Can you help your child reach developmental milestones? Genetics play a role, but certain parenting techniques may also help. So can pediatrician visits, where children receive regular developmental screenings and referrals to specialists such as speech and physical therapists to assess possible developmental delays.

Here are five things that parents should know about childhood development:

Children develop at different rates

Crawling, walking and talking are all developmental milestones – behaviors and skills that children exhibit as they grow. Reaching milestones is important, because children build on existing skills. Pediatricians assess milestones at every visit.

Your pediatrician will talk with you about how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts and moves to assess four key areas of development:

  • Social and emotional – like smiling and playing a game like pattycake.
  • Communication and language – like waving bye-bye or saying words.
  • Cognitive – like looking for a toy that you hide and naming colors.
  • Motor – like rolling from tummy to back, walking, and drinking from a cup.

There are normal ranges in which children should reach milestones. For example, 50% of children walk at 12 months, while 75% walk by 18 months.

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their developmental milestones checklists. Children are now expected to demonstrate skills when 75% reach milestones, rather than 50%. This provides more leeway for differences in child development, so you may worry less if your child isn’t walking at 12 months.

Signs of autism may appear early

Autism is a developmental disability that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges. Early signs include avoiding eye contact, having little interest in other people and speech delays.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends formal autism screenings at 18 months and 24 months, but many parents suspect that their children have autism before 18 months. If you have concerns, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Stress may negatively influence development

Some stress is healthy—it may motivate your child to practice for soccer or study for a test, for example—but ongoing, long-term stress can be harmful.

Our body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress. When stressors exceed an individual’s ability to cope, they can cause damaging inflammation, which may lead to chronic disease.

If your child is showings signs of stress, such as not sleeping or eating well, contact your pediatrician.

Early education is a benefit for school readiness

To be ready for school, children need to develop attention, concentration, academic skills and physical skills. If they aren’t prepared, they may fall behind academically and socially.

Early-childhood education programs—preK and kindergarten—have been proven to help children succeed in school and in life. Children who receive early-childhood education are more likely to have higher IQ scores as teenagers, graduate from college and have a lower risk of obesity and heart disease.

Exposure to language matters

Talking and reading to your child as much as possible may enhance their development. In their study “The Early Catastrophe,” researchers who placed recording devices in different households found out that by age 3, children in the poorest households were exposed to 30 million fewer words than children whose parents were in the professional workforce.

Books help close the language gap. Most Delaware hospitals, including ChristianaCare, help parents sign babies up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which gives free books to children. Each child receives one free book per month through age 5. It’s a great way to enhance learning and language development.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development, speak with your pediatrician.