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Is your child developing the same way as his or her peers (play friends)?

Michael G. Ahrens


A good friend, a first time mom, raised an interesting point. Parents, when comparing children, often see one child being able to do something that their own child (of a similar age) cannot do. This natural method of comparison sometimes gives rise to anxiety. Parents often wonder in such situations " my child cannot do this yet, should my child be able to do this now? Is my child developing properly?" They may even look up child development books to check up information on child developmental schedules or scales. They will look for reassurance, to make sure when a child should learn a specific skill. It is natural to be "anxious" about the development of one's child. But another question may arise, are any such "child to child" comparisons valid, and are they worth the potential anxiety. My friend asked "should we not just let our children be and let them grow up all by themselves, in their own good time?"

Parents are generally familiar with these "schedules", because they will have noticed pediatricians and early childhood professionals using them to "measure" children's development. Indeed parents will be "asked" from time to time, by such professionals, who will want to know, when their child first started eating solids, walking, talking, and so on.

Developmental schedules have been around for a long time. They are based on observations of large numbers of children. These observations (research) will then draw comparisons and conclusions of what abilities children have at common ages and stages, we learn to accept these observations as facts. But should parents be anxious when their child cannot do the things that developmental scales suggest a child of a specific age should have acquired? Is it not true to say that the range of "normal development is quite broad"? And if the range of development is so broad, then why not let our children just develop at their own pace?

It can be stated with some conviction that it is very useful indeed for parents who have very young children to familiarize themselves with and access programs that contain good developmental "guidelines" because of the value of knowing what their child should learn "next". It is the exposure to appropriate developmental opportunities that matters. Knowing about developmental sequences will reduce anxiety for a parent.

The use and value of developmental schedules for parents remains most pertinent in the 21st century. The evidence of the importance of early childhood learning has become substantial. Published evidence gathered by longitudinal studies, which have followed large groups of children from birth to adulthood show four important conclusions:

a) the path of a child's lifetime development is laid down mostly by the age of three.

b) exposure to a wide range of experiences from the very first is the most important factor in cognitive (intellectual) development, and

c) the more experience a child has as an infant and toddler; the greater its potential for growth. and

d) but perhaps the most interesting result is that quality childrearing overcomes adversity.

So what matters are not so much if your child can do what your friends' child of the same age can do now, but that your child gets exposure to the correct developmental learning. Why? Because we know that development is predictable and follows an orderly sequence and all skills are interrelated, and lastly children learn best from their first teachers - their parents.

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