Normal development

Why children develop at different rates, and how you can help

It’s entirely normal for children to develop at different rates. You only need to be concerned if there’s a significant delay in a child reaching an expected milestone.

Children’s development is affected by many factors. We can influence some of these, but others are out of our control, for example:

• A child’s temperament will affect their development. Some children are very keen to explore and move around and may therefore develop their physical skills quickly. Others prefer to sit and play, and may develop their speech and play skills more quickly

• A child’s general health will affect their development. Children who’ve been unwell or in hospital for a significant amount of time during the first years of their life may be delayed in their development

• Premature babies are likely to develop differently from babies born at full term

• A child’s play experiences, for example the opportunities they have to play, may affect the development of their physical skills

 

  • Think about the child’s environment: First babies may be slower to roll and crawl as they receive a lot of one-on-one attention. Avoid having the TV on all day, as this may distract them from playing with toys, vocalising and moving around
  • Help them experience different positions: Placing a new born baby in a variety of positions is essential for their physical development. Babies should spend most of their day where they can explore and play on their tummy and their back. Avoid leaving them in car seats and pushchairs for long periods of time
  • Limit the use of equipment: Avoid using baby walkers, standing baby activity gyms, door bouncers and Bumbo style seats, or use them only for very short periods. These support the child in a position they’re not yet ready for, and prevent them developing their own physical skills
  • Help them interact with others: Babies thrive on praise and interactive play with other children and adults. Young children often learn by copying, so having other children around them can be motivating and interesting
  • Talk to your baby: It’s vital that adults talk to babies long before they can talk back. This will help them understand and use spoken language themselves. Spending time face to face with babies gives them opportunities to communicate using their eyes, smiles and facial expressions
  • Play with novel and interesting toys: You don’t have to clear out the local toy shop! Toys that haven’t been played with for a while will seem as new to a little one and provoke their interest. Household objects such as wooden spoons, colanders and saucepans can make great musical instruments
  • Help them adjust to new sensations: Babies have to learn to cope with many new sensory experiences, for example the sounds and smells of the supermarket or the taste of new foods, and it’s normal for them to react with displeasure the first time. They’ll need patience and practice to get used to them
  • Think about the child’s environment: Children need space and a range of different environments to explore every day to develop physical skills like running, jumping and climbing. Soft play and play parks provide multiple opportunities for children to be challenged and develop new skills
  • Help them experience different positions: Avoid long periods in car seats and pushchairs, and let the child walk as much as possible. Using reins can help keep them safe. Playing computer games and watching TV encourages a sedentary lifestyle, so limit this to short periods
  • Use equipment: Learning to ride a tricycle or a scooter is excellent for the development of balance, strength and stamina. Trampolines and space hoppers also help to build these skills
  • Help them learn from others: Children learn by example, so take part in activities as a family. Good opportunities for this include playing games in the garden or park and eating meals together
  • Talk to your toddler: Encourage all of their attempts to communicate. Copy their sounds and words, ‘replaying’ back what you think they’re trying to say. Develop their understanding of new words by pointing out and naming new objects, people and places. Ask them, ‘where’s…?’
  • Help them interact with others: Communication is a social skill and only develops through opportunities to interact with other people – both adults and children. Toddler groups, stay-and-play sessions and nursery are all helpful environments
  • Set routines: Young children often learn best through familiarity and routines. It’s not unusual for them to be upset by new things or a change in routine. Sometimes it isn’t possible to keep things the same, so prepare the child in the way they can best understand to reduce any possible upset
  • Give them opportunities to explore: Getting outdoors, messy play and activities that involve movement will all encourage little ones to want to explore
  • Practice makes perfect: Children master new skills by doing something again and again. Encourage them if they get stuck, and reassure them they can come back and try again later
  • Tackle fussy behaviour: Some children prefer the feel of certain clothing or the taste of a certain food, and might reject the alternatives you offer. Gently keep offering the less preferred food or garment – this will help the child to be more adaptable in the long run
  • Limit the use of dummies: Dummies can soothe and comfort babies or young children when they’re upset or need to settle to get to sleep, and they’re recommended for young babies when sleeping to help protect them from cot death. However, when the child is awake a dummy will stop them moving their tongue freely which can delay the development of talking. Remove the dummy to allow them to experiment with using their voice to coo and babble. Once the child is no longer a baby, the use of a dummy should be stopped

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