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Our daughter didn’t walk until she was almost two and I still remember the sleepless nights we spent worrying about whether it was the sign of a serious problem – Would she have foot issues all her life? Would she need surgery? Would she ever walk?
Worrying about your child not hitting development milestones is more common than you think.
Laura’s son had just turned 18 months when she began noticing that he was not reaching developmental milestones. She felt that he wasn’t “acting like other kids his age.” He wouldn’t always respond to his name, he didn’t always smile back when smiled at, he knew less words than other kids his age and he rarely pointed at things. Her son also seemed disinterested in the kids around him and preferred playing alone. Although her GP told her nothing was wrong, she couldn’t help comparing him to other kids and noticing in how many ways he was “different”.
We all know that childhood is not a race, yet we still panic when we feel that our kids are not reaching certain key milestones. But here’s the problem: the more you focus on whether or not your child is “within the standards”, the more you are likely to notice and worry about their development delays.
Understanding children’s developmental milestones
Developmental milestones were first created as a guide to enable physicians to assess a child’s general development. They include things such as:
- Babies’ ability to walk, crawl, sit up or hold their heads up depending on their age
- Their speech and language development (for example how many words they can say or understand at a particular age or how they react when they are spoken to)
- The development of specific skills (for example ability to catch or kick a ball, ability to relate to the world around them, etc.).
Professionals speak of developmental delays when a child under six is unable to reach development milestones in one or several categories. That said, developmental milestones are simply a general road map. These milestones are based on an “average”, but that does not mean that your child has a development disorder just because they fall outside the “normal ranges”.
The saying “All roads lead to Rome” is quite relevant when it comes to childhood development. Some children will take the easiest and shortest road, others will take the longest and most winding one, but most of them will eventually get to Rome.
Unfortunately, there is no quick answer to the question “why does my child have developmental delays?” Science says that these delays may be hereditary, culture-based, environmental, or even based on children’s unique personality traits. In other words, your daughter may just be naturally disinclined to “smile at everyone”, or to “show interest in kids her age” even if that’s something she is “expected to do at her age”.
Baby not reaching key milestones ? Understanding how child development really works
Parenting in the age of the internet comes with its own challenges. Lists about what your baby should be doing at what age are only a click away, and many parents are worrying when their kids do not fit within those lists.
The truth is, child development is rarely a black or white issue. Every baby is unique and different, meaning that it is not uncommon for your child to:
- develop certain skills before others
- reach developmental milestones earlier than they are “expected to”
- reach developmental milestones later than they are “expected to”
- hit many but not all of their developmental milestones
- act differently than other kids their age
- have a development pattern that looks nothing like that of their brother’s, sister’s, cousin’s or even family friend’s
One aspect of developmental milestones that is still poorly understood is the fact that these milestones are not about specific things that your child “must” be able to do at every stage of their development. They are a guide, and what really matters is your child’s own developmental rhythm.
In other words, it is very common for children to develop some milestones at an age earlier than that at which they are expected to, and while this causes pride in parents, the opposite is true when other milestones are reached “later than expected”.
Why you should worry less about your child’s developmental delays
“My child seems different than other kids” is a common concern for parents worrying about their children not reaching developmental milestones. Let’s face it, worry is a MAJOR part of being a parent. These thoughts may arise because of behavior such as your child:
- Appearing to be in their own world
- Struggling with focus and concentration
- Displaying hyperactive behavior
- Throwing frequent tantrums or repeatedly going into meltdown
- Appearing “slow”
It is normal to worry about whether your child is hitting developmental milestones or not. It is normal to worry (or panic!) about whether their inability to “point at things” or to “crawl or walk” at a certain age is a sign of something more serious. But here’s the thing: despite developmental delays, most children eventually catch up from developmental delays (at 6, 7 or 8 years old – there is no clear consensus about this, but it is at around this age that specialists can determine if there are any disorders). In other words, “slower development” is not synonymous with “developmental disorders”.
