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All The Reasons To Stop Stressing About Your Toddler’s Developmental Milestones

flickr / Tamaki Sono

As a dad, experts pummel you with statistics about averages, growth curves, lengths, circumferences and dates that combine to make developmental milestones. Sometimes, your kid feels less like a baby and more like an SAT problem. (If Lucy starts crawling at 6 months, and Collin delays crawling until 9 months, how freaked out are all those parents?) Oh, and by the way, if you don’t get that right you will fail at life. Boy, will your mom be pissed.

The arithmetic of developmental milestones can cause a huge amount of stress, but it’s important to have a little perspective. Yes, doctors find milestones super-helpful in tracking progress and possible issues in you kid, but you’re probably too concerned about them for your own good. Here’s why you should just chill and simply fill in all the c’s on life’s scantron.

What Is A Milestone, Exactly?

People often frame developmental milestones as skills (grasping, babbling, crawling) that your kid should attain by a certain age. They’re actually more imprecise than that. While rigorous scientific study shapes these milestones, what you’re actually looking at is an average. And as an average it’s easy to lose sight of your kid as an individual.

So what should you think about instead? Consider the age ranges of the milestones rather than the specific months at which your kid “should” be able to do something. Also, know those ranges get bigger the older your kid gets. So, by toddlerhood, the age-specific targets for your kid to do certain things are pretty wide. And by the time they’re teenagers, well, all you can hope is that they don’t turn out to be assholes.

Not “When,” But “If'”

According to some experts, it’s less important when your kid finally does something, and more important that they do it all. In other words, does it really matter if your kid walks “late” according to the standard developmental milestones? Or is it more important that they are walking at all.

Your focus now is incredibly narrow, but when your kid is 30 it simply won’t matter when they started walking, as long as they can walk (at least when they’re not using their jetpack).

It’s Not A Competition

Another problem with developmental milestones is that parents get competitive about when their kid is able to do something. If little Timmy uttered his first word at 8 months, it doesn’t mean the kid’s going to grow up to be a genius. It is truly not that important. And frankly, your kid doesn’t need to be walking around in 20 years thinking they squandered the gift of an early pincer grasp, or they persevered despite not being able to eat with a fork until 3.

A Note On Guilt

If they’re slow to hit some milestones, understand there was probably nothing you could have done to change it. It is most likely not a result of bad parenting, and more likely that your kid’s brain is uniquely wired. It’s the same wiring that will drive them to be interested in some things over others.

Your job? Show unconditional love, patience, and protection. Any issues they run into during development can, and likely will, be corrected by the time it matters. And if it isn’t, you have one question to answer: Are they otherwise healthy, happy, and loved?

Trust Your Gut

No one knows your kid better than you do. So while you should stop putting so much worry into developmental milestones, if something is really truly freaking you out, call your pediatrician. They will have the knowledge and resources to help you understand if intervention or testing is truly necessary.

After all, they’re probably the ones who got all the word problems right.