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Child Milestones & Red Flags

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Every parent wonders “Is this normal?” “Should I be worried?” “How long do I wait?”

No matter how old your child is, these are the questions that will run through your head, usually late at night when you already are having trouble sleeping. But parents of infants and toddlers think these thoughts the most.

So how can you tell? What are the red flags you should keep an eye out for? What things that might seem like red flags are actually things you don’t need to worry about?

But first, let’s keep some things in mind:

Parents have very good imaginations. Your ability to imagine bad things probably increased hugely as soon as you found out you were pregnant. So remember that.

It’s so easy to imagine scary outcomes that we forget that most children are pretty healthy and most kids never have anything like a serious issue. We hear about children who have awful problems, not because those problems are common but because they are uncommon. They’re news. They make a good story.

So keep things in perspective. Watch and wait. Take notes. Avoid jumping to conclusions.

Also, keep in mind that serious issues usually come in bundles… if there is just one thing that seems delayed, it’s usually okay to wait and see if everything else seems fine. But if you are worried about several areas of development at the same time, then there might be something going on.

All that being said, here are some things to watch for and things you probably don’t need to worry about:

0 to 3 months: it’s all about the senses. Does your child seem to see, hear, and react in ways that match fully functioning sensory equipment? But generally it’s not a problem if a child doesn’t seem to sleep much or cries a good bit. Babies do these things.

4 to 12 months: it’s about emerging social and physical skills. Does your child smile at others, seem to notice things around him, roll over and sit up? Don’t worry if your child isn’t walking independently by one year or isn’t talking.

13 to 24 months: physical abilities take center stage, along with language development. Does your child pull herself to stand and communicate by gesture and babbling? Don’t worry too much, though, if she’s still having trouble with walking and talking. Don’t worry either if she walks before she crawls; this isn’t all that unusual.

Two to Three years: independence should be developing by this point. Does your child walk, talk, and get along well with other children? Don’t worry, though, if only family members can understand what your child says or if he throws tantrums, is shy or is a picky eater. These are all normal for this age.

What Should You Do About Red Flags?

Keep a journal or log. Write down what you see (or what you see instead of what you think you should see) and be sure to date your entries. See if, after a week or two, things get better or you see some progress.

Talk with your child’s doctor. If you need to, write down your question before you go to the office, so you remember what you want to say. Write down what the doctor says. If it helps, have someone else go along with you to take notes. Ask questions if you don’t understand or if you think the doctor doesn’t understand. If you don’t think you’re getting the right answer, get a second opinion. If there really is a problem, then early intervention is important. Don’t delay.

If you consult the Internet, use only reliable sources. WebMD and the American Academy of Pediatrics are good. If you conduct a search, look for sources that end in .edu or .gov, then for .org.  Avoid most websites that end in .com – or at least read those with caution.

Keep in mind that most developmental detours are easily corrected and most children grow up with very few problems. Knowing this should help you feel more confident as a parent and more able to relax.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.