6 things you can do to help prevent developmental delays in your child

There are many things parents can do to help their children grow and development, including simply spending time with them.
There are many things parents can do to help their children grow and development, including simply spending time with them.

As a parent, you want your child to succeed in all aspects and grow up to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Part of our responsibility as parents is to help them on this path, and to assist where necessary. 

But if you suspect your child has a developmental delay, or might be likely to develop one, what should you do? In fact, should you do anything at all? 

Also see: How to keep an eye out for developmental delays (without turning into a neurotic lunatic)

We asked Julia Lee-Sylvester, a Cape Town based physiotherapist who is trained in neurodevelopmental therapy, for her expert insight.

Lee-Sylvester has spent two years working at a local state school for children with special needs before she entered private practice, where she now assists children from birth to adolescence with a variety of treatments for developmental delays.

She suggests anxious parents do the following to help their children to grow and to avoid creating situations that might hamper a child’s development. 

1. Be aware of the age-appropriate norms and milestones

Keep an eye on your child’s development, but don’t be rigid in your expectations. An overly anxious or stressed parent can negatively affect their child and research has shown that a stressed or depressed mother is less attentive to her child’s needs. Your child’s development should be a time of great joy to you and not something to be scrutinised. 

2. Exposure to a variety of different environments

Introducing your baby or child to a variety of situations will provide an opportunity to develop in a variety of different ways. 

3. Avoid baby devices or gadgets

Some of these gadgets are advertised as being helpful to your baby’s development. But what your child really needs is time to play on the floor, on their tummy and back when they are little, and then time crawling on the floor and playing in sitting when they are older. I advise against using any baby device that restricts your baby’s movement or puts them in a position that they are not yet ready for. 

4. Children learn through play

Even with two working parents and the busy modern lives we lead, it’s important to allow time for playfulness and free play. Children who feel loved and secure tend to play and explore their environment more. There does not need to be a set time each day to focus on development, every activity that you and your child carry out together is an opportunity to learn and grow, whether it be making a cup of tea or getting undressed for a bath.  

5. Parenting with purpose

Also known as positive parenting, gentle parenting or conscious parenting, it is essentially parenting through positive reinforcement rather than punishment. By parenting purposefully, you become aware of what your child needs and is learning at that particular stage. Your role is to foster that and respond in an encouraging way. 

6. Switch off

Screen time can get in the way of bonding, movement, exploration and sleep. Lee-Sylvester encourages all parents to monitor screen time usage in their home and follow the guidelines set out by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There are a number of types of therapists and treatments, how do you know which is right for your child's needs? 

Either a physiotherapist or occupational therapist would be able to assist with motor delays in infants and children. If you think your child has difficulty processing or exploring their world from a sensory point of view then an occupational therapist is more appropriate. Paediatricians or a GP with a special interest in seeing children are great if you are worried about your child’s growth, nutrition or health. 

“Whoever you choose,” Lee-Sylvester says, “it is important that they practise evidence-based treatments, give evidence-based advice and that the profession is regulated and registered with a professional body.” 

Did you see either an occupational therapist, paediatrician or GP about your child's development? Did it help them in any way? Would you recommend it? Tell us by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments on the site. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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