Parents are instinctively concerned about their child’s development and want to be sure their child is advancing properly. Children typically learn key abilities at different life stages as they age. Tracking those abilities help to gauge a child’s progress.
While growth refers to a child’s size, development is about their ability to do different things over time as they age. Development is not the same as growth. Things like sitting up, standing, crawling, and walking are examples of gross motor development.
Childhood development generally falls into five different skill categories:
- Gross motor: using large groups of muscles for sitting, standing, walking, running, balance, or changing positions
- Fine motor: using hands to hold utensils and eat, draw or write, dress, play, etc.
- Language: speaking and understanding what others say as well as using body language or gestures communicate
- Cognitive: learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering
- Social: participating in relationships with family, friends, and teachers, socializing with others, cooperating, and responding to others’ feelings.
What are developmental milestones?
Developmental milestones are age-specific activities that most children can do at a specific age range. A pediatrician uses milestones to gauge how a child is developing. While each milestone has an age level, the actual age when an individual child reaches that milestone is often different. Each child is unique!
The following guides provide broad ranges on expected developmental milestones at various ages:
How do medical providers check child development?
Evaluating a child’s development is a group effort between the family medicine provider, parents, and family. During a well-child visit, a medical provider will observe your child and talk with you about things your child has done since your last visit. During this time, share any worries or concerns about your child. Your family medicine provider may also use developmental screening or a series of questions and observations that evaluates your child’s ability to perform everyday tasks for their age. Medical providers use developmental milestones to help identify children at risk for developmental delay.
What if my child is not on track with the typical developmental milestones?
All children are unique and will develop differently but in cases where a provider finds anything of concern, they may refer you to a specialist or work with your family to identify services to help such as speech therapy, physical therapy, or developmental preschool. If your child has delays, even mild ones, starting an early intervention program can help your child make the most progress possible.
Using a “checklist” or calendar of developmental milestones may unnecessarily alarm parents if their child’s development does not match the timeline. But, milestones can help to identify a child who needs a more detailed check-up and intervention. Research shows that the sooner the developmental services are started, the better the result.
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