Are you worried about the order of your baby’s milestone completion? Don’t! Science shows that development is not as linear as we like to think.

Lately at Kinedu we have received some messages and mails from parents that are worried because, for example, they’ve noticed that their child wants to get up and walk with help without having mastered the transition from a laying down position to a sitting position. We are used to understanding the world in a linear manner (one needs to do A to move to B and then to C…) and parents and some professionals usually approach early childhood development in the same manner. In reality, we have over 30 years of evidence that establish that development is nonlinear in nature.

Stanford University developmental psychologist Dr. Michael Frank has been publishing ground-breaking articles on the nature of early childhood being domain-specific. This means that each area of development (language, cognition, social skills, etc.) progresses and follows its own timeline and is determined by maturation, experience, stimulation, and other factors.

He has written on evidence that some domains and skills, such as sensorial and fine motor skills, develop in a continuous manner —meaning that the same learning mechanism, coupled with experience, underlie all behaviors, and that for these skill changes happen gradually and building on what is already known. Other skills seem to be more conceptual, and change appears to be immediately achieved when the child reaches a threshold of physiological maturation. For example, a baby that one day might only be able to stand in a wobbly manner with help suddenly takes three steps without any help.

Some babies feel more confident about their motor skills than others and may want to adventure into trying to stand or take their first steps early on without having crawled. This is, in part, a result of the fact that older babies’ brains are faster and exponentially more accurate at processing and integrating new information. This is especially true for complex skills that are built by simple behaviors that were previously acquired. Psychologists now use complex statistical analyses to model these skill acquisitions.

Beyond the complicated science of discontinuity theory, the bottom line is that we should expect complex skills, like walking, to emerge more or less suddenly, since they are basically just the sum of a handful of continuously changing processes.