It’s Not All Mary Poppins

A step at a time

“He’s 15 months old. Shouldn’t he be doing that by now?”

It doesn’t matter what “that” is, really. You all know the question. The longer I am in this business, however, the less likely I am to give that a definitive answer. It’s not that I don’t know how children develop. I certainly do, particularly in the first three years.

When I was a new mother, I read all the books, studied the charts in the doctor’s office, and I could have told you, definitively, whether or not something should have happened at a certain time. I could have listed the windows for each developmental phase. I can’t do that any more. These days, in fact, I’m pretty fuzzy on the markers on that timeline.

I know the timeline, mind you. I know the order things occur. I just don’t recall the “official” dates so well… because in almost every case, they don’t matter. What I certainly know is what a certain child, a child I know, will be doing next. What I do know is what (if anything) I could be doing to encourage that development.

But, should he be walking at 12 months? Well, he certainly could be. That would be within normal parameters. But he might not. That, too, would be normal. Should she be jumping at 18 months? I’d say probably not, but you never know! Should they be able to string two words together at 22 months? Usually, but so long as they understand what you say to them, can follow simple directions and can express their simple needs effectively, I wouldn’t particularly worry if they aren’t.

Developmental milestones are not Rules. Your child doesn’t fail if they don’t hit the milestone at the precise moment the charts say he will. (And they’re not “exceptional” if they get there a bit ahead, either. You may of course be quietly happy if your child gets to one early, but you may not make your friend feel badly because her child hasn’t.) Developmental milestones are generalizations. Helpful generalizations, but that is all.

What is more important than when they get there, is whether they’re progressing through them. First they hold up their heads, then they roll over, followed by sitting, crawling, pulling to stand, cruising on furniture, and finally independent walking. They learn to run before they learn to jump, generally. Some children never crawl, but go straight to walking, but there is a general progression in these things. Only if a child is markedly behind — but I do mean markedly, so far behind that it looks like they’ve stalled there — is there cause for concern.

What most parents don’t realize is how broad the range of ‘normal’ is. A child might learn to walk at nine months (unusual, but I’ve seen it), but then, s/he might not start till 18 months (unusual, but I’ve also seen that). Those children are both now perfectly normal little boys, one 12 years old, one 14. The late walker plays hockey and is on his school’s track team… those extra few months crawling have made no difference at all to his physical development.

“Normal” is broad. “Normal” is huge. “Normal” encompasses a whole heap of variability. Think of the adults you encounter in your life, the different types and capabilities, and consider that, with very few exceptions, you probably consider them all to be ‘normal’. Do you know (or care) when they sat up? Or spoke their first word? Or learned to use the potty? Probably not.

In the end, it’s quality, not speed, that matters. Life’s not a race, it’s a long, meandering journey. One to be savoured.

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Developmental stuff, parenting | 12 Comments