With social media, it’s easier today to compare your child and see if they are “winning or losing”. Call it competition, a desire to see if your child is not “being left behind” or even a secret desire to see where your kid is “winning”, but comparing your child to other kids is guaranteed to lead to stress and worry. Also remember that while there are many videos on social media showing kids hitting key milestones, there are thousands of other kids like yours out there who are not on Facebook videos because they too haven’t reached their milestones.
The good news is that most worries are often unfounded, especially because children develop at different rates. This means that your child may meet their milestones later than other children, and that’s perfectly okay. That being said, there are simple techniques you can try at home to boost your child’s development.
Three things you can do if your baby has developmental delays
- Offer a supportive environment
The environment is essential in the development of children’s skills. In other words, your child needs your help to develop, and this means being present and supportive. It also means providing them with multiple opportunities to practice their skills.
This could mean engaging them in games, reading to them on a regular basis, encouraging them to hold things, proposing toys and activities that help them develop certain skills, and so on. If your child is almost two, simple tasks such as encouraging them to participate in household chores like dusting, picking up their toys or throwing their diaper in the trash can will help them develop new skills. Remember that parental attention and engagement is the most powerful tool to help your baby develop different development skills.
2) Accept your child for who they are
Development milestones often fail to take into account children’s unique personalities. Some children are natural introverts, and they may be more likely to shy away from risk-taking, meaning that they will also be slower to try out activities other more adventurous children are dying (and quick!) to try.
If your child generally looks and acts okay, they might just need a little more time – or stimulation – than other kids, and that’s okay.
3) Remember that delayed milestones rarely mean that your child has a problem
Many children with developmental delays eventually catch up. While some delays may point to a more serious problem (don’ forget to download the free printout about the delays you should worry about), most kids eventually hit developmental milestones.
What toys can help if your child is not reaching their developmental milestones
Are there games and toys that can help your child reach their developmental milestones faster? The short answer is no, because much of your child’s development depends on the development of their neurological and muscular system. In other words, if your child has not developed certain skills yet, there is little you can do to “speed things along”.
That being said, many children who have already developed those skills do not display the associated behavior for any number of reasons, and it is those kids that can benefit most from specific toys and games that encourage them to practice their skills. The section below looks at the toys and games that can help your child develop specific skills.
Toys, games and activities to help a child with developmental delays
Toys and games to develop your child’s fine motor skills
Fine motor skills enable your child to strengthen their small muscle movements. These are the skills that enable them to do things such as hold a pencil, hold their sippy cups, turn the pages of a book, use their own cutlery and so on. Fine motor skills allow your child to synchronize their hands, fingers, and eyes.
Your child’s fine motor skills start developing quite early and are among the skills they develop first. That’s why you see small babies grabbing and clinging onto anything they can get their small fingers around, or opening their hands and trying to touch their mouths.
The good news is that there are thousands of everyday activities that can help your child strengthen their fine motor skills. Here are just five things you can do if you feel that your baby may have developmental delays:
- Let your child help around the kitchen. Activities such as kneading dough are great for strengthening their fine motor skills.
- Propose a sorting activity. Sorting activities are great for children struggling with the development of fine motor skills because they enable your child to practice their gripping. Placing different-size, different-type or different-color objects (beads, marbles, buttons, etc.) in a large container and asking your child to classify the objects is an easy and fun way to help them develop their fine motor skills. Remember to supervise small children if you are using small objects.
- Getting your child age-appropriate cutlery can help them improve their fine motor skills. The more you propose tools that they can manipulate easily, the easier you make it for them to work on the development of their skills.
- Encouraging your child to practice finger painting or to use large crayons can help develop their fine motor skills.
- Use age-appropriate tools to encourage your child to participate in household chores. Just like with cutlery, the more your child can easily manipulate tools such as dustpans and brooms, the easier it will be for them to develop fine motor skills. Montessoriservices has everything you need (and more!) to get started.
Certain toys are a great resource to help strengthen children’s fine motor skills. The best toys are those that encourage them to use their fingers, hands, wrists and eyes. Here are four categories of toys that are great for strengthening your child’s fine motor skills.
