Are you concerned about your child’s development?

Shiny apps and shiny moments on social media can fuel comparisons and worry about how children are developing.

When you’re a new parent, it’s hard not to compare your child to other children and worry: are they developing normally?

It doesn’t help that social media is full of proud parents—and that there are plenty of books and popular apps that claim to tell exactly when a child should do every new thing, from smiling to rolling over to taking their first step. This is almost impossible no to wonder: is my child behind?

It is certainly important to monitor your child’s development. But while you do, here are some things to remember.

Every child is different. This is truly the most important moment of all. Each child is unique, from a different background, living in different families and circumstances. It is impossible for all children to develop in the same way – even children raised by the same family.

There is a range of normal. For example, while we say children should pass at one year, anything between 9 and 15 months is fine. While these limits of normal are usually in the fine print of all these books and apps, one particular age is usually emphasized. This is unfortunate and can cause many families to worry unnecessarily.

There are different aspects of development and children can move through them at different rates. The child may walk early, but spend more time learning to talk because he has so much fun walking. A child can be so engrossed in learning to communicate that walking seems less interesting. Children learn how to use their bodies, they learn how to communicate, they learn how to interact, they learn how to understand the world around them – and each child does it in their own way. It is important to look at the whole picture of a child’s development, not just one milestone.

What to do with your care

Understanding the big picture doesn’t mean you should ignore when your child seems to be developing differently than other children. That’s not to say all apps are bad, either; The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a nice Milestone Tracker, for example.

But before you worry, you should talk to your doctor. You can also contact your state’s early intervention program and request an evaluation, which is free and available for children under 3 when their parent or doctor is concerned about their development. If a child is identified as having a developmental problem, the program works with families to support them in helping their child.

5 tips to promote healthy development in babies and toddlers

Here are some ways you can encourage your child’s development:

  • Play with your child! Interacting with other people, especially those who love them, is the best way for a child to learn new skills.
  • Turn off devices—not just your child’s, but yours, too. There is no substitute for actual attention and interaction.
  • Give your child time on the floor. Literally. Make a clear space and put them down so they can learn to crawl and use their body in other ways.
  • Buy your child simple toys that help him learn and use his imagination. Rattles or other noise devices and musical toys, cubes, dolls, balls and cars are great, as are pretend kitchen utensils and tools. It’s actually better if it doesn’t need batteries!
  • Read to your child! It’s one of the best ways to teach them new words—and to love books, which is a great gift in itself. It’s also a really nice way to bond with your child.

To learn more about child development and what parents and communities can do to support it, visit the Harvard Center for the Developing Child website.

Follow me on Twitter @drClaire

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