Get the ages and stages development chart here!!

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During the first 3 years of life babies and toddlers are making 1-2 million neural connections a minute.  Mind blown! During those years they go through massive growth and hit multiple milestones a month.  

But what milestones should your baby be meeting at every age?  Understanding the ages and stages of development can not only help you understand your child’s behavior but it can also help you set realistic parenting expectations.  

A Brief History: What are developmental milestones?

Developmental milestones are simply skills that children learn by a certain age.  It helps pediatricians and parents know that the child is growing and learning at the same rate as his peers.  Missing developmental milestones could mean the child has a developmental delay and needs special intervention to help them catch up. 

Milestones include things like smiling, pointing at interesting things, crawling, and even lying.  They cover areas of physical development, mental development, and social development. 

Do the First 7 Years of Life Really Mean Everything?

“The first years are the most important in life of every child as they set the basis for overall success in life.” – Tanja Radocaj, UNICEF Representative 

But are they?  Could early childhood trauma, developmental delays, and illness really determine whether a child has a successful and healthy life? 

Honestly, this isn’t so clear, it is more of a gray area.  What we do know from recent studies is  that the first 7 years of a child’s life do hold an important part of their development, but your child’s fate isn’t sealed on their 8th birthday. 

We should strive to make a loving, secure, and stimulating environment for young children, but if they face hardship or go through a traumatic experience they can still go on to lead full happy healthy lives with the right interventions. 

What is the most important stage of child development?

In the first 3  years, a child’s brain is developing at a seemingly lighting speed.  In fact, in the first 3 years of life, babies and toddlers are forming 1 million neural connections every minute.  

That’s why babies and toddlers need to have a nurturing environment including a healthy diet, learning experiences, and healthy, loving relationships with caregivers. 

What are the 5 Stages of Child Development?: The Ages and Stages of Child Development & Milestones At a Glance

Child development is broken down into 5 stages, infancy, toddler, preschooler, school-age, and adolescent stages.  Each stage has a specific set of milestones and skills that the majority of children reach at that age. 

Stage 1: Infancy/Baby (Birth – 18 Months) – Infant Developmental Milestones

The infant stage is the first 18 months of your child’s life. During this time babies communicate their needs mostly through crying and it is on the caregiver to meet all of their needs.  You can find a full list on the CDC website. The milestones your child should reach during this time include: 

  • 2 months
    • May start smiling 
    • Looks for Parent
    • Coos
    • Turns head toward a sound
    • Pays attention to faces
    • Begins using eyes to track movement
    • Gets fussy when bored 
    •  Holds head up
  • 4 months
    • Likes to play
    • Smiles 
    • Starts mimicking facial expressions
    • Babbles
    • Responds to affection
    • Reaches for toys 
    • May roll over from tummy to back 
    • Pushes up on elbows
  • 6 month old
    • Knows familiar faces 
    • Likes to look at self in mirror 
    • Responds to the emotions of their caregiver
    • Takes turns babbling with parent
    • Responds to name
    • Shows curiosity 
    • Begins to pass things between hands
    • Rolls in both directions
  • 9 month old
    • Afraid of strangers
    • Understands “no” 
    • Likes to play peek-a-boo
    • Uses a pincher grasp (using thumb and forefinger to grab things) 
    • Makes lots of sounds may start saying mamamama  and dadadada
    • Stands while holding things
    • Crawls (may look different than traditional crawling) 
  • 1 year old 
    • Shy of Strangers 
    • Has favorite toys 
    • Cries when a parent leaves 
    • Responds to simple request
    • Waves bye-bye 
    • Says mama or dada 
    • Tries to copy words you say
    • Looks at a picture when you say the word (looks at a picture of a ball when you say ball) 
    • Bangs things together
    • Pokes thing with finger 
    • Pulls themselves up to standing 
    • Starts cruising 
  • 18 months old
    • May start having tantrums 
    • Plays pretend 
    • Becomes clingy in new situations
    • Says several words
    • Says no and shakes their head 
    • Points to things 
    • Understands what household items are for
    • Pretends to feed dolls or stuffed animals 

Stage 2: Toddler Development (18 Months – 3 Years)

Toddlers are inquisitive and developing brain cells at the fastest pace of their life. Toddlers make huge jumps from barely talking to having full sentences and elaborate imaginative games.  Here is what to expect with milestones with your toddler