- Stacking toys
All stacking activities are great for helping with the development of your child’s fine motor skills.
A rainbow tunnel is a common toy in Montessori classrooms. Children from 18 months will enjoy stacking and nesting the wooden arches, and this will help them develop their fine motor skills and their eye-hand coordination. As your child grows older, they will be able to use the arches in many different ways – building tunnels, houses, boats, bridges, and whatever else they can imagine!
Stacking toys can also help your child learn about concepts such as balancing, spinning, and gravity. Fat Brain Toys Tobbles Neo can help boost your baby’s fine-motor and coordination skills. It is also a solid and durable toy that even the youngest kids will enjoy playing with for years!
DIY stacking toys are also really easy to make. All you need are stackable objects (Legos, Jenga blocks paper cups, plastic bowls, etc.) that allow your child to create either pre-designed patterns or free-style patterns.
2) Threading activities
Threading is a fun activity that will help your child strengthen their fine motor skills. Simply grab good quality play beads of different sizes, something to string them together, and let them unleash their creativity!
3) Toys with buttons to push, pull and twist
Toys that require pushing, pulling and twisting such as the Fisher-Price Monster Pop-Up Surprise are great for developing fine motor skills.
4) Shape sorters
Shape sorters are one of the most effective toys for strengthening fine motor skills. They are good toys for working their fingers and their hand-eye coordination because they require your child to match different shapes and/or sizes to the cutouts proposed.
Choosing fewer but higher quality toys means that your child will be able to use them as they grow. If you have to get only one toy, get the Lovevery Block Set. It is a bit costly, but it is the “most comprehensive block set ever designed”. This block set will allow your child to practice stacking, threading, shape sorting, matching activities, imaginative play, and much much more.
Activities to develop your child’s social and emotional milestones
Your child’s inability to manage strong emotions largely impacts their behavior. No child is born knowing exactly how to deal with big emotions such as anger and anxiety. When those emotions strike, your child could react in ways that are often perceived as inappropriate, such as throwing tantrums or going into meltdown. For instance, few children will go to their parents and say that they are frustrated because they are unable to manipulate an object. A more probable scenario will be the throwing of the object against the wall or on the floor. This is often mistaken for a “behavior issue”; the truth is that it is an “emotions issue”.
If your child does not know how to deal with strong emotions, they will react “inappropriately”. That is why it is important to start strengthening their emotional intelligence as soon as is possible. Here are three easy ways to get started:
- Always comment on your child’s emotions to help them understand and name them: “I can see that you’re sad…”
- Take advantage of the emotions your child sees every day on his favorite show or in the books you read to improve their emotional intelligence. From age four, age-appropriate resources can give you the tools you need to communicate with your child about emotions.
- Talk about your own emotions or the emotions of the people you come across in your environment
Toys and games to develop your child’s cognitive milestones
Cognitive skills affect your child’s emotional, physical and psychological well-being. They influence your child’s ability to pay attention, understand instructions and follow through, reflect on a potential solution to a problem and so on.
Any activities that require your child to follow specific instructions, pay attention to detail and concentrate are great for the development of their executive function skills.
Games that require your child to concentrate, think and remember are also great for developing their executive functions. Good examples for babies are puzzles with knobs, or even floor puzzles. As your child gets older, games such as Labyrinth, Looney Labs Aquarius and Spot It! are great options for strengthening their executive function skills.
You do not necessarily need toys to help your child strengthen their executive function skills. Games your probably already play such as Simon Says and Musical Chairs are also easy ways to help them improve their capacity to listen to instructions and follow through.
Toys and games to help your child reach their movement milestones
Movement milestones are related to the development of your child’s gross motor skills. These are the skills that enable them to walk, jump, catch or throw.
- The Wooden Wobble Balance Board
The Wooden Wobble Balance Board is a great tool that can help develop your child’s gross motor skills. It can help them develop a sense of balance and work on their posture. Perhaps the best part is that this board also promotes open play – your child can use it a swing, a steppingstone, a tunnel, a goal post, and so on.
