Tracking your child's development

Ian writes about how he learned to tune out the neighbourhood-know-it-alls and let his daughter follow her own milestone chart.

Photo by shironosov/iStockphoto.com

I find the whole phenomenon of children’s milestones to be absolutely fascinating.

We want our kids to be completely unique, yet from the moment they are born we are obsessed with comparing them to other children.

What percentile are they for height and weight? When did they say their first word and take their first step? Are they following the norms and hitting all the milestones as they should?

The biggest issue I have with milestones is that they seem to foster a competitive atmosphere amongst parents. I never liked those parents who chat about their kids’ milestones as if they are an accurate predictor of future Nobel prizes.

The parents who say things like, “My three boys were speaking in full sentences before they were 18 months old. Jaden started at 15 months, Braden and 14 months and Hayden at 12 months. They are all well ahead of the curve.”

When Elissa was born with her brain cyst, we were forced to have a different view of milestones and their importance. We honestly didn’t know if Elissa would ever walk, talk or be able to do some of the “normal” things that children can do. And because our society puts so much emphasis on babies reaching milestones, it made for a very difficult start for us as parents.

It was a really big challenge because Elissa didn’t take her first steps and walk independently until after her second birthday. Most kids are walking shortly after their first birthday, so you can imagine how tough it was for us to have a child who wasn’t walking independently at 24 months.

To make matters worse, we dealt with nosey neighbourhood moms who made us feel inferior because Elissa wasn’t walking when their kids were. It was hard not to feel that way because while other two-year-olds in the neighbourhood were running around and riding tricycles, Elissa couldn’t even take three steps on her own. We even had one neighbour — who knew that Elissa had gone through multiple brain surgeries — suggest that we should be doing more to encourage her to walk.

When you’re going through a difficult time, there is nothing like unsolicited advice to help the situation.

Fortunately, we learned to tune out the know-it-all moms and listen to trained professionals. When Elissa wasn’t walking at 16 months, we were referred to an occupational therapist at the children’s hospital. We were pretty nervous to have her assessed, because she wasn’t hitting some of her physical milestones and we weren’t sure what the prognosis was going to be. After all, those neighbourhood moms seemed to raise some red flags.

We were so relieved when the OT took one look at her and said, “I wouldn’t worry — she’s going to walk. She’s just going to do it when she’s ready.” The OT put her on a program that was designed to help build her core strength and confidence when it came to mobility.

And that’s when we realized that we needed to follow Elissa’s own milestone chart and not be so caught up in comparing her with other children her age. Over the years, she’s closed the gap with other kids — but she still has some issues with her motor skills. Elissa is now seven years old and she hasn’t mastered the art of riding a bike without training wheels, while other kids her age can do that very easily. But just like when she learned to walk, we’ve realized that she’ll soon learn to ride a bike; it just takes her a little longer to master some of the skills. And if we hear some of the neighbours snickering at the fact that she can’t ride a bike, we’re just going to ignore it.

I’m not saying that milestones aren’t significant and shouldn’t be taken seriously. But parents need to understand that children will often do things on their own schedule and not necessarily at the same time as the kid down the street. The most important thing about milestones is to make sure that your child has the earliest possible care for any issues that could have an effect on their development.

And make sure you get that opinion from a trained professional and not a neighbourhood know-it-all.
                                                                   

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