What Is a Developmental Milestone?

Developmental milestones
Hero Images / Getty Images

A developmental milestone is an ability that is achieved by most children by a certain age. Developmental milestones can involve physical, social, emotional, cognitive and communication skills such as walking, sharing with others, expressing emotions, recognizing familiar sounds and talking.

Why Are Developmental Milestones Important?

For example, between the ages of 9 to 12 months, children begin to achieve physical milestones such as standing up or even walking.

While the exact age at which a child achieves a particular milestone can vary, parents may become concerned if their child has not achieved a skill that most of his or her same-age peers can perform. If a child has not learned to walk by 18 months, for example, the parents should consult their child's doctor.

You can think of the developmental milestones as a checklist. They represent was an average child can do around a particular age although there is a considerable amount of individual differences. For example, some kids may begin walking as early as 9 or 10 months while others do not begin to walk until around 14 to 15 months. By looking at the different developmental milestones, parents, doctors and teachers are able to better understand how children typically develop and keep and eye out for any potential developmental problems.

Types of Developmental Milestones

There are four basic categories for developmental milestones:

  1. Physical milestones involve both large-motor skills and fine-motor skills. The large-motor skills are usually the first to develop and include sitting up, standing, crawling and walking. Fine-motor skills involve precise movements such as grasping a spoon, holding a crayon, drawing shapes and picking up small objects.
  1. Cognitive milestones are centered on a child's ability to think, learn and solve problems. An infant learning how to respond to facial expressions and a preschooler learning the alphabet are both examples of cognitive milestones.
  2. Social and emotional milestones are centered on children gaining a better understanding of their own emotions and the emotions of others. These milestones also involve learning how to interact and play with other people.
  3. Communication milestones involve both language and nonverbal communication. A one-year-old learning how to say his first words and a five-year-old learning some of the basic rules of grammar are examples of important communication milestones.

All Kids Develop at Different Rates

While most of these milestones typically take place during a certain window of time, parents and caregivers must remember that each child is unique. These developmental abilities also tend to build on one another. More advanced skills such as walking usually occur after simpler abilities such as crawling and sitting up have already been achieved.

Just because one child began to walk by eleven months of age does not mean that another child is "behind" if he still is not walking at 12 months. A child generally begins to walk anytime between the ages of 9 and 15 months, so anytime between those ages is considered normal.

If a child is over 15 months and still cannot walk, the parents might consider consulting with a doctor or developmental specialist to determine if some type of developmental issue is present.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

Continue Reading