A New Study Says Some Child Development Milestones Are Set Early

Katherine Speller

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According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s guidelines on children’s developmental milestones, certain behaviors — like playing peek-a-boo, babbling, mimicking the movements of others or having hesitation around strangers — are likely to show up at different points in the early months and years of your child’s life

However, a new study out of Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) went a bit further — looking at more specific data to analyze children’s behavior, they found that that when the CDC refers to “most children” hitting a milestone, it’s not totally clear on to what degree (like how well or how often) they’re doing those behaviors. And, depending on those factors, that the definition of “most” can range from less than half or 99 percent. 

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Per the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, with responses from 41,465 parents in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Minnesota, researchers asked 54 questions about early developmental milestones, with additional fields for frequency/quality of the behavior (i.e. whether they display the behavior “not yet,” somewhat” or “very much.”) 

They found that certain data and suggestions — like urging parents to “act early” if a child doesn’t play games like peek-a-boo at nine months — were made without clarifying how common that behavior is or isn’t among kids that age, For example, the researchers say they found that one in 10 children haven’t reached the “peek-a-boo” milestone by the age the CDC identified, and less than half of the surveyed kids demonstrated the behavior “very well” by that age.)

According to the researchers, a high percentage of respondents rated their children performing the behaviors identified by the CDC “somewhat” or “very much” by the ages named in the guidelines. But they also found that, if responses that were less than “very much” weren’t to be counted, less than half of kids would have reached the milestone by the age the CDC says most do. And, of course, if a kid was only “somewhat” engaging with a peek-a-boo-style game or “not yet” sitting without support or “very much” putting things in their mouth at a given age, it makes a difference. 

But, ultimately, this means that — like all things in parenting and life — you want to diversify your expert sources and stay on top of new data to be on top of developmental milestones to look out for. 

“The CDC guidelines are just that: guidelines,” study lead author Dr. R. Christopher Sheldrick, research associate professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH said. “Parents should know that medical guidelines of all kinds are frequently updated based on new information. In the meantime, parents should consider advice from a range of sources and ask their pediatric providers if they have concerns.”

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