Worried about your child’s development?

Glossy apps and brilliant moments on social media can fuel comparisons and concerns about how children are developing.

When you’re a new parent, it’s hard not to compare your child to other children and worry: Is he developing normally?

It doesn’t help that social media is full of proud parents, and that there are plenty of trending books and apps that purport to tell exactly when a baby should do everything new, from smiling to rolling over to taking that first step. It’s almost impossible Not ask yourself: is my child behind?

It is certainly important to keep a close eye on your child’s development. But while you’re doing it, here are some things to remember.

Every child is different. This is really the most important point of all. Every child is unique, comes from different backgrounds, lives in different families and circumstances. It is impossible for all children to develop in exactly the same way, even those raised in the same family.

There is a normal range. For example, while we say babies should be walking at one year of age, anything between about 9 and 15 months is fine. While those ranges of normality are usually in the fine print of all those books and apps, a specific age is usually emphasized. This is unfortunate and can cause many families to worry unnecessarily.

There are different aspects of development, and children can go through them at different paces. A baby may walk early, but it takes longer to learn to talk because they enjoy walking so much. A child may be so enthralled with learning to communicate that walking seems less interesting. Children are learning to use their bodies, they are learning to communicate, they are learning to interact, they are learning to understand the world around them, and every child is doing it in their own way. It’s important to look at the whole picture of a child’s development, not just one milestone.

What to do with your worries

Understanding the big picture doesn’t mean you should shrug it off when your child seems to be developing differently than other children. It also doesn’t mean that all apps are bad; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a nice Milestone Tracker, for example.

But before you worry, you should talk to your doctor. You can also contact your state’s early intervention program and request an evaluation, which is free and available to children under the age of 3 when their parents or doctor are concerned about their development. If a child is found to have a developmental problem, the program works with families to support them in helping their child.

5 tips to encourage healthy development in babies and toddlers

Here are some ways you can encourage your child’s development:

  • Play with your child! Interacting with other people, especially those who love them, is the best way for a child to learn new skills.
  • Turn off devices, not just your child’s, but yours as well. Nothing takes the place of actual attention and interaction.
  • Give your child time on the floor. Literally. Create a clean space and put them down so they can learn to crawl and otherwise use their bodies.
  • Buy your child simple toys that help him learn and use his imagination. Rattles or other noise and musical toys, blocks, dolls, balls and toy cars are great, as are pretend cooking tools and utensils. It’s actually better if he doesn’t need batteries!
  • Read to your child! It’s one of the best ways to teach them new words and love books, which is a great gift in and of itself. It’s also a really nice way to strengthen your relationship with your child.

To learn more about child development and what parents and communities can do to support it, visit the Harvard Center on Child Development website.

Follow me on Twitter @doctorClaire

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