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How well do parents know developmental milestones?


They mark a child’s progress to walking and talking, but how confident are parents in their knowledge of developmental goals? A new poll offers insight.

Parents watch their infants and toddlers for signs of important developmental milestones like the self-support of the head, crawling, and speech. The new C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, asked parents of children aged 0 to 5 years about what they had learned of their child’s developmental milestones as well as where the parents turned to find information or get help for concerns in these areas.1

Overall, nearly every parent said that they felt confident in their knowledge of when the child should achieve most milestones. Mothers were more likely to be very confident in their knowledge than fathers (46% vs 33%). Health care providers (80%) were the main source of information on developmental milestones, with other sources including family members (53%), the internet (45%), experience with their other children (44%), friends (37%) and childcare providers (28%).

Twenty-three percent of the sampled parents indicated that they had worried at some point that their child was delayed in meeting milestones. Some parents also indicated that other family members (9%), health care providers (9%), or friends (4%) had expressed concerns about delays in their child’s developmental milestones. When parents are concerned about whether their child was behind in achieving developmental goals, the parents reported that they compared the child to sibling (38%), a friend’s children (34%), or other children in their family (28%). Fathers were found to be more likely to compare the child to either a friend’s children (41% vs 28%) or to other children in their family (32% vs 25%). Parents worried about delays were more likely to have learned about developmental milestones from the internet than parents who had not worried (57% vs 42%). Additionally, worried parents were more likely to have compared their child to a friend’s child than parents who were not worried (58% vs 27%).

Parents who were worried about delays were highly likely to seek out counsel from either health care providers (63%) or childcare providers (24%), but 18% of the parents said that they had not sought out advice from either group. Additionally, those parents searched the internet for information (64%), asked friends or family for advice, and used social media to seek advice (4%). For the roughly 1 in 5 parents who don’t seek advice for providers, this could lead to delays in getting their child needed help and may require more care to overcome the delay.


1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Children's Health: Milestones: How parents understand child development. 2020;38(5). Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/milestones-how-parents-understand-child-development. Published June 28, 2021. Accessed June 30, 2021.

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