There is no doubt that all babies are different and develop at their own pace. Just like adults, we all differ in the way we move – how fast or slow we walk, how smoothly, or how graceful we are. Babies differ too, even though it seems they all go through the same developmental patterns. Babies are in fact… unique. 🙂
So why would you paint them all with the same brush and expect that they all develop in the same way? Seriously, it’s impossible!
Everyone experiences things differently, has a different background, unique genes, individual needs, potential, temperament, etc.
This, and much more, has a huge impact on baby’s development and how they achieve developmental milestones.
Where do all these developmental scales and charts come from?
The answer is simple. Developmental scales are a general overview of an average baby’s development. It basically shows what can be expected next and what to look out for. Under no circumstances should a particular month dictate an achievement of a particular milestone! In fact, research shows that only 50% of babies meet milestones at the “right” time. The other half hit the milestones when it suits THEM as individuals. This brings us to the topic of this post, the so-called DEVELOPMENTAL WINDOWS.
When we talk about typical, proper development we should keep in mind that it has these characteristics: it’s individual, varied, sequential, and continuous.
What does that mean?
- The INDIVIDUAL aspect seems self- explanatory. 😉
- VARIED means that babies act, move, react in a variety of ways. For example, babies sit up or stand up from various positions.
- SEQUENTIAL is nothing else than one milestone following the next one. For example, before being able to crawl, the baby has to have good head, shoulder, torso, and pelvic control.
- CONTINUOUS means steady progress.
These characteristics are crucial and far more important than hitting milestones at the “right” time.
Speaking about timelines…
You will often find charts with two columns: one with the baby’s age and the other one with a particular milestone, such as:
– baby props up symmetrically on forearms and has good head control: 3rd month
– “swimming” and rolling from back to belly: 5th month
– baby pushes up on arms when on the tummy; baby puts toes in mouth: the end of 6th month
– pivots and commando crawling: 7th month
– crawling and sitting up: 8th month
So on and so forth…
However, what if your baby does not do all these things within the given time range? Does it mean that… your baby is WORSE than his or her peers? Your neighbor’s daughter has been doing all of that forever, already!
Ugh, it gives me shivers. I feel like today’s fast-paced lifestyle has a huge impact on our expectations towards our babies.
Nothing could be more wrong. Forcing normally developing babies to achieve new skills when they aren’t ready, usually does more harm than good. During a developmental evaluation specialists don’t focus on how many skills a baby has reached so far but rather on the quality of a particular skill. In other words, it is far more important HOW your baby does something, rather than the NUMBER of milestones they’ve already ticked off of a chart found on the Internet.
DEVELOPMENT is a PROCESS. Every day, step by step, your baby works hard to surprise you with their newly mastered skill. However, it does take time. Some babies will need more of it, some less. In the end, the result is the same. 😉
Let’s take a closer look at these so-called “DEVELOPMENTAL WINDOWS.”
A DEVELOPMENTAL WINDOW is basically a milestone timeframe. It tells us when we can expect to see our baby nailing a new skill. What’s interesting – the more advanced the milestone, the wider the timeframe.
The Denver Developmental Screening Test 2 (DDST 2) is one of the tools used to check typical development in babies. According to this scale, a baby should achieve developmental milestones within the following timeframes:
A parental guide called “The First Two Years of a Child’s Life,” published by Practical Medicine magazine in 2012 has a similar approach to this matter:
The World Health Organization also published: „Windows of Achievement of Gross Motor Milestones:”
Does it mean that you shouldn’t get worried when your child appears to do things differently than what is considered “normal”?
Absolutely not! If there is anything you find worrisome, I highly recommend seeing a specialist. It might seem pretty easy to figure things out on your own, yet it also might leave you even more confused. Sometimes, something that looks “serious” requires just a small adjustment, or vice versa.
As I have already mentioned, not the quantity of achieved milestones should be the focus but also their quality!
What do I mean by that?
Example 1. Baby props up on forearms. Does your baby actively push his or her forearms against the floor or maybe the arms are “escaping” to the sides or to the back? Do muscles in the neck and back such as flexors and erectors work together or does Baby lift his or her head up so high that only the erector muscles are active? As you can see, in both cases the goal “lifts head when lying on tummy” is achieved but… the quality of both could not be more different.
Example 2. Rolling over. Once a baby starts rolling over it’s a good idea to focus on a few things, such as: whether the baby is able to put weight on the “elongated” side of their body; are tummy muscles activated; are the shoulder and hips able to position themselves at an angle to each other; do straightening reactions appear? Or rather does the child turn onto the tummy by arching the back and pushing the head off from the mat?
Example 3. Baby on all fours. Does the position look active? – there should be distance between the shoulders and ears. Does Baby have good control over the head so that it’s not lifted up high and Baby looks straight ahead? Are the elbows just slightly bent or are they hyperextended? Is the torso straight or does the baby look like they’re sticking their bottom out? What’s the position of the hips? Are the knees hip-width apart or wider?
Example 4. Standing up and walking. How does your baby get up? Does he or she pull up (that is what babies do at the beginning) or get up from kneeling? Once they are walking, do you see improvement over time? – meaning that the knees are not hyperextended, arms swing freely, the body doesn’t tense up?
I could find more examples and point out every single detail of each milestone. I am sure that now you understand why both quantity and quality are important. They are both needed in order to see the bigger picture.
The physical side of child development is not the only aspect we should look at. It’s important that the whole process is harmonious. The goal is for gross motor, fine motor, cognitive, and social skills to be at the same level. 🙂
Just like us – when learning to swim, we do not jump into deep water immediately, so babies need time to prepare for specific action.
Imagine your sense of security if somebody forced you to ski down a very steep slope when your first time skiing.
Guess what, the same thing happens to babies! Every new skill requires a lot of practice and time. Making a baby learn something new when they are not ready could have a negative impact on their confidence.
Does it mean we should just sit back and watch?
Absolutely not! A lot can be done but it requires a thoughtful and balanced approach. Most importantly, you should not interfere in your baby’s natural development and just keep your child company. 🙂
A great way to enjoy the journey of change and development that your baby is on, is to join in the fun with playtime together! 😀 Check out my E-book on fun and meaningful playtime for you and Baby! 😊
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD
- World Health Organization (2006). Motor Development Study: “Windows of achievement for six gross motor development milestones:” Acta Pædiatrica, Supplement 450: 86/95.
- Glascoe, Frances Page et al. (1992). “Accuracy of the Denver-II in Developmental Screening:” Pediatrics, vol. 89, pgs. 1221–1225.
- “The First Two Years of a Child’s Life;” Practical Medicine, 2012.