It's no race!
Children develop at their own pace and, discovers Heidi Scrimgeour, sometimes you have to be patient
Caroline, 40, mum to Edmund, 4 and Jennifer, 2
Edmund was a late walker which made me very anxious as, one by one, all the babies we knew began to walk – except him. Eventually he started when he was 18 months old.
Jennifer took even longer – 20 months. She walked within hours of my husband and I leaving for a weekend away! Thankfully her grandparents captured the moment on video, and she repeated her new trick as soon as we arrived home. The joy I felt that she could walk far outweighed the disappointment at not seeing her take her first steps.
I was surprised she took longer than Edmund, because I’d heard girls generally reach developmental milestones quicker than boys. Also, I thought she’d be in a hurry to chase around after him. And I did find it difficult when people asked if the children were walking yet. I felt I had no news to report for what seemed like a very long time. That said, I was much less worried about Jennifer because experience with Edmund persuaded me that children walk when they’re ready.
I think there are benefits to being a late walker, though – both Edmund and Jennifer were very confident walkers from the off, and didn’t seem to suffer the bumps and bruises that are quite common for early walkers.
‘Most children start walking somewhere between ten and 22 months,’ explains Sarah Beeson, a nurse, health visitor and author of The New Arrival (£7.99, HarperCollins).
‘And taller babies may take longer than those with shorter legs. Tummy time and floor play really help – and try to resist the urge to hold a pre-walking baby’s hands; cruising around the furniture and pulling themselves up to standing is vital exercise for strengthening all the important muscles needed for walking.’
Holly, 31, mum to Dylan, 5 and Coen, 3
After about a month of breastfeeding, Coen’s weight gain ground to a halt. My health visitor referred us to a paediatrician, who suggested supplementing with formula. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed for as long as possible though, so decided to top him up with expressed breast milk instead. His weight did inch up, but still not in line with the charts.
It was a very anxious time. I felt guilty that it was my ‘fault’, but also sort of resentful that a piece of paper seemed to govern our lives.
Coen finally started piling on the pounds at about six months, after three months of combination feeding. I was elated, and at our next appointment to assess his growth, the paediatrician took one look at him and discharged us without even weighing him.
‘Some babies are just slower to gain weight than others, and very “long” babies may be slower than shorter ones,’ Sarah says. ‘But generally, if a baby seems contented – smiling, happy and producing plenty of soiled nappies – there may be no need to worry.
‘I admire Holly for doing what she felt was best. And how lovely to get such an encouraging response from her paediatrician after so much worry.’
Rebecca, 39, mum to Harrison, 2
Harrison was born 11 weeks early and had a brain bleed at birth. It wasn’t severe, but we didn’t know how his development might be affected. Expectations for a premature baby’s development are based on their ‘corrected age’ – their actual age minus however many weeks they were born early – but even allowing for that, Harrison was behind on every milestone.
Happily, there was plenty of support – our local hospital has a drop-in developmental clinic where we could talk to a speech therapist, which was invaluable. However, not everyone grasps that premature babies can develop more slowly than full-term babies, and I got lots of worried looks from mums at baby groups who noticed Harrison wasn’t sitting at six months or crawling by nine months.
He soon caught up though – he was sitting by eight months and crawled, commando-style at first, at 11 months, and ‘properly’ at 13 months. Watching him take his first steps at 16 months was the best moment of our lives, probably more than for parents of babies who sail through all their milestones. By 19 months he was walking, and at about 22-23 months he was using several recognisable words.
According to our paediatrician he’s still considered slightly behind, but he’s doing very well. He’s no different from any other two-year-old, really.
‘It’s expected that premature babies will be slower to reach key milestones, although by about a year they are likely to be catching up,’ Sarah says. ‘A speech and language therapist can help enormously. These are very important areas of a child’s development, paving the way for all other cognitive skills. Ask your GP to refer you if you have any concerns.
‘Nevertheless, it can be hurtful when people make insensitive remarks, so kudos to Rebecca for weathering those, and trusting that her baby would just take a little longer to get there.’
Jo, 41, mum to Louis, 17, Jack, 5 and twins Finn and Dillon, 2
We noticed quite early on that Finn and Dillon were developing at very different rates. Dillon was potty trained when he was two years and eight months old, and was dry
at night straight away too. He also started talking before he was a year old and could have in-depth conversations by the time he was two. In contrast, Finn shows zero interest in the potty, has a total aversion to wearing pants, and barely speaks. He’s only recently started saying ‘Mummy’.
Having two older children as well as the twins means that I’m quite relaxed about these milestones, though – I know that no two children develop at the same rate. My eldest, Louis, said very little until after he was two, whereas Jack was very verbal at 18 months, so I’m not overly anxious about Finn’s development.
However, he does sometimes get very frustrated because he can’t express himself easily, which results in him having lots of temper tantrums. He can go into a complete meltdown when he’s struggling to express himself, then needs a lot of help and reassurance to calm down before we can begin to work out what it is that he wants or needs.
People tend to constantly compare twins, too, which makes the developmental differences between them seem so much more stark. But they’re individuals, so it makes perfect sense to me that each child will develop at his own pace.
‘Any direct comparison between children is unhelpful, but that’s doubly the case with twins,’ says Sarah. ‘As with language learning in adults, some babies need to have all the components of language learning in place before they will even utter a single word – and it’s common for some children to wait until they’re well past two to do so – whereas others start babbling from a very early age and imitating all the sounds they hear.
‘It’s so helpful for parents to recognise, as Jo does, that some children will need help to handle the frustration that can come with being slower to talk.’