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Why you should stop worrying about reaching developmental milestones

Baby Milestones

Reaching a milestone shows that part of your baby’s brain has been wired and is ready to be used and is something to be celebrated in it’s achievement - not a measure to be used to compare with other babies.

However, focusing too much on reaching the destinations on the early development map may lead to unnecessary stress for new parents – and to missing out on the fun of the journey.

“When my son wasn’t talking by the age of two, other mothers fuelled my stress with their stories of the sentences their same-age kids were coming up with. I started to feel inadequate and worried that my child was behind in development and that something serious might be wrong,” says first-time mother, Jackie.

Developmental milestones have their place: A set of age-specific tasks that most children can do within a certain age-range can be an invaluable tool for therapists and professionals, helping them to assess a child’s progress and highlight any deficiencies or warning signs, says sensory integration-trained occupational therapist, Lourdes Bruwer.

But, they can also lead to comparisons and anxiety if milestones are not met exactly on target.

The truth is, all children develop at their own pace; and while some who are delayed developmentally benefit from additional therapeutic support and/or remedial settings, there are many children who do not fit neatly into the milestone chart in the early months or years and who develop perfectly normally to go on to enjoy the same academic, social and sporting success as their ‘on target’ peers.

“Parents can sometimes become overwhelmed by milestones and this can lead to teaching their children splinter skills and pushing them toward the next milestone before they have had a chance to consolidate their skills or before they are ready. Development does not necessarily happen in the same sequence for each child and a child may be busy with another mini milestone rather than the big milestone the parent is focused on,” says Lourdes.

One step at a time

“When I realised there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to kids, and that my son, Oliver, was on track with crawling and walking, it was comforting,” says Jackie. “I just focused on what he was doing at the time and relaxed, knowing it would all come later.”

It did come later, and it seemed that Oliver was just taking his time listening to everyone else talk because the words came tumbling out when he did start speaking.

Parents can miss out on the joy and the fun and the process of development when we are too focused on reaching developmental milestones. It is not uncommon for a child to focus on one skill while another slows down for that period.

Focused family time

Embracing the fact that early intervention is best and informing yourself as a parent about the importance of focused family time while your little one is young, can go a long way to giving them the best start in life.

Be intuitive to your children as they develop, taking a keen interest in what they are doing and how they are doing it. If you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s development you can find support from various professionals (paediatricians, therapists and teachers) and be proactive in providing opportunities for their children to reach their true potential.

Focused family time is treasuring the limited time families have together in today’s rushed society and making each moment count. It’s about quality rather than quantity. It requires a bit of thought and a bit of planning. It means being wholly present (switching off the TV, cellphone etc.) and the results are magical moments, which can be remembered for a lifetime!

Having at least two blocks of time in the week where your child decides the game, toys and leads the play can strengthen your relationships. Go down to your child’s level and spend some time on the floor being a kid again! Do not answer the phone, watch TV, speak to another adult unless they are part of the game or try and multi task during this special bonding time.

Eat, love, play

Fun is the way children learn, and your most important job as a parent at this point is simply to provide the time and space and attention for the magic to happen.

“Follow their lead, they will soon show you what skills they are busy refining,” says Carly Tzanos, another sensory integration-trained occupational therapist and Nubabi team member

If, for instance, your baby is popping everything or anything into any little space they can find, provide them with more posting opportunities: They may enjoy putting tennis balls into muffin trays or posting photos into a tissue box or Koosh balls through a kitchen towel inner, says Carly.

“Provide varied opportunities for different types of play and try not to rescue them too quickly. Bumps and bruises are all part of the learning curve and can go a long way in helping them reach their milestones quicker. They need some freedom to explore their bodies and their environment under the watchful eye of their loved ones,” says Carly.

Enjoy watching your child develop and grow according to his own schedule, knowing that a child who is having fun will be learning at his best.

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