The Importance of Developmental Milestones for Children & How Recent Updates Impact Parents

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Sponsored by Children’s Mercy.

This post is written by Kirsten L. Weltmer, MD, FAAP and Kristi M. Williams, MD, FAAP – Pediatric Physicians at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.

Watching your child grow is one of the biggest joys you can experience when you have new baby. Not only are they learning to smile and roll over, crawl and laugh but they’re meeting milestones when these things happen. Developmental milestones are ways to help us as parents and pediatricians understand how a child is progressing physically and behaviorally. It’s so heartwarming for a parent to see, and so critical for a child’s growth. Recently, the developmental milestones we’ve all been using for 18 years just got an update. Here’s what you need to know.

What are developmental milestones?

A child’s early years are some of the most important when it comes to brain and body development. Even at a young age, children are working on growing, social interactions, communication and learning every second. Caregivers and doctors can use developmental milestones as a way to check how your child is growing in each of these areas. If they are not developing at a rate like their peers, a doctor may talk with you about getting more support to help your child continue to grow.

In a recent update from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) the developmental milestones for infants and children have changed for the first time since 2004. You may notice some changes when you next visit your child’s pediatrician.

What are the new developmental milestones?

  • Focusing on what most kids can do. The new milestones use the 75th percentile, or what most kids of a certain age are meeting instead of the old milestones which used the measurement of what half of children can do in a certain age group.
  • Milestone checklist for every well-child doctor’s visit from 2 months to 5 years.
  • Inclusion of social and emotional milestones. 
  • Clarified language to help caregivers and providers know exactly what each milestone means.
  • Realigned milestones. The previous version of developmental milestones did have some repeated criteria, as well as removing some milestones, like crawling, since some children don’t crawl before they begin to walk. Other milestones have been moved based on the new 75th percentile criteria to better reflect the age at which most kids would be expected to reach that milestone.
  • Prioritized communication. The new milestones include questions to prompt conversation between caregivers and pediatricians.
  • Added tips and activities.

Here’s a few examples of the developmental milestones from the CDC:

 

2 months old

12 months old

4 years old

Language/Communication Milestones

  • Makes sounds other than crying

  • Reacts to loud sounds

  • Waves “bye-bye”

  • Calls a parent “mama” or “dada” or another special name

  • Understands “no” (pauses briefly or stops when you say it)

  • Says sentences with four or more words

  • Says some words from a song, story, or nursery rhyme

  • Talks about at least one thing that happened during his day, like “I played soccer.”

  • Answers simple questions like “What is a coat for?” or “What is a crayon for?”

Cognitive Milestones (learning, thinking, problem-solving)

  • Watches you as you move

  • Looks at a toy for several seconds

  • Puts something in a container, like a block in a cup

  • Looks for things he sees you hide, like a toy under a blanket

  • Names a few colors of items

  • Tells what comes next in a well-known story

  • Draws a person with three or more body parts

Review the new CDC’s Developmental Milestones here.

What parents and children may see differently at the pediatrician’s office

Many parents experience frustration when their child isn’t meeting a developmental milestone. They often think their child is behind and begin to worry. These milestone updates can help a lot of parents with that worry. The changes will now more clearly show what the majority of children are doing. So, if their child isn’t meeting a developmental milestone now, it is time to consider early intervention or professional support, instead of unnecessary worry.

If it does become time for early intervention, the referral process for a developmental evaluation should be much smoother. In previous years, children were being referred but didn’t actually qualify for services. In many cases, the referral wasn’t necessary because the baby was developing at an average rate. Now, we hope to only refer children and families who do meet the threshold for early interventions.

All this is to say the new updates are aimed to help track a child’s development but also reduce the worry parents have during the process and give both caregivers and pediatric care providers more clear guidelines about a child’s progress. 

Hopefully, parents can get back to thinking every giggle, wiggle and coo is the cutest thing – because it is!


Children’s Mercy Wichita offers a child-friendly environment to provide families access to pediatric specialty care that otherwise might not be available without traveling out of the community including Cardiology, Endocrinology, Nephrology, Hepatology, Neurosurgery, Plastic Surgery and more. 

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