For parents, knowing a little about developmental milestones—those functional skills that kids generally acquire within a certain time period—can be a bit of a mixed blessing.
And that makes sense. For a parent whose child is developing typically—that is, achieving major developmental skills on time or even a little ahead of schedule—milestones are a cause for celebration.
There’s not so much cause for celebration, though, for the parents whose kids’ developmental skills emerge a little later. For them, timelines, charts, and red-letter dates often spell anxiety and worry, as previous research has associated later achievement of gross motor skills with developmental delays.
Either way, experts are likely to remind both sets of parents that there’s variability within those dates and that each child follows his own unique developmental path.
Now, a new study from researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), in Bethesda, MD, is shedding light on the significance of achieving certain milestones early.
Turns out that infants who learn to stand with assistance sooner score higher on tests of cognition (paying attention, learning, and remembering) in preschool, according to study authors.
Kids who stand sooner also score higher on other measures, including adaptive skills, such as using utensils and learning to dress themselves by age 4, they added.
The study, however, did not prove cause and effect, and its findings apply only to single-birth children, not multiples.
Researchers speculate that brain structures that support movement may also have a role in thinking, learning, and memory. The study did not find an association between the age of achievement in movement milestones and “personal/social or communication skills,” researchers said.
For the study, experts gathered information for 599 children born between 2008 and 2010.
Among other things, the study looked at kids who were not diagnosed with developmental disabilities, and their ability to pull themselves up to a standing position. The children ranged in age from 4 to 24 months.
The kids’ moms reported this information at ages 4, 8, 12, 18, and 24 months. Then, study investigators clinically assessed the children at age 4.
The study, “Gross Motor Milestones and Subsequent Development,” was published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Edwina Yeung, who led the team of researchers at the NICHD, said this about the study:
“We showed that the importance of infant motor development may not be limited to children with disabilities.
“Within the normal range, achieving a gross motor milestone earlier than peers may have favorable effects on adaptive and cognitive skills in childhood,” she said.
According to the report, mothers in the study were 32 years old, on average. Most were married, had private health insurance, and a college degree. About 45 percent of moms received infertility treatments. Roughly 86 percent were non-Hispanic white.
Of course, many experts say that the age at which a child hits a milestone isn’t nearly as important as the fact that he nails it. Also, they advise parents not to compare their babies to any other children—including siblings.
Nevertheless, many parents feel that having a kid who creeps or stands early earns them bragging rights in the community. But think about it: if your child is developing typically and there are no diagnosed disabilities, will it really matter later on if your best friend’s tot beats yours to the finish line by a couple of days or weeks?
In the meantime, try these fun skill-building activities to foster movement:
1. Reach for the Gold (or a Blankie)
Encourage your cutie to strengthen those upper body muscles. Set her on her bottom or tummy on the floor in front of you. Scatter brightly colored objects a few feet away. Urge her to reach for a favorite stuffed animal or a noisy toy.
2. Get Down and Play Together
Inspire curiosity and movement. Gather pillows, boxes, laundry baskets, and, if you have the room, unused crib-size sheets to form tunnels or tents. Create an obstacle course on the floor to maneuver over, under, and around.
3. Let the Good Times Roll
Fine-tune coordination and timing. Sit on the floor a few feet away from your baby. Slowly roll a medium-size ball in his direction. Urge him to catch it and roll it back. Alternate with smaller and larger versions. Applaud his efforts. Repeat.