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Child Development: 10 Times To Worry (And 10 More Common Than We Think)

For most expecting mothers, the main goal and focus during pregnancy are to deliver a healthy baby. Throughout those nine months, she is bombarded with apps telling her that her baby is now the size of a sesame seed, a blueberry, and a slew of other well-known fruits. A mom will also learn priceless information about how they are physically developing in their designated home. This is an extremely exciting time, and each doctors visit allows her to check items off of her development list, and answers questions such as: “How big are they? Are they measuring the right size? Are they in the proper position for birth?” But, what happens after they are welcomed into this world? Where does the focus naturally shift?

Parents often describe having a child is a momentous decision to have their hearts forever walk outside of their body. The truth is, parents never stop worrying about them, and these thoughts start during infancy and last well into their adulthood. Among the first worries new parents have are whether or not their child is developing appropriately.

The CDC defines developmental milestones as, “a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range.” While everyone hopes that their child is the next Elon Musk, it is important to understand that every child is different and they will reach milestones according to their own, individual timelines. But, when should parents start to worry? Let's outline the 10 developmental issues parents need to worry about, and 10 that are actually quite common for most children.

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20 I've Called Your Name A Thousand Times, Jane. JANE?!

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You have spent months pouring over baby name books, waiting for approval from the family members, and trying out a variety of names for your newly growing lima bean. Finally, you decide on the moniker that perfectly captures their spirit and essence (or at least the vigorous kicks and aura that you're feeling.) But, what happens if they don’t respond to their name?

Most babies learn their names between the ages of 5 and 7 months old. At their 9-month checkup, they will be expected to turn and look briefly when their name is called. As a parent, it is beneficial to repeatedly use their name from birth. This constant reinforcement should set them up for success unless there is an underlying issue. It could be a hearing issue which they can check using an automated otoacoustic emission (AOAE) test. If this comes back clear or inconclusive, it may point to a different problem. Failure to respond to their name, especially by 12 months of age, is one of the earliest signs of social and developmental delays. Even though you cannot get an official diagnosis until your baby turns two years old, there are steps you can take at the earliest sign.

Make sure that you keep using your babies name in both stimulated and calm settings. When you say their name, you can accompany it with a motion to gain their attention. Each time they turn in your direction, reward them. Once they begin responding frequently, advance to practicing in an area with a little more distraction, and finally try out their skills in public.

Even if these exercises fail to solve the problem, the key to minimizing the effects of a developmental delay is early intervention.

19 Mommy's Over Here!

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William Shakespeare said: “The eyes are the windows to your soul”. Moms can stare into their baby’s eyes for hours. They will dream about what their future holds and all of the amazing accomplishments. However, a lack of eye contact could point to a more serious problem.

Infants start making eye contact at around 6 weeks old. They have an intrinsic desire to look at faces that mutually engage them. A study published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) says that,

“At around 3 months of age, they start following the movements of their parents when they go at some distance. Finally, between the age of 9 and 12 months, they hold and follow the gaze of adults when directed to look at something. A baby’s eye contact signifies that his neurological development is in the right order.”

If your baby has not hit this milestone by their first birthday, you should take them to the pediatrician to rule out any vision problems. You should also make sure that they aren’t over stimulated when you are checking their ability to maintain eye contact, such as having the television on, or another child running around flailing his arms around. If you have ruled out all the other factors, it may be time to ask your pediatrician about reaching a diagnosis. Failure to make eye contact is one of the earliest indicators of the Autism Spectrum Disorder and may require additional intervention.

18 Bobbling Like A Bobble Head May Be Worrisome

All newborn animals and humans lack control over their muscle groups. This is why foals are so wobbly on their legs, why puppies can only roll around with their eyes closed, and lastly, why babies have wobbly heads and weak limbs.

Everyone that has held a newborn knows that they need to support their neck until their muscles become stronger. But at what age should they gain muscle control? By two months old, your baby should be able to briefly hold their head up and look side to side when they are having tummy time. By four months old, they should be able to hold their head up when they are placed in a sitting position. For example, if you put them in a Bumbo chair, they should be able to hold up their head without assistance. Lastly, between 6-8 months old, they should be strong enough to sit without assistance.

These may seem like trivial milestones, but they are the precursors to sitting independently, swallowing food, standing, and walking. Muscle control is essentially a major building block in the framework of their physical development.

If they are struggling at three months old, you need to bring it up to your pediatrician and keep a close eye on them. If they are exhibiting lack of control, floppiness, or stiffness it may point to a physical development delay or an early motor delay.

