Is milestone bragging justified?

When you are in the early days of parenting, you meet one (or several) parents who are obsessed with baby milestones. Undoubtedly, their child is meeting these a bit earlier than the others and they use as endless evidence of their child's superiority. When faced with this and my very average baby, I would always brush it off with 'oh it doesn't matter. As long as they're within the normal range, it makes no difference'. Certainly as they've gotten older, my unqualified eye sees no difference between the ten month walker and the fifteen month walker but I did get to wondering if this is just sour grapes on my part.

There isn't a great deal of research into this but the few studies that exist actually indicate that the age that babies meet developmental milestones is a reflection of their intelligence. Its impact however is quite limited. One study showed higher skills in categorisation as an adult when they had learnt to stand earlier but this did not extend to any other areas 1. Other studies have shown a gain of .5 to 1 IQ point for every month earlier that they learned to stand 2 and a slightly higher likelihood of reaching a higher educational level for faster developers compared to slower ones 3.  The effects of developmental milestones is massively overshadowed by the effects of medical and demographic factors 4 and one study found that the effect sizes shrunk even further when they removed very late developers 2 . Although statistically significant the effects from all studies are small enough to be clinically insignificant.
So the age at which a baby attains developmental milestones appears to be a reflection to some degree of their innate intelligence or possession of neurobiological features that will predispose them towards success in education. This is intellectually interesting to those interested in child development, but the effects are not big enough to justify any sort of extended bragging. The studies also assumed that the children met these developmental milestones of their own volition, the long term effects of any sort of 'baby training' to meet milestones earlier have not been measured.
What the studies did reiterate was the detrimental effects of being a particularly late developer. Late development  (outside of the normal range) was shown to be largely detrimental with associations with behavioural problems as well as educational achievement 5. If your child is lagging behind it is worth seeking assessment for an underlying cause.


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