By Bectoria Stafford-Crandall, MSW
The following post was written in response to a request by my dear friend, and fellow blog contributor, Mac who recently shared with me concerns over her parental role in helping her child achieve developmental milestones. Many parents, myself included, put a lot of pressure on themselves to make sure that their children receive every learning opportunity possible in an effort to provide their children with the best chance of meeting and exceeding developmental milestones. To be clear, I’m not talking about Freud or Erik Erikson. “Developmental milestones refer to abilities we expect children to possess by a certain age… In preschool or school, comparing children to age appropriate developmental milestones can help identify those children who may benefit from special attention.” (indiaparenting.com).
Parents will often begin to familiarize themselves with developmental milestones when first attending well child checks with their child’s pediatrician or when preparing to place their children in school. It has been my professional experience as a social worker and a foster parent that caregivers can use these milestones as a guide to give them a basic idea of what children should be able to understand and what tasks they should be able to accomplish given the child’s developmental age.
I remember feeling completely inept during the first well-child check I ever took a kid to. I had NO IDEA whether or not Michael (fictitious name) could stack blocks or jump with both feet in the air at the same time. I was, at that time, just glad I thought to bring him to the doctor AT ALL near the time of his birthday. Following that appointment, I quickly began looking into resources that would best help me meet the needs of the children in my care. I remember doing this all the while wishing that kids came with some type of handbook. Having spoken with many parents since that time, I know I’m not alone on that one.
One user-friendly resource, www.kidsgrowth.com provides Growth Milestones designed to help parents “get a better understanding of your child’s growth and development. [Their] goal in presenting this information is to make your job as parents a little easier.” (kidsgrowth.com).
“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” Dr. Haim Ginott
I could go on and on with numerous resources available to parents on this subject, but I would really like to caution parents not to put so much stress on themselves to expose their children to every learning opportunity available that they forget to enjoy the precious time they have with their children while they’re still kids. Children learn so much just from communication. They are constantly being exposed to communication, audio, visual and other stimuli presented to them in their natural environment throughout the day.
Honore (2008) states:
The latest neuroscience suggests that all the enrichment the human infant needs is built into the everyday experience of your average baby-and that instead of being a tabula rasa waiting passively to be filled up by adults, babies are programmed to seek out the input needed to build their brains. (p.39).
From a very early age, children are learning speech patterns, picking up on facial cues and are filtering and making sense of countless stimuli from their natural environment. Yes it is up to parents to make that environment as welcoming and engaging as possible, but this doesn’t mean following every tip given in every parenting book known to man nor does it mean buying every latest gadget promising optimal sensory overload. Normal interaction like playing and reading with children everyday provides much needed stimuli while also providing them with the crucial bonding and nurturance they crave. I feel that regular, positive interaction, whether it is through play, cuddling up with a good book, storytelling or singing, the importance of this time shared between parent and child cannot be emphasized enough.
When children reach the age when they would be entering preschool, a lot of developmental focus shifts to the child’s skill set that will aid in scholastic competence. For preschool and grammar school aged children, I have found www.kidzone.com to be another user-friendly website with a number of different worksheets and exercises parents can use to help their kids master school skills on a developmentally appropriate level. Also, most local school districts keep a checklist of “readiness skills” pupils should have achieved upon entering kindergarten. My daughter’s nursery school teacher gave me a copy of one such checklist during our last parent-teacher conference. It includes goals like “student follows 3-4 step directions… is able to count to the number 20… copies circle-square-triangle from a model”, etc.
I always feel that parents should carry an ongoing dialogue with their children’s pediatrician regarding all aspects of a child’s physical and intellectual development. As a sort of disclaimer, I would share “if you suspect your child is ahead or behind other children in reaching developmental milestones, consult your physician. Your physician can determine if there is cause for concern and can refer your child for further assessment.” (indiaparenting.com).
For parents who find that their children have not met certain milestones I will say that my education, professional and personal experience has taught me that children are incredibly resilient. I once received a foster child who, upon entering kindergarten could not sing the alphabet, let alone recognize letters or numbers. He knew some of his colors and could follow some simple instruction, but otherwise possessed very few skills that he could use to bring him success in a school environment. Given the right type of help, this child soon caught up to his same age peers. Clearly, this was a case of lack of exposure rather than any type of organic delay, but I have had experiences with other children who have had various types of issues which have led to learning difficulties and they too have found their own successes given the right interventions. I feel that these are examples in how using developmental milestones can be beneficial to children.
I hope that this post gives a better understanding of what guides for developmental milestones can be used for. I also hope that reading this will help parents feel empowered to use these guides as just another tool in their arsenal and that they will use these in conjunction with the natural skills that they already possess to provide their children with the nurturing environment they crave.
Honore, C., HaperCollins Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting. 2008
<indiaparenting.com>. Path: Raising Children; Related Articles; Appreciating Developmental Milestones.
<kidsgrowth.com>. Path: Stages; Guide; Index.