In order to fully understand your child, you need knowledge of the development of the total child, as well as of the processes necessary to develop from babyhood to childhood to adulthood. The child needs to achieve specific developmental milestones in order to develop fully and to reach full potential.
There are many charts available to measure development. Parents are often keen to use these charts to check the child’s progress and to ensure that optimal development is taking place. Unfortunately, these are too often used to compare children. Developmental milestones are important for checking progress during therapy and when diagnoses are made but it is more important that a child achieves the different milestones in the correct succession than it is to achieve these at specific ages. It can create expectations in parents, followed by needless anxiety when those expectations are not realised. In my opinion, it is more important that children go through each stage in their own time rather than reaching a certain stage at a certain age. All babies and children go through the same successive stages of development (e.g. sitting, crawling, walking), and it is more important to go through all three stages than to be able to walk by a certain age.
Early childhood development is crucial for later development. During the early childhood, as from conception to birth to the time that the child is three years old, form the foundation of development. During this time the baby develops the important sensory phase and sensorymotor phase. These phases form the foundation and the perceptual-motor development and cognitive development is built on this. Although these phases are “built” on one another, many aspects of development happen simultaneously. Thus it is tricky to compare all of these developmental skills to a specific chart.
Early childhood development is not only about motor development as so many charts indicate. There are specific time “windows” during which time it is ideal that e.g. a baby should start to crawl. However, some children are slower or faster and the ideal age at which they are expected to do this, is not as important as actually doing it. Once again, it is in the interest of professionals to identify the need for intervention, to use specific charts. Parents should focus more on enjoying their precious child and on having a holistic approach to the child’s well-being and happiness than on trying to identify the child’s progress on charts.
Early childhood development is important but all aspects of development should be considered. These include sensory development (almost impossible to measure this on a chart), sensory motor development (this includes lots of movement skills and is easier to measure on charts), perceptual development (this is complex to measure as it involves many of the skills necessary for learning in school), emotional development (this can hardly be measured on a developmental milestones chart) and cognitive development (this can be measured with complex assessment tools and relates to IQ). The development of social skills is also important for the happiness of the child. The ability to use obtained skills in a functional way (e.g. to use fine motor skills to get dressed) is important for adaptation in different environments and to cope in life in general.
Cognitive development also includes memory (auditory and visual), analysis and synthesis, problem solving, ideation, planning, and association.
All of these skills start as infant development and then continues to develop into the pre-school years and into childhood. Many of them continue to develop and to improve throughout life. A child of three years of age uses most of these skills to a certain degree but development continues. Improved skills and more accurate emotional control are seen in the older child. A child can run quite well at the age of three but needs to develop and practice to obtain the skills necessary to be an Olympian champion.
You can now see that a developmental milestone chart might give you an indication of your infant’s development regarding some aspects of development. However, it might not give you any idea of how your child copes in different environments, about your child’s emotional well-being or about your child’s social skills. These are all important for your child’s well-being from infant development through to the teenage years.
An infant and young child learns the best skills about their bodies and about the environment they live in, through movement. This teaches them about body concept – the size of the body, the different body parts and what they can do with their bodies. It also teaches them about the environment – spatial concepts of playground equipment, concept of size, and the relations between the child’s body and the environment. This will give your child the knowledge and experience to understand spatial concepts when learning visual perceptual skills such as writing letters. Movement will also encourage the development of strong muscles to provide the support that will enable the child to have a stable posture when performing fine motor tasks such as writing and cutting.
Instead of focusing on when your child achieves specific tasks on charts, you can focus on the joy of playing with your child. Spend time to really know your child’s personality, likes and dislikes, the skills that are really good and try to identify tasks that your child find difficult. Praise when your child does a task successfully and support and encourage when your child struggles. This will encourage natural parenting and a self-confident child.