Is My Child Falling Behind?
It’s tough being the parent of a young child. Comparing our kids and ourselves to others makes it even tougher. Having a child in the 99th percentile sounds and feels so good. Who cares if it is for head circumference. I’m overweight, and I’ve honestly found myself taking pride in my daughter’s low BMI (weight for height). Yes, I’m ridiculous. We can worry a lot about what our kids are doing relative to their peers.
For a lot of parents, developmental milestones are one of those things that you kind of know about, but don’t really. Like bees – where I’m pretty sure they are all dying and it might be the end of the world, but it probably won’t be, so I never actually read an entire article on the problem, and I don’t know what to do about it. If it comes up in conversations, I just say things like, “Yeah, that’s scary.” With milestones, it’s “I don’t think we need to worry about that?” Let’s make milestones less like the bee apocalypse.
The following developmental milestones are based off a commonly used assessment tool called the Denver – II. It’s kind of dry, so I added some insights from my experience as a parent to describe what these milestones can really look like. We’ll look at birth to 5 years old breaking down milestones into categories of personal/social, language, fine motor/adaptive, and gross motor (large movements) at each age point. If you’re more of a visual person, feel free to scroll down to the colorful, pinable, infographic.
Personal/Social: Sometimes smiles back at you, but mostly stares at your forehead.
Language: Any sound that isn’t crying is the greatest sound you’ve ever heard.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Flails like a turtle flipped on its back.
Gross Motor: Just lays there. You tell yourself, “I heard Michael Phelps just laid there at this age too.”
Personal/Social: Smiles at you spontaneously… or is he pooping?
Language: Says “ooooo” and you yell to your husband, “I think he just said mom.”
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Flails like a ninja-turtle flipped on its back.
Gross Motor: Can hold head up at least half-way during tummy-time. You tell everyone, “he’s so strong.”
Personal/Social: Stares at his hand like a character from Dazed and Confused.
Language: Laughs, especially when you get hurt.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Puts hands together. Newborn hair has fallen out consistent with male pattern baldness. Combined, this makes him look like a chubby Mr. Burns.
Gross Motor: When holding him on your lap, you don’t worry that his neck is breaking.
Personal/Social: Throws self at toy, then wiggles enough to get caught in a cord and pull down a lamp.
Language: Says “Na”. You post to Facebook that your baby is already talking, and his first word was “Mom”. You know that babies’ first words come around one year, so you begin preparing Ivy League applications.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Reaches for knives and other sharp objects.
Gross Motor: Sits by himself, and you think, “Oh I can’t wait until he starts to crawl!”
Personal/Social: Waves bye-bye… after a lot of coaxing (by the time they wave, the person they were waving to has driven away, made it to the airport, and is already getting x-rayed in a phone booth doing jumping jacks).
Language: Says “Mamamamamamamamamamama” You tell eveyone I told you so.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Bangs two blocks together. They are the only two blocks older sister wants to play with.
Gross Motor: Talk to your friend on the phone about how parenting isn’t so hard. Hang up. Hear crying. Follow it to find your child in the coat closet, pinned beneath a vacuum cleaner. Think to yourself, “I wish he would just sit still.”
Personal/Social: Imitates activities that he frequently sees you doing, e.g., lays on the couch binge-watching Friends.
Language: Your child speaks their actual first word. Their first word is “uh-oh.”
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can put a block in a cup, except instead of a block, it’s your phone. And no matter what way you look at it, that cup was half-full.
Gross Motor: He’s walking… right into a wall. That lip between the living room and the kitchen that you never noticed before, now seems like grounds for moving.
Personal/Social: Can take off clothing as demonstrated by immediately pulling off snow boots and socks upon being buckled in the car seat.
Language: Your kid knows five words in addition to mom and dad – uh-oh, milk, shoe, cheese, ball. You update their Ivy League application to include their commitment to sustainable dairy.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can stack blocks four high, but insists that no blocks be stacked on top of each other. Also gets upset if you put the blocks too close to each other, and sees to it that blocks are evenly dispersed across the entire living room.
Gross Motor: Can kick ball forward. Can kick sister in any direction. Falls easily when pushed by sister.
Personal/Social: Can wash hands by himself, but insists on using hand sanitizer, and as you attempt to squeeze some out, he waves his hands around like he’s stranded on an island and a plane is flying by.
Language: You can understand half of what your child says… because every other word your child says is no.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can stack blocks six high, but on the fourth block throws himself to the ground because “Noooo… block.”
Gross Motor: Throws ball overhand. Realistically, you know he throws it about 5 miles per hour. When he insists on playing catch from 1 foot in front of you, he seems like a major league pitcher with revenge on his mind.
Personal/Social: Can name a friend, but insists that his name is Necklace, no matter how many times you say his name is Nicholas.
Language: You can understand almost all of what your child is saying, but you wish you couldn’t.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Can copy a vertical line… happy to demonstrate competency on walls and furniture.
Gross Motor: Starts to jump more. Weighs 30 pounds, but still manages to shake the whole house.
Personal/Social: Dresses herself. But the clothes you picked are wrong. “I hate them. There’s no pink in this outfit!”
Language: Your daughter knows at least four colors, one of which your husband doesn’t know. “Honey she keeps on calling the orange thing coral, and argues with me when I tell her coral is white.”
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Draws a person with 3 parts. That line between the person’s legs is probably not what you think it is.
Gross Motor: Can balance on each foot for 4 seconds. Negotiates for 3 pretzels and a second episode of Doc McStuffins before she will show you.
Personal/Social: Can prepare cereal for themselves, but you aren’t seriously going to let them.
Language: Your child can define at least seven of the following eight words – ball, lake, desk, house, banana, curtain, fence, ceiling. Prefers to define bodily fluids.
Fine Motor/Adaptive: Copies a square. Insists that it looks like a present. Asks when Christmas is. “Three months? That’s forever. That’s like a hundred years.”
Gross Motor: Can walk heel to toe, which is good because this child acts like a belligerent drunk most of the time.
Are they really behind?
Worried because kids are supposed to walk at one year old and your child isn’t? Remember, these are the ages at which an average child accomplishes these tasks. That means half of all kids develop the skills later than this. If there is one take home point from this article, that is it. This isn’t Lake Wobegon and the children are not all above average.
It becomes concerning if a child is behind in multiple areas or very far behind in one. If you notice your child is taking longer to meet their milestones, talk to your pediatrician. If the pediatrician has concerns, they will likely refer you to a specialist called a developmental-behavioral pediatrician to get to the bottom of it and recommend resources like physical/occupational/speech therapy or pre-school interventions.
I hope this helped you understand development a little better. Or at least made you laugh.
–Chris (speech therapy alumnus, class of 1990)
P.S. What are some of the unique ways your child has met developmental milestones? Please share your favorite in the comments!
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