Fearing The Worst: When Your Child Does Not Reach Developmental Milestones
As a parent, you probably were doing plenty of research about your child’s milestones before they were even born. Most people have a basic idea of when children should walk, talk, and reach other developmental milestones along the way.
So, what happens when those milestones seem to be delayed? What if you start to get concerned about your child not reaching the developmental milestones at the “right” time? Suddenly, it can start to feel like all of that research is turning against you, causing you more angst and anxiety than excitement and encouragement.
It’s important to start out by saying every child reaches milestones at their own pace. Just because your little one seems to be a bit “behind” doesn’t necessarily mean you should worry. With that in mind, what can you do to cope and calm your anxious thoughts when your child isn’t reaching developmental milestones?
Milestones are averages. When you see one published in a journal or parenting book, that doesn’t mean every child has to reach that milestone by a specific age. You shouldn’t compare your child to studies and data. More importantly, however, you shouldn’t compare them to other children in your life.
Maybe your friends have kids who are reaching milestones early or “on time,” fueling your worries about when your child will “catch up.”
Comparison will always make your worries worse. Again, your child will often go at their own pace. While milestones shouldn’t be ignored, it’s okay to relax a little when it comes to exact facts and figures. Stop comparing, and spend that energy focusing on meeting your child’s needs.
Let Them Learn
If you feel like your child isn’t reaching their milestones when they should, it can be tempting to jump in and help as much as possible. But, they’re more likely to learn and grow by making mistakes.
For example, if your child is taking a long time to learn how to walk, it’s normal to be concerned about their well-being whenever they stand up and start to wobble. You might want to stand right behind them and pick them up so they don’t fall. Your child’s safety should always be your top priority. But, a child falling on their behind after a wobble, or gently tumbling to the floor won’t hurt them. It will actually help them learn. They’ll build physical and mental muscles, and be more balanced the next time they try.
Try To Enjoy The Moment
One of the best ways to manage your anxiety over your child’s milestones is simply to let go of your expectations. Your child is only little once. More often than not, they will reach those milestones without any complications, even if it takes longer than average. By spending so much time worrying about facts, figures, and timelines, you might miss out on everything your child is already accomplishing.
You might find that when you take a step back and enjoy the things your child does every day, it’s easier to relax. You’ll be less focused on what developmental goals they should be reaching and more in tune with how they’re excelling in other ways.
If a lot of time has passed and your child seems to be struggling with things, it’s okay to contact their pediatrician with concerns. And if they are "behind", New Jersey has fabulous Early Intervention Programs designed to help children and parents through this time.
Warranted or not - the worry will get you no where either way. The stress you exude could impact your little one, while a calm and encouraging demeanor will help them feel relaxed. Chances are, your child will reach those expected milestones in no time.
The anxiety and angst experienced by parents when children are "behind" on milestones is real. I have worked with many parents who are concerned to help them better manage their anxiety so that they can be calmer and more confident when interacting with their children.
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Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New Jersey via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.