Developmental Milestones & When to Worry

By Anita Holmes
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Every child is a unique creation, remarkable and amazing in her own right. Part of that uniqueness is evident because toddlers often develop in specific growth areas at a rate different from their peers. One baby may walk at 8 months, in spite of the norm being 11 to 12 months. Another little one may exhibit no interest in taking that first step until 16 months. The same is so in the spheres of vocalizing, playing, eating independently, sleeping patterns and even showing emotions -- improvement can vary radically from one child to the next. Yet, there are generalized developmental milestones against which a parent can compare observed progress in her baby to the expected. When baby appears to be critically lagging in any particular growth domain, parents may have cause for concern. Typical age-based milestones occur at 4, 8 and 12 months for babies.

4-Month-Old Milestones

At 4 months, your baby will most likely be doing the following: jabbering, holding her head up, visually following objects, holding onto toys, smiling at family and friends and jumping at loud sounds. Should you find your baby seriously straggling in one or more of these areas, touch bases with your doctor. In many instances, there will be no reason to worry. Early development is a combination of a myriad of variables, including whether your baby was full term at birth, has suffered any illnesses, or is simply happiest to be held and sleep the day away.

8-Month-Old Milestones

By 8 months of age your little one's abilities will have increased dramatically. He may be crawling, saying his first words, independently eating finger foods, purposefully activating sound-making or moving toys and giggling when played with. Concerns crop up when his movements regularly seem stiff or floppy, when he appears to avoid any touch or cuddling, if he can't follow an object or his eyes cross. If he's not yet sitting up or rolling over, cries constantly and rarely interacts with family members, follow up with a visit with your doctor, carefully describing what you have observed. The doctor will be looking for a pattern of decreased development; isolated instances will most likely not present red flags.

12-Month-Old Milestones

A 1-year-old may have a beginning vocabulary of a few words. She may still be crawling or be walking. She should be engaging in two-person, give-and-take games like peekaboo and patty-cake. When looking through a picture book or walking through the zoo, she should be pointing at images and objects. She should be exhibiting signs of independence, squealing for certain toys and manifesting happiness, anger, fear and frustration. Should she be unable to engage in any of these activities, check with your health provider. As always, your doctor will be less concerned about one-time-only disinterest on the part of your toddler to perform a certain function than if it appears that she truly cannot do so.

Threats to Development at Any Age

At any age, a little one may hit a developmental snag. This usually occurs when he has been hit with a debilitating illness or has been involved in an accident. Developmental milestone lists are available from medical offices, in books on child development and online. Lagging development in any arena may respond to early intervention in the form of appropriate early childhood services. For instance, if your preschooler's speech is behind that of his peers, a speech therapist may be able to help him close that developmental gap. While illness, accident or, in some instances, biologically-induced challenges can slow growth, with appropriate assistance, your little one can often play catch-up.

About the Author

A retired teacher, Anita Holmes is an experienced seamstress, wood worker and home decor specialist. She's designed and constructed new homes, gardens, remodeled multiple homes, built furniture, decks and cabinets and sewn everything from custom drapes to intricate quilts. Holmes holds a Master of Public Administration degree.