Resisting the Urge to Compete
The bottom line is that parents shouldn't ignore developmental milestones -- just keep them in perspective. "They're important," Dr. Saphir says, especially if a parent has a nagging sense that his or her child is somehow different -- a feeling you should always report and one that should be welcomed and respected by your child's physician. "But I think parents have to realize that there is variation," he says. "The more people get overly involved with reading guidelines and checking lists, the less they're going to enjoy their child."
Current findings in early childhood development should offer some relief to parents who worry that their baby is not keeping up with the Joneses' progeny. Dr. Howard points out that children move ahead in fits and starts, not on a smooth upward curve. "Development seems to happen in sudden reorganizations in functioning," she says. "Your baby may be behind your neighbor this month but ahead next month." As your child gets older, such spikes will even out: "When they're 3, whether they walked at 12 months or 15 months will not seem significant."
It's also useful to remember that a baby's temperament may influence her progress. "Sometimes a baby won't walk as early as another one because she's cautious," Dr. Howard says. "Or maybe he can run but really prefers sitting down and coloring. This is a good chance to practice how you're going to appreciate your baby's individual differences." Your child may have the same innate athletic ability as the varsity toddler next door, she says, but might achieve motor milestones later because of looser muscle or ligament structure.
Another factor to keep in mind is that a baby with highly intuitive parents may actually be delayed in meeting some developmental milestones. With his parents anticipating his every need, for example, such a child may feel no rush to talk. "Then, at 16 months, he'll come out with full sentences," says Dr. Brodlie.