More parents have been bringing a sense of fanfare to their kids' "tiny triumphs."
Tracking and celebrating milestones are a big part of the parenting experience. From the first birthday to the first word to the first day of school, there are many opportunities for excitement.
Recently, parents have been injecting fanfare into the smaller moments as well. Indeed, Pinterest’s latest trend predictions going into 2024 suggest that more caregivers are embracing “inchstones.”
According to Pinterest, this year promises to bring “tiny triumphs [that] will make the heart grow fonder as parents sprinkle party vibes on their kids’ not-so-grand moments.” Pinterest search data shows a 40% increase in searches for “my first tooth party,” as well as 90% rises for “end of year school party ideas” and “monthly milestone ideas” between September 2021 and August 2023.
But despite the apparent surge in caregivers honoring these smaller moments, “inchstones” are not a new concept. Below, child development experts explain the history and significance of inchstones, as well as their potential value as a parenting tool.
What exactly are inchstones?
As the name suggests, “inchstones” stand in contrast to milestones. An inchstone could be a half birthday, a lost tooth or the first time a kid puts on their shoes without help. It’s about the small steps in development, rather than the big leaps.
“Originally, I believe the term was used more by parents of kids with special needs,” said parent educator Kristene Geering. “Because typical milestones can take much longer to achieve, and because so much effort goes into those milestones, celebrating the steps along the way is a way to talk about how much joy parents felt when they saw those little accomplishments.”
Rather than concentrating on milestones like walking, talking, writing or riding a bike, Geering touted the value of paying attention to the development of smaller skills — like commando crawling, for example — that can eventually lead to those bigger moments.
“Those moments are incredibly important for these parents [of special needs kids], as it’s a way to define and see your child’s progress, no matter the pace at which it proceeds,” Geering said. “I think the latest usage, though, has more to do with the smaller moments in every child’s life, regardless of their developmental path.”
Celebrating inchstones has pros and cons.
For parents of kids with special needs, there are clear benefits to acknowledging inchstones, as they carry more meaning and inspiration amid challenging times. But there are also upsides for parents of typically developing kids.
“I think finding the magic in everyday moments is one of the best parts of being a parent,” Geering said. “I like the idea of taking the deep appreciation and joy that parents in the special needs world that I’ve worked with found in those inchstones, and bringing the feeling into the more typical, ordinary growth of kids. Because it really is magical, isn’t it? No matter how fast or slow your child is progressing and growing, when you can slow down to really appreciate those changes ― even the smallest ones ― it helps you connect with them.”
Geering cited an old adage: “The days are long, but the years are short.” She emphasized the importance of finding joy in those long days by appreciating the tiny moments. One inchstone that’s always stuck with her is the first time her twins had an argument.
“It was over a binky, they were both in my lap, and it was hilarious,” she said. “I know there’s no milestone usually associated with a sibling argument, but I remember thinking it was a sign that their interpersonal skills were evolving, that they were starting to be able to express their wants and needs, and that this was the first of many opportunities to help them learn conflict resolution skills. I wouldn’t trade moments like that for anything!”
There can be downsides to celebrating inchstones, however.
“I think it has to do with how you define ‘celebrate,’” Geering said. “If you have cake and ice cream every time your child makes any sort of progress, it’s quickly going to lose all meaning, like the Christmas that never ends. There’s a reason celebrations feel special ― it’s because they don’t happen every day.”
She noted that this practice might also end up demotivating a child. Much research has shown that praise focused on effort is more effective, and encourages children to learn from failure and mistakes. Meanwhile, fanfare and praise around something the child has less control over, like inherent talent or an inevitable occurrence, gives kids less motivation to keep trying harder tasks that can improve their skills.
“My concern with celebrating inchstones would be that celebration would become meaningless to the child, and they’d lose the ability to distinguish when they’d worked hard to accomplish something and take pride and joy in the outcome of that effort,” Geering said. “If everything gets celebrated anyway, why work harder?”
There’s also the concern that already busy parents might feel pressure to plan a special Pinterest-worthy celebration for every little thing in their child’s life. But caregivers can take a more balanced approach to inchstones.
“If ‘celebrate’ means taking a moment to share that magic you found in the moment, of having an extra big hug and grin that you share with them, that has a very different feeling,” Geering said. “The celebration is more about sharing, about bonding, about taking the time to notice and appreciate all the ways they’re growing and changing.”
“Those are the kinds of things that build [relationships] and help kids feel seen and loved,” she went on. “They’re also the kind of thing that can build a more internal appreciation, and teach kids that there’s a kind of quiet pride and joy in acknowledging our growth ― without blowing it up into a huge thing.”
Inchstones aren’t just about celebration.
The concept of inchstones can also be helpful when it comes to teaching kids how to do certain tasks.
“With children, it’s important to help them break down their tasks, so they learn how to do it themselves as they get older,” said clinical psychologist and author Jenny Yip. “When kids are toddlers and you start telling them to clean up their play area, remember that kids can only handle one instruction at a time.”
As they get closer to 3 years old, however, most kids can manage two instructions.
“It’s not until kids are about 4 years old that they can handle more instructions: ‘Take off your shoes, put them away, and put your clothes in the hamper,’” Yip explained. “Because kids aren’t able to hold a lot of information in their minds at one time, it’s helpful to break big tasks into smaller increments, or inchstones.”
Like Geering, Yip stressed the value of praising kids’ specific efforts along the way (“You followed my instructions so well!” or “That was a great pitch ― I can tell you spent time practicing”), rather than simply saying “Good boy!” or “Good girl!”
“Many parents can have unrealistic expectations of their kids to just ‘get things done’ like an adult,” Yip said. “When a child achieves smaller increments and we praise them for it, then we as parents recognize that our kids are actually doing what they’re supposed to do, and they’re doing it well. And it helps children recognize their efforts matter.”
You don’t have to be a parent or a child to embrace inchstones. Anyone can make an effort to acknowledge and honor their loved ones’ tiny triumphs ― and their own, for that matter. And breaking down larger tasks or objectives into inchstones can help people achieve their goals.
“When we have these big roles where we cannot see the finish line, it leads to anxiety and procrastination ― because if we can’t see the finish line, then we will likely not do it or not get to it when it needs to be attempted,” Yip said. “When we break tasks down into smaller increments, they become more achievable because they’re realistic.”