The Truth about Milestones

Sad Looking Child On the Naughty Step

As much as they try not to, parents put a great stock in the milestones advertised in doctor’s offices and popular parenting books. According to these milestones, a baby should be rolling over by four months, sitting by six months, standing by nine and walking by a year. The growth charts that accompany these milestones keep parents on their toes as well. Does a baby in the 50% for height but 90% for weight have a future battling the bulge?


Milestones are designed to be rough guidelines of a child’s overall development to ensure he is not underperforming in a certain area. Unfortunately, they are increasingly being viewed as an area of competition in an already overly competitive world of parenting. Parents of early walkers find a way to work it into conversation, and parents of a child with only a word or two worry their child is already behind when in fact, he’s right on with his age group.

Competitive Parenting

Too often parents are turning their children’s development into a barometer of health, fortune, and future success. Proponents of “gifted children” products and services aren’t helping matters. Suddenly every parent is being told their child is gifted and that the child can benefit from special toys and classes.

Early crawler and walker? She’ll be a superstar athlete. Boy at the top of the height and weight chart? Sign him up for an athletics program before he loses valuable training time. Of course, early development programs and the huge educational toy and video market are booming which is a testament not only to the programs marketing ability, but to the eagerness of parents to give their child every advantage – real or cleverly advertised.

Real Milestones

Actual development occurs in fits and starts which can confuse parents tied up in the greater meaning of growth charts and developmental tables. A child may stop babbling while he learns to crawl. Then he’ll talk up a storm but stop trying to pull up to stand until the first word emerges. Just when he seems to have it all together, he’ll stop eating which sets parents into a tailspin – what happens if he loses his size? It was the main thing he had going for his future athletic career.

Not to worry. All babies, toddlers and children grow at their own rate. An early walker may not be a wonderful athlete, just like an early talker may not be a prime public speaker. It is likely that your child may beat a few milestones, be in line with others and possibly even fall behind on a few more. Those big boys (and girls) may have trouble rolling over and crawling as they have more bulk to move, but catch up once they’ve built up the muscle mass and jump straight into walking. There is really no telling, and there is almost never cause for concern if your child isn’t right in line with milestones.

When There is Cause for Concern

If your child is right on developmentally in social smiles, cooing but can’t roll over all the way, you have little to worry about, but get confirmation from your doctor. If your baby avoids eye contact, doesn’t smile and hasn’t cooed by the magical milestone date, speak with your doctor. The more milestones your baby isn’t meeting the greater the likelihood that there may be problem.

Don’t be shocked if your child completely skips a milestone such as crawling. He may decide to go straight to walking after scooting around a bit. This doesn’t put him farther ahead or behind developmentally. If your child’s growth slows down gradually after six months, again, speak with your doctor but this is likely simply the normal pattern. As children become more active, they burn more calories and begin to trim up. Toddlers grow very little, so it may appear that they stop eating completely, but track intake carefully. You’ll likely see that your baby is eating enough to stay on his track on the growth chart.

The most important development to watch for as a sign of problems is social development. All children develop at their own rate, but work with your doctor closely if your child smiles later than the text books state, coos later, babbles later and especially if he rarely makes eye contact or tries to ‘talk’ to you. Delayed speech is important enough to be concerned about, so have your child evaluated if you are at all concerned. Of course, a typical one-year-old should only have one or two words that his parents understand, not an entire vocabulary. Also consider using baby sign language to help your child develop a more extensive vocabulary.

If you do see your child falling behind in an area, try to avoid panicking, as is the habit of many parents. Many reported milestones are for the “average” baby. This means a good half of babies may not yet be achieving that particular milestone by a certain age. The most commonly misunderstood milestone is walking – only roughly half of babies have taken their first independent steps by a year. It can take up to fifteen months for that first step, and your child is still considered a perfectly normal walker. The same pattern is true for most milestones, so before you panic, speak to your pediatrician and do your best to relax, encourage your child’s development and enjoy every mument of parenthood.

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