1 in 4 Parents Worries Their Young Child Isn't Reaching Milestones: Poll
As babies and toddlers grow, parents may feel excited about their little one learning to crawl, walk or talk.
But these same milestones can also raise concerns when parents fear their child may not be developing normally. Nearly a quarter of parents -- 23% -- who participated in a new nationwide poll said they had worried that their child had developmental delays.
Most reached out to health care providers (63%) or child care providers (24%) for advice, the poll found. But 18% turned to potentially faulty sources of information, including the internet, social media, family member or friend.
"Nine in 10 felt either very confident or confident about knowing when their children should achieve most of their milestones, because sometimes we may have certain preconceived notions about that," said Dr. Gary Freed, co-director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll. "Sometimes confidence is a great thing, but I think it's always important if you have any doubts or any concerns that you check them out with a health care provider."
C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., conducts a monthly, nationwide poll on children's health. This one surveyed 779 parents with at least one child age 5 or younger.
Developmental milestones are skills that kids usually acquire at roughly similar ages. They include a child's physical development, social or emotional skills, communication and ability to think and reason.
At well-child visits, health care providers assess whether youngsters are reaching the milestones and ask parents what they observe at home.
"The point of this is to try and figure out if some kids are going to need help a little bit earlier, so that if they are falling behind, they can get some assistance in catching up," Freed said.
But parents often compare their kids to others, even though reaching milestones earlier than others isn't a sign they are more advanced. For example, walking earlier is not a sign that a child will be a gifted athlete, he said.
"Children achieve milestones within the range," Freed said. "It doesn't mean that one is more advanced than the other. It just means that they're all going to get there. It's just when they get there."
Still, parents are human and it's natural -- if stress-inducing -- to compare.
About 1 in 3 parents polled said they had compared their child's development to that of a sibling or a friend's child.
Dads (41%) were more likely to compare their kids to their friends' kids than moms (28%), according to the poll. Dads were also more likely to compare their child to other kids in the family (32%) than moms (25%).
"It's very natural for us to compare to other children, but we have to keep in mind that all of our kids are unique and all of them will develop at a particular pace for them," Freed said. "We need to get them help when they need it, but not panic too quickly, either."
Typically, kids achieve skills within a range of two to three months, but skills such as walking and expressive speech have a much broader range, according to Dr. Kristen Treegoob, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"You may hear kiddos walking as early as 9 months or sometimes even 8 months, and there are sometimes kiddos who don't take their first steps independently until closer to 15 to 18 months," she said.
If a little one doesn't reach milestones within the expected range, a health care provider can help determine if the child needs help to catch up -- or if Mom and Dad should simply do some watchful waiting.
But losing skills such as expressive speech that a youngster already acquired can be a red flag that merits a visit to the doctor without waiting for a scheduled well-child check.
For quick online answers to general developmental questions, Treegoob suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's developmental milestones website. She suggests parents choose two or three reputable websites, as well as two or three friends or family members, to be a narrow but reliable source of answers to quick questions.
While reliable resources exist, Treegoob said there is also a lot of misinformation as well as articles aimed at selling various products or services. Sometimes these can fuel parents' anxiety or lead to unnecessary interventions, she said.
"Thank goodness just loving your kid and spending time with them and engaging with them is often the most beneficial thing you can do," Treegoob said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests some milestones to watch for in the first five years.
SOURCES: Gary Freed, MD, MPH, co-director, National Poll on Children's Health, pediatrician, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, Ann Arbor, Mich., and professor, pediatrics, University of Michigan; Kristen Treegoob, MD, pediatrician, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, June 28, 2021