Occupational therapist urges parents to allow children to grow at their own pace

It’s important to celebrate the marvel at a child’s growth in all its forms. Picture: Yan Krukau/Pexels

It’s important to celebrate the marvel at a child’s growth in all its forms. Picture: Yan Krukau/Pexels

Published Jun 28, 2024


In today's fast-paced world, many parents feel pressured to script their children's lives with precision, setting rigorous timelines for milestones and achievements.

The intention is often rooted in a parent’s love and a desire to see their children succeed. Yet, in the intricate dance of parental dynamics, lies an essential truth that some of the most profound growth occurs when we step back and allow things to unfold naturally.

Forcing a child's development, whether academically, socially or emotionally, can lead to stress and strain, not only for the child ,but for the entire family.

A growing body of educational and psychological research highlights the benefits of letting children evolve at their own pace. This approach not only respects the individuality of each child, but it also fosters a more harmonious and supportive home environment.

Every child grows uniquely and they thrive the best when they can develop at their own speed.

Occupational therapist, Marele Venter, suggests that parents and caregivers should focus on creating a healthy and safe environment, encouraging social and emotional growth without adding unnecessary pressure.

Key stages in a child's development span across five areas: Gross motor skills, fine motor skills, language, cognitive abilities and social-emotional growth.

According to the National Library of Medicine, developmental milestones are specific goals or markers that children are expected to reach as they mature.

“Parents often make the mistake of comparing their child's progress to others, leading to unnecessary anxiety,” explained Venter.

“Premature pushing can disrupt a child's delicate balance of exploration and mastery”.

Rushing a child's development can lead to what experts call "splinter skills. Picture: Yan Krukau/Pexels

Over the past decade, Venter has observed a worrying trend: An increase in school and performance anxiety among young children, including those in preschool and the foundation phase.

Venter’s first-hand experience highlights a growing issue that needs addressing.

Meanwhile Joha-Nita Jordaan, the clinic divisional manager at Dis-Chem and Dis-Chem Baby City, also witnesses this problem.

She pointed to the fact that developmental milestones should be seen as flexible guidelines, rather than strict benchmarks.

"Forcing early achievement can hinder natural development, affecting language, comprehension, and social interaction," she believes.

The risks of pushing too soon

Rushing a child's development can lead to what experts call "splinter skills," where children develop certain skills prematurely while skipping essential foundational stages.

A recent University of Washington study found that excessive use of baby videos can actually slow down vocabulary growth in infants aged 8-16 months. Likewise, baby toys like walking rings, can impede crucial motor development by limiting the visual experience of moving limbs.

Milestones are not competitions

Venter warned against using developmental milestones as a competitive yardstick.

Statements like: "My baby is already walking at 10 months" create unnecessary comparisons. Children develop at their own pace and it's perfectly normal for one child to start walking at 10 months, while another begins at 12 months, she said.

Practical tips for parents

Jordaan and Venter outlined four essential tips for new moms to ensure their babies feel secure during their developmental stages:

Regular check-ups are key

In South Africa, every baby receives a "Road to Health" book, which is a key guide for tracking developmental milestones and immunisation schedules.

Regular check-ups with healthcare professionals are essential for monitoring your baby's progress. If you’re worried about your child's development, don’t hesitate to reach out to your nurse or paediatrician, they said.

Early intervention can make a world of difference. As long as your baby is hitting age-appropriate milestones, there’s usually no need to worry.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners at daycare or nursery schools also play a crucial role in monitoring your child's development.

The experts said this is because they can spot and report any potential delays during the day.

Stimulating environment

The first 33 months are crucial for brain development. Babies need stable and committed relationships with caregivers to help regulate their emotions and make them feel secure.

Focusing on the individual needs of each child at every development stage supports their full potential.


Skin-to-skin contact helps your baby feel safe and secure, building a foundation for healthy relationships and self-confidence later in life.

Engaging in nurturing behaviours like making eye contact, smiling, holding, rocking, touching, talking and singing to your baby is crucial.

These actions can be easily incorporated during bathtime and nappy changes.

Play and interaction

Playing is how children learn about the world. Simple activities like talking, singing and reading to your baby help them learn to speak and understand language.

These activities cost nothing and just need your time. Activities like floor time, tummy time, and crawling help with physical growth and coordination. Touching different things helps improve their senses.

"Let's celebrate the marvel of growth in all its forms, whether it's the first hesitant babble or the triumphant wobble of those initial steps,” said Jordaan.