2) A trampoline
Trampolines are great for developing your child’s sense of balance AND kids love them! If you child is too small or if you think they need your supervision, start with a mini-trampoline and make sure that all safety measures are in place.
- A Pikler triangle
The great thing about Pikler triangles is that your child will enjoy working on their muscles and on their sense of balance. This triangle proposes so many options, all your kids from 18 months to eight will love it. Climbing triangles can be costly, but good ones are durable and your child(ren) can play with them for years!
Any activities that encourage your child to move are great for developing their gross motor skills. Simple activities such as dancing to music, participating in obstacle races and catching and kicking balls will help strengthen these skills.
Activities to help your child reach their speech and language milestones
“Not knowing enough words” or “not talking enough” is a common concern of parents worried about their children not reaching developmental milestones. The good news is that there are relatively simple ways that can help your child improve their language development. Here are just three ways to get started:
- Read every day. The more your child hears new words, the higher the chances that their language skills will improve. If you fear that they have developmental delays, don’t just stop at reading: talk about the pictures, the colors, the shapes, etc. In other words, talk to your child as you read. If you are unsure about what books to choose, the Reading bug box and the award-winning Bookroo box are a few great subscription boxes that propose great age-appropriate books, even for newborns.
- Sing. Kids love songs and rhymes, and these are an excellent resource to help them develop their speech and language skills.
- Read everything out loud. Naming all the words you see is an easy way to help your child improve their vocabulary. When you go shopping, name as many objects as you can. When you pass in front of stores, say out loud what is written on the store front.
- Talk and listen. Engaging your child in conversation is an easy and natural way to improve their speech and language skills. Talk about everything – their clothes, the meals they are going to eat, what you are going to buy them when you go shopping, and so on. Your child is more likely to pay attention when you talk about things that relate to them directly. Ask questions and avoid answering them yourself. Don’t pressure your child to respond but ask them questions that make it easier for them to communicate.
- Talk about what you’re doing. Talking about what you are doing is an easy way to help your child strengthen their language skills.
When it comes to developing your child’s language skills, remember that the more they practice those skills, the higher the chances that those skills will improve.
Missed development milestones: What every parent should know
Jean Piaget was among the first psychologists to propose a theory of cognitive development. But even Piaget had lessons that every parent worrying about their child’s developmental delays should know:
- Your child will learn best when they are actively involved in doing things. This means that proposing the right home environment that allows them to fully participate in your family life will do wonders for their development. In other words, your child must discover things by themselves.
- Each child has a personal development rhythm. If your child is not yet ready to learn something (neurologically), don’t push it. Wait for them to develop the skills they need to succeed, then reinforce those skills.
- Do not focus on the end result, focus on the process. The activities and games your child engages in every day are what really matter.
- You are not your child’s only teacher. Children learn from everywhere, so give them multiple opportunities to learn – the playground, from siblings and peers, from grandparents, aunts and uncles, from reading books and watching shows, etc.
- If your baby continues to increase their skills, stop worrying and use games and toys to strengthen those skills.
Should I worry about my child not reaching their developmental milestones?
If you are here, you are probably wondering if you should be worried about your child’s developmental delays. Slow development rarely means learning disorders, but an inability to hit developmental milestones may be the sign of a more serious problem. Download this free guide on the only developmental milestones you need to worry about.
Before age six, your child is still developing their neuromuscular system, meaning that it may be difficult to accurately evaluate all the skills they are expected to have mastered. In other words, not all skills can be assessed before age six. But if you are still panicking about your child’s developmental milestones, please contact your family doctor who will help you better understand your child’s development pattern or point you to the right professional if there is need for concern. Remember that the earlier a problem is detected, the easier it is to deal with.
All information presented here is for educational purposes only. If you think your child has a medical problem or if you need professional advice, please see your family doctor.
When you’re worrying about your child’s developmental delays, it helps knowing that you are not alone. Share your worries with us in the comments section below. If your child caught up on their delays, let us know what you did to help.