Your Developing Child – How Milestones Play an Important Role
Each child will develop at their own pace, but there are certain milestones that need to be achieved to ensure healthy growth. Therefore, parents should be attentive to the child’s behaviour, actions and habits so they can spot anything out of the ordinary.
The first few months of a child’s life is extremely essential as it is their formative years. While no two children are alike and will grow at their own pace, there are several key milestones that parents should take note of in order to raise a happy and healthy child.
Dr Hasmawati Hassan, Consultant Neonatologist from Sunway Medical Centre Velocity (SMCV) explains that there are four aspects that are key developmental milestones for children, which are Gross Motor, Fine Motor and Vision, Behaviour and Social Development, Speech and Hearing. For each aspect, there are certain goals for the child to achieve – but it is important to remember that the rate of development varies from child to child.
“The first years of life are so important for a child’s growth. Early experiences make a difference in how young children’s brain cells develop and can influence lifelong learning and health. Thus, it is important to spend time with young children and observe how they are growing. Developmental monitoring means observing and noting specific ways a child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves every day, in an ongoing way,” she explains.
Dr Melanie Majaham, Consultant Paediatrician from SMCV concurs, and stresses on the importance of paediatrician visits depending on the baby’s age or if they have any underlying medical conditions.
“During each visit, babies are monitored for growth and to detect any issues such as poor weight gain or obesity. The doctors will also discuss details such as feeding frequency, weaning plans and milestones with the parents. Typical appointments will usually link-up with the vaccination schedule, but visits will be more frequent if it involves any medical problems or other tests such as blood or urine tests,” she says.
Keeping your growing child engaged
Dr Hasmawati adds that there are many different development-promoting activities that parents can carry out with their children to keep them stimulated and curious about exploring the world around them.
“For example, parents can try singing and talking to their child using exaggerated tones of voice and observe the baby’s facial expressions to see how they react to different pitches – this will help with language development. For visual, social and emotional development, they can try showing their baby their reflection in a baby-safe mirror and asking them ‘who is that?’ and repeating the gesture with their own or something recognisable such as a stuffed animal or sibling,” she says.
Although every child will display various stages of growth at different ages, Dr Hasmawati notes that there are some early warning signs which parents need to be aware of:
The primary goal is for the child to be able to walk, which begins with head control. At six months they should be able to sit without support momentarily, pull to stand at 9-10 months and be able to walk from 12-14 months
Early warning signs: Child failing to achieve head control/gross head lag at 4-6 weeks of age, failing to roll over by 5 months, sit by 8 months, stand with support by 10 months, or walk by 15 months.
The development of the two-finger pincer grasp is the goal. A newborn’s hand will remain fisted until the third month, and they should continually progress to a two-finger grasp at 9-12 months old.
Early warning signs: Persistent fisting after 3 months, persistent thumb abduction and flexion after 3 months, not reaching out for objects after 5 months, persistent spread of fingers on attempts to take objects after 5 months, persistent palmar grasp after 9 months and failure to develop good pincer grasp after 1 year.
Behaviour and Social Development
This is to assess the infant’s ability to interact and respond to his or her surrounding world. This can range from displaying stranger anxiety at seven months, to being able to drink from a cup at 12 months.
Early warning signs: At 6-9 months old – very quiet, not smiling or laughing, not responding to their name, no stranger anxiety. At 9-12 months old – continue to have stranger anxiety, do not understand wave bye-bye
Speech and Hearing
The goal is for the child to speak, beginning with cooing, response to sounds and the ability to verbalise simple words such as ‘mama’ or ‘dada’. The child’s vocabulary should progress as they get older.
Early warning signs: No smile at 3 months, no attempt to laugh at 6 months, no babbling and not responding to their name at 6-9 months or still babbling/quiet at 9-12 months.
Should parents notice any signs of such possible developmental delay for their age, they should seek help from their paediatrician or neonatologist that they have been consulting with regarding their child’s growth.
Finding the best solution and assistance for your child
Through various technological advancements, there are various screenings, tests and treatments that can assist the child and their parents in providing their loved ones with a better future. Dr Melanie elaborates that these tests include the Denver Development Screening Test, used as a reference to monitor the milestones, as well as the M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) score to detect early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, commonly administered between 16-30 months of age.
“Any concerns need to be addressed and discussed with the child’s parents. Occasionally, the child may need to be assessed further by an expert multidisciplinary team that include a child psychologist, developmental paediatrician, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, feeding and speech therapist so that the child can benefit from an Early Intervention Program to enable the child to achieve his/her full potential,” Dr Melanie adds.