Milestones, as they relate to navigation, are markers along a path offering an indication of precisely how far a traveler’s advanced toward a destination. In reality, although not usually in practice, child development milestones are much the same. Used to describe an ability—like crawling or babbling—that a child should acquire at a certain point in life, milestones can be useful under the discerning eye of an expert. But as far as parents are concerned, developmental milestones are mostly a distraction—a stressful, overwhelming distraction.
What Are Baby Milestones?
Baby developmental milestones were initially created to give physicians a broad understanding of how an average child grows. So in the aggregate, “most” kids will begin walking by 12 months. But depending on where they grow up in the world, how much space they have to explore, and how much freedom they are given by parents, babies can start walking as early as 6 months and as late as 16 months. The truth is whether they start at 6 months or 16, the vast majority of kids will be walking by age 2.
Are Developmental Milestones Important?
When it comes to parents, they’re helpful inasmuch as they let a mom or dad connect with their child. In the best circumstances parents will take their child’s development in stride and use the milestones as a general guide for how baby should grow. But sometimes, parents become competitive and overly fixated on when their baby achieves the milestones. This fixation can become stress, or even panic, should a child inevitably not reach a milestone when a parent expects, reach a milestones out of order, or skips them altogether.
What If My Baby Doesn’t Hit a Milestone?
It helps to remember that children outside of the average that a milestone represents aren’t somehow advanced or deficient. In fact, by the time children are in grade school, most are operating on the same developmental level regardless of whether they’ve developed some abilities more quickly or more slowly than their peers.
And a child who is slow to reach milestones isn’t necessarily showing signs of disability. Many other factors can slow development. Children who are born prematurely will develop at a speed commensurate with that early arrival. Expect a child who arrived a month early, for instance, to reach their milestones a month late.
Temperament also has a great deal to do with milestone achievement. An outgoing, adventurous, risk-taking child may be quicker to crawl in order to explore and discover. On the other hand, a cautious child might rather stay in one place or stay by their parents rather than strike out into the world.
More than anything, for kids to develop at their unique optimal pace, they just need a supportive parent who gives them plenty of opportunity to practice their babbling, wiggling, face making, grabbing, scooching skills.
This is not to say that developmental milestones are meaningless for parents. There are certain milestones that act as important developmental markers; they just might not be the milestones that most parents will be familiar with. Knowing which milestones to pay attention to can relieve some of the parental stress during a baby’s first year, or two.