Kids and developmental milestones: what’s the connection?

Kids and Developmental Milestones: What’s the Connection?

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When we talk about child development, we often speak of milestones that children hit at certain ages. So what exactly are these milestones? It can be helpful to understand them and how they can be used to guide your parenting journey.

You can think of the developmental milestones as a checklist. They represent what an average child can do around a particular age, although this obviously varies from child to child.

A developmental milestoneis an ability that most children achieve by a certain age. These milestones can involve physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and communication skills such as walking, sharing with others, expressing emotions, recognizing familiar sounds, and talking.

For instance, some kids may begin walking as early as 9 or 10 months, while others don't begin to walk until around 14 to 15 months or even later. By looking at the different developmental milestones, parents, doctors, and teachers are able to better understand how children typically develop and keep an eye out for any potential developmental problems.

For example, between the ages of 9 to 12 months, children begin to achieve physical milestones such as standing up or even walking.

 While the exact age at which a child achieves a particular milestone can vary, you may become concerned if your child hasn't achieved a skill that most of his or her same-age peers can perform.

This could prompt a visit to your child's doctor, who can then reassure you if there's not a problem and give you resources for help if there is.

There are four basic categories for developmental milestones, including:

These milestones involve both large motor skills and fine motor skills. The large motor skills are usually the first to develop and include sitting up, standing, crawling, and walking. Fine motor skills involve precise movements such as grasping a spoon, holding a crayon, drawing shapes, and picking up small objects.

These milestones are centered on a child's ability to think, learn, and solve problems. An infant learning how to respond to facial expressions and a preschooler learning the alphabet are both examples of cognitive milestones.

Centered on children gaining a better understanding of their own emotions and the emotions of others, social and emotional milestones also involve learning how to interact and play with other people.

These milestones involve both language and nonverbal communication. A one-year-old learning how to say his first words and a five-year-old learning some of the basic rules of grammar are examples of important communication milestones.

While most of these milestones typically take place during a certain window of time, there is one important caveat.

Parents and caregivers must remember that each child is unique. Not all kids are going to hit these milestones at the same time.

Understanding the Stages of Child Development

Kids and Developmental Milestones: What’s the Connection?

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, M.D. — Written by Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA on December 9, 2019

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  • Is this child’s development on track?
  • That’s a question parents, pediatricians, educators, and caregivers ask over and over again as children grow and change.
  • To help answer this important question, child development experts have created lots of different charts and checklists that can help you keep track of child development across several key domains:
  • physical development
  • cognitive development (thinking skills)
  • language development
  • social-emotional development

Know that you’re going to see some variation between the lists. Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital looked at four of the best known child development checklists and found that they mention a total of 728 different skills and abilities.

More importantly, just 40 of those developmental milestones show up on all four checklists, which begs the question: Should you depend on a single checklist?

A good approach, these researchers suggest, is to start by talking to your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider. The measures that doctors use may be different from those that parents can find in print or online checklists.

Your child’s physician can screen your child for any developmental delays using validated screening tools at or in-between well visits.

It may also help to think of development as an individual progression, rather than as a list of boxes you should tick at certain prescribed intervals. If progress stops or seems to stop, it’s time to talk to your child’s healthcare provider.

If there is a delay, identifying it early can sometimes make a big difference for the child.

What are developmental milestones?

Milestones are the things a child can do by a certain age. Most children develop skills and abilities in roughly the same order, but the timeframes involved aren’t exact. They vary from child to child, just as hair and eye color do.

Every child grows and develops at an individual pace. Here’s a quick look at some common milestones for each age period.

tools for reviewing your child’s development

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a free app to help you keep up with the many ways your child is growing and changing. You can download it here for Android devices or here for Apple devices.

During this period of profound growth and development, babies grow and change rapidly.

