10 confusing terms that you are hearing about toddler child development

Welcome to the world of toddler development! 

The transition from learning how to burp your baby to managing toddler tantrums and navigating their early childhood development milestones seems to go by like the blink of an eye!

There is so much unchartered territory that we, as mamas, have to be real quick learners if we want to use our toddlers early years to set them up for success in school and later as adults. 

Let’s be real, we all just want the best for our kids

toddler playing activity

You are trying to create an environment and opportunities for your toddler to develop in each area in early childhood development  but it’s a bit confusing. What does sensory processing actually mean? Muscle tone, expressive language? 

Here are 10 confusing terms that you may be hearing about your toddler’s development. 

If there are other terms to do with toddler development that you are curious about- leave me a comment below. 

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10 confusing terms that you are hearing about toddler child development

Milestones and norms:

An early childhood development milestone is the average age that a child develops and masters a new skill

These have been developed through combining many studies over different areas and different populations. 

They are considered norms or general guidelines. Meaning that not every toddler develops these skills at the exact same time or within the same month. And often are given as an age range. 

For example, on average babies take their first steps between ages of 9-14 months. However within that range- 80 % of babies have taken their first step by 12 months.  

Milestones are important for 2 main reasons: 

  • They show us whether our toddler is developing according to the average or whether they might need a push in certain areas of development
  • Milestones inform what type of activities or play opportunities we should be providing for our toddlers at each age group. For example: By age 3 a toddler should have mastered drawing a circle and lines. That’s the milestone for that age group. So naturally attempting to teach writing at this age is not developmentally appropriate. 
Toddler developing through walking in sand

Screening/ assessment : 

There are really 2 types of screening:

  1. A few general questions at your wellness check up or when you visit your pediatrician
  2. An in-depth assessment (usually using a standardised assessment) done by a specialist in early childhood development (like an Occupational therapist, Speech Therapist, Physiotherapist Psychologist). This may take 30 minutes to a few separate sessions. The type of assessment done and the length of time it will take depends on the child and situation. Generally you would need to be referred by your pediatrician for this type of assessment. 

The scary reality is that we as parents are being hugely underserved when it comes to screen our toddlers development. 

This study showed that only 1 in 5 parents were asked screening questions about their child’s development by a healthcare provider during the previous year. 

An estimated 15% of children in the United States have at least one developmental delay, yet less than one-fifth of those children receive early intervention services before three years of age..

Because of the plasticity of the brain (especially in the early years) therapy for even mild developmental delay is significantly more effective when started early. 

You mama, are your child’s best advocate! If you are concerned about any area of your toddler’s development -speak to your pediatrician. There is no need for waiting- a child of any age can be assessed. 

Developmental delay: 

This means a child has not reached certain milestones. Developmental delays may be minor (slight delay in one or few areas) or global (overall delay in many areas).  

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Adjusted/ corrected age: 

This is a term that is used when describing premature babies. It is their age according to their birthday minus time they were premature. This influences how a premature baby’s development is assessed. For example the norm for running is 2 years old. But if a child was born 2 months prematurely we would consider it normal development if they started running anywhere between 24-26 months of age.

toddler smelling flowers

Late bloomer: 

It’s always the big question: Is my child delayed or are they a late bloomer? 

In order for a toddler to fall into the category of a late bloomer they should be delayed in a milestone by a very short time

For example: The norm for vocabulary at 24 months is around 60 words. A 22 month old that says 30 words but by 26 months has made a big jump and are saying 80 words. Late blooming could be linked to a more reserved or cautious personality type. 

However, despite what we all hear at the park- this is not the norm. If you aren’t sure- get an occupational or speech therapists opinion.  

Sensory processing : 

Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. Classic example: you touch a hot stove, your brain says “ouch that’s hot!”and you lift your hand. 

For those with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), sensory information goes into the brain but is interpreted in a way that is different to the general experience of that sense

For example: A child that is tactile defensive might experience beach sand as feeling like ants crawling all over his body. His skin is the same as the child who rolls in the sand in joy, but the way his brain interprets the sensation is different

Muscle tone:

Is the muscle tension at rest. 

In contrast, muscle strength is the ability to contract the muscle and create force. 

Tone influences posture and therefore hugely impacts learning skills

It, unlike muscle strength is not treated by going to the gym but rather by neurological treatment (By a Physio or OT). 

Expressive vs receptive language skills: 

Expressive language is the spoken language or words while receptive language is the understanding when being spoken to. 

Sometimes in toddlers with developmental delay we will see that the receptive language is really good but they just haven’t started speaking yet

Age appropriate activities: 

Means activities that match the stage of toddler development. 

For example: A craft with 5 steps is not appropriate for a 2 year old who can only follow a 2 step sequence. 

You will know the activity is not age appropriate if you end up doing it yourself while toddler watches. 

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Prefrontal cortex: 

We hear this discussed a lot in relation to toddler behaviour

It is an area of the brain (found in the frontal lobe) that is incharge of impulse control, regulation of emotions

It only fully develops at 25 years of age which explains why emotional regulation and impulse control are such challenges for our toddlers. 

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