1.19.2011

Development milestones: get past the tally sheet and just be.

As a new mom there are countless timetables, benchmarks, and charts that we’re supposed to pay attention to in order to ensure that our children are developing “on track”. While development charts have a place, I would like moms to consider NOT paying attention to them.

Put them away, let your child develop on his own timeline, hit milestones when it’s his time, and just be.

A quick googling of “infant development milestones” turns up thousands of hits announcing that they will “help your baby learn better!” Books offer tasks and tools to use with your child to keep them “on target” for their skill-building. You would not be hard-pressed to find checklists, charts, recommended skill-building activities to “help” ensure that your child gets ahead in life.

Each of these attributes an average or expected age for a milestone to be reached – however what most parents don’t pay attention to is the caveat, or the range, associated with these milestones, and the fact that reaching a milestone early, on-time or late does not equate to success in life.

In their most beneficial role, these development milestones are used to identify major physical or mental problems in children – for instance if a child is not sitting by the “average” of 6 months it’s not necessarily a big deal. If they don’t sit by 9 months, that could be indicative of a problem. If they tend to be “late” by a matter of months on all of their developmental milestones, it could be cause for concern – but some babies are just slower to adopt these skills because of personality, activity, health or other issues. Mellower babies don’t exhibit some of these skills as soon as more active babies. If babies are left alone without interaction much of the day, their social development may be slower than “average”. If they have been ill, development will also slow.

For instance my Pie doesn’t roll over. She’s inching toward 6 months old, and doesn’t get all the way over. She’s pretty mellow, so isn’t as quick to take on new skills as more active babies. She can get from her back almost to her tummy, and when she’s on her tummy she pretty much just freaks out and pounds her fists. By all development charts, she’s “behind”. This is where many parents become concerned with their child “keeping up” and begin introducing skill-building activities.

DSC_0313 

I don’t ignore the charts and lists entirely. I generally read up on each month’s expected/average milestones at the beginning of each month, and then just sit with it. My Pie will develop at her own pace, on her own timeline, to her own schedule. All I can do is assure that she is loved, fed, healthy, held, played with and loved. Oh yeah, and loved. I don’t check the timelines throughout the month, I don’t keep track of what day she acquired a skill – and generally skills are acquired gradually anyhow, so there’s not always a “breakthrough” date when a skill was suddenly introduced.

We just play. My Pie spent very little time on the floor, which explains why she hasn’t figured rolling out. She was sitting on her own for extended periods of time before she was 5 months old, however, which can be attributed to being worn. Studies have shown that in cultures where babies are worn most of the day, they sit and stand sooner than in cultures where babies are left in cribs all day. Because they experience constant vestibular input & stimulation - improving their balance, and because being worn requires far more muscle activity than laying in a crib or seat. So while they may not develop the necessary coordination to roll, they sit.

It has also been observed that babies in these same babywearing cultures don’t learn to crawl. I know – we’ve been told that if babies don’t crawl, they won’t have the cross-body coordination necessary to do things like ride a bike or skip. But crawling is less common in babywearing cultures, which happen to be the same cultures that have more body use in day-to-day life than ours, and we can assume that they are not struggling with lack of cross-body coordination. These babies aren’t on the floor, so they just never crawl. However, being worn utilizes muscles all over the body, and the “stepping reflex” which we generally see is lost by about a month of age, is never lost in these babywearing cultures and is in fact allowing the baby to support his weight in a standing position and walk sooner. And note in the chart below – crawling and walking with assistance are virtually identical in their acquisition for age. So by the time our kids are crawling, they’re also pretty much ready to try walking. Interesting.

This development chart shows the expected age range for babies to acquire a “skill” and is in fact more valuable than many of the other charts, because it clearly shows a RANGE. This concept is echoed in the Denver Developmental Screening Test, which has fallen out of favor because it is not a predictive tool, but it does indicate a range of age for skill-building. Additionally, for each skill it identifies a percentage of children who learn each skill by specific ages – since there is a range that is considered normal. Not all babies achieve benchmark or milestone skills by the “average” or expected range.DSC_0517 Yeah, my scanner isn’t working, so here’s a picture of the chart. Sorry.

A friend also just shared this link with me, and it was so great I’m going to quote it. It’s long, but it’s all getting quoted because it’s important.

I’ll close with this list of what every 4-year-old, and his parents, should know. This is obviously aimed at pre-school aged kids, but the lesson is relevant for parents of infants. Read through, and consider getting beyond the developmental tally sheet and just BEING with your baby.

Please, stop competing with development. It’s not a race or a contest, and comparing your kids to kids in your play group or at story time or in daycare or preschool will only make you crazy. Just play with your baby, hold your baby, talk to your baby. She will develop the motor and social skills necessary for a life in the real world just by being with you.

From minddump.org:

So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.

  1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
  2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
  3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
  4. He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he could care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
  5. She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.

    But more important, here’s what parents need to know.

    1. That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that it will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
    2. That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
    3. That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
    4. That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed, but some things are important– building toys like legos and blocks, creative toys like all types of art materials (good stuff), musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress up clothes and books, books, books. (Incidentally, much of this can be picked up quite cheaply at thrift shops.) They need to have the freedom to explore with these things too– to play with scoops of dried beans in the high chair (supervised, of course), to knead bread and make messes, to use paint and play dough and glitter at the kitchen table while we make supper even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it’s absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.
    5. That our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That’s not okay! Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. They need fathers who sit and listen to their days, mothers who join in and make crafts with them, parents who take the time to read them stories and act like idiots with them. They need us to take walks with them and not mind the .1 MPH pace of a toddler on a spring night. They deserve to help us make supper even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they’re a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.

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