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Doctors recommend that you speak to your baby a lot during this phase, because hearing your voice will help your baby to develop communication skills. Other suggestions include:

  • Short periods of tummy time to help strengthen your baby’s neck and back muscles — but make sure baby is awake and you’re close by for this playtime.
  • Respond right away when your baby cries. Picking up and comforting a crying baby builds strong bonds between the two of you.

Development table: Birth to 18 months

During the toddler years, children continue to need lots of sleep, good nutrition, and close, loving relationships with parents and caregivers.

Doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital offer this advice for creating a safe, nurturing space to maximize your child’s early growth and development:

  • Create predictable routines and rituals to keep your child feeling secure and grounded.
  • Toddler-proof your home and yard so kids can explore safely.
  • Use gentle discipline to guide and teach children. Avoid hitting, which can cause long-term physical and emotional harm.
  • Sing, talk, and read to your toddler to boost their vocabularies.
  • Watch your child for cues about the warmth and reliability of all caregivers.
  • Take good care of yourself physically and emotionally, because your child needs you to be healthy.

Development table: 18 months to 2 years

Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones are physical or behavioral signs of development of infants and children. Rolling over, crawling, walking and talking are considered developmental milestones and provide important information regarding your child's early development.

Milestones are different for each age range. These milestones are behaviors that emerge over time, forming the building blocks for growth and continued learning. Some of the categories of behavior include:

  • Cognition: Thinking, reasoning, problem-solving, understanding
  • Motor coordination: Gross/fine motor skills, jumping, hopping, throwing/catching, drawing, stacking
  • Social interaction: Initiating peer contact, group play
  • Adaptive: Dressing, eating, washing

You child's CHOP pediatrician or nurse practitioner will address your child’s milestones during well visits; however, if you have any developmental concerns at any point, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.

Children develop at their own pace, so don't be alarmed if your child takes a slightly different course. Some children may skip over milestones, while others take more time. Your CHOP provider will help you distinguish whether your child is experiencing delays and how to address them.

At 2 months, your child is wide-eyed and watching, smiling at faces, and engaging with everything around them. Babies at this age are social and love to interact. Their neck muscles are growing stronger and they can hold their heads erect for a period of time. They can identify and understand the tone, emotions and comfort in your voice.

What your baby is learning now

While babies may progress at different rates, the following are some of the common milestones your baby may reach in this age group:

  • Moves arms and kicks
  • Lifts head when on stomach
  • Reacts to noises
  • Sees best from 8-10 inches away
  • Makes sounds
  • Begins to smile at people

What your baby is learning next

  • Coos and begins to imitate sounds
  • Crying become more purposeful and is different for hunger, fatigue and other needs
  • Sleeps for longer stretches of time
  • Smiles at faces
  • Pulls at clothes
  • Bats or hits at toys
  • Watches objects as they move

What you can do to encourage your baby’s development

  • Sing together.
  • Talk and smile while looking at your baby’s face.
  • Talk to your baby with a soothing, animated voice throughout the day while dressing, bathing, feeding or playing with your baby.
  • Let your baby hear different sounds.
  • Vary the sound of your voice.
  • Slowly move objects for your baby to watch.
  • Look into a mirror with your baby.

Games and activities

  • Cozy blanket for cuddling while awake
  • Music boxes or soft music
  • Plastic links or rattles
  • Reading books out loud
  • Encouraging tummy time while awake

Your baby is growing even more social and moving in a purposeful manner. Babies at this age love to babble and coo and mimic sounds they hear. They love to play and copy the movements of others. Also, your baby’s cries will be different, as they communicate hunger, frustration, discomfort or feeling tired.

What your baby is learning now

While babies may progress at different rates, the following are some of the common milestones your baby may reach in this age group:

  • Squeals and waves arms when excited

Child development: the first five years

Development is the term used to describe the changes in your child’s physical growth, as well as her ability to learn the social, emotional, behaviour, thinking and communication skills she needs for life. All of these areas are linked, and each depends on and influences the others.

