Last month, the CDC updated the developmental milestones for children. This is the first update of this kind in almost 20 years.
For parents, milestones cause a mix of joy and anxiety. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing your little ones do something for the first time. Yet when books and resources tell us “average” ages, or we see other children doing things at different times from our children it can lead to unhelpful comparisons or concerns that our little one isn’t developing as expected.
Here we break down why these changes were made, what the changes and updates were, and what they mean in the context of your little one’s growth and development.
Why did they update the guidelines?
Primarily to make it easier to identify children who are eligible for early intervention, a set of services available to children with developmental delays or disabilities. Milestones are a relatively simply way of knowing which children will benefit from this extra help, and the earlier it is started, the better.
While the last set of guidelines aimed to identify the average (50th percentile) child, this set is more like “75% of children this age would meet this milestone”. So, it is helping figure out the 25% of children who have not met a milestone, instead of the average age at which children meet a milestone.
Why is this change in percentages so important? It means the guidelines now show the ages that the majority of children should reach developmental goals.
Guidelines were slimmed down, but additional checklists added at 15mo and 30mo
Due to the accumulation of a lot of research, the number of milestones was slimmed down. A lot of these were duplicate milestones that were present at multiple ages. One significant milestone that was removed was crawling, something that not all babies do (ever!) and has long been felt amongst pediatricians to be an unimportant milestone and not related to other areas of development.
Milestones now indicate when a child is clearly demonstrating a skill (rather than only beginning it) and make it easier to see how a child should be building developmental skills over time.
Additional checklists were added at ages 15mo and 30mo. And, an additional area/type of milestone was added. Milestones are now divided into four sections: Social/Emotional (new), Language/Communication, Cognitive, and Movement/Physical Development.
Some guidelines for 15 month olds include:
- Trying to say a few words beyond names of caregivers
- Pointing to ask for something (including to ask for help)
- Showing affection to parents and caregivers (such as with hugs, kisses, or cuddles)
- Clapping when excited
- Hugging stuffed animals or dolls
- Showing objects they like
- Looking at an object they’re familiar with when you name it
- Following directions you give when you use both words and a gesture
Some guidelines for 30 month olds include:
- Using about 50 words
- Saying at least two words together, including an action verb (ex. “Froggy jump”)
- Saying “Look at me!” or a similar phrase to show you what they can do
- Following simple routines when asked (ex. helping you clean up toys)
- Showing pretend play with objects
- Solving simple problems, such as using a stool to reach something
- Saying names of things in a book when you ask and point to the object
- Following two-step directions
They are easier to understand
The updated guidelines contain simple, more specific language to help parents and caregivers identify any concerns. For example, one of the milestones for an 18-month-old used to say, ‘Drink from a cup.’ Now it says, ‘Drinks from a cup without a lid and may spill sometimes.”
Ways to encourage your child’s development are included
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC give examples of activities to help promote your child’s development and attainment of these milestones.
They also include a list of questions to ask your pediatrician at each age, so you can feel more confident assessing how your little one is doing, or seek additional help if they are not meeting their developmental milestones. They even have an app you can use to track your child’s milestones.
And, as the guidelines say and we wholeheartedly agree, “You know your child best. Don’t wait. If your child is not meeting one or more milestones, has lost skills he or she once had, or you have other concerns, act early. Talk with your child’s doctor, share your concerns, and ask about developmental screening.”
From our families to yours,
Joana + Lauren