In addition to working with your pediatrician, there are exercises you can do at home. Make sure that you do daily tummy time to strengthen their neck muscles. When they are a few months older you can also use a Boppy pillow to assist them in sitting up. Once they are supported in the Boppy, place their favorite toys near them to encourage them to reach and grasp.

17 When Cooing And Babbling Turns Into Silence

Cooing, gurgling, and even crying can be music to parent’s ears. Some may view themselves as lucky if they have a quiet baby, but silence could point to underlying issues.

In the early months, the first noise your baby should make is crying. This is the only form of communication they have to ensure that their needs are met. Between the ages of 2-6 months, they should increase their communication to include cooing, and lastly, vocal play. Vocal play consists of making “bubbly” noises and blowing raspberries. All of this will eventually lead to babbling and progress towards forming words.

The New York Times states, “Babble is increasingly being understood as an essential precursor to speech and as a key predictor of both cognitive and social-emotional development. And research is teasing apart the phonetic components of babble, along with the interplay of neurologic, cognitive and social factors.”

If your baby isn’t progressing at a steady pace, it could mean that they have a cognitive delay. If by 12 months they continue to be non-verbal, it could indicate Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In the meantime, make sure that you are constantly talking to them and engaging them in social activities.

16 All Eyes On Mommy

All infants possess the innate desire to form an emotional bond with a parent or caregiver. For the first few months, infants will respond to a variety of caregivers, but as they grow older they will form a stronger attachment to one person. If your child has difficulty forming a bond, it can impede their ability to socialize with peers later in life and can lead to severe social and emotional problems in adulthood.

If you notice that your child is withdrawn, fails to make eye contact, lacks interest in toys, is calm when alone, and engages in self-soothing behaviors, they could have an attachment disorder. The most common attachment disorder is called Reactive Attachment Disorder or “RAD.”

RAD is most common in children that have had a tumultuous start to life. Risk factors for RAD include: spending time in an orphanage, abandonment, exposure to illegal substances, or if a parent is emotionally unavailable due to depression or other causes.

This is an extremely serious disorder if left untreated because it can greatly impact the rest of their lives. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms early on, preferably in infancy. You can consult a child development specialist and they will create a tailor-made plan that best suits the needs of your family.

15 Two High Fives! I Guess Not.

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We all have experienced that sweet moment in a grocery store line or restaurant when you catch the eye of an admiring infant or toddler. On instinct, you may wave, smile, or do a funny gesture. Most of the time, the child will mimic the gesture back to you, smile, or laugh. This very simple interaction is called serve and return.

Much like a game of tennis, serve and return relies on back and forth gestures between a child and an adult. If the adult fails to respond to the child’s “serving” gesture, it can cause distress and affect their budding brain architecture. But what happens when a child doesn’t respond to your serve?

A lack of engagement on this level could mean that they have a social or sensory processing disorder. Both delays benefit from early intervention at the first sign of symptoms.

At home, parents could engage in a variety of activities that will teach your child appropriate ways to play and respond to social situations.

14 If I've Said It Once, I've Said It A Hundred Times. Pick It Up And Put It Away!

Following directions is a skill that everyone needs to succeed in life. The ability to follow directions starts in toddlerhood, and with every year, they should be able to follow more complex directions.

A toddler should only be expected to follow a one-step instruction. For example, you can anticipate that they will be able to follow an instruction such as: “Please hang up your coat.” At this stage, a multi-step direction such as: “Hang your coat up, wash your hands, and sit down for lunch” is not feasible. It is extremely important to limit your expectations in this regard. If you find that your child is having difficulty following a simple one-step direction, or that their ability does not grow into preschool age, it may be time to get some help.

They could have a listening comprehension issue which is classified under an auditory processing disorder. Signs of this, other than failure to follow a one-step direction include: asking speakers to repeat themselves, easily distractible, difficulty with oral problems, difficulty learning songs and rhymes, and trouble following conversations.

If you find this to be the case, your first step should be to talk to your child’s teacher if they are in a preschool or a school-aged setting. After gathering initial information, your next step is to make an appointment with a specialist who will conduct an easy evaluation of your child.

13 If You Have Nothing Nice To Say, Don't Say It At All

Bullying is one of the hottest topics of conversation in regards to schooling. A bully is defined as “ a person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” We read about cyberbullying and see forms of bullying in mainstream movies and television. The original bully movie that comes to mind is “Mean Girls.” While this accurately depicts an aspect of bullying, it glosses over significant issues. Most people bully due to lack of confidence, but when does it point to a larger and deeper problem?