In the first five years of life, your child’s brain develops more and faster than at any other time in his life. Your child’s early experiences – his relationships and the things he sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes – stimulate his brain, creating millions of connections. This is when the foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life are laid down.

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Babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through use. So your child needs a stimulating and caring environment with lots of different activities that give her plenty of ways to play and learn, and lots of chances to practise what she’s learning.

Relationships: the foundation for child development

Children’s relationships affect all areas and stages of their development.

This is because relationships are experiences. In fact, relationships are the most important experiences in your child’s environment because they teach him the most about the world around him. They also shape the way he sees the world.

Through relationships, your child learns whether the world is safe and secure, whether she’s loved, who loves her, what happens when she cries, laughs or makes a face, and much more.

Your child also learns by seeing relationships between other people – for example, how you behave towards your partner, and how your partner behaves towards you. This learning is the basis for the development of your child’s communication, behaviour, social and other skills.

Your child’s most important relationship is with you. Relationships with other family members, carers, including early childhood educators, and other children, are also very important.

A loving, nurturing relationship helps you and your child learn a little more about each other every day. As your child grows and develops, his needs will change. You’ll learn more about what he needs and how you can meet these needs.

Play: how child development happens

In the early years, your child’s main way of learning and developing is through play.

Play is fun for your child and gives her an opportunity to explore, observe, experiment, solve problems and learn from her mistakes. She’ll need your support and encouragement to do this.

But it’s important to try to find a balance between helping your child and letting her try things on her own, which means she might sometimes make mistakes.

Finding out for herself about how the world works is a big part of your child’s learning.

Lots of time spent playing, talking, listening and interacting with you helps your child learn the skills he needs for life. These skills include communicating, thinking, solving problems, moving and being with other people and children.

Play is a great relationship builder. Spending time playing with your child sends a simple message – you are important to me. This message helps your child learn about who she is and where she fits in the world.

Other things that shape child development

Early Development & Well-Being

The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby’s development. Learn how the earliest relationships with caregivers can promote healthy brain development, how young children build social and emotional skills, and ways you can support language and literacy development starting from birth.

  • Topic Ages and Stages All children are unique. Celebrating, nurturing, and supporting developmental milestones from birth to 3 years is one of the joys of parenting.
  • Topic Brain Development A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three—producing more than a million neural connections each second.
  • Topic Challenging Behaviors As young children are just beginning to develop self-control, challenging behavior is common and expected in the years from birth to three.
  • Topic Crying It Out For babies, crying is a normal response to settling down at bedtime. There are many ways to help babies learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep.
  • Topic Developmental Screening and Assessment Support your child's developmental growth by participating in the screening and assessment process, and becoming a key member of the therapeutic team.
  • Topic Early Intervention A range of early intervention services offers very young children the opportunity to develop the skills and abilities that will ready them for school and life.
  • Topic Health and Nutrition Learn more about all aspects of child health, including early nutrition, physical activities for young children and other issues focused on a healthy lifestyle.
  • Topic Sleep Understand the role parents and caregivers play in building healthy sleep habits for children.
  • Topic Temperament Temperament describes a child’s personal “style” – the way he or she experiences the world.
  • Topic Trauma and Stress Strong, caring and loving relationships can shield children from the impact of negative experiences, and they can be mutually healing.

Developmental Milestones: Positive Guidance | VLS

Relationship-based care involves more than just caring for the physical needs of children (such as meals, activities, outdoor play); it focuses on the importance of building strong emotional ties between adult providers, each child, and their families. The family care provider consciously pays attention to building a strong relationship with each child and family.

The development of social and emotional skills form the foundation for children’s later academic learning.

As young children grow and develop, it is the people they interact with on a regular basis who will support their growth and development.

Children’s earliest memories and feelings of attachment are to the significant people in their lives. Attachment is a strong emotional bond that grows between a child and an adult who is part of the child’s everyday life.

