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For first time parents, ensuring that your child meets all developmental milestones at the right age is a concern. There are specific benchmarks that children must meet in order to participate in preschool and daycare settings or qualify for daytime classes. Most importantly, most parents are eager to make sure their little ones are making every effort to support healthy physical and cognitive development for their child.

It is important for parents to know that benchmarks are established by statistical averages, which are reported annually and through research surveys by primary care providers. They are intended to provide a basis to evaluate your own child’s development, with the understanding that children are unique, and can develop at different rates, depending on gender, environmental stimuli, training, health and other factors.

Experts agree that cognitive and behavioral benchmarks fall into five priority categories:

  1. Social and Emotional Development
  2. Children should be aware of their own feelings and emotional states, including feeling tired, sad, disappointed and frustrated, as regular human responses to situations. But in addition to being self-aware of mood fluctuations, kids under five should show an increasing curiosity and adaptation to governing their actions in response to other people’s emotions.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Management (CDC), children under five years of age should demonstrate relationship and social motivators and awareness, which include:

    • The desire to be liked by others.
    • An eagerness to please friends and have companionship.
    • The ability to tell the difference between real and make-believe.
    • An awareness of his or her gender.
    • The ability to be cooperative in group or family settings.

    In the first two years of child development, the psycho-social priority for a child, is in the fulfillment of their own needs for attention, or necessities. Before the age of five however, children should be able to grasp the reciprocal nature of relationships and friendships, or ‘being nice to others’, and understand the rewards of fostering friendships that are ‘give and take’.

  3. Critical Thinking and Questioning (Everything)
  4. Children have questions. As exhausting and repetitive as it can be to answer those questions daily, the engagement with parents and older siblings or family members is crucial to developing both communication and critical thinking skills. Providing answers to questions however is not enough; parents need to challenge a child’s ability to consider problems, and apply logic for a solution, to develop important skills.

    Asking questions becomes as important as answering them, for a child of any age, but particularly one under the age of five years. Instead of providing complete answers, parents should be asking their child engaging questions that allow them to demonstrate critical thought.

    kids quiz

  5. Physical Development and Independent Movement
  6. In the absence of any kind of physical impairment, healthy children will test their own mobile capabilities in some stressful ways. From trying to jump off the couch, or on the bed, young children receive natural cues from the brain, that spur them into physical activities that help develop muscles and bone density.

    Doctors still do not understand why some children walk earlier than others, or why some go directly from crawling to running, skipping over the whole toddler phase of leaning on furnishings or toys to support themselves. Participation in low impact activities and classics such as bicycle riding, gymnastics or playing at an outdoor park, help strengthen young bodies, while helping to develop balance and coordination skills.

    Curious about the average benchmarks for physical growth trends in children? We think you’ll like this handy reference. Bookmark “Growth Chart for Children” by Dr. Neeraj Gupta on your tablet, or smartphone for a quick guide.

  7. Cognitive Retention: Short and Long-Term Memory Development
  8. From the first game of “peek-a-boo” to remembering where they left a toy, or their shoes, parents can actively monitor and help children develop memory development. Children in their early stages of development, learn acutely through visual observation, and retention is strongest after activities that are ’hands on’ in nature.

    Parents who wish to help their children work on memory skills, can opt to have the child teach them something new. By demonstrating what they know about a simple activity, from making the bed to picking up toys and putting them back in the right place, allowing a child to lead via instruction, helps them develop memory skills faster.

    Making memory development fun is easier today, with a variety of apps and tablet programs that coach kids with fun gamified exercises. Popular online games, such as Roblox challenge memory development and retention.

    memories of childhood

  9. Expressive Communication Skills
  10. Toddlers and young children should be encouraged to talk, express their personal observations and opinions as often as possible. Getting a young child to talk is never a problem (if you ask Mom or Dad), but some children who may be more introverted, can require some encouragement in self-expression.

    Parents should be actively asking questions, and presenting opportunities for children to express throughout the day. A gentle correction by modeling the correct use of words, or sentences helps kids grasp jargon, and conversational patterns. Parents should also be providing cues on pausing, to allow other people in the discussion to contribute, and encouraging kids to clarify by asking questions, and listening (and learning) through response.

    What should parents do if they feel their child may not be developing certain skills or independencies at an average rate? Consult with your pediatrician about your concerns. Your medical care team can connect you to resources and advice that will provide help in areas that your child needs additional support. And by focusing on those areas, most parents see a marked improvement in physical or cognitive development.

    Science cannot determine how some children develop strengths or a talent in certain behaviors, or adaptive learning, and why some skills present more of a challenge to others. But with encouragement, patience and support, you can help your child master the basics, express their talent and creativity, and enter their school years with confidence.