Early Childhood Parenting Young Children

What You Need To Know About Updated CDC Developmental Milestone Guidelines

(+ Printable Guides for Leaders)


With each well visit, parents partner with their child’s doctor by completing a checklist that helps highlight exceptionalities that might merit further attention.

If you became a parent in the last 20 years and/or take a child to the doctor in the US, you are likely already familiar with the ‘old’ CDC milestones. This practice began way back in 2004 (same year Facebook launched, for a bit of context). The CDC designed the milestones guidelines as a framework to monitor a child’s development- and this update reflects the significant data and insights discovered in the past 20 years. While adults who aren’t parents (and many of those who are) are not likely to be intimately familiar with the specific sequence of developmental milestones, I have reason to believe that the world would be a better place if we all took more time to learn about the humans we are raising.

I can attest that grown-ups who spend time with children that invest effort in understanding child development and basic tenets of learning, experience a VERY significant return on that investment.

Each time I submit my answers, I feel affirmed that my child’s doctor knows that I am the world’s leading expert on my own childs’ development.

The CDC’s updated checklists have been an incredible tool that provides guidance and context to better understand what appropriate expectations of a typically developing child at a particular age might entail. The updated guidelines reflect the insights gained and the new research gathered… and some changes are a pretty big deal.

What are some of the significant changes?

My favorite one is a total re-assessment of expectations: previously, the milestones were written to reflect when 50% of children are capable of a particular milestone at a given age. Now, the guidelines use a 75% margin- which should reduce unnecessary anxiety (which comes in bulk surrounding these issues. About ⅓ of the milestones have been re-categorized to a different age.

  • More frequent screening (added two questionnaires so that each well visit has a corresponding checklist)
  • Removal of certain milestones that aren’t necessarily predictive- notably, crawling. 
  • Addition of social and emotional milestones (my personal fav is smiling responsively at 4 months- I knew it wasn’t ‘just gas’)
  • Open-ended questions that invite parents to articulate their concerts are included

Why should these updates matter to me?

An adult’s basic understanding of children’s progression of development and learning is the foundation of their entire interaction and therefore relationship with the children in their lives.  

These updates only matter to people who are concerned with the wellbeing of children.

If you fit that description (as I believe the overwhelming majority of grown-ups do), then these updates matter because they can help you construct developmentally appropriate expectations. 

The guidelines are distilled from an enormous research base. Parents and educators who strive to implement Developmentally Appropriate Practice (D.A.P.) can ‘hack’ their way towards a sophisticated understanding of human growth and development utilizing this framework. 

Practitioners of DAP create goals and experiences with and for children that reflect their abilities, interests, and environment.

We engage children in learning and discovery through nurturing relationships and connected interaction in a curated environment. To do this well, we must equip ourselves with an understanding of what is typical of any child at that stage of development. 

As we value each child’s uniqueness, we can balance what we know to be true about a particular child with our knowledge of typical development in order to discover a child’s exceptionalities. 

Each child is exceptional. Often, an exceptional child will benefit from an intervention that can support the development of that special attribute…and the guidelines are a remarkable tool in highlighting the areas that are opportunities for growth.    

How can I learn more about the CDC developmental milestones?

Printable checklists from the CDC are available here,


Read the full Evidence-Informed Milestones for Developmental Surveillance Tools journal article

Plus..you can read this old blog post about how I sometimes struggle to remember DAP in professional settings for my own kids: I was Leading a Kids’ Service but my Kid’s Behavior Stil Embarrassed Me.

TLDR: Surveilling milestones in children allows their grown-ups to build context and insight about children’s interests and exceptionalities.  Tracking milestones of individual children allows their nurturers to easily identify areas of development that would benefit from additional support. The CDC defines milestones simply as things most children can do by a certain age. Check out the updated guidelines.

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