By Rasha Madkour
The Associated Press
MIAMI - I'll come right out and say it: My son's a late bloomer.
While my younger brother famously walked at 9 months, my own son hit that milestone at a ripe 16 months. I looked longingly at infants who waved on demand, and even blew kisses, until suddenly, unprompted, a few months short of his second birthday, my son flapped his pudgy hands and said brightly: "Bye-bye."
Milestones like these can be a helpful way for parents and experts to gauge whether a child is developing normally - physically, verbally, socially.
But for many parents in today's hypercompetitive and hypervigilant parenting environment, having a baby who rolls over at 2 months affords coveted bragging rights, while having a baby who doesn't induces anxious Internet searches.
"It is something that all parents struggle with. It's hard to avoid it, the comparisons," says Claire Lerner, a child development specialist with Zero to Three, a nonprofit focused on early development.
But Lerner says there's a wide variation for when kids achieve the classic baby and toddler milestones.
So Lerner tells parents about this big-picture indicator: "What's important is you're seeing them make forward progress."
If your child isn't crawling yet but she has started rolling to reach her toys, that's progress, Lerner says.
"If your child is sort of stagnant and not making forward progress, that to me is the thing to watch for."
Patricia Wright of the Easter Seals, an organization that advocates for children with disabilities and special needs, encourages a more aggressive approach.
Early intervention is key, Wright says. Parents should discuss any concerns with their child's doctor - sooner rather than later. "I don't want parents to worry for three months," and then spend another three months waiting for an appointment with a specialist, she says.
Even something as common as a language delay can be helped by early intervention, Wright says.
A speech pathologist can give parents tips on how to create a language-rich environment for their child and encourage speech.
Lerner agrees that it's worth checking with an expert because parental anxiety can actually stymie a child's progress.
Children pick up on the feeling and can feel frustrated at themselves, resentful about the pressure, or discouraged from trying because the situation has gotten so stressful.
Kristine Watson of Austin, Texas, used to be one of those constantly worried moms.
She'd feel fine about her son's progress until they went to a baby class, where she would be barraged by questions about what he could and could not do, followed by hints that she should get him checked out.
"Every kid was given some kind of diagnosis if they didn't fit into this exact mold," Watson says. "It does make you paranoid that there is something wrong when there isn't."
When her son turned 3, she realized he was perfectly fine and she stopped tracking everything.
"I spent so much time looking at him and analyzing him instead of enjoying him," Watson said.
Her toddler who was more interested in exploring than playing with other kids is now a first- grader who has friends but would still rather swim than play on a soccer team.
For La Habra Heights, Calif., mom Sarah Christensen, it came naturally to do what many experts recommend: Follow your child's lead and don't worry too much.
Her 11/2-year-old daughter can climb a small tree and has been eating with a spoon since she was a wee 10-month-old. On the other hand, she only recently said "Momma," about half a year later than many children.
"I feel like it all sort of evens out in the end," Christensen said.