If you get the dreaded phone call that your child has been teasing or harming classmates, it is import to get to the root cause. If you have ruled out common reasons like they didn’t realize they were hurting people, they feel a lack of confidence, they were retaliating against another bully, or they were simply trying to fit in, it may be time to have a talk with them. If they fail to discuss and respond to consequences, they could have a conduct disorder.

A child going against socially normal behavior and violating the right of others characterizes a conduct disorder. In order to be diagnosed with a conduct disorder within the past year, your child must have exhibited aggression towards people or animals, destruction of property, theft, or serious rule violation. These are broad categories and only three items need to be met. Whether it is three in one area or multiple in each area.

A conduct disorder is not something to be taken lightly and, if diagnosed, will require therapy and medication.

12 Being A Loner May Have Some Moms Calling The Doc.

All parents hope that their child will establish friendships that turn into everlasting bonds. This is why so much effort is placed on socializing them in infancy. From playground playdates to Mommy and Me Classes, your focus is to set them up for social success. What do you do when your child struggles to make friends?

Possessing social awkwardness is definitely a struggle that a lot of people have to overcome but when you have a child that truly struggles with making friends, you may need to step in and intervene.

Your child may prefer reading a book alone to playing with friends. While a lot of parents shrug this off as normal and engage in self-talk, thinking, “this is how kids learn, they need to make friends on their own” it could quickly progress to: “why aren’t they being invited to birthday parties?” “Is my child liked?” These are heartbreaking questions to have to ask yourself, but there is help that can be found. Most schools are treating social conditions with the same seriousness as a learning disability. If your child shows any of these signs, they could have ‘social dyslexia.’ Social dyslexia is diagnosed when a child has difficulty understanding and interpreting common social cues. Telegraph UK says,

“75 percent of communication is a facial expression and body language, stance, volume and tone of voice - and 25 percent is language - being sluggish at interpreting these cues can leave them at a serious disadvantage.”

Luckily a child’s brain is very pliable and you can teach them how to use eye contact, and how to use and interpret body language to their advantage.

11 Settle Down, Jeremy.

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If you were asked to think of a child that is “hyper” or “energetic,” I bet you wouldn’t have any issue thinking of one particular kid. It could be a family member, student, or even your own child. They seem most comfortable when they can run free outside and prefer situations that let them get their wiggles out. While this is an extremely common behavior found in small children, it becomes a bigger issue if it persists into their school years.

As a parent, you may get a phone call from a concerned teacher, and you would be wise to take their advice. There is a chance it is more than typical overexcited behavior, especially if it is affecting their school performance. If your child is behind in their schoolwork and feels lost, they could have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While symptoms of ADHD vary among children, the main symptoms are easy to spot. Doctors have outlined nine behaviors that point to ADHD that are: makes careless mistakes, trouble paying attention, does not listen when spoken directly to, does not follow instructions, has trouble with organization, avoids activities that take a lot of thought, loss of interest, easily distracted and is forgetful. However, your child must exhibit six of them before a diagnosis is made.

If your child shows at least six of these common signs, it is important that you meet with your pediatrician.

10 He Doesn't Want To Crawl, He Wants To Be A Hip Baby

Once your little one is on the move, it is a race to baby proof your house!

Gone are the days of leaving them comfortable on the floor while you quickly grab a much-needed cup of coffee. At this point, they will get into anything and everything, and learning how to crawl is their first step in mobile self-discovery.

Those of you that have mom friends may receive text messages or phone calls about how their baby is crawling all over the place. You may feign enthusiasm as you look at your baby who is peacefully sitting and playing with a toy. “Why aren’t they crawling? Is something wrong with them?” These are common thoughts to have but you must calm yourself! It is very important to stop comparing your babies’ milestones with other babies you know. At this stage of life, everything happens at their own pace, and most will ultimately arrive at the same finish line, regardless of when they started.

Babies learn to crawl between 6 and 10 months of age. This is a huge range! Some babies bypass crawling all together and fast forward to pulling themselves up, cruising, and walking.

There is no need to worry; your kiddo will be causing mischief in no time!

9 First Comes Standing, Then Comes Walking... Wait, Why Aren't You Walking?

Walking is one of the most celebrated milestones in an infant’s life. It tops the list with other milestone heavyweights such as saying their first words, eating their first foods and crawling. It is such an exciting moment, which is why it is embraced by many. But what do you do if your baby doesn’t seem too motivated to walk?

All babies run according to their own agenda, and walking may not be on your babies schedule yet! Most infants walk between the ages of 9 and 12 months old. Again, this is quite a large range, and shouldn’t cause any panic. No, your baby isn’t lazy, and yes they will walk, but in their own time. Some children don’t perfect the art of walking until 16 or 17 months old.

