me on Twitter @drClaire