All new parents know the pleasure of looking at a newborn. We also know the fear: What if something is wrong? Parents spend time wondering and worrying about their baby. You ask yourself, will she walk on time? Play like other kids? At the start of a child’s life parents navigate the milestones mostly on their own and it can be scary.

As children grow, there are so many areas of development that we hope are on track. We wait for children to crawl, walk and run. As we return to work, we also often turn over a great deal of daily monitoring to others. This makes it essential for parents to communicate openly and frequently with pediatricians, caregivers and teachers. Working as a team ensures concerns are addressed. But even today as awareness of child development grows, pitfalls to identifying issues remain.

Fortunately, every state provides early intervention services free for parents. Unfortunately, families are fearful and often don’t know what is available or how to obtain services. Parents usually turn to their pediatrician for help, but your doctor doesn’t see your child on a daily basis. And unless there is a diagnosed medical issue, doctors may not seek services. Many take a “wait and see” attitude, assuming development will solve problems. You can lose precious time when infants or toddler with malleable brains would be helped most.

But there’s a lot that parents can do to make sure their children are developing on schedule. Certainly, there are many developmental checklists and question and answer forums available online. Zero to Three’s Developmental Milestones includes a side bar where parents can ask questions and The Centers for Disease Control also provides useful materials .

But it’s even more important to trust your gut. And to ask questions of the person seeing your child on a daily basis: your caregiver or teacher. Be proactive about calling teachers, and seeking out your center’s director if you have concerns. Questions might include:

1) How’s my child’s language development? Do you think he understands what he’s hearing? Does she use enough words? Can you understand him?

2) Should he be walking already? When should I be concerned?

3) How come my child cries from loud sounds, doesn’t like to play with sand? Etc.

As you can see, anything you’re concerned about is worth asking.

Caregivers and teachers are there to encourage evaluation based on parent concerns or their own knowledge. Daycare and school personnel can help parents navigate early intervention bureaucracies, move forward with evaluations, and work with therapists to help children. Teachers can do baseline research based assessments, and observe children closely with developmental milestones in mind.

Through observation, teachers develop deep ways of:

  1. Knowing. By looking and listening teachers know children better, and can support children and parents.
  2. Understanding. Teachers think about what they see and share understandings with parents. Teachers see children in social and learning contexts.
  3. Identifying. Teachers use research based assessment tools to check milestones and share results with parents. Assessment results often spur a move to evaluate.

By sharing information, teachers and parents can reduce worry and take action to support children. With so many services available, why not take advantage of them? There is nothing to lose. A child -- even a baby -- who gets the right support will likely meet goals faster than you’d imagine, preparing them for school, for friendship and a happy life.

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