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Identifying and Addressing Developmental Concerns

As a childcare provider, it's crucial to recognize and address developmental concerns in preschoolers. Read on for insights, tips, and strategies to support optimal growth and development.

Identifying and Addressing Developmental Concerns

Identifying and Addressing Developmental Concerns

In a preschool setting, it's vital for caregivers to closely monitor each child's growth and development. This crucial task involves identifying any developmental concerns that could affect a child's overall well-being. Caregivers might notice delays or differences in areas such as speech, motor skills, socialization, and emotional regulation.

Early intervention is key for enabling children to reach their full potential. Being knowledgeable about developmental milestones and aware of potential concerns equips caregivers and childcare providers to provide tailored and effective care for each child. Furthermore, it enables effective communication with families about any concerns.

This article will explore common developmental delays in preschool-aged children and offer strategies for discussing these sensitive topics with families, maintaining a focus on constructive and supportive dialogue.

What are developmental delays?

Developmental delays occur when children don't reach their developmental milestones as expected by a certain age. Not achieving a milestone by a particular age isn't always cause for concern because all children develop at their own pace. Oftentimes, they just need more time or practice. 

However, a developmental delay may be present if it's in one specific area or if progress stops altogether. 

In preschoolers, developmental delays can show in various developmental domains, including:

  • Gross and fine motor skills: Gross motor skills involve using large muscle groups for activities like crawling, walking, and jumping. Fine motor skills include using smaller muscles, such as those in the hands and fingers, for tasks like drawing and manipulating small objects. 
  • Language and communication: Children with speech and language delays may struggle to communicate effectively verbally or nonverbally. They may need help with basic language skills such as speaking in sentences, understanding simple instructions, and following conversations.
  • Social and emotional development: Social and emotional delays can manifest in several ways, such as difficulty participating in social interactions, expressing emotions appropriately, and engaging in imaginative play. Children with these delays may struggle to make friends or exhibit challenging behaviors such as aggression or tantrums.
  • Cognitive skills: Children experiencing cognitive delays may struggle with problem-solving, memory, and attention. For example, they may need help with basic reasoning skills, forget simple instructions, or have trouble focusing on tasks.

Early intervention is critical to addressing developmental delays and providing children with the support they need to reach their full potential.

Some causes of developmental delays include genetic and chromosomal conditions, prematurity or low birth weight, complications after birth, exposure to toxins or infections during pregnancy, and environmental factors such as neglect or trauma. In some cases, we never know the cause.

Caregivers in preschool settings play an essential role in identifying potential delays and supporting children's development. By monitoring children's progress, providing opportunities for practice and learning, and encouraging their families to seek professional help when needed, daycare workers can help children reach their developmental milestones.

Therapist doing play therapy with young girl.Source

List of developmental delays

A child may experience various developmental delays, which will typically fall into one of the developmental domains mentioned above. As a caregiver, you're likely to have children with one or multiple delays, as they occur in 10% to 15% of preschool children.  

Here are the most common conditions found in children:

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder leading to significant problems with communication, behavior, and social skills. 
  • Intellectual disability: An intellectual disability is a condition that affects a child's ability to learn, think, and reason. It limits their ability to learn and function as expected. 
  • Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a child's movement, muscle tone, and coordination. Children with cerebral palsy may have difficulty maintaining balance and posture, walking, sitting, and other gross motor skills. 
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes hyperactivity and impulsivity and difficulty paying attention. Children with ADHD may have trouble sitting still, following instructions, and paying attention.
  • Speech and language disorders: Speech and language disorders affect a child's ability to communicate. Children with these disorders may have trouble with basic language skills such as speaking in sentences, understanding simple instructions, and following conversations. 

If you have concerns about a child having a developmental delay, it is important that you make the parents or guardians aware of your concerns as soon as possible. Children must see a medical professional to be officially diagnosed with any condition to get the help and support they need. 

How to approach families about developmental concerns

Talking to your children's families about developmental concerns can be uncomfortable. This is a sensitive topic, and it can be emotional for parents. You must approach these difficult conversations with empathy and understanding. Here are some points to consider before having a conversation.

Document your concerns

Parents will want to know why you have concerns. It's easier to explain when you have a specific answer. Your documentation can be based on a developmental screening, anecdotal notes, assessments, test scores, work the child has done in class, or data you've collected on behaviors you see. The more specific information you can share, the better. This will also help parents have a list of concerns to share with a medical professional if they seek additional support. 

Schedule a meeting

These types of conversations are best done in person. Choose a time when families can meet privately with you to discuss your concerns. 

Keep the family's feelings in mind

As you have these discussions, be sensitive and mindful that parents may feel a range of emotions related to the idea of their child having a delay. Let them know you're there to help and support them through the process. 

Offer additional support

Share any additional resources and support that may help the family. These might include a list of local specialists, community resources, and even family support groups. Also, let them know you're available if they have further questions. 

Follow up

Follow up with the family periodically to see how they're doing and provide additional support they may need. 

Remember, many families have never gone through this process before. They need support and empathy, and having a trusted teacher by their side can help put them at ease.

Keep the lines of communication open with brightwheel's communication app. You can easily centralize family communication by sending real-time messages, emergency alerts, newsletters, and more. 

How to encourage families to speak to a specialist

Encouraging families to speak to a specialist about developmental concerns regarding their child can be a delicate matter. Here are some tips on how to approach this conversation.

Discuss the importance of early intervention

Let parents know that, when it comes to getting a diagnosis and treatment for their child, the earlier it is done, the better. If they know that seeing a specialist as soon as possible might benefit their child, it could encourage them to take the next steps. You can also let them know that waitlists for evaluations are often months long, so the longer they wait, the longer they delay receiving answers about their child. 

Provide resources

Providing parents with resources often helps them to start the process. Offer information, local resources, and specialists who can provide assessments and interventions. Also, share a list of books, websites, or pamphlets that can help them with the research process. 

Normalize the experience

Let families know that seeking help for developmental concerns is common. You can provide data indicating how many children are diagnosed with developmental delays so they know they're not alone. This may also alleviate some of the negative feelings sometimes associated with seeking help. 

Explain the process

Talk to parents about what they can expect when taking their child to see a specialist. You can share the process of getting an evaluation, developing a treatment plan, and participating in interventions, and this can help them feel more prepared and informed.


It's common to have developmental concerns about preschoolers in your classroom. As an educator, you are among the first to recognize and address concerns, so identifying potential delays is essential. Learning to have these sensitive conversations with families can help them get their child the evaluation and possibly further interventions they need. While every child develops at their own pace, early intervention for children who need it can set them up for success in school and in life.

Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at

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