Most parents are familiar with the achievements of their children taking their first steps or saying their first words, but human development is so complex that there are many other milestones, both big and small. Developmental milestone charts outline specific skills that most children can do by a certain age. Every child reaches milestones at their own rate, but the charts serve as guidelines for what parents can expect.
Most milestone charts are broken down into age groups, as many areas of development are age-specific. Since infants develop new skills at a fast rate, charts begin by listing milestones for every two to three months of development. After age 2, most charts show a year-by-year list of skills. Age groups are further divided into specific skill areas, most often including physical, cognitive, emotional, language and social skills.
Physical or movement areas involve fine motor skills (using hands and fingers) and gross motor skills (larger muscle and limb movements). Such milestones include an infant’s ability to sit without support by 6 months or a 4-year-old’s ability to hop on one foot. Cognitive skills involve problem solving, thinking or learning, such as your infant recognizing faces and your 5-year-old counting to 10. Social and emotional skills are typically tied together and involve abilities like a 1-year-old repeating sounds to get attention or a 3-year-old taking turns in a game. Language skills involve both verbal and non-verbal communication, such as constructing full sentences or pointing to objects.
Doctors and parents pay attention to milestone charts because they help you recognize possible delays in development. For example, if a child does not use sentences of two to four words by age 2 or doesn’t sit without help by age 9 months, he shows signs of a possible developmental delay. Not all delays are cause for concern because children meet milestones at their own pace; some children walk by 10 months while others don’t meet that milestone until 14 months. Consult your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned about lack of acquiring a milestone. Pay attention to all skill areas because it is common for a child to reach adequate skills in language, for example, but be developmentally behind in physical skills. The University of Michigan Health System states that early intervention is ideal for the best possible progress in your child’s development.
Familiarizing yourself with milestones helps you identify possible developmental delays. You can also make copies of a milestone chart and circle any areas you feel need further development or assessment from your doctor. The University of Michigan Health System suggests bringing up any concerns at your well-child visits. Do not panic if your child does not reach a milestone by the age listed on the chart; failure to reach a milestone on a precise date does not necessarily indicate a problem, so think of the chart as a guideline rather than a list of hard facts.