Once kids start preschool, it’s easier to observe them around other kids their age. That can make for some uncomfortable comparisons. You might start to wonder why your child doesn’t climb to the top of the play structure, isn’t playing silly rhyming games, or doesn’t speak as clearly as so-and-so. You might also question whether you should be worried.
It can be hard to know if what you’re seeing is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Here are steps you can take to find out if what you’re seeing is a cause for concern, and where to go from there.
Write down the milestones you’re concerned about.
Get familiar with typical preschool milestones. You can also look at preschool readiness skills to learn about the basic skills needed for group learning. Take notes on the milestones you don’t think your child is hitting. Try to be very specific about what you see. Having a clear list of concerns makes it easier to explain your concerns to others.
Find out how things are going at school.
Connect with your child’s preschool teacher or whoever watches your child during the day. If your child is mostly with you every day, talk with someone you trust who knows your child. You can also talk with your child’s doctor.
Ask how they view your child’s development. Refer to your list to explain what’s worrying you. Ask if they see the same things, and whether what you’re seeing can be within the typical range for kids that age. Keep in mind that even if others tell you to “wait and see,” it’s OK to trust your instincts.
Know that age can make a difference.
Keep in mind that for 3- or 4-year-olds, being even just six months younger than the rest of the kids can make a big difference. What might look like a delay compared with other kids may still be typical development for your child’s age.
Learn what a developmental delay is.
Being slower than other kids to meet developmental milestones isn’t always a reason to worry. Minor differences can be typical. But when kids are consistently behind in gaining many skills expected by a certain age, that’s considered a developmental delay.
Talk with your child’s health care provider.
Bring up what you’re seeing at a well-child visit if you have one scheduled. Or schedule an appointment for sooner if you feel like you need to. Be as specific as you can. You can also share any insights your child’s teacher or childcare provider shared.
Know the power of early intervention.
After talking with your doctor or health care provider, you may still be concerned about delays. If so, you can look into free help from your state or local school district. Kids under age 3 may be able to get therapy or specialists from the state to help them “catch up.” This is called early intervention. Clinics and doctor’s offices will have information on how to request this.
Learn how your child can be evaluated for early intervention. If your child is older but hasn’t started school yet, you can still get help. It will typically come from the local school district. Ask your child’s daycare, clinic, or doctor’s office for how to get in touch with the right person. For kids who are getting ready to start school, the local district will typically provide a free screening and possibly services. In some cases, this could mean a free preschool program.
Continue to observe your child, and follow up as needed.
Keep tracking your concerns and follow up in six months. Young kids’ skills develop fast. Note which milestones you were concerned about so you can check to see if your child hit them or not. If after six months you’re still seeing delays, you’ll have your notes to use when you follow up with the teacher or health care provider.
Connect with other families.
Try to talk openly with other families about what’s going on. You may find they have similar worries. Read how one family reframed their thinking to focus on getting supports instead of worrying about labels. Hearing other people’s experiences and stories — and even joining the Understood Community — can help you build a support network.
Tell us what interests you
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.