- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

Silver Spring parent Jessica McFadden remembers watching her son Charlie crawling while all the other infants his age were walking.

“Charlie was the last one to walk in our play group,” Ms. McFadden says.

She says she tried to be mellow about the situation, but as the other children in the group started walking, she couldn’t figure out if she was upset because Charlie wasn’t walking on time or because he wasn’t walking as quickly as his peers.

Milestone envy isn’t a condition, it’s more like a societal pressure that adds one more burden to already beleaguered parents. Infants reach key developmental milestones at different times, but most baby books give a rough estimate as to when a child should be crawling, walking or talking.

If a parent’s child isn’t close to the schedule, it can make them worry. And envious.

New parents are particularly vulnerable to milestone envy, Ms. McFadden says, herself included.

“We had time to read all the baby books and were more conscious of when our kids should be doing stuff. We didn’t have that real-world experience [to fall back on],” says Ms. McFadden, mother of two children.

Other parents’ comments didn’t help matters.

“Sometimes people didn’t mean to be hurtful,” she says, although one parent asked if she had tested her child for cerebral palsy because of his delayed walking skills.

Koraly Perez-Edgar, assistant professor in psychology at George Mason University, says social media outlets such as Facebook can inadvertently feed into milestone envy.

If a parent posts a note saying, “Little Johnny crawled for the first time,” everyone on the parent’s Facebook list will see it — including parents of still-immobile infants.

“The thing to get across to parents is that those early milestones, parents have very little to do with them,” Mrs. Perez-Edgar says. “As long as they provide a normal, healthy, loving environment, that’s all the parents can do.”

She says the time to truly be concerned is when a child misses multiple milestone targets.

“If they’re a little late crawling, that’s OK. If they’re a lot late on everything — they don’t roll over, they don’t crawl — that’s when a parent begins to notice something’s wrong,” she says.

Claudine Kurp, an Oakton, Va., mom and parental issues blogger at dcmetromommy.com, says if an infant isn’t walking by his or her first birthday, people are talking about it.

“It seems almost every one of my friends have suffered from it in some way,” Mrs. Kurp says. “It’s very prevalent. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of the D.C. metro area.”

Mrs. Kurp says she understands that most people who offer their two cents on milestone issues are well intentioned, but at the end of the day you need to speak to a professional, she says.

“If you’ve got some nosy parents, you need to politely say, ‘We’re on top of that. … We’re working on it,’” she says.

Penny Glass, developmental psychologist with the District’s Children’s National Medical Center, sees the positive side of milestone envy.

Raising a child is part of the community experience, and parents can learn a great deal from watching neighbors with similar age children, says Ms. Glass, who holds a doctorate in developmental psychology.

She suggests issuing a gentle retort when friends and family members inquire about a missed milestone.

“Say, ‘I’m really working hard on it,’ then, they’ll stop pestering you,” she says. “It’s appropriate for people to comment. If you had a baby and you’re out someplace and nobody did that, you’d feel pretty awful.”

What parents shouldn’t do is force their children to meet milestones ahead of schedule, which could cause them to set aside developmental learning they’ll need later. Parents also should take care not to allow their children too much time playing in devices that keep infants occupied but don’t help them learn to crawl, prohibiting them from learning on their own.

“Exersaucers put children in positions that don’t support crawling,” she says.

Ms. McFadden, whose son began walking later than his peers, but quickly caught up to them, says she consulted with her pediatrician when her worries intensified.

“He talked me down off the cliff. He said it wasn’t anything I should be worried about,” she says. “If your pediatrician is chill about it, you should be chill.”

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