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Child development: What’s normal and what’s not

News, Kids' Health

Adventist Health specialists discuss how to handle common parenting concerns about development.

Raising healthy children is sure to result in some gray hairs for parents. From kindergarten readiness to screen time and healthy eating, there’s plenty to worry about. When should parents consult an expert? When is a concern just a normal part of your child growing up? Adventist Health providers help us figure out how to handle common parenting questions about child development.

Q: My toddler is only saying “dada,” but her sister said more than a handful of words by this age. When should I worry about a speech delay?

A: Walking and talking are major milestones, and it’s important to speak to a trusted pediatric provider as soon as you have a concern. “The key is early intervention if a speech delay is identified,” says Erica Baumker, pediatric nurse practitioner. “Your provider may recommend an assessment, which can provide insight, advice and peace of mind for mom and dad.”

Q: My son is complaining of pain. When is it time to see a doctor?

A: Whether it’s a tummy ache, headache or some other kind of ache, parents should gauge the seriousness of the complaint, says Julia Katsuura, MD, a pediatrician at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley and a mom herself. Most parents know when their child is truly uncomfortable and can determine whether to consult a professional or wait to see if a less serious ailment will resolve on its own. “It’s child-dependent,” she says, “and a lot of times the parent knows best.” Contact the pediatrician’s office for advice if you are unsure.

Q: I’m not sure my kindergartner is ready for the transition to school. What should I do?

A: Annual checkups by your pediatric provider can help you decide. Even before the transition to elementary school, parents are asked to do an annual self-assessment of their child using a screening tool that pinpoints developmental progress in children, Baumker says. “These annual assessments give parents a starting
point for a conversation, allowing them to address concerns earlier,” she says.

Q: Healthy eating is a struggle for my oldest child, and I’m noticing more weight gain. Is it time to seek help?

A: “Especially during the pandemic, healthy eating and gaining weight are some of parents’ biggest concerns,”
Dr. Katsuura says. “Many children get less exercise due to local restrictions and have easy access to snacks throughout the day,” she explains. Visiting your pediatrician can make it easier to discuss the need for healthy eating and exercise as a family — talking to the doctor allows you and your kids to come up with ideas as a team. It’s not something that should fall through the cracks.”

Q: How should I monitor and manage my child’s screen time?

A: Zoom school, endless cartoons and video chats with friends have children staring at screens for a large portion of the day. While more time online is normal during a pandemic, it’s important to set ground rules for screen time, especially for older children who thrive on having more autonomy, Dr. Katsuura says.

Keep in mind: The American Academy of Pediatrics calls for no screen time for children until 18 to 24 months old, except for video chatting; kids ages 2 to 5 should watch an hour or less of high-quality programming per day.

Here are four things to consider when creating a family plan for screen usage in the home:

  • Model good behavior. Put away your own devices during meals or game time.
  • For younger children, set time limits for each day of the week (some devices can track hours used).
  • Limit the hours or places where devices are allowed, such as no devices in the bedroom.
  • Involve your children in making the action plan so they are more likely to follow it. Do periodic check-ins to discuss your progress as a family.

Find a child development expert

As your child grows, it’s important to have a trusted pediatric team to address concerns. Adventist Health offers pediatric services throughout Mendocino County.

  • Ukiah: 707-463-7459
  • Willits: 707-459-6115
  • Fort Bragg: 707-961-4631