If you really want to speed this process up, there are a few actions that you can take. Make sure that they are barefoot as this will help with their balance, and shoes are only needed once they begin walking outside. You can also entice them by sitting a fair distance away with your arms outstretched. This may coax them, but a stubborn baby might require a larger prize. Or a child stand-alone toy can be used to steady their balance.

No matter what approach you take, just know that your baby will soon be running circles around you!

8 Wake Up Bae, It's 2 In The Afternoon!

If your baby has suddenly taken on habits that resemble a nocturnal vampire, chances are they have day/night confusion. Most of us expect our babies to come out of the womb fully acclimated to our schedules. You may think, “It’s dark outside, I am sleeping, they should be tired too”. This, however, is not the case for most babies.

In the first few months of life, they are driven to wake during the night because their hungry bellies serve as an internal alarm clock. If they are waking up often during the night, it is logical that they would then want to sleep during the day. This works to your advantage if you have errands to run, but also leaves you exhausted. Even though this is a bump in the road, it is completely normal and nothing to fret over.

Time is the remedy for day/night confusion, as most infants self-regulate and grow out of this pattern. If you feel that you must act now, there are a couple of things that you can do to aide the process. Make sure they are awake during the day so that they can experience light. Conversely, when it is bedtime (at night) make sure that their sleeping area is very dark and free of stimulation. When they are four months old, they will most likely be on your schedule and if not, you can introduce sleep training.

7 If It Feels Like Diapers Are Going To Last Forever...

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If you were to add up how much money you have spent on diapers and pull-ups during these early years, I am sure it would be a staggering amount. This is an extremely motivating reason to begin potty training.

Most children aren’t capable of potty training until 18 months old, but they could draw it out until the age of three. This is very common and perfectly normal.

It may be extremely frustrating if your child is the last to potty train, and has wet pull-ups while your friend’s kids all have dry undies. But parents need to remember that it is not a race, and this season of life will not last.

It is very important that you treat potty training as an exciting time, and not a chore. It is also extremely important that they are not punished for having accidents. To make it more relaxed, there are some fun activities you can do together. Read them picture books that show a kid their age mastering the potty. This allows them to see those other kids have to do this too, and it’s a normal event. You could make a sticker chart as a reinforcement activity for each time they correctly use the potty. In addition, when you are starting this make sure they are a part of the process, and take them with you to pick out the very own “big kid” undies.

Potty training takes a lot of commitment from both parties. If you stick to a routine and keep a positive attitude, it should be smooth sailing!

6 Eat Up, Chump. It's Good For You. Please. I'll Give You Candy.

Like many mothers, you may find that the two staples in your child’s diet are dinosaur chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. If you have ever looked through a restaurant kids menu, you will see those cheesy carbs are a fan favorite. This, however, cannot be their primary source of sustenance.

Feeding your child a healthy meal immediately gives you a sense of relief. They are nourished and taken care of. It is very common for toddlers and preschool aged children to refuse to eat full meals, and even snacks. You may fear that they are starving, or that they will wither away, but you shouldn’t put too much thought into this.

Refusal to eat is sometimes the only way to assert independence. In a world where all decisions are made for them, they become frustrated. Eating is one of the only things that they can actually control.

Obviously, you can’t sit there and let them go without food, but you can put less focus on the behavior. For example, don’t make a big deal over their refusal to eat. Becoming upset and punishing them will only add fuel to the fire. Instead, offer them small, nutritious meals throughout the day. If they reject it, calmly put it in the fridge for later. You can also give them some choices on what they would like to eat so that they feel the control they desire. Eventually, they will come around and eat what is provided. Children are extremely resilient and will not suffer to prove a point.

5 Mommy Will Have To Go Back To Work At Some Point

Separation anxiety is a term we usually associate with animals but it is a very real occurrence with children. If you find that it is nearly impossible to leave the room without your child crying, or if they cry when being held by other family members and friends, they may have separation anxiety. This behavior can start at any time and pop up throughout their lives, especially during periods of transition, such as starting a new preschool or daycare. Even though this may feel heartbreaking and worrisome, it is very normal behavior.

According to BabyCenter, “Separation anxiety is a normal stage of emotional development that starts when babies begin to understand that things and people exist even when they're not present – a concept called object permanence.”

Separation anxiety can start as early as 6 months old, and it usually peaks around 18 months old. There are steps you can take if you feel that your baby or toddler is exhibiting signs of anxiety.

