Do Milestones Still Matter? Tracking development in older children

By April Tisher

Parents are often hyper focused on their babies meeting certain milestones. From the time they are born, it matters when they have their first dirty diaper, when they gain back their birth weight after leaving the hospital and when they begin to track you when looking at you. Later we record when they first roll over, sit unassisted and sleep through the night. There are fact sheets and websites dedicated to reminding parents of when their babies should be meeting specific milestones. Once babies become children though, the wealth of information slows to a trickle. By the time my children were of school age the only time I really thought much about specific milestones was when they had their yearly check-up with the pediatrician. We think about our children learning to read and write, but we sometimes overlook other characteristics that indicate normal development.

What should parents pay attention to in ensuring their elementary age children are hitting proper physical, mental and psychological goals? Sarah Wittstruck, a pediatrician at Palms Medical Group in Gainesville, said that by 6 years old, she expects her patients to have developed several gross motor skills (balancing on one foot, hopping, skipping, dressing and undressing), fine motor skills (tying a knot, drawing a person with at least six body parts, printing letters and numbers, and copying squares and triangles), as well as certain language skills (speaking in full sentences with good articulation, using appropriate tenses and pronouns, counting to 10 and naming four colors).

At ages 7–8, Dr. Wittstruck said that pediatricians will focus more on a child’s emotional and social development than on the physical abilities. Is the child making friends and maintaining good relationships with friends? Is he or she performing as expected in the classroom, or are there concerns about attention span or learning disabilities? Is the child learning to take care of their physical health? Children 7–9 years old should have 60 minutes a day of physical activity. They should also be able to manage their hygiene, such as brushing their teeth and bathing.

Nine-year-old children should also have improved social and emotional competence, according to Dr. Wittstruck. They should be able to participate in the classroom or on a team without difficulty. They should be developing independence and decision-making skills. For example, children at this age may be making decisions about their choice of clothing, food, friends and extracurricular activities.

Dr. Wittstruck also expressed the importance of making and keeping your older child’s annual well check exam appointments. A lot of time we forget the importance of seeing the doctor when we are not sick. It is at these appointments when your child is feeling good that a doctor can best asses these milestones. Tracking growth and providing preventative care, such as recommended vaccines, are also done during these visits.