Children’s milestones have changed. How to know if your child is on track

Here's what you should know

HOUSTON – New ages for developmental milestones are aimed at creating less confusion for parents.

The CDC asked the American Academy of Pediatrics to revise several developmental milestone checklists, which use the 50th percentile, or average-age milestones. Using this approach means only half of the children can be expected to achieve that milestone by that age, automatically leaving half marked as “delayed.”

The new update means that 75% or more of children can be expected to exhibit a behavior by a certain age.

In turn, that pushes back milestones like first words (besides “mama” and “dada”) from 12 months to 15 months. It’s also adding milestones to 15 months and 30 months.

Changes now include social and emotional milestones:

  • smiling to get your attention - 4 months
  • afraid of strangers - 9 months
  • notices when others are hurt or upset - 2 years

Additional changes to the guidelines include the following:

• Adding checklists for children at ages 15 and 30 months so that there is now a checklist for every checkup visit from 2 months to 5 years of age

• Identifying additional social and emotional milestones children should meet (including smiling on their own to get your attention at 4 months old)

• Removing vague language like “may” or “begins” when referring to certain milestones

• Removing duplicate milestones

• Providing new, open-ended questions to use in discussions between parents and pediatricians. One example: Is there anything that your child does or does not do that concerns you?

• Revising and expanding tips and activities to promote kids’ development

Sugar Land mom, Katrina Martinez, uses these as a guide, not a rule.

“Each kid is different and everyone develops differently, and it’s totally normal,” Martinez said.

Some question the timing of the change, speculating the pandemic is to blame.

However, according to Dr. Victoria Regan, the vice president over Women’s and Children’s care at Memorial Hermann Health System, this should make disabilities easier to spot because now parents have an idea that the majority of kids have achieved these milestones by the time of that appointment.

“It kind of makes the parent more aware that perhaps there is something to discuss further and watch more closely with their child. The earlier we intervene with specific developmental follow up, the more likely we are to help reverse, if it truly is a significant problem, and improve that child’s future outcome,” Dr. Regan explained.

Dr. Regan recommends parents download the CDC’s milestone tracker app to follow with their child’s development and determine if there’s more to discuss with their pediatrician. The app uses adjusted ages for babies born prematurely.