Rushing These 6 Baby Milestones Is A Complete Waste Of Time

Forcing your kid through milestones can do more harm than good.

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The Fatherly Guide to Baby Milestones

Although baby developmental milestones can be helpful for identifying developmental issues, for a parent they can often be misleading — because everybody develops differently and at their own unique pace. So to obsess over the crawling, walking, talking milestones is often unecessary, or downright problematic.

“People come to the emergency department about this, because they're so concerned, which speaks to the gravity and the gravitas of how folks get wedded to a lot of these milestones,” says pediatric emergency physician Christina Johns, M.D.

If your child isn’t walking at a year old, it doesn’t mean they have motor issues. If, conversely, they’re walking well before the typical age, it doesn’t mean they’ll end up an Olympian. “I would probably go out on a limb and say we get wedded to nearly all [milestones] unnecessarily,” says Johns. “It’s a guide post, not a report card.”

Almost all milestones are flexible, and obsessing and stressing over them can cause your kid, and yourself, more harm than good. This is the case for everything from rolling over to speaking their first words, but it’s especially true for some of the big milestones like crawling, sleeping through the night, eating solid foods, potty training, and talking.

Here are six baby milestones that parents should never rush their child to meet — and when you should actually start worrying about your child not hitting them.

Milestone #1: Sleeping Through The Night

A common milestone “obsession” is sleep, says Caroline Martinez, M.D., a professor of behavioral pediatrics at the Icahn Institute of Medicine at Mount Sinai. This is for good reason, because parents can’t sleep through the night until their baby does too.

Many infants are able to sleep through the night for entire 6- to 8-hour stretches by 3 or 4 months, in addition to taking a couple of naps during the day. This timeframe can help you to start thinking about when and how you’ll be sleep training your kid and putting them to sleep. But getting a solid night’s sleep can absolutely take longer than this. “There is an incredible amount of variability both in infants' innate sleeping patterns and how parents respond to and shape sleeping schedules,” says Martinez.

Achieving a full night’s sleep is influenced by many factors, including developmental stage and growth spurts, health and comfort, feeding practices, and parenting practices. A child's sleep patterns may also be influenced by genetics, Martinez says, and some babies naturally have a more easy-going temperament, which may make them more likely to fall asleep easily and stay asleep for longer periods of time.

So when it comes to sleep training, follow your child’s lead. Trying to get them to sleep through the night if they don’t want to will only cause friction.

Milestone #2: Speaking Their First Words

Most 1-year-olds have about one word in their vocabulary, and they develop around 10 words by 15 months and 50 words by age 2. But those are only averages.

All parents are dying to hear their baby speak their first word, but there is a pretty wide range for this,” Martinez says. There are also many different examples of words, and experts count everything from actual words to word approximations like single syllables, exclamations, animal sounds, and gestural signs when it comes to communication. So long as there’s a little bit of that going on, you shouldn't’’t worry about your child’s language development. Stressing your little ones to speak can discourage them from trying to communicate if they associate it with negative experiences, says Martinez.

Communication can come in many different shapes and forms, and it’s important to look at all of these clues in a holistic way. But if you’re encouraging and share attention, your baby should follow your lead and mirror your verbalizations and gestures, as research shows that babies start talking according to how much you as a parent are talking to them. Try speaking to your baby frequently, reading to them, singing songs, and engaging in back-and-forth interactions. There’s no need to rush this milestone, but by being a bit of a chatter box yourself, you’ll encourage your baby to speak up too.

Milestone #3: Transitioning To Solid Foods

By the age of 6 to 8 months, most kids are ready to eat all sorts of solid foods. This isn’t the same for everybody though, and some kids might be more or less curious about different food consistencies and textures.

Instead of rushing to this milestone, try observing your child’s needs and feeding cues and encouraging self-led weaning, since it’s a baby’s innate instinct to explore food at their own pace. Force-feeding your little person solid foods risks instilling a turn-off or fear toward them, which undermines a child’s relationship with food, just as overfeeding at this stage of development can set a long-term precedent. Bribing your kid to eat solid foods with sweets and junk food also can contribute to unhealthy habits later down the road.

Additionally, there are a lot of purely mechanistic problems that can arise if the child isn't ready to swallow thicker and larger substances. “If you’re trying to give solids too early to a child there can be choking and gagging and aspiration, or coughing and spitting food,” Johns says.

Milestone #4: Crawling

Crawling tends to start between 7 and 10 months of age. It’s often said to be a major milestone because it encompasses abilities across physical, mental, and emotional development. But it turns out that crawling isn’t that big of a deal.

Some kids even skip crawling altogether. Rather than crawl, these kids tend to scoot around on their butt and use their hands to pull themselves to places, Johns explains. Other kids roll from place to place. Some crab-crawl, others bear-crawl, some even commando-crawl with their belly on the floor. This doesn’t mean they have any motor skill issues, and they could easily start walking just as soon as their peers.

So, as long as your kid is making some sort of effort to get from one point to another, it doesn’t really matter how they’re doing it.

Milestone #5: Walking

Pediatrician guidelines state that walking is a milestone usually reached by 12 months, but there’s a lot of flexibility here too. “The window for walking is wide, and there is no cause for alarm if that milestone has yet to be reached,” says Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D., a professor of pediatric psychology at Fordham University.

If they’re not walking by 18 months, or not walking steadily by 24 months, then it’s worth checking in with a pediatrician. This window takes into account a wide range of ‘normal’ while still ensuring that early intervention is attainable if needed.

Kids start walking according to temperament, and when they’re ready to do so, it’s because they’ve broadened their collection of skills needed for walking: some crawling, some holding on, some standing straight. The best thing a parent can do to help their kid walk is to supervise them and make sure they’re not getting hurt, but let them learn all of the rest on their own. And don’t get an old-fashioned baby walker — they’re dangerous.

Milestone #6: Potty Training

Between the age of 2 and 3, kids could start saying goodbye to their diapers. Since this is such a practical milestone, and children this age might be getting ready to go to preschool, potty training is one of the developmental milestones that causes parents the most stress. But it’s not the end of the world if your child isn’t on board with potty training by 24 months.

Forcing it can lead to worse repercussions. “I can't tell you the number of folks who are trying to give it a go at 18 months, 2 years,” says Johns. “Unfortunately, that causes a lot of stress for families.” Plus, it can cause lots of issues for the child, such as kids becoming fearful and stressed about pooping and peeing, so they hold it in — which can lead to chronic health issues, constipation, or urinary tract infections.

So, When Should You Worry About Baby Milestones?

“Milestones are not a final transcript for your child's development,” says Johns. The only real warning signs to keep an eye out for, she says, are if your kids are regressing, or going backward on their milestones.

Regression doesn’t mean that your kid stood up once and then stopped doing it for a while because they realized it caused them effort. Rather, “when there is a significant loss of milestones without regaining them, that is something that needs to be brought to the attention of a healthcare professional,” Johns says.

If you’re ever unsure, consulting a pediatrician for assistance can offer much-needed reassurance about the progress being made by your baby — so never hesitate to reach out if you need help.

Although developmental milestones have a downside in that they can create unnecessary worry and competition for parents, they’re still crucial. Catching developmental problems at an early stage gives parents and clinicians an opportunity to support and encourage development before it gets far off track, says Gerald Giesbrecht, Ph.D., a clinical pediatrics psychologist at the University of Calgary.

“The main way that the idea of milestones is harmful is when parents use anchor dates instead of ranges to evaluate the development of their children,” Giesbrecht says. “I think the key is not to downplay milestones, but rather to further educate parents about the rather wide range of ‘normal’ development.”