Forming strong attachments with parents and other family members is most important for children’s healthy development. In addition to family members, you as a family child care provider are significant in nurturing positive social and emotional development in the children for whom you provide care. You may be the most important adult in a child’s life outside of his or her family.

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 As a family child care provider, you focus on building positive, nurturing relationships with each child and family. Your daily interactions with children promote relationship-based care. Your focus is on creating strong relationships with each child and each child’s family. Your decisions each day promote relationship-based care: safety, belonging, trust, community.

 Trister Dodge, Rudick and Colker (2009) list the following practices that enhance building relationship-based care with children and families:

  • Provide responsive, loving care by offering comfort and affection to each child.
  • Use daily routines (meals, activities, arrival time) to build trust with each child.
  • Talk to all children one-on-one and in groups.
  • Use relationships to guide children’s learning and encourage their continuing efforts.
  • Comfort and otherwise respond intentionally to children, especially those who are under stress.

Understanding the different stages of child development can help with providing relationship-based care.

In this lesson, which focuses on guidance, we have included a brief list of the different stages of children’s social and emotional development and what some typical challenging behaviors might occur at each stage. Accordingly, you provide relationship-based care that matches each child’s stage of development.

Children’s Social and Emotional Milestones across Different Ages

The more you know and understand about children’s social and emotional milestones across the ages, the better equipped you are to apply the best ways to provide relationship-based care at each developmental stage.

There are many books and websites that provide information about each stage of development.

The following chart developed by Diane Trister Dodge, Sherrie Rudick, and Laura Colker (2009) provides aspects of social-emotional development with examples of how you might respond to each stage in your practice as a family child care provider.

 Aspects of Infants’ Development: Socially and EmotionallyWhat it Means for Your PracticeBirth to 18 months

Depend on adults to meet their basic needs (keep dry, fed, cuddled, picked up, etc.). Respond to each child individually, building the child’s sense of trust and security. Once babies trust you, they feel safe to explore the environment.
Form strong attachments to the important people in their lives. Offer consistent, responsive care for all infants.

Developmental Milestones

Child development refers to how a child becomes able to do more complex things as they get older. Development is different than growth. Growth only refers to the child getting bigger in size. When we talk about normal development, we are talking about developing skills like:

  • Gross motor skills: using large groups of muscles to sit, stand, walk, run, etc., keeping balance and changing positions
  • Fine motor skills: using hands to be able to eat, draw, dress, play, write, and do many other things
  • Language skills: speaking, using body language and gestures, communicating, and understanding what others say
  • Cognitive skills: thinking skills including learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering
  • Social skills: interacting with others, having relationships with family, friends, and teachers, cooperating and responding to the feelings of others.

What are developmental milestones?

Developmental milestones are a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range. Your pediatrician uses milestones to help check how your child is developing. Although each milestone has an age level, the actual age when a normally developing child reaches that milestone can vary quite a bit. Every child is unique! 

For general ranges on what developmental milestones are often expected at various ages, check out the following guides:

How does my child’s doctor check my child’s development?

Assessing your child’s development is a team effort. Your family plays an important role. At your child’s well-child visit, your pediatrician will spend time watching your child and talking with you to find out about what your child is doing since your last visit.

 Tell your child’s doctor about any worries or concerns you may have. Your pediatrician may also use developmental screening in the office. Screening involves a series of questions and observations that gets at your child’s ability to perform certain age-appropriate tasks.

 Using developmental milestones as a guide can help pediatricians identify children who may be at risk for developmental delay.

What if my child is not reaching developmental milestones?

If your child’s doctor finds anything that may be of concern, they can refer you to a specialist and/or work with your family to identify services, such as an early intervention program, that may help your child. If your child has any delays, even if mild, you should start intervention as early as possible so your child can make the best possible progress. 

Additional resources:

Reviewed by Layla Mohammed, MD 
Updated January 2020

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