What Is a Developmental Milestone?

Developmental milestones
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When we talk about child development, we often speak of milestones that children hit at certain ages. So what exactly are these milestones? 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, there is one important caveat. Parents and caregivers must remember that each child is unique. Not all kids are going to hit these milestones at the same time. Some children might hit certain milestones very early, such as learning how to walk or talk much earlier than their same-age peers.

Other children might reach these developmental milestones much later. This does not necessarily mean that one child is gifted or that another is delayed. It simply represents the individual differences that exist in the developmental process.

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.

By understanding these developmental milestones, caregivers and health care professionals can keep a watchful eye on children's growth. When potential problems are spotted, earlier interventions can help lead to more successful outcomes.

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