  • 18 months old
    • May start having tantrums 
    • Plays pretend 
    • Becomes clingy in new situations
    • Says several words
    • Says no and shakes their head 
    • Points to things 
    • Understands what household items are for
    • Pretends to feed dolls or stuffed animals 
  • 2-year-olds
    • Copies other people 
    • Gets excited to be with other children
    • Maybe more defiant 
    • Says 2-4 word sentences 
    • Repeats words 
    • Begins to sort shapes and colors 
    • Can complete rhymes, may memorize lines in their favorite book
    • Can follow a two-step direction 
    • Builds a tower of 4 or more blocks
    • Can kick a ball
    • Walks up and down stairs 
    • Throws a ball
  • 3-year-olds 
    • Shows affection for siblings or friends 
    • Takes turns 
    • Shows concern for someone crying
    • Doesn’t have separation issues with parents
    • Understands location words like “in” and “on”
    • Plays pretend games with many types of toys
    • Does a 4 piece puzzle
    • Can turn doorknobs
    • Climbs easily 
    • Pedals a tricycle


Stage 3: Preschooler Development At a glance(3 – 6 Years Old)

Preschool is a time of wonder and imagination, children’s imagination blossoms and games but also cognitive ability grows to get ready for more traditional ideas of learning, like learning to read and do math. 

  • 3 year olds 
    • Shows affection for siblings or friends 
    • Takes turns 
    • Shows concern for someone crying
    • Doesn’t have separation issues with parents
    • Understands location words like “in” and “on”
    • Plays pretend games with many types of toys
    • Does a 4 piece puzzle
    • Can turn doorknobs
    • Climbs easily 
    • Pedals a tricycle
  • 4 year olds 
    • Enjoys trying new things 
    • Plays family 
    • Imaginative games become more complex
    • Cooperates with other children 
    • Sings a song from memory 
    • Tells stories
    • Can say full name
    • Begins to name colors and numbers 
    • Understands the idea of counting but may not count in the correct order 
    • Uses scissors 
    • Plays board games 
    • Can hop on one foot
    • Can catch a ball 
  • 5 year olds 
    • Likes to sing and dance 
    • Becoming even more independent 
    • Tells a story using sentences 
    • Speaks very clearly 
    • Can count 10 or more items
    • Prints some letters or numbers 
    • Draws shapes like a circle, square or triangle
    • Hops on one foot for more than 10 seconds 
    • Uses the potty by themselves 
    • USe a fork and spoon easily
    • Can do a somersault
  • 6 year olds 
    • Speaks in longer sentences (5-7 words) 
    • Start understanding jokes and puns, especially using words with double meanings
    • Begin to sound out words
    • Focus on a task for about 15 minutes 
    • Know times of day and understand things will happen later or happened in the past
    • Know day from night and left and right 

Stage 4: School-Age Children Development (6 – 12 Years Old)

School-age children seem to go from a babyish kindergartener to a sophisticated middle schooler who has big ideas and strong opinions.  These are some developmental milestones you can expect at each age 

  • 6 to 7  year olds 
    • Speaks in longer sentences (5-7 words) 
    • Start understanding jokes and puns, especially using words with double meanings
    • Begin to sound out words
    • Focus on a task for about 15 minutes 
    • Know times of day and understand things will happen later or happened in the past
    • Know day from night and left and right 
    • Practices to get better at things they like
    • Rides a bike 
    • Likes to paint and draw
  • 8 to 9 year olds 
    • Dresses, baths and does other self care tasks by themselves
    • Can use tools like a hammer or a screwdriver
    • Can take on more responsibilities 
    • Understand money
    • Can tell time 
    • Can name months of the year and days of the week in order
    • Read books on their own 
  • 10 to 12 year olds 
    • Start developing a sense of identity  (may try on many different identities during this discovery) 
    • Girls start early puberty along with an increase in emotions 
    • Begins to handle conflict better
    • Begins to question Authority 
    • Can struggle with friendship and feel excluded 
    • Have strong relationship with family
    • May sound more like an adult than a child in vocabulary and thoughts 
    • School subject matter becomes more complex 
    • Looking for people who listen to their ideas and take them serious 
    • Play looks more active like playing sports, riding bicycles, and skating 
    • Have attention spans that can be very long when working on things they enjoy 

Stage 5: Adolescent Development – The Teen years(13 – 19 Years Old)

During the teen years, not only do children’s bodies develop quickly, but their cognitive development moves into even more adult thinking. 

