Children's Developmental Milestones

Posted on 2013-06-16 22:00:57

It is typical at gatherings, such as birthdays, clinic queues and waiting areas at school interviews e.g. kindergartens, market places and malls and other social events when as parents at some point we begin to compare our children’s milestones. With each one saying, mine walked at 9 months or mine walked at 1 and a half years. Conversations about teething, first words, crawling, smiling, cooing, playing and other skills acquired by the baby are common among mothers. The comparisons may make some parents worried especially first time parents. Parents need to understand that all children are different, although there are milestones that are naturally expected of all children at certain ages and stages of growth. What is fundamental is that every baby is unique, even children born of the same mother or twins. Developmental milestones by definition are a set of functional skills or tasks that are age specific which most children are able to do at a certain age range. Child development refers to how a child is able to do more things that are more complex in nature as they become older. Yes this is quite different from growth as growth then refers to the child getting bigger in size for example height or head circumference. A developmental delay is when a child does not reach a milestone by the upper range of normal. The pediatricians during their child healthcare checks normally use milestones in order to see how the child is developing. Each milestone may have a certain age level, but the age at which each child reaches this milestone varies. When we talk about normal development, we are talking about developing skills like:
  • Gross motor skills including using a large group of muscles to sit, stand, walk, run, keeping balance and even changing positions.
  • Fine motor skills which involve using hands to be able to do things such as eat, draw, dress, play, and write.
  • Language that includes speaking, using body language and gestures communicating and understanding what other people say
  • Cognitive function that involve thinking skills which include learning, understanding, problem solving, reasoning and remembering.
  • Social skills which includes interacting with other children, having relationships with the family, friends, and teachers, and responding to the feelings of others.
Eunice Mbugua, a Pediatric Nurse with years of experience in growth monitoring and practicing at the Mombasa hospital attributes some of the developmental delays in Kenya to early childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, malnutrition, adverse, stressful environments, and common childhood injuries such as falls, which at times may go unnoticed. Premature births are also a known cause of developmental delays. According to WHO, four risk factors which affect at least 20-25% of children in developing countries affecting child hood development include:
  • Inadequate stimulation or learning opportunities
  • iron deficiency anemia and iodine deficiency.
Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and may last throughout a person’s lifetime. A child’s growth and development are followed through a partnership between parents and healthcare professionals. At each well-baby visit, the doctor looks for developmental delays or problems and talks with the parents about any concerns the parents might have. This is called developmental monitoring. A parent knows his or her child best. It is important for the parent to see that if their child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, there could be a problem with development. One then needs to talk with the child’s doctor or the health care giver in order to share their concerns. Any problems noticed during developmental monitoring should be followed up with developmental screening. Developmental screening is a short test to tell if a child is learning basic skills when he or she should, or if there are delays. Other causes of delays in milestones should be ruled out. Screening which is done by the doctor aims at asking a series of questions and observations to get the child to perform certain age appropriate tasks. Should there be anything of concern the child should be referred to a specialist and intervention should be done as early as possible in order to make the best possible progress and improvement. It cannot be over emphasized that every child is unique but parents should know their children best. With proper knowledge and information from health care providers, the parent should be able to gauge their child’s development. Parents and families are essential to children meeting their normal development and in this case their milestones. Adequate stimulation and nutrition (balanced diet) are also key in achieving this development and more so important during the first six months of life to three years of life. Children also need to be in a caring, responsive environment which protects them from neglect and inappropriate disapproval and punishment. Developing an early emotional connection to a caregiver is critical. Absence of this attachment to a consistent caregiver may have significant negative effects on the child in terms of developing and reaching their milestones. This brings to mind the social crisis of domestic care workers in our homes today who at times rarely last 3 months. It then begs the question whether this high turnover of domestic workers affects the child’s development milestones. This is, however, a discussion for another day. It is important for parents to ensure that they attend their child clinic days as recommended by the Ministry of health. Even after the mandatory immunizations in the first year, parents should continue to take their children for growth and monitoring and ensuring that they have the necessary discussion on the development of their child with the health givers. The early identification of delays of milestones helps to have early intervention which will have a positive impact in helping the child develop normal milestones. Parents and guardians are also advised to seek prompt medical attention to treat the children’s childhood illnesses. Early stages of childhood development are also the most intensive period of brain development. It is essential for development that adequate stimulation and nutrition are present during the first three years of life. It is during these years that a child's brain is most sensitive to the influences of the external environment affecting cognitive, social and emotional growth. Such development helps to ensure that each child reaches his or her potential and is a productive part of a rapidly changing, global society. Do you have a question about your child's development?Please ask one of our pediatrician today.

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