How is my child doing? Look at the big picture of child development with Mayo Clinic

July 20, 2014

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If your baby isn’t sitting up with limited support by his or her 6-month birthday, don’t panic.

“‘Normal’ child development can look very different from one child to the next,” says Jay Homme, M.D., Mayo Clinic pediatrician.

Read on for more expert advice on child development, milestones and when to get extra help.

Big-picture thinking

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“I always encourage parents not to get too detail-oriented when it comes to what their child can and can’t do,” says Dr. Homme. “If you focus too much on one thing and lose track of the total picture, it can create false worry.”

That means if your baby is on track for his or her motor skills, as well as social, self-help and language development, then not being able to sit up at exactly 6 months old typically isn’t concerning to your provider. 

“Child development charts — and some can get very detailed — are mostly a tool to flag children who are falling significantly behind in these areas   of development,” says Dr. Homme. 

That said, you should always bring your concerns to your child’s health care provider.

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“There are very few developmental concerns that come up suddenly, so it’s a good idea to keep a running list of your concerns and plan to bring them up at your next well-child visit,” says Dr. Homme. “Sometimes we can alleviate your concern. Sometimes we can look a little deeper by asking more questions and doing an examination.”

If there’s a concern that’s bothering you between appointments, call your provider and ask.

“There’s no harm in checking in,” says Dr. Homme. “We always like to hear what’s going on with our patients.”

Beyond childhood

Milestone charts and checklists typically cover the first five years of a child’s life, but that doesn’t mean development stops there.

“In the school-age years, we think more about academic and social performance,” says Dr. Homme. 

Parents should be checking in often with teachers and other caregivers to address concerns as they arise, Dr. Homme suggests.

“The timing of getting more help can be pretty crucial for kids,” he says. “If they don’t get their core skills for reading and math in the first few years of school, children can struggle their entire school career.”

And for nonacademic issues, be sure you’re still checking in with your health care provider.

“Sometimes if kids are healthy and on track during the preschool years, parents are tempted to skip older child exams,” says Dr. Homme. “We still like to see them every two years, so keep scheduling those well-child appointments.”


Modeling healthy behavior

The building blocks of healthy child development are good nutrition and regular activity, along with love, encouragement and a positive family environment.

Want your kids to eat healthfully and exercise throughout their lives? If you don’t already, you might want to start exercising and eating better yourself.

“In general for healthful life habits, more is caught than taught,” says Jay Homme, M.D., Mayo Clinic pediatrician. “If parents normalize healthful habits, as well as talk about eating healthful foods and staying active, it becomes part of their kids’ everyday lives.”

Children should get about an hour of physical activity or active play every day. Parents can help foster this habit by making physical activity fun and by putting limits on nonactive pursuits, such as screen time. 

For healthful eating habits, incorporate a variety of foods into family meals. 

“Let your kids help prepare the meals, or shop with them and let them choose healthful foods,” says Dr. Homme. “The more these habits can be worked into the family routine, the better.”


Keeping immunizations on schedule

Many parents dread the end of the well-child visit, when the nurse walks in with the tray of needles. 

Though painful for your child and hard for you to watch, getting vaccines on schedule is part of keeping your child safe. 

“The reason vaccines are given at certain ages is sometimes the child is at highest risk during that period,” says Jay Homme, M.D., Mayo Clinic pediatrician. “The research on vaccines shows that if they’re given according to the recommended schedule, they’re more effective. Delaying or skipping vaccines can leave your child vulnerable to disease at critical times.”

If you have concerns about immunizations, talk to your provider. 

“Most of the time, we can work with you to address those concerns and come up with a strategy everyone is happy with,” says Dr. Homme.



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