When it comes to growing up, some children need a little more time. Maturing slower than their peers can be hard for a kid though, especially once they start school. If all their friends are moving on to different activities and interests while their own schoolwork is getting progressively harder, it can leave them feeling lonely and left-out, with their friends teasing them for still doing “babyish” things.
If your child is struggling with growing up and seems to be developing at a slower pace than their peers, there are ways that you can help.
Understand that kids develop at a different pace
Child development is never a constant. Although there are estimated milestones, like learning to walk, talk, read, and developing the discipline to do schoolwork, each kid will reach them at a slightly different times.
“We imagine that kids are moving at the same pace in every domain of development. For some kids, that’s not the case,” said Rebecca Parlakian, a senior director at the nonprofit Zero to Three, which is devoted to early childhood education. “We might see some kids that have amazing language skills, but be a little slower on the physical skills side. Or you could have the reverse, where a kid is walking and running and climbing but isn’t talking much. Even some very young ages, we have some preferences in terms of what our strengths are.”
Know your developmental milestones
Knowing what to expect at different stages in a child’s life is critical to identifying what might be delayed, so it’s important to have an idea of when your child will develop which skills. In the early years, this includes learning to walk and talk, while a little while later, your child will start to develop the ability to regulate their emotions.
“Knowing what to expect gives you some knowledge of when to ask your pediatrician or healthcare provider,” Parlakian said. This is why it’s also important to stick to the well-child visit schedule, as they’re designed to keep track of a child’s overall development.
A helpful resource is the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.,” which is a collection of tools and resources that includes information on developmental milestones from birth to age five. This also includes an app, called Milestone Tracker, which helps you track your child’s development from two months old to five years old, which includes illustrated checklists, tips for encouraging your child’s development, as well as information on what to do if you have concerns. You can also download a PDF file of milestone checklist to help you keep track.
Try and identify the root cause
If your child is struggling in one area of their life, it’s important to try and identify what’s causing it. Sometimes the root cause can be surprising or counter-intuitive—for example, if your child is having regular meltdowns in school, it might be that they don’t understand the instructions, in which case it’s normal to be frustrated.
In Parlakian’s own experience working in a daycare center she saw an infant crying incessantly, only for the teachers to eventually realize the fluorescent lights were causing the discomfort. Once those were gone, the crying stopped. “You really do have to think about all of the possibilities,” Parlakian said.
When in doubt, know where to ask for help
If your child is struggling and you feel they need more help than what you can offer, there are a number of resources available. The first resource is your pediatrician, who can offer suggestions as well as refer you to the right specialist.
For children under the age of three, parents can also reach out to the early intervention program in their area. Early intervention is a federally funded program available in all states, available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities at a free or reduced cost. Parents don’t need a pediatrician referral to have their child evaluated.
If you’re still concerned, the next step is to call your local early intervention office and tell them “I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated to find out if they are eligible for early intervention services.”
For children ages three and up, this would fall under special education services, which means you would need to call your local public elementary school and tell them “I have concerns about my child’s development and I would like to have my child evaluated through the school system for preschool special education services.”
Give them a supportive environment
Growing up is hard. Some kids will struggle a little more than others, but for many of them, they’ll get there eventually. Until then, as parents, it’s important to try and support your child in the best way that you can. Sometimes that means just talking to them or finding a more supportive environment, one where they can develop at the right pace for them without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Sometimes, kids just need to feel supported. There’s nothing immature about that.