Why Your Baby Needs to Develop at Their Own Pace
Neuroscience and parenting educator Nathan Wallis explains why babies don’t need our help to stand, crawl or walk alone – millennia of human evolution has it covered!
6 min read
Why Your Baby Needs to Develop at Their Own Pace
Have you ever felt that when you are in a gathering of similar aged infants, there’s an unspoken competition over whose baby walks first? Parents get obsessed with when their baby is going to start walking. I think we as parents just like nice clear milestones, but also we think that the earlier this happens the better. Not true!
I don’t think any of us actually believe that the child who walks first is going to be the most intelligent or earn the most money as an adult. I don’t think people think that, but there is still an unspoken competition or a race towards the children’s milestones.
Be very, very wary of this as we can do a lot of damage to babies and limit their potential by trying to push them through their milestones earlier than they need to achieve them. It is not a race to the milestone, but the journey that is of equal importance.
Trust in human development
Wanting to help your baby, wanting to help their development and have them doing well is a wonderful intention. But trust in human development. Human bodies have to unfold at their own pace.
Think of your baby’s motor skills as being like a flower that blooms in the garden. Yes, you need to provide the sunlight and nutrients – or play and responsive care in this instance – but you’re not going to help the roses bloom by going out in early spring and peeling back the petals on the bud to help speed up the blooming process. It’s not going to make for a more beautiful rose. You’re going against the DNA, the genetic imprint of that rose and you’ll probably damage it!
It’s exactly the same with your baby trying to stand, sit up or walk. You know a baby isn’t going to pull themselves up on your lap, stand up and use their legs for weight bearing until they’re absolutely ready, yet we stand them up as small babies and they have to lock their knees into place. When we stand them on our lap, we think we’re helping to stimulate the development of the leg muscles, but we can just as easily inhibit them.
Actually for thousands of years in human evolution the baby hasn’t been using those muscles until they are much older so they’re not ready. You can risk stunting their muscle growth by making them use muscles that are not yet ready. So, don’t buy into this obsession about whose baby is standing or walking first, but trust that if your baby’s motor skills are in the “normal “range then you don’t need to take charge of their development, but leave this to your baby.
How many muscles do you use to get from a lying position to a sitting up position? Doesn’t the baby need these muscles developed as well? Are we really helping by picking them up from the floor and propping them to sit up with cushions?
Why faster isn’t better
From the human development perspective, I’d rather see a baby walk of their own initiation at fourteen months than see a baby who has been pushed to do it and manages to walk at ten months.
I’d put my money on the fact that the baby who walks of their own initiation without being pushed has allowed all of their muscles to develop more fully. I’d put my money on that kid having the better motor skills even though they took ‘until’ fourteen months to walk.
Faster is not better in human development. Focus on the journey not just the outcome – and the journey is about letting your child’s motor skills unfold naturally. It’s good to be aware of milestones so that you can spot delays early, but for walking there is no need to be concerned until perhaps fifteen months. Especially if they are sitting and crawling etc.
For those particularly interested in this topic there is a whole area of research by a woman called Dr. Emmi Pikler and another one of her associates Magna Gerber. They look at motor skill development. Dr Pikler ran an orphanage 100 or so years ago in Hungary and people were really surprised at the quality of the children coming out of that orphanage. Orphanage children are often really deprived intellectually and have delayed development.
The thing that the researchers noticed about the development of these particular children was that most of the kids coming out of the orphanage seemed to be like gymnasts. Some researchers at the time wondered if the orphanage was doing some sort of circus arts program or something similar because the children had such an amazing sense of balance and their motor skills seemed to beyond what most of us can do.
Dr. Pikler’s belief was that those are the sort of motor skills that all human beings would have if we allowed babies to unfold naturally at their own pace. We basically limit humans down to very basic motor skills by forcing them into standing up positions and propping them up with cushions into sitting-up positions – basically putting babies into positions that their bodies are not ready for. What we’re doing then is deciding that we know more about human development than the last hundred thousand years of evolution. We don’t.
Trust that the rose knows how to bloom
Trust one hundred thousand years of evolution and let your baby unfold like a flower. The rose will be a far brighter bloom if it’s encouraged and given all the ingredients it needs but is in charge of its’ own blooming. Same with your baby. I’m not saying to ignore an issue or any concern you have if your baby is developing in any way you’re concerned about, but don’t buy into the idea that motor skill development is a race.
Faster is not necessarily better.