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National Siblings day

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Supporting children’s development, not focusing on milestones

To mark National Siblings Day, Dr Ellie Canon shares her thoughts on how children’s development differs greatly from one child to another, even between siblings! She shares advice to help parents support their child’s personal development and celebrate their differences, without fixating too much on milestones.

As a GP, something I get asked a lot about is children reaching milestones. We live in a world where parents have access to endless amounts of online, often conflicting, information. And whilst social media can be an incredible source of inspiration and for creating communities, it can also be an unhelpful tool for comparison. It is easy for parents to feel overwhelmed and to be confused about what their child should have “achieved” by a certain age, something that can be made more even confusing if their sibling(s) achieved the same “milestone” at a different age and stage. I am going to share my top tips on how to monitor each individual child’s development without becoming fixated on milestones.

Think about pillars, not milestones

Milestones can be a bit of a puzzle, particularly for new parents. Some are crucial, some are totally unimportant, and some are important but happen at different times. For example, whilst it is important for a child to be sitting at six months, whether they crawl or not is irrelevant – some children never crawl at all! Likewise, the timeframe in which children learn to walk is typically considered “normal” anywhere between 11 and 18 months, but exact timings vary. When it comes to children’s ability to speak, play sports, play a musical instrument or socialise, the development timeline varies greatly from child to child or sibling to sibling. More often than not, children reaching milestones at different ages shouldn’t be a cause for concern, even if their siblings reached the same milestone at a completely different time.

Instead, I have found that assessing a child’s personal growth, progression and happiness in the round is much better than focusing on reaching specific milestones at specific ages. Gymfinity Kids’ three pillar approach is a useful model to follow by asking questions such as:

Movement

  • Is my child active for at least 60 minutes per day?
  • Does my child enjoy moving their body?
  • Is my child spending time playing outside as well as inside?
  • Has my child’s strength, balance and coordination improved as they have got older?
  • Does my child get enough uninterrupted sleep?

Nourishment

  • Does my child have a balanced diet?
  • Does my child understand different food groups and the importance of eating nutritious food?
  • Do they like to try new foods?
  • Do they like to get involved in the preparation of their meals?
  • Is my child consuming enough minerals and vitamins?
  • Is my child consuming too much sugar, which might impact their oral hygiene?

Development

  • Has my child learnt some new skills?
  • Does my child like to socialise with others?
  • Can my child play, share, and interact well with other children?
  • How does my child behave at school, at after-school activities, or with family and friends?

As every child develops differently, and at a different pace, their “milestones” should be unique to them too. One of the best ways that parents can monitor their child’s development and encourage them to grow is by creating personal goals for each child, rather than making comparisons with peers or siblings. For example, that could be setting your child a goal of reading for 10 minutes before bed each night, rather than focussing too much on their reading age. Or aiming to be active for 60 minutes each day, whatever that activity involves, instead of focussing on the perceived “success” of that activity.

Healthier and happier children

If parents are worried about their child’s development, the best thing to do is of course talk to their GP. But I also feel very passionately about encouraging parents to view milestones as loose guidelines, rather than a rule book, and to trust their instincts. By taking some of the pressure off and encouraging children to enjoy adopting healthy habits from an early age I hope they will stay with them for life.

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