Delayed Developmental Milestones: How to Cope

By Leah Wright, LCSW

The author discussing reaching developmental milestones with your children.

When new parents find out we are expecting, we often fantasize about the type of parent we want to become. We tend to put incredible pressure on ourselves to ensure our kids are happy and healthy. During the first year of our children’s lives especially, it’s common to struggle with comparing ourselves to other new parents, and comparing our kids’ developmental milestones to other childrens’.

Have you ever wondered, “Is my child walking on time?” “Should my child be doing that?”
“Should my child be doing this yet?” or “Why is my child not doing what that other children are doing?” You aren’t alone!

If this sounds familiar, here are my reminders for you…

Trust yourself.

We started noticing delayed milestones when my son was 15 months old. I began to notice that most other children in his age group had started babbling and pointing. But, my son was not quite there. I kept trying to tell myself that every child is different. But then my husband and I also noticed that he was having meltdowns everywhere we went. Other parents would stare, and the judgment I perceived in their eyes would heighten my emotions. I would feel like I was the worst mom for being unable to control my son. I tried to remind myself that every child is different, but continued feeling lost. Others brushed off our concerns, saying our son was perfectly fine. Yet, his meltdowns became so intense that his first daycare viewed him as a problem and requested he didn’t return.

When it comes to being a mother, it can be easy to get lost in the “I have no idea what I am doing” thoughts, but always remember: YOU are the expert on your children and family. No matter what they are going through, your children will see you as the greatest mother in the world, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s also important to remember that there will be so many people (family, close friends) who will say, “oh, they are fine!” when you’re concerned. In these situations, try to advocate for yourself and your child! You have a connection with your child that no one else does- if you are concerned about developmental milestones, trust your gut and get it checked out!

Feel your emotions.

At my son’s 18-month appointment, the pediatrician told us he was behind developmentally. She appeared concerned and connected us with Early Intervention. Intense emotions immediately overpowered me. Although it was relieving to finally feel heard, I still felt immense guilt, sadness, and worry for my son about how things might be more challenging for him; it broke my heart.

It is normal to feel these emotions. In fact, honor your emotions and allow them to show up for you without judgment. Yes, you are a mother but being a mother is a part of you, not all of you. You are first and foremost a human with real emotions and feelings. When we judge ourselves, it continues the unpleasant thoughts and emotional patterns, but if we are kinder to ourselves and recognize that these emotions are real, we can find ways to grow and show up for our children while showing them that it is OK to have emotions!

A diagnosis isn’t a definition.

As months passed and speech therapy progressed, my son significantly improved since starting at a new daycare. I have begun to understand my beautiful son and what he specifically needs. After doing more research about delayed developmental milestones, I began to feel less isolated as I better understood what my son was going through and that other mothers have felt the same way. In doing this, I started to feel connected to others and felt less alone.

I also started feeling closer to my son, and was able to recognize that I was doing my best for him, making sure he had the proper tools and support. Also, being able to acknowledge my son’s specific needs could also help with my son not feeling stigmatized and that he can be just like any child his age. From one mother to another, remember that you are still an excellent parent! My son is amazing, and will always light up my life. He is now 2 years old, and we are awaiting his results to see if he has an ASD diagnosis. A diagnosis is just a diagnosis; it is not a definition. Your child is still unique, wonderful, and perfect!

It’s not your fault.

Remember that you didn’t do anything wrong. You did nothing wrong while pregnant, and you did nothing wrong during labor or delivery. Diagnoses happen – again, try not to judge yourself. Just because your child may not behave exactly like other children doesn’t mean they are doing anything wrong either. Every child is different and every parent is different. We tend to automatically think that just because something is different, it deserves a negative label. But different just means different! Practice self-compassion and lean on your support systems when you need them. Some days will be more difficult than others. On those days, allow yourself to feel the emotion and let them be complicated. It will pass. Be kind to yourself as a mother and a human being!

Stay curious.

My advice to you moving forward is to always keep learning and stay curious; one of the scariest things for a parent when their child struggles to reach developmental milestones is worrying about the future. About they will progress in school, how how the world will treat them… But it’s vital to trust yourself and your child- they will make their own way that a good fit for them. The best thing you can do is get them involved with activities that they enjoy and make them feel like it is OK to be who they are! Stay in touch with your resources and advocate.

Believe in your child and yourself as a mother because you are doing GREAT.

Leah specializes in parenthood, per/prenatal mental health, substance use, trauma, anxiety, and depression. To learn more about Leah, read her bio here.

Looking for a therapist or unsure where to begin? Get started on our booking page.