To alleviate their stress, arrange a babysitter that is a familiar face to them. If this is not possible or if they are going to daycare, ask to do a few trial days where you can accompany them. Gradually leave the room for longer periods of time so that they can get used to their new caregiver. Also, create a goodbye routine. It can be simple and can consist of a special hug, kiss or phrase. The goal is to keep them relaxed during the transition.

I promise, this stage doesn’t last forever, and soon they will be asking to stay at school longer, or will excitedly wave “bye” to you when they are being babysat!

4 Are You A Toddler Or A Doctor?

When your child enters school, it may highlight a new set of worries for you. You may worry that they aren’t reading soon enough or that they aren’t making enough friends. Interestingly though, one of the most commonly brought up worries in early schooling is a child’s handwriting.

You may think, “If they can’t write, how will they be able to spell?” or “how will they succeed if we can’t read what they are writing?”

As their fine motor skills increase, their handwriting should naturally start to improve. If they still have illegible writing by the second grade, it is possible that they have dysgraphia, but that is usually not the case.

To increase their writing success, it is imperative that you work with them on proper pencil grip at an early age. You can also give them activities that focus on fine motor skill development. Lacing cards, using scissors, beading, and sewing are all excellent activities. Lastly, when they are a little older make sure that they are writing at a table in a relaxed position, as opposed to lying down or slouching.

While these are common fears to have, it is important to know that handwriting ability has virtually no effect on later academic development. Some of the smartest people still lack the ability to neatly write. I mean, have you seen a doctor’s handwriting?

3 Dad Probably Agrees...

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We are living in the age of spell check. If you have access to a computer or an electronic device, it is pretty unacceptable to have a document rife with spelling errors. Children, however, are not granted access to spell check while in early elementary school. While this is frustrating, it is allowing them to learn the basic building blogs of language and will bolster their skills for future success in literacy.

A lot of parents worry about their child’s spelling ability, and this is further highlighted with weekly spelling tests in their classroom. If your child is coming home with a less than stellar score on their spelling test, it is not as bad of a situation as you might think.

They could have difficulty understanding independent letter sounds, or the sounds that vowels make when blended together. This would greatly affect their ability to sound out words when spelling and reading. They could also have difficulty with rote memorization, which is how most children memorize spelling lists.

Lack of spelling ability rarely points to dyslexia, and it is something that can only be improved with practice. You can work with them by making spelling flashcards, or give them context for each word. Word associations greatly help when memorizing. With consistent practice and reinforcement, their skills will increase, and they may even join their schools spelling bee.

2 Don't Forget Alfred, The Clown With Six Arms

We have all seen the scary movies that feature a child drawing a lovely picture of their family, plus a sinister looking character off to the side. Of course, in the movies, he usually has a creepy name and a backstory that involves him currently haunting your bedroom. Thankfully, this is the stuff of fiction. It is common, however, for children to create imaginary friends.

Having an imaginary friend is not only completely normal but a sign that your child is creative. Only first-born children are more prone to creating an imaginary friend out of necessity. Once they gain siblings or playmates, this desire usually decreases. The University of Oregon conducted a study and found that 37% of children take imaginary play further and create an invisible friend.

Children will usually be able to describe their friend in vivid detail, down to what they are wearing. Imaginary friends are beneficial for allowing self-expression and even comfort. You may wonder how you should respond to their new friend. The answer is simple; go along with it, within reason. If their “friend” starts making unreasonable demands feel free to lay down the law like you would with any other child.

At the end of the day, they will outgrow this stage of life; so enjoy this crazy creativity while it lasts!

1 Those Parents Will Be On Fire Soon

Lying is usually seen as one of the biggest offenses a child can make. If your child gets into the habit of repeatedly lying to you, it can create feelings of distrust and fear that your child has a compulsive habit.

While these are valid concerns and emotions, it is important to understand that lying is a developmentally appropriate occurrence. I am not saying that it should be ignored and pushed aside, but it shouldn’t raise a red flag if your young child is telling lies.

Toddlers tell simple lies, usually to get out of trouble. Preschool-aged children tell extravagant stories or “tall tales” as a part of a play or to live out their innermost desires and wishes. As they get older, children lie for a variety of reasons ranging from avoiding punishment, making themselves appear “cool” to others, or as a way to assert an independent private life, separate from their family.

Even though lying is a natural part of social development, it is imperative to create clear consequences. First, you need to teach them the difference between a lie and a story. Once this has been established, they need to fully grasp what their punishment will be if they are caught lying. Most children will be able to easily navigate this social construct and will not continue a pattern lying through their teen and adult years.

References: mottchildren.org, nytimes.com, PNAS.org, telegraph.co.uk, babycenter.com, parenting.com, psychologytoday.com

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