As parents, the idea of developmental milestones is usually planted in our heads on the day of our baby’s first visit to the pediatrician.
The concept of these milestones becomes ingrained in us – often beginning as a subtle undercurrent of worry: Is she alert? Is she reaching for toys? And sometimes evolving into full-blown fear: Why isn’t he walking yet? Will she ever start talking?
As a new mom, I was often shocked by the intense scrutiny of other moms: the “developmental milestone competition”. I cringed every time I heard someone proudly proclaiming that her child was ahead of the game with gross motor skills and how surely he would be the next Michael Jordan (yes, I am dating myself a little here). Other moms went on about how their children were reading at age 4, making them obvious candidates for a future Nobel Prize.
I think these conversations bothered me most because of my work and experience as a pediatric physical therapist. Each and every day, I see parents of children with special needs celebrate seemingly simple developmental gains. Maybe their child is 5 years old and just learning to roll over for the first time or their 3-year-old is just taking her first steps.
To see the determination, love, and patience that goes into the achievement of hard-won goals like this is enough to bring anyone to tears. I witness it almost every day and it really puts things into perspective.
So what is it with our need to compete when it comes to our kids’ development? Why make that first time mom feel so insecure about how her baby is progressing, or worse, insinuate that she might be doing something wrong?
Are we really this insecure? Or maybe it’s that we live in a culture and a day in age that values competition and winning more than it values true wellness or individual strengths and needs.
The bottom line is, kids are all wired to develop at their own pace. And what’s more, there are tons of external factors that contribute to child development. Individual family culture, beliefs, attitudes, schedules, priorities, and practical limitations all play a role in the experiences our children are exposed to and when they are exposed to them.
We’re not talking right or wrong here…just different! These differences can have varying effects on developmental timelines that are all within the “typical” range. Guess what? These differences also make the world go ‘round! How boring would it be if we all raised our kids exactly the same way? Who wants a planet full of developmental robo-kids? Not us!
The one thing we do preach is that we see a glaring trend these days of kids from all types of families who are not getting exposure to the frequent and regular free play, movement, and exploration experiences they need for healthy development. It’s something even we as child development professionals have to pay attention to with our own kids – everyone needs the occasional reminder to get the kiddos off the couch and away from that iPad!
Based on our experience, a good mix of structured and unstructured fine motor, gross motor, and sensory play seems to be the recipe for success when it comes to healthy development for most kids.
If you’re feeling stress about keeping up with the baby next door, keep these tips in mind:
Every child is different. They all have strengths as well as areas that are slower to develop. Some, like my first born, walk before they even look old enough to be crawling! Others, like my second born, take quite a bit longer to get the hang of walking (17 months to be exact), but excel when it comes to fine motor skills. Every child develops on their own schedule.
Your pediatrician is your friend. Your mother-in-law, best friend, and every author of every best-selling parenting book under the sun can tell you pretty much anything you want (or don’t want) to hear about how your child is developing. Listen to the advice of trained child development professionals who you trust and who have taken the time to get to know your child and your family. These professionals should take the time to listen to your questions and concerns and they should take them seriously – after all, you know your child better than anyone else! If you’re not getting your questions answered thoroughly – it may be time to look for a new doctor. As long as your child is following general developmental guidelines and your trusted pediatrician is not concerned, you shouldn’t be either!
Do everything you can to allow your child the opportunity to develop naturally and on her own schedule. Put her on the floor for tummy time, roll around with her, take her for strolls in the park, let her climb up those stairs while you stay closely behind, swing her on the swings, splash in the pool…relax, play, and have fun!
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Great post. We all need to focus on every child’s talents and not their short comings. No one is perfect. I think parents work so hard at molding the “perfect” child that a child’s true talents may not be expressed fully. In reality, most children are “average” are many things and excellent at very few.
As children get older and enter school age it doesn’t seem to improve – it becomes who is best at what subject or sport!
Have to add this – I have been guilty of bragging a few times (not about development but a score on a test or a winning a prize). I don’t think we can always help it as mothers and fathers – we are proud parents. We spend so much time parenting that you want to share successes with others.
Rachel :: CanDo Kiddo says
Such a great post! It’s important to remember that those gross motor milestones are just a fraction of all the developmental maturation going on. My baby is off-the-charts tall and super active so motor milestones are his forte. But he’s not a big babbler, still has the feeding and sleeping routines of a baby many months younger and has never separated well from us. I sometimes find myself pointing out to friends all the great things their babies are doing because I can see them comparing to my guy solely based on his motor skills. Babies are so multi-faceted and we should give them credit and respect for their unique strengths and preferences. Thanks for this post!
JoDee Crocker says
Thank you for this post. My 19month old has Noonan Syndrome. He works so hard in therapy, but his condition causes muscle weakness and delayed development. His therapist says he is progressing, but very slowly (even slower then she thought or would like.) we celebrate the smallest things like pulling up by himself with feet in the right position. It is hard to hear the comments from others about how he is still not doing this or that. It is even harder because noone has heard of Noonan Syndrome and he had a “normal” look. We have even been accused of not taking care of our precious Malachi.
Sorry to hear this. You should start educating and can even get some Tshirts made up for him about the syndrome. I have never heard of it. People can be insensitive but others want to make sure you know that something is different and are attending to his very different needs. You are a great parent for doing this but unfortunately, there are many parents that go into denial. This makes it even harder for the child. Play therapy once he gets the basics down (which can take a long time) and social skills will probably come later. I understand the difficulties and how you get lots of supports and your famlily or his comes to help out. Educate them too. Familiy doesn’t always go out and be proactive to so start educating them and asking for help.
I enjoy hearing about childrens strengths (not brags) but hearing how well they do something or what’s their niche. Most kids come with their own talents, natural abilities and gifts or interests. I have seen “competitive” parents but they are not the type I would engage in this conversation. They stick out like a sore thumb usually and are very extreme and seem to look down on other children who are not “go getters” and running off the starting line trying to be perfect. lol I enjoy parents who support their child’s difference but let children be children and the kids have spoken. If you force a child, they will quit on you later on. You can’t force anyone but you can let them know they have a special talent and encourage them. I love that parents are very attentive these days and encouraging and more accepting. Love first, everything else later.
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So I agree the competition isn’t always healthy, but there are alot spot of parents out there who don’t talk to or work with their infants and place them in a chair strapped in to baby Einstein expecting the kid to develop…. I am in a situation right now where if it weren’t for me informing this parent that my much younger infant has progressed further than theirs, they may have never listened to me about turning off the tv and actually prioritising tummy time and active play. Some parents are immature and need a reality check.