  • Early Adolescence 13-14 years old (also defined from 10-14 years old) 
    • Significant physical growth, multiple growth spurts 
    • Increase in sexual interest
    • They understand and start to think in abstract way
    • They start becoming very aware of morals
    •  Become concerned with appearance (looks, clothes, haircuts) 
    • More moody 
    • Peer group is more influential 
    • Pulling away from parents and family 
    • Increased stress about school or social life
    • Feelings can feel larger than life 
  • Middle Adolescence (15-17 years old)
    • All teens will have completed puberty by the end of this stage
    • Females will stop growing but males may continue to grow 
    • A strong sense of self is coming together
    • Start thinking about and making long term life plans
    • Increased drive for ind
    • Independence 
    • Less conflict at home
    • Strong concern about body image 
    • Spend less time with parents and more time with friends 
    • Learn work habits 
  • Late Adolescence (18-19 years old)
    • Brains start to finish developing the frontal lobe 
    • Think rationally about ideas 
    • Firm sense of identity  and plans for the future
    • More acceptance of physical appearance 
    • Has a clear sexual identity 
    • Start thinking about serious relationships and future long term partners
    • Has serious intimate relationships 
    • Philosophical and idealistic 
    • Relationship with parents is reestablished 
    • Has a small group of friends with strong bonds

Get the ages and stages of child development chart here

I made these handy reference guides for you to keep track of your child’s milestones, Use them to talk to your peditrician about any concerns or just stay on top of what milestones are on the horizon for your child. 

What are examples of developmental delays?

If your child is not reaching their milestones you should bring it up to their peditrician. Your child may have a developmental delay. 

There are many types of development delays that could be affecting your child. 

Some developmental delays include: 

  1. Cognitive Delays-These usually do not become apparent until after the child begins school. This could be from a brain injury due to illness or accident. Shaken baby syndrome and seizure disorders can also cause this type of delay. 
  1. Motor Delays- These delays could gross motor skills of the large muscle groups, like arms and legs. Fine motor skills could also be affected which affect the hands and fingers and can cause issues with writing, tying shoes and even brushing their teeth.  Motor delays can be caused by genetic physical conditions but they can also be caused by underdeveloped areas of the brain. 
  1. Speech Delays- Speech delays come in two areas, receptive and expressive speech delay. Receptive delay is when the child struggles with understanding words and concepts. Expressive delays are when a child struggles with verbal speech, including decreased vocabulary or even no speech.  Speech delays can be caused by weak muscles in the mouth, brain damage, genetic syndromes, hearing loss and even a lack of stimulation. 
  1. Social, Emotional and Behavioral Delays- These delays can be caused by disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  This may look like understanding social cues, making friends, playing with other children, extended tantrums or meltdowns, 

Can a child with developmental delays catch up?

If your child is behind now on their developmental milestones, they can still catch up. Developmental delays are not set in stone and for many children the right interventions and supportive parents and caregivers can mean that they can catch up to their peers.  

How can I help my child with developmental delay?

If you are concerned with your child’s milestones not being reached, ask your child’s doctor to do a developmental screening on them.  

If your child is diagnosed with a developmental delay you can help your child by getting them all the interventions they need. Sometimes that means advocating for your child even when their doctor, therapist or teachers are not doing everything you think they should be doing. 

The next step is finding a support group for families going through the same challenges. It is always nice to have someone in the trenches with you when you are struggling and you can also look for families who are further along with their child’s diagnosis for wisdom. 

Now you get to become the expert on your child’s delays and how it affects them. Reading not only blogs but also research articles and talking to experts can all help you learn a lot about your child’s delay.  

Lastly remember that your child is still the same child they were before they were diagnosed with a delay. Now they have a label that can get them the interventions and resources to live up to their potential. 

What happens in a developmental screening?

Most doctors do routine developmental monitoring and screening during well child checks. Typically you get a questionnaire about your child and your doctor does a quick test on them to make sure they are developing on schedule.  

If your child is showing any red flags or you have serious concerns, your doctor will refer your child to a specialist who does more specific testing around the area your child is showing a delay. 

Remember this is not a judgement on your parenting and is not reflection on how much you love or care for your child. It is simply finding out if your child needs interventions to help them to get back on track and have the successful life they deserve. 

Keep in mind that every child develops at their own pace and as long they are meeting milestones within 2-4 months of the predicted age range then they are most likely on track!

Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to playin ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

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