As a stay-at-home mom raising two boys born two years apart, Honor Spitz couldn’t help comparing one son to the other. Her older boy was outgoing and babbled non-stop by age four months, mimicking speech by one year. Her younger son was nearly silent and did not speak until age two-and-a-half.
While the developmental differences between her boys were evident, the Edgewater mom did not feel they were cause for concern.
“I really didn’t worry because in every other way, Eric seemed strong and smart,” Spitz said about her youngest.
Turns out her instincts were right; the boys have grown into active, social men, and the once-silent Eric has a successful career in sales.
Developing at their own pace
When it comes to baby and toddler development, comparison with other children in the family, or among friends and neighbors, is almost inevitable. But comparisons rarely give parents reliable information about their child’s development, according to Dr. Rachel Saccaro, a pediatrician for Swedish Covenant Hospital.
“Most parents want to know if their child is normal, but every child is different and one key to look for is progress over time,” Dr. Saccaro said. “We don’t want to compare one child to the next. We want to see and get to know your child and watch for progress.”
For example, a child might skip one skill (she isn’t rolling over by six months) but since she’s able to sit on her own and crawl — more advanced skills — there’s less concern. Also, some kids do things faster than others because of personality.
“Some like to move at a slower pace to internalize learning and others are more fearless and may walk earlier,” Dr. Saccaro explained.
She recommends that parents visit a pediatrician or family doctor for regular appointments and adds that seeing the same doctor every time is important so he or she can get to know and accurately assess your child.
Milestones to look for in the first year
At regular check-ups during the child’s first year, the doctor and parents will look for specific milestones at each visit.
• One month visit: Baby can lift head up while on belly, focus 8-12 inches away, keep hands in tight fists, respond to noises
• Two month visit: Smiles when happy/seeing mom, some cooing, push up with arms a bit from belly, better head support
• Four month visit: More babbling, mini conversations with caregiver, may start rolling from tummy to back, can reach out to objects, can put weight on legs while being held by arms
• Six month visit: Sits with support, passes objects from one hand to another, babbling with consonants (baba, dada), can recognize name
• Nine month visit: Points, enjoys games like peek-a-boo, can pull self up to stand, cruises along furniture, has some stranger anxiety
• 12 month visit: Can stand momentarily and maybe walk a few steps, uses thumb and finger to pick up small objects, bangs things together, can mimic speech, will start feeding self with fingers
Autism is one of the biggest concerns that parents bring up during visits in Dr. Saccaro’s office. She believes many worry because the condition is so prevalent in the media, and they want to know if their child is developing normally.
If parents and doctors note that several milestones haven’t been reached at the visits, the doctor may refer him or her to a specialist to receive screenings to test for developmental delays.
“Have your child screened if, at 18 months, she doesn’t respond to her name, is slow to develop language skills, doesn’t point or wave bye-bye, used to say a few words or babble and now doesn’t, tunes people out, and/or throws violent tantrum,” Dr. Saccaro said.
She explained that eighteen months is key, as the child is still very young and may significantly benefit from early therapy if developmental delays are identified.
Do’s and Don’ts during the First Year
Dr. Saccaro explained that while parents cannot control every aspect of a child’s development, they can help the child along by keeping these tips in mind during the first year:
Don’t use baby mittens (to prevent scratching). Let children use their fingers, open and close their hands and experience touch.
Don’t use walkers. They have been found to hinder the development of gross motor skills and put the child in unnatural positions. Additionally, walkers are linked to many injuries.
Don’t watch and wait. If you have a concern, get an evaluation from your pediatrician. Getting a referral to a specialist does not mean there’s a problem; it means there is a chance to make an assessment and if therapy is needed, starting it early may mean your child needs less therapy in the long run.
Do practice tummy time. Put baby on her tummy for an hour a day (it can be 5 to 10 minutes here and there). This will help her strengthen her neck, back, arms and trunk. It also helps keep her head round.
Do everything you can to facilitate development. Any effort you make to nurture your child will help. Post-nap time is often the best time for play and development exercises, as babies often have more energy. Here are a few ideas:
- Read a book together each day from day one
- Let your child feed herself even if it’s messy
- Don’t be afraid to put your baby on her feet to explore
- Ask your child questions and wait for responses
- Take breaks and back off if your tot is tired
Do your own reading and research on development. These sources are a good start:
- “What to Expect the First Year” by Heidi Murkoff
- www.healthychildren.org (American Academy